Labour Party plans to punish children for coming from poor families


The election campaign has hardly begun in earnest but already the Labour Party is in the running for the Most Ridiculous Policy Announcement award. While everyone was distracted by the Fianna Fáil/Green Party circus on Sunday last, Labour’s Education spokesperson Ruairi Quinn launched the party’s new policy on tackling Ireland’s Literacy problems ‘Reading As A Right’.

In a policy move that would make the Progressive Democrats proud, Labour suggest that primary schools who fail to meet unspecified ‘literacy targets’ should have their school day extended by half an hour.  Think about that for a second – pupils who are already struggling are to be made stay in school for an extra half an hour a day.

Labour’s own document admits that “…educationally disadvantaged children … are up to four times more likely to score in the lowest 20 per cent of literacy ability.”

“Educationally disadvantaged children” are children who grow up in socially and economically disadvantaged homes – children who grow up in poverty.  We live in a hugely divided society, large numbers of children grow up in homes where their accommodation is sub-standard, where parents struggle to put food on the table, with parents who may themselves have literacy difficulties.  Labour’s answer is to say that schools in disadvantaged areas should be teaching literacy for 120 to 180 minutes per day and to essentially give detention to kids and schools who don’t meet ‘targets’.

Yes, there are literacy problems in the Irish education system. Yes the system needs more investment and needs new and innovative ways of tackling these problems. No, it won’t be solved by this sort of ridiculous move which seems more designed to grab populist headlines than to tackle the underlying causes of what is an issue that deserves thought-out answers.

WORDS: Gregor Kerr