Representatives from Donegal ETB met with members of the Oireachtas, including Donegal politicians at a special briefing event to discuss the cost-of-living crisis.
The event, held in Buswells Hotel in Dublin last week, was organised by Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI), the national representative body of 16 Education and Training Boards (ETBs) nationwide.
Donegal politicians in attendance included Thomas Pringle, Independent TD.
The event focused on how the cost-of-living crisis is impacting the education sector, and in particular, how the current school meal scheme allowance provided to schools is unrealistic and is causing the scheme to be unworkable.
ETBI represents 277 primary and post primary schools across the country, approximately 125 of which have DEIS status – making them part of the school meal scheme. ETBI called on the government to revise the programme, as a number of ETB schools have reported that current suppliers cannot provide the food to schools at the current rates. There has been no revision of the allowance rates in over ten years.
Anne McHugh, Chief Executive of Donegal ETB, said: “We were delighted to be able to attend the briefing at Buswells Hotel to represent our ETB in Donegal. With the current cost of living crisis, we are concerned for the welfare of our students and learners and want to do everything we can to ensure that they can continue to participate fully in their education.
“We are thankful for the opportunity to be able to speak with TDs and Senators and to have our concerns listened to. From the rising cost of fuel impacting those reliant on cars and lifts from others, to the increase in costs for goods and services affecting the sustainability of the school meals scheme – there are a number of significant challenges arising from the cost of living crisis that are a source of anxiety for learners and families, and we hope that action can be taken by the government to alleviate some of these concerns.
“We were also delighted to share with members of the Oireachtas details of all the education and training services we provide free of charge to their constituents, as well as our ambitious plans for the future in Donegal.”
Also commenting, Paddy Lavelle, Chief Executive of Education and Training Boards Ireland, said: “We were delighted with the turnout for our briefing event. We had representation from all of our ETBs across the country, and they had the chance to brief a wide cross-section of politicians on their concerns for sector, amid the cost-of-living crisis.
“One of the main concerns raised was the current school meals scheme. A substantial meal in the middle of the day is so important, not just for a child’s nutrition but for their mental and physical wellbeing as well. Many ETB schools across the country running the school meals scheme have reported better attendance rates and a reduction in the number of students arriving late. For some children, this may be the only hot meal they get in a day – so it is vital that we do everything we can to ensure that this scheme stays viable.
“There has been no review of the maximum rate of payment under this scheme in over decade, and we are calling on the government for an urgent review of this. With rising costs across everything from fuel to food – it is not possible for suppliers to provide meals to schools at the current rates. This is causing issues with tendering – as suppliers are no longer applying for school meal tenders, and the suppliers in place are withdrawing from the scheme to mitigate their losses. Funding needs to be adjusted in line with the significant cost increases and rising inflation, so that the scheme can continue to run.”
Wider concerns for the sector
In addition to the rates allocated for the school meal scheme, ETBI also highlighted concerns in relation to the allowances provided to Further Education and Training learners. The current rates have not been reviewed since circa 2002.
Paddy Lavelle continued, “ETBI and its member ETBs, are the largest provider of education and training in the state. However, a major barrier to learner access to and participation in further education, in particular disadvantaged learners, is finance – and this has only been exacerbated by the rising cost-of-living.
“We’ve heard anecdotally from ETBs nationwide, including Donegal ETB, that the rising costs of fuel, in particular, is impacting on learners’ ability to travel to classes. Our FET centres are based in counties across Ireland, many of which are in rural locations where public transport is not always an option. Students are having to take on additional jobs to meet their growing expenses, or in many cases have been forced to drop out of their course.”
“The current allowances are an inadequate contribution to recognising the actual day to day costs of rent, bills, and travel and living expenses. The rates have not changed significantly in many years, are not reflective of current costs, and are a barrier to potential learners availing of our courses. We are calling for an urgent revision of these rates, so that learners across the country can continue to upskill and reskill.”
Further information about ETBI is available at www.etbi.ie.