Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Thousands join march over school class sizes

By Eimear Ni Bhraonain

Monday November 17 2008

THOUSANDS of teachers descended on the Taoiseach's constituency over the weekend to deliver an angry message to Brian Cowen over Budget cutbacks in education.

Up to 4,000 primary and secondary school teachers and parents stormed O'Connor Square in Tullamore, Co Offaly, roaring slogans to show their anger at the Fianna Fail Budget.

The last time O'Connor Square saw such crowds was on May 16, when the Taoiseach belted out his rendition of the late Frank Sweeney's 'The Offaly Rover'.

But May 16 seemed like a lifetime away on Saturday afternoon as teachers marched towards Brian Cowen's constituency office in Tullamore and hand-delivered petitions from local schools calling for the cutbacks to be reversed.

It was the second of four protests building up to a national rally in Dublin planned for December 6. Teachers from Carlow, Kildare, Laois, Offaly, Westmeath and Longford were among those who made the journey to Tullamore.

It also preceded a meeting of the Federation of Parents Councils in Christian Brothers' and other Catholic Secondary Schools (FEDCBS) in Portlaoise yesterday.

Up to 100 parents attended that event to voice their concerns on the education cutbacks and were addressed by Fianna Fail TD Sean Fleming, Junior Minister John Moloney and Fine Gael TD Charlie Flanagan.

President of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) Declan Kelleher told the rally in Tullamore that parents, teachers and boards of management would continue to oppose the cutbacks, which would "seriously damage" the future of thousands of children.

"We are united in our opposition to these cutbacks on an already underfunded primary education service. Government must be persuaded to change its position," he said.

The INTO also warned that every TD in the country would "get the message" that they would not be re-elected unless the cutbacks were reversed.

Anxious principals exchanged stories on how many teachers they would lose because of the proposals.

Principal of Rathdowney Church of Ireland NS Jean Treacy told the Irish Independent that the Co Laois school was going from three teachers to two from September.

This means the 48 children from junior infants to sixth class will be split into two classes. "We'll have four classes each, it's nearly an impossibility. It's scandalous. We were only beginning to move in the right direction and we're going back to where we were years ago.

"Children are only going to get the one chance at primary school education and we want to deliver the best we can to them and to do our utmost but it's making life very difficult."

Ms Treacy said teachers felt "cheated" by Fianna Fail's election promises to reduce pupil-teacher ratio. "It's all lies, they couldn't be trusted."

- Eimear Ni Bhraonain


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