Investment in teachers ensures ‘stand-still’ situation for education

Reduction in capitation grant still going ahead

The 1 per cent reduction in capitation grants is still going ahead, heaping more pressure on cash-strapped schools.

The 1 per cent reduction in capitation grants is still going ahead, heaping more pressure on cash-strapped schools.

 

Joe Humphreys

Education Correspondent

For the first time in several years, the budget focus was on spending rather than cuts in education. Some 1,700 new teachers and special needs assistants (SNAs), an extra €6 million for literacy programmes, and new capital investment in universities topped the list of goodies.

Underlying these announcements, however, were a number of major savings across schools and colleges that remain in place despite the economic upturn.

The 1 per cent reduction in capitation grants is still going ahead, heaping more pressure on cash-strapped schools. Also going ahead is a further 1 per cent reduction in core pay for higher education institutions, and an increase in student contribution fees by €250.

An extra €5m has been allocated to junior cycle reform, indicating Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan’s intent to continue with the reforms begun by her predecessor Ruairi Quinn. An extra €3m for high-speed broadband and €600,000 for pre-school inspections feature too.

However, there is disappointment across primary and secondary schools about a long list of grievances not addressed in the budget. These include the moratorium on filling assistant principal posts - a situation described by Ms O’Sullivan’s own officials as “unsustainable”, cuts in guidance counselling and continued overcrowding in classrooms.

Some €25m which was withheld from higher education by former minister Mr Quinn is being restored by his successor, which will give them a small cash-flow boost. Ms O’Sullivan has also announced plans to front-load the maintenance grant to help students pay housing deposits. Now they will get four of their maintenance payments before Christmas rather than three.

Ultimately, however, this was a budget decided by demographics. The investment in teaching and SNA posts ensures a stand-still situation for schools, with an extra 40,000 children due to enter the system in the next three years.

Ms O’Sullivan says she will sit down with teachers, colleges and other education stakeholders in the months ahead to discuss the sector’s more systemic problems. After several years of austerity, these can’t be underestimate