The following comments were made today in Seanad Éireann, the upper house of the Irish Parliament…
Senator Paschal Mooney: I am absolutely flabbergasted at the silence of the Department of Education and Skills on the unfolding crisis in the English language schools. There has not been a time over the last 12 to 18 months in which we have not watched on television bewildered, confused, angry and upset foreign students who find themselves closed out of language schools that have suddenly shut down. As a result of this unfolding crisis, there is going to be a public protest next Tuesday outside Dáil Éireann. Students, teachers and staff will unite in protest to highlight what they perceive as the exploitation of international students and staff working in the international education industry. In the last year in Dublin, 13 English language schools have closed, leaving students stranded without courses and leaving staff jobless and without pay.
The question is, who is protecting these students? Who is protecting the teachers and staff? NCBA and Modern Educational Centre have been the most recent international schools in the media as they stopped paying staff seven weeks ago and stopped providing classes to students on 23 April. These schools have not yet closed but if they do, they will be the 14th and 15th language schools to close in Dublin since April of last year. There were only seven inspections of language schools carried out in 2014 and the response from the Department of Education and Skills has been underwhelming to say the least. The Department has done nothing to improve the regulation of schools and language schools continue to operate purely to drive profits without any regard for the impact of school closures on students, teachers or staff. With so many school closures, the industry is now overstaffed and working conditions for teachers and staff are continuing to deteriorate. Teachers who are unionised have received unfair treatment from schools. Zero-hour contracts that are dependent on student numbers on a term-by-term basis, requirements to be paid as contractors so that schools can avoid having PAYE staff and many other issues must be addressed.
I hope that this House will unite in support these unfortunate people next Tuesday. I cannot for the life of me understand why the Department of Education has not grasped this issue. Not only is it impacting on the lives of the people I have outlined, but is also doing international damage to this country as a result of continuing closures on a rolling basis. I am not in any way trying to be politically partisan here. I am sure Members on all sides of the House will agree this issue needs to be highlighted. It has been undercover for too long now. I am sure all Senators are in agreement on this. I ask the Leader to convey the concerns of this House to the Minister for Education and Skills. A public statement on the Department’s exact policy in this regard should be issued as part of an attempt to undo some of the damage that is being done to Ireland. As those who have worked in the teaching profession will be aware, Ireland has a wonderful reputation for teaching the English language. I think Senator Norris might have said at one stage that Dublin is the best place to learn English. It is better to learn it in Ireland rather than England. I hope some action will be taken in this regard and a response will be given to those who will gather outside this House next Tuesday.