'Peel back the PR and what has Ruairí Quinn done?'
LEFTFIELD:The Fianna Fáil spokesman urges the Minister for Education to put aside party politics
In 1959, the Fianna Fáil Education Minister Patrick Hillery considered those arguments which said that we couldn’t afford to invest in education. In the end he concluded that “if Ireland is to have a future we must have more education”.
This philosophy is as valid today as it was in 1959. Despite the many serious problems our country faces, we can be certain that Ireland will emerge from this crisis largely because of the investment in education over the last decade. In a country without substantial natural resources, education is the single most significant strategic advantage we can develop.
Currently, in Ruairí Quinn, we have a Minister for Education who enjoys the praise of commentators and is presented as Ireland’s most reforming minister. I accept without reservation that he is changing things, but is it positive reform?
The role of an education minister in a time like this must surely be as the guardian of education spending, as a promoter of our education resource and as a bulwark against those who see the cost of everything and the value of nothing when it comes to the country’s strategic advantage.
Unfortunately, when we peel back the excellent PR, it becomes increasingly hard to argue that Minister Quinn fulfils any of these roles.
Currently, it is proposed by Government to remove a further €90 million from the education budget next year. It simply isn’t possible to inflict a further €90 million in cuts to the education sector without doing real damage to education standards, undermining economic growth and increasing inequality. The cuts implemented last year were devastating in terms of their social and educational impact on the most disadvantaged students.
Minister Quinn’s primary failing in the role of promoter of our education resource has been his decision that in order to create a narrative for his own success, he must begin by claiming that our education system is a failure and in a state of crisis.
His narrative not only ignores the many achievements and strengths of the Irish education system but does an incredible injustice to those working in the sector.
Morale in the teaching profession is at an all-time low as a result of Minister Quinn’s PR campaign and because of the cuts to pay and qualification allowances for new entrants. In Fianna Fáil, we believe there must be incentives for high achieving, well-educated people to enter the teaching profession and that their qualifications and achievements be recognised. We are hugely concerned at the effect that the new two-tier teaching structure will have on educational outcomes in the years ahead as more and more young teachers enter the system and find themselves doing the same work as their better-paid, older colleagues. It won’t be long before we start to see the damaging impact of these cuts on education standards. If we are to value education, we must begin by valuing teachers.
In our alternative budget, Fianna Fáil has managed to achieve the necessary fiscal adjustment for 2013 while protecting the education sector from any further cuts. We have found sufficient savings in other areas to reverse cuts to third-level grants, increase the number of SNAs and also reverse the cuts to rural DEIS schools.
We have also produced a detailed package of reforms that would allow restoration of the career guidance programme to schools. Last year, Minister Quinn managed to wipe out an entire service that had taken years to develop. This was deeply damaging and has left schools struggling to provide an emergency counselling service to students with mental health problems. It was a cut too far and must be reinstated.
Before Ruairí Quinn proceeds with the projected €90 million in cuts on December 5th I would call on him to put aside party politics, to look at our proposals and to reflect on the achievements and philosophy of the genuinely reforming education minister Patrick Hillery who managed to transform the education landscape at a time of economic constraint.
Charlie McConalogue is Fianna Fáil Spokesman on Education and Skills