Quinn’s reforming zeal acknowledged by educators

ASTI says it was ‘unfortunate’ his ministry came at time of financial crisis

Education stakeholders have acknowledged Ruairi Quinn’s reforming zeal as Minister for Education, although with mixed sentiment. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien / The Irish Times

Education stakeholders have acknowledged Ruairi Quinn’s reforming zeal as Minister for Education, although with mixed sentiment. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien / The Irish Times

Wed, Jul 2, 2014, 13:19

Education stakeholders have acknowledged Ruairi Quinn’s reforming zeal as Minister for Education, although with mixed sentiment.

While Mr Quinn impressed many by his commitment to the portfolio, he became embroiled in a number of disputes, including his planned reform of the junior cycle and attempts to make the predominantly Catholic-controlled primary sector more pluralistic.

Responding to the resignation announcement, ASTI president Sally Maguire said it was unfortunate that Mr Quinn’s period as minister came at a time of “unprecedented financial crisis in Ireland which gravely impacted on investment in education”.

She said: “The ASTI was fundamentally opposed to the Minister’s decision in relation to axing ex-quota guidance counsellors, resource teachers, school middle management structures and numerous other regressive education cuts.

“There is no doubt that the Minister has a keen interest in education reform. While the ASTI supported aspects of his Junior Cycle reform programme, it is regrettable that he failed to consult with the classroom practitioners on his proposals to replace the national State certified Junior Certificate examination.”

Accentuating the positives, TUI general secretary John MacGabhann said: “While we had serious differences on the issue of Junior Cycle, we acknowledge the Minister’s commitment, notwithstanding the constraints of the austerity programme, to ensuring that all pupils have access to a public education system of the highest quality.

“It is also greatly to the Minister’s credit that he had begun to address the crisis of casualisation among teachers and lecturers in the education system.”

The chief executive of the Higher Education Authority Tom Boland described Mr Quinn as “one of the most innovative and reform minded Ministers of Education”.

Mr Boland said: “His commitment and contribution to the reform of higher education and research, which will ensure that the sector continues to meet Ireland’s social and economic needs, is a particularly noteworthy legacy.”

While Mr Quinn drew widespread criticism from third-level students for reneging on a pre-election promise not to increase the college registration fee, the Union of Students in Ireland paid a warm tribute to the departing minister.

“Minister Quinn served at a time of serious upheaval in government,” the union said in a statement. “Students remember the pledge he made not to increase student fees before the last general election and rue his inability to keep to his promise. However, we note that Minister Quinn was one of the very few ministers prepared to come to USI congress to defend his position, take questions and debate the reasons why.

“Minister Quinn engaged with USI on a regular basis and initiated a constructive and frank relationship with the student movement. We hope that his successor, whomever that should be, will retain a good level of communication and discourse with students and we look forward to the development of a higher education system recognised as a public good, affordable to all, with appropriate supports for students and the student voice at the centre of decision making.

One of Mr Quinn’s last acts in office this week was to name the members of a new working group to examine funding options for third level, with outgoing USI president Joe O’Connor named on the board.