It could be argued that the most victims falling prey to austerity measures being systematically imposed, are children of school going age. Every budget in the past six years has consistently attacked the standard of living and education of children in this country. The number of children living in consistant poverty and experiencing material deprivation on a daily basis – has doubled to nearly 12 per cent since the recession began. Well over a third of Irish children now live in some form of poverty, with a staggering 600,000 living in food poverty. This article will focus on how some of these savage cutbacks in the education system has further impacted on children and the difficulties schools face in trying to provide a decent education and support service for those most in need.
The impact of austerity on children is clearly seen in schools around the country. The massive increase in child poverty means more children are coming to school cold and hungry. Incidences of inadequate clothing and issues of physical abuse have risen in the last 6 years, since the introduction of austerity. Not only does this have a huge impact on learning in the classroom, but teachers are often on the frontline in dealing with children arriving in school with the weight of the world on their shoulders. Schools in Ireland are still reeling from the effects of savage cuts imposed since the recession began. They already depend on fundraising and voluntary contributions (from parent’s who can’t afford it) for their everyday running costs.
Irish class sizes are second highest in Europe in primary schools. Huge class sizes make it impossible for teachers to give vital individual attention. This has huge implications for children with Special Educational Needs (SEN). We are obliged to protect the most vulnerable children in our society, yet those most in need are the first to suffer. Levels of resourcing hours have dramatically diminished since 2010 and hundreds of Special Needs Assistants (SNA’s) were removed from classrooms, leaving those most vulnerable in dire circumstances. All children with SEN, whether learning or physical, traveller children, those with disadvantaged backgrounds or children whose first language isn’t English have been specifically targeted. It is their constitutional right to have a proper effective education, yet they are being deprived of just that.
Secondary schools are equally suffering. Most schools have lost teachers and their funding have been consistently reduced. Vital guidance counselling hours were cut from young students. Bearing in mind that we have epidemic rates of adolescent self harm, depression and suicide, these vital services were literally a lifeline to students. The seriousness of this is highlighted in one guidance counsellor’s response to the slashing of hours when he said ‘Children are going to die. They will commit suicide. All for the sake of saving money.’ Is this how we want chidren to be valued?
What is the priority of this government’s policies? Is it to support and nurture children or is it to raise billions for bondholders? Unfortunately the answer is glaringly obvious!
Although the last budget wasn’t as severe, small sweeteners are a drop in the ocean to what’s needed to rectify the immeasurable damage which has been inflicted on children in schools. The lack of investment and severe cuts to school budgets will in fact cost more in the long term, with increasing rates of early school leavers being effectively squeezed out of the system. The cycle of poverty will continue and spiral.
The AAA calls for an immediate reversal of all cuts in the education sector. The reinstatement of resourcing hours, guidance counsellors and SNA’s should be a priority. Schools must be adequately resourced and allowed to function in a manner which gives children dignity, respect and their best start.
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