SVP members know of children that will spend their brief childhood years feeling different and isolated.
Different and isolated because they do not have the correct sized uniform or they cannot go on the school trip because their parents cannot afford the costs involved. This, not surprisingly leads to under-achievement in the education system for marginalised and vulnerable individuals and groups in Irish society, many of whom SVP members support.
“We know one mother in extreme financial difficulty who went to a post primary school with €200 (out of the combined weekly Social Welfare payment of €360 for herself, her husband and her daughter) towards her daughter's trip which cost €640. They lived on meagre fare for the week and paid no bills, but there was a deadline for the payment of the money
!” - SVP volunteer North East Region
Despite Ireland having the youngest population in Europe, with 28.2% of the population aged 0-19, Ireland spends relatively limited amounts on education. Ireland’s total expenditure on education is 11.1% of overall Government spend, which is just above the EU average of 10.2% but this fact does not take in to account our young population. What this has meant is schools have continued to experience funding shortfalls and have had to rely on parent’s ‘voluntary’ contributions to meet day-to-day running costs. These costs and others associated with schooling, such as clothing, books, equipment, stationary and transport, obviously bear most heavily on families with limited incomes.
Based on SVP members working with disadvantaged families, SVP recommends the following in budget 2019: End the ‘voluntary’ contribution system in non-fee paying primary and secondary schools and restore the capitation grants to schools back to 2010 levels. Increase funding for the School Meals Programme to improve access to adequate nutrition for low-income students, and extend the medical card waiver to students eligible for concessionary school transport. These recommendations, while not going to transform the educational experience of already disadvantaged students, would go some way to levelling the playing field between advantaged and disadvantaged students.
Education should be made readily available to all who wish to participate within it. It should not only be available to a privileged few, young in age or financially capable. Adults in particular who decide to return to education do so for varied reasons be they career orientated, personal or both. Often, adults have overcome substantial barriers from personal and social perspectives in order to make profound changes in their own lives via the medium of education. Despite a number of policy responses and access initiatives during the period of economic prosperity, there remains a continued divide between those who access education and those who do not.
In Budget 2019 SVP propose a number of recommendations, which if undertaken would ensure that more disadvantaged students could access third level and further education and participate fully.
Many lone parents who seek support from SVP have expressed their interest in attending higher education on a part time basis but the fact they cannot receive the SUSI grant is a major barrier. This creates unfairness and unequal participation of some groups in education. Given the anomaly that exists between full-time students and part-time students in respect of tuition fees, we believe that the student SUSI grant should be provided for part-time students to engage in education and learning. In the 2016/17 academic year the Higher Education Authority statistics show that only 9% of full-time undergraduate new entrants were mature. This clearly demonstrates the need to consider expanding the SUSI grant to part-time learners in order to create a fairer education system, a system that is more reflective of the different needs that exist within society.
We are still seeing the effects of the economic downturn in the education system. Many of the cuts made to the third level and further education system have disproportionately affected low income families. It is now time in budget 2019 to address these inequalities. SVP contend that that cost of education allowance should be extended to all participants who are eligible for the Back to Education Allowance and the adjacent grant distance should be restored to 24km.
Under-achievement in school can have profound consequences for children and adults in later life, not only in terms of economic uncertainty, but also in terms of well- being, health, self-esteem and participation in family and community life. A whole of Government approach is needed to address and prevent many of the barriers faced by marginalised groups accessing and participating in education.
Budget 2019 can address many of these barriers however, by decreasing the actual costs of participation in education in primary, second level and third & further education and investing accordingly.
Read SVP's Pre-Budget Submission 2019 here