Quinn’s reforms were never going to be realised but a start has been made

Next Minister can build on successes but gets a ‘hospital pass’ on third level fees

Ruairi Quinn: it’s to Quinn’s credit that he has developed a strategic alliance with Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin that his successor can build upon

Ruairi Quinn: it’s to Quinn’s credit that he has developed a strategic alliance with Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin that his successor can build upon

Thu, Jul 3, 2014, 01:00

If the Department of Health is Angola, Education is Luxembourg – a conservative realm highly resistant to change – and, as incoming Minister, Ruairí Quinn was always going to have his work cut out delivering on ambitious reforms. All the more so at a time of severe financial constraints.

Yet Quinn can take some pride in small victories. He has started the long-awaited process of changing the patronage of primary schools to reflect the pluralist Ireland of today.

A limited survey of parental demand identified 28 areas where divestment might take place, and this has led to two changes of patronage – one Catholic and one Protestant – along with the creation of three new Educate Together schools. It’s hardly a revolution – 90 per cent of primary schools remain under Catholic control – but it’s a start.

It’s to Quinn’s credit, moreover, that he has developed a strategic alliance with Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin that his successor can build upon.

Another key legacy, for good or ill, is the abolition of the Junior Cert exam. A new Junior Cycle Student Award is being introduced from September on a subject-by- subject basis.

While unions have concerns about the integrity of school-based assessments, these are not insurmountable and the odds are that Quinn’s plan will eventually win the day. A new minister who has less baggage will help the transition.

On budgeting, Quinn has managed the smaller kitty relatively well. Teacher numbers have grown in line with the population, and the school building programme continues with €2 billion committed to 275 new schools and extensions.

By Quinn’s own admission, this ringfencing of resources has been helped by the fact that three out of the four members of the Economic Management Council – Enda Kenny, Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin – are teachers. But against that there has been a squeeze on supports for special educational needs.

While staff numbers have grown, teachers and parents say it is not meeting the increased rate of diagnosis.

Quinn has failed the grasp the nettle of third-level funding. Having been stung by a broken pre-election promise not to raise the student registration charge, he has set up a working group to examine the issue – to report before the general election.

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