Children attending St Patrick’s NS Clogh in Castlecomer were almost left in freezing cold classrooms because the school had no money for heating due to Government cutbacks.
Last year’s cut to the maintenance grant for minor repairs left the school without covering funds for when anything is broken. So when the playground began to subside dangerously a few months ago, the school was forced to use its remaining funds to fix it.
They were then left without money for heating oil. Principal James Walsh asked the Department of Education for emergency funding, but his request was not granted.
The next basic grant is not due until the end of January. And so a team of 30 volunteers established a bagpacking effort – not to raise funds for a trip abroad or a new playground – but simply to keep their children warm. The local community gave generously, and they raised over €1800.
“In one fell swoop, these grants were gone,” said Mr Walsh.
“The parents’ council shouldn’t have to be funding this sort of thing. We are now surviving from month to month. The ways things are in terms of primary education, we have gone back about 20 years.”
The chairperson of the parents’ council, Aine Geoghean, has written to the Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn, imploring him to reverse cuts and reinstate grant programmes.
“When we started the parent’s council, we had a vision that funds raised would be used to supplement our children’s’ education – possibly in the areas of the arts, sports, languages,” she writes in her letter.
“What has happened this term is that we ran out of oil, and did not have the money to pay for it. The school had no heating, our children were going into school and wearing jumpers, hoodies, gillets.”
Ms Geoghean says the state has a responsibility to fund schools sufficiently to ensure that children are warm and safe in school.
“These cuts have resulted in unsafe and unfair conditions within which our children are expected to learn and develop as future citizens of this country,” she says.
“What they are learning is that they are not valued and that they are not a priority.”
This is not the first time that the school, which has 81 pupils and four teachers, has been left high and dry by the Department. Many of the classes are presently taught in pre-fab buildings.
Four times in recent years, the school has been approved for an extension. Each time, nothing has happened.