School funding proposals cause concern

classroomIMPACT and other education unions have expressed concern that proposals to devolve more spending and staffing powers to schools could increase bureaucracy and reduce transparency in the education system.

Public expenditure and reform minister Brendan Howlin floated the proposals earlier this month, saying he wanted to test a new funding model based on block grants to allow schools determine how funds were spent at local level. In a recent media interview he said the scheme would allow individual schools to “determine how many frontline teachers they want, how many SNAs, how many resource teachers or what skills mix.”

IMPACT fears the proposals could lead to the further marginalisation of pupils who need resource, language or special needs support because there would be pressure to emphasise mainstream teaching in spending decisions. The union also says they could damage jobs and employment opportunities for school secretaries, special needs assistants and caretakers.

IMPACT deputy general secretary Kevin Callinan said parents had fought for decades for the opportunity for all children to access mainstream education. “For many children, mainstream education is only possible if learning and care supports are in place. These are currently allocated following an assessment of the needs of the child. At the very least, it seems illogical to change school funding models before the full implementation of the ESPEN Act, which would protect the rights of the most vulnerable children,” he said.

Kevin added that the proposals would put well-established national education guidelines in jeopardy. “The minister’s proposals would allow school boards of management to play fast and loose with established standards in the education sector. We have seen this happen before. When given the opportunity to determine school secretaries’ pay, a small number of schools opted to pay less than the minimum wage while many more pay well below the rate for school secretaries directly employed by the education department. There’s a real concern that school secretaries and caretakers could be further exploited,” he said.

“Similarly, if there’s a trade-off between mainstream and special education provision, we could see vulnerable children squeezed out of new school structures and SNAs forced out of work. For all these reasons, it is safer to assume that this is driven by a desire to cut expenditure rather than to protect the interests of children.”

IMPACT is to consult with the education department and will seek to work with other education unions on the issue.

This story was originally published in the IMPACT members’ e-bulletin on Friday 10th January 2014. Read the full edition HERE. The e-bulletin circulates every fortnight to all IMPACT members.

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