The principals of five Tipperary Town primary schools providing education on “shoestring budgets” have aired their grievances with Minister Patrick O'Donovan.
Following the raising of a Green Flag at St. Joseph's Primary School, the Minister of State for Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform held a private meeting with Tipperary Fine Gael general election candidate Garret Ahearn, Cllr Michael Fitzgerald and principals Louise Tobin (St. Joseph’s), Eoghan Breathnach (Gaelscoil Tiobraid Arann), Íde Mooney (St. Michael’s GNS), Pat O’Halloran (The Monastery CBS) and Siobhán Verdon (St. Michael’s Junior Boys School).
The principals voiced frustration at their schools being excluded from the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) programme, which provides supports for communities at risk of disadvantage and social exclusion, despite Tipperary Town having a deprivation index of -12. They pleaded with Minister O’Donovan to raise their case at the “highest political level to ensure the resources and supports are put in place” for the children at the five schools.
Minister Patrick O'Donovan, the five primary school principals, Fine Gael's Garret Ahearn and Cllr Michael Fitzgerald at St. Joseph's Primary School in Tipperary Town.
“We are missing loads of resources, and we have to fundraise for additional English readers and PE equipment. Everything is on a shoestring because we don’t have enough funding. We don't have enough staff to deal with children from very disadvantaged homes and who have developed social and communication issues because of their home background. They are coming to school at a deficit and non-nationals are coming with a language barrier. We are getting the same resourcing as the schools in Blackrock, County Dublin. There are schools with DEIS status in less disadvantaged areas, such as in Carrick-on-Suir, that have everything - extra staffing, extra funding, lunch and access to loads of services. We have the Breakfast Club,” voiced principal of St. Joseph's Primary School Louise Tobin.
Minister O’Donovan told The Nationalist that he doesn’t know why the five schools have been excluded from the scheme, but committed himself to raising the issue with the Department of Education and Skills and Minister Richard Bruton.
Minister O'Donovan, who worked as a primary school teacher before first being elected to the Dáil in 2011, acknowledged that parents and teachers at the five schools are “anxious that their children get the best possible start in life”. He stated that Tipperary’s lack of representation in Government was a “big problem” for the county, promising the five schools campaign for DEIS status “absolutely nothing” and hitting out at Tipperary TDs.
“It’s not the first time that I have crossed the border to Tipperary and I feel sometimes that I’m taking on a dual role but I’m doing it because we are anxious to see that this county has the proper representation in Government that it deserves. To do that, people like Garret need a hand to make sure that the concerns of people like the principals of the five schools in the town can be heard. They feel there is a problem and I have given an undertaking that there is a report going to be done up by Garret and I will bring it before the Department of Education and the Minister for Education whose decision it will ultimately be to decide the best way forward.
“From speaking to the principals, there appears to have been an opportunity missed in 2011 when the opportunity was presented in the first place for applications. That’s water under the bridge now and I don’t think anybody is interested in a rear view mirror. I’m more interested in seeing if there is something that can be done in the short-term to alleviate the problem that Garret has identified with the principals and if there is he will liaise through me, the Minister for Education and Government. That’s the only commitment and promise I’ve made! I know some people knocking around Tipperary have promised the sun, moon and stars from the cheap seats in opposition. Easy for them - you would swear that there is an election in the offing,” Minister O’Donovan added.
Garret Ahearn said securing DEIS status for the five schools is “one of the most important issues” within the county. He emphasised that additional funding would greatly benefit the children of Tipperary Town.
“I have been to St Joseph’s three times in as many months and I have listened to the concerns and frustrations that the schools have and in my view they have a very credible case. You only have to look at the numbers and compare them to other schools around the county with DEIS status. It just doesn’t seem right that Tipperary Town has been left out. Anyone who knows the county of Tipperary will know that Tipperary Town is first on the list of disadvantaged areas.
“We had Minister for Education Richard Bruton down in Tipperary recently and Fine Gael representatives, councillors and myself told him that it is a huge issue for the area and needs to be solved. He told us that there is review taking place, there isn’t a timeline on the review yet and that the 2016 Census figures will be used instead of the 2011 Census figures. My understanding is that it strengthens the case for the schools.
“This is something that myself, Cllr Michael Fitzgerald and all the councillors in the area are determined to solve. We are not going to run away from it, and we will do our utmost to represent the principals, teachers, parents and pupils of these schools,” Ahearn added.
Cllr Michael Fitzgerald said DEIS status would be a “huge advantage” for Tipperary Town. “This is something that would solve a lot of problems in the five national schools. There is a brilliant case being put forward and it’s just not being accepted at Government level. We have to keep fighting until it happens.
“DEIS status would start a new move to re-energize the town,” Cllr Fitzgerald underlined.
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