“We were telling them they were not worth more”

This is a piece written by Trina Golden, Principal of Ennis Educate Together National School to highlight the accommodation issues facing so many school communities.  School accommodation is one of the key issues of Educate Together’s election awareness campaign: ‘Treating All Children Equally’.  Read more about the campaign here.

“Ennis Educate Together celebrated its 20 year anniversary last year. A huge milestone for any school, and one of the longest standing Educate Together schools in Munster. Ennis ETNS is also a DEIS Educate Together school, serving a community with exceptionally high levels of disadvantage. When the parents who campaigned long and hard for an Educate Together in Clare finally had their goal realised, I wonder how they imagined the school 20 years later. I wonder how parents currently campaigning for schools imagine their new schools in 20 years time.

I wonder did they imagine the school, still in the same temporary accommodation as when they originally began in 1998. In prefabs which were already a decade old at that point, with another school having used them previously. I wonder did they imagine prefabs not fit for occupation in any shape or form, with holes in floors, ceilings leaking and entire rooms closed off due to black mould. I wonder did they imagine accommodation which was always cold and damp. Where staff and pupils alike knew to wear extra layers at all times. Where the energy efficiency levels meant the electricity bill was eating up 30% of the school’s entire capitation funding. A situation which contributed to the inability to even buy school books for the children until November in the year of the 20th anniversary. For some reason, I imagine not.

Black mould in Ennis ETNS’s previous accommodation.

I imagine they pictured a wonderful, fit for purpose, permanent school building at this point. In fact, they probably pictured a somewhat worn and well used permanent building by now. Why wouldn’t they, every other school in Ennis has appropriate permanent accommodation. Three schools in the town have had new builds in recent years which are a credit to all involved in them. They are beautiful. They are well designed, they are wonderful spaces to teach and to learn in. They are the type of spaces every child in the country deserves to be educated in. They are warm, safe, inspiring places for the children to start dreaming about their futures. They have appropriately sized classrooms and special education rooms. They have spaces for sensory rooms and special classes. They have school halls, so they can ensure pupils stay active regardless of weather. They are amazing.

Amazing, yet really, they are the bare minimum. They are the bare minimum we should expect, and demand as spaces for our children to learn and grow. We should not in 2020 be arguing for our schools to be warm, for our schools to be safe, and to have appropriate classes. Purpose-designed spaces to inspire teaching and learning must be our bare minimum.

“… prefabs not fit for occupation in any shape or form…”

Last year, on our 20th anniversary, we were failing our children. Just as we are failing thousands of children across the country. We were telling them that this is all they deserve. We were telling them they were not worth more. That they didn’t deserve books, or resources or a warm, safe place to go to school. We were showing them how much we valued them, day in, day out, by asking them to continue to walk through the doors. We couldn’t justify continuing to do so. Continuing to give our children that message. Many of them faced very difficult circumstances, some were homeless, some would have had difficult living conditions at home. School should have been their safe place, their warm place, where we met their every need as our most vulnerable members of society. It wasn’t, so we refused to continue. In July, after efforts to secure more appropriate accommodation with the Department of Education failed, we engaged a health and safety assessor who condemned the main school building/prefab. At that point we had nowhere to open for September. This seemed to make the impossible possible and new temporary accommodation was sanctioned immediately.

Our new prefabs were finished fully October last. The reactions of the staff and pupils were incredibly positive. They now have safe, warm classrooms to teach and learn in for the most part. Their joy at what should be a basic requirement really brought home the scandal that was the conditions they had to endure for the last number of years. The new prefabs are lovely and of a high standard, but they’re still prefabs. They have a shelf life before we start to encounter the same issues. We deserve more. We deserve a permanent building. We deserve a home.

Every school, child and staff member in the country deserves a suitable, safe and warm place to teach and learn. Not only those with loud voices, in key areas or where someone knows someone. Everyone, but in particular our most disadvantaged and vulnerable children. This must be an election issue, but right now it isn’t. It’s up to everyone to make it one.”

Read about our General Election 2020 campaign here.