Wholesale educational reform needed to tackle disadvantage before and during COVID-19

Pavee Point is part of the Children’s Futures Campaign and is working in solidarity to achieve educational reform to bring about equal outcomes in education for Travellers and Roma.

The Children’s Futures Campaign, established in February 2021 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and comprising 13 children and young people organisations, is today throwing a spotlight on failures within the education system to tackle educational disadvantage “before and during Covid-19” and calling on Government to instigate wholesale educational reform. 

Almost 200 people are attending a webinar hosted by the campaign today, as part of #ChildrensFuturesIRL Education Awareness Month in September, where there will be calls on Government to prioritise schools and the education of children and young people in the national response to the Covid-19 pandemic. 


Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, and co-founding campaign member said: “The Government needs to develop a whole-of-Government approach in the form of a clear action plan to address the impact of the pandemic and school closures on children and young people, particularly those already experiencing disadvantage. It’s about Covid-proofing the education system and refocusing it in the best interests of children. This will require a suite of interventions to address learning loss. Government has already started this work, establishing the CLASS scheme, a little over a week ago, whfich is a positive development. Yet we need so much more if we are to truly tackle the inequalities embedded in the system.” 

Campaign members can point to a body of evidence demonstrating the devastating impact of Covid-19 on children and young people, particularly those already experiencing difficulties ahead of March 2020: 

  1. Barnardos’ Back to School Survey, published in June, found over 10% of children had spent less than an hour a day learning during lockdown.   
  2. Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP), through an online membership survey in February, explored the impact of the digital divide among primary, secondary and third level students during the pandemic, and found half of their Members had received direct requests from families for help with digital devices since the start of the pandemic. 
  3. Dyslexia Association of Ireland surveyed their parents over the summer months and almost 60% said they believed lockdowns and remote learning had led to their child falling further behind in their literacy levels. 
  4. The Children’s Rights Alliance can point to several Members who have picked up similar concerns. For example, a Childhood Development Initiative study this month, asking parents of young children, based in the Dublin area, about their experiences during the pandemic, found that a top issue for respondents involved their child’s socio-emotional wellbeing and development. The wrench of not being able to see friends because of school closures had led to real difficulties, with their child’s development deterioriating, and real fears of what it would all mean for their child’s mental health.  

Keynote speaker Dr Paul Downes, Director of the Educational Disadvantage Centre at Dublin City University (DCU), said: “This year successive Oireachtas Education Committee Reports in response to Covid and on Mental Health in Schools have given the same key recommendation to the Minister for Education, Norma Foley, that specialist emotional counselling and therapeutic supports be provided in all primary and secondary schools as an ‘urgent priority’. Ireland is playing catch up on this glaring gap in provision in schools compared to many countries in Europe and internationally. Specialist emotional counsellors/therapists in schools must be directly and substantially funded in the forthcoming budget.”

Tracey Reilly, newly appointed Education Officer at Pavee Point, said: “Traveller and Roma education is in a state of crisis. Marginalisation and discrimination are embedded and endemic within the education system and have been exacerbated by Covid-19 and I have seen this for myself. We are working with other organisations on this important campaign to begin to bring about necessary change.”

Julie Helen of Inclusion Ireland said: “It is immaterial if we’re in a pandemic or not. The reality for children and young people with intellectual disabilities is that many will be excluded in some shape or form during their school years, because they’re inconvenient for our one-size-fits-all education system. Much of this is characterised by poor planning or lack of appropriate supports, leaving everyone frustrated. We know that children with intellectual disabilities, who have long absences from school can suffer regression in their learning – this is not new information. It’s time Government leads on this, so our children can start making up some lost ground, and that this never happens again in the future.” 

Marcella Stakem of SVP said: “Education is the ultimate enabler out of poverty. But if children and young people do not have the tools to learn, like school books, digital equipment, and access to nutritional food, this really hinders their experience of school. Government must act with urgency, but it is also right to take the time to develop a comprehensive approach, an approach that would see educational disadvantage being an issue of the past. We need to ensure that the current and future cohorts of students can participate in school on an equal footing and secure educational outcomes regardless of their parents’ economic status.’’ 

Catherine McCurdy, Project Worker at Barnardos, said: “We are concerned about the impact school costs have on families across the country and the negative effect they can have on children’s engagement with education. From our survey, we know that the pandemic has made it even harder for parents to meet these costs this year.  Additionally, from our services we know that the extended lockdowns have led to some children struggling to get back into school routines and adhere to rules. We believe that schools should be further supported to take a trauma informed approach to challenging behaviour, reducing the risk of exclusion of children, particularly from certain disadvantaged communities.” 

In addition to hearing from young people from campaign member SpunOut.ie, panellists include Dr Paul Downes, Director of the Educational Disadvantage Centre at Dublin City University (DCU); Julie Helen, Inclusion Ireland; Catherine McCurdy, Barnardos; Tracey Reilly, Pavee Point; and Marcella Stakem, Society of St Vincent de Paul. 

The #ChildrensFuturesIRL Campaign was established early in 2021 to work with Government, education partners and others to secure a cross-party, cross-sector public commitment to prioritise reopening – and keeping open – schools in line with public health advice and to limit the negative impact of lockdown on a generation of children and young people. Current members include founding members AsIAm, Barnardos, Children’s Rights Alliance, Inclusion Ireland, and National Parents Council Primary, as well as Pavee Point, Children’s Books Ireland, Dyslexia Association of Ireland, Foróige, SpunOut.ie, Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and UNICEF Ireland.