One of the things this country got absolutely right during the economic boom was the JCSP (Junior Certificate Support Programme) to encourage young people at risk of dropping out of school to stay in the education system at least until Junior Certificate. This programme was properly planned, properly implement and properly monitored, and it has been famously successful in saving thousands of youngsters from early school-leaving and the appalling (and appallingly expensive) consequences.
An important element of the JCSP programme is the development of school libraries in several schools. So far there are thirty of these in the country, but they have had remarkable success in combating illiteracy and academic failure, as well as opening children's minds in all kinds of ways. The essential features of this very successful intervention are a pleasant, comfortable, welcoming dedicated library space, well-stocked shelves and dedicated and properly trained professional librarians. I know: I have had experience in working on writing projects with children in these libraries, and I have been hugely impressed by the quality of provision and the passion of both librarians and teachers in these schools.
Plans to roll out the JCSP library programme to more JCSP schools are currently on hold, which is regrettable but perhaps understandable in current circumstances. It is very encouraging that there seem to be no active plans to withdraw funding from the JCSP libraries that are already in place. At the same time, however, our wonderful JCSP libraries are under grave threat from the embargo on public sector recruitment. Most of the JCSP librarians are on contracts that are due to finish in August of this year.
If we lose these librarians at this crucial point in the development of this best-practice library system, we will certainly lose the libraries themselves, in which so much has been invested, in terms of time, money and energy, and which have had such success in terms of student use and improved academic standards. We will also lose the experience and expertise in running libraries for teenagers, which we have accumulated for the first time in this country. This would be a tragedy for the children whose libraries will inevitably limp on for a while and finally wind down, but it would be an even greater tragedy for the whole education system, which would lose a successful model on which future development of libraries can be expected to build, as the economy climbs slowly into recovery in the coming years.
For this reason, I appeal to government to make an exception in the case of these contracts, and retain our JCSP librarians. This could be done by redefining them as front-line staff, which in effect they are. This is not about individuals and their jobs. . Our national pride in our literary heritage rings hollow in the face of such a threat to the only properly funded and managed school libraries outside the private schools.