Wednesday, 23 February 2005
James Bannon (Fine Gael)
I welcome the Minister and thank him for taking this motion regarding St. Mary's national school in Drumlish, County Longford, roll number 166655. It is a six-teacher school with four full-time members of the teaching staff, one learning support teacher and one part-time resource teacher for ten hours per week. With 84 pupils on the roll, the school employs a part-time secretary and cleaner as they lack the funding to retain the necessary full-time assistants. It lacks the funding to retain the very necessary full-time assistants. However, the nub of the matter is that the school cannot afford to pay even part-time staff as it receives only €10,414 per annum and needs a minimum of another €7,000 to pay for a full-time secretary and cleaner. In common with school principals around the country who must be all things to all people, the principal of St. Mary's finds that with the need for staff as outlined, the daily three hours of assistance provided by the secretary is quite inadequate to meet the school needs. If the school had the extra funding it could employ the secretary during the school holidays to catch up with important school work.
It is unacceptable to expect the principal to fill the role of school secretary during the hours when the secretary is not there, but that is the reality. When I spoke to the principal this morning, not only was she teaching a class, carrying out her duty as principal, but she had taken three phone calls between 9.30 a.m. and 11.15 a.m. which took her away from her class. She also had to look after a sick pupil and clean up the classroom after the child vomited. This is not an uncommon occurrence, with school nurse duties being added to the work of the already overstretched principal.
In no other sector would one person be expected to undertake so many roles. It is not surprising that the number of applications for the post of school principal has steadily fallen since 1996 and that several schools have no principal because nobody wants the job. A position advertised in any other sector which requires one person to be a teacher, an administrator, a personal manager, a caretaker, a social worker and a nurse would have no takers. I am sure the Minister of State agrees, yet this is what we expect of our school principals. They are not given the funding to employ the necessary back-up services.
The part-time cleaner in St. Mary's is employed only on Wednesdays and Saturdays so the pupils must empty classroom bins at the end of each day to ensure an acceptable standard of hygiene and cleanliness in the school. No school can operate without the necessary backup and St. Mary's is no exception. With demands on funding for essential extra resources, learning supports and audiovisual equipment, which are the backbone of any modern teaching environment, it is shameful to see money diverted into the provision of services which should be provided as a matter of course.
I ask the Minister of State to make up the shortfall in funding for St. Mary's national school and to allow the principal and teachers to have the time and necessary backup to get on with the job they do best, namely, teaching the children in Drumlish. I compliment and thank the principal, Ms Elizabeth Brady, the board of management, the teachers, staff, students and their parents for the wonderful work they are doing in St. Mary's school. Despite the funding difficulties and the day-to-day struggle for necessary resources, this is a happy and motivated learning environment. I hope the Minister of State will take note of what I have said and facilitate the school. A very small sum is needed to give the necessary backup to the principal and her staff, a mere €7,000 per annum. I plead with the Minister of State to give due consideration to the request and I hope his response contains good news.