Quinn under pressure as budget approaches
Although many of the main education proposals have been well flagged, next week’s budget is still expected to include some nasty surprises. Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn and his team are finalising the shape of their proposals. But it is a time-consuming process involving never-ending consultation with other Ministers, the Labour grassroots and the education partners.
The Minister (below) will press ahead with the proposed increase in student registration. Officials seem confident the proposed increase of no more than €500 will be gratefully accepted by a student movement that has successfully resisted the return of fees of €5,000 or more. The Union of Students in Ireland will still kick up a fuss, and there will be more photographs of the Minister singing that infamous pledge to oppose any new form of third-level fees, but the Department of Education believes the increase in student charges is still the least-worst option.
On other fronts, Quinn is under intense pressure to abandon the plan to cut supports for postgraduates. He may also be reluctant to sanction any cuts in special-needs assistants, despite having the cover of a report that highlighted serious flaws in the allocation of SNAs in schools.
That said, Quinn’s room for manoeuvre is very limited, as pay and pensions account for close to 80 per cent of the €9 billion education budget. And there is no low-hanging fruit.
There is speculation that he might cut into the €236 million paid in management allowances to teachers. He might also like to target the expensive supervision and substitution scheme. But any such move could run counter to the Croke Park deal, which protects public-service pay and conditions until 2014.
Overall, Quinn does not want any education cuts in the budget to distract from his reform agenda. But is a land mine buried in his budget plans?
Chief inspector set to skip education race
The battle to succeed Brigid McManus as secretary general at the Department of Education has taken a new twist. Chief Inspector Harold Hislop has signalled to colleagues that he will not be a candidate. Hislop, who has been chief inspector for only a short period, apparently believes he has important unfinished business in his current role.
All of this means that the race appears to be between three assistant secretaries – Kevin McCarthy, Martin Hanevy and Seán Ó Foghlú – provided no external candidate dazzles the interview board. HEA boss Tom Boland is also in the frame.
ASTI in the news? Surely some mistake
What’s going on at the ASTI? The secondary teachers’ union is rerunning an election among members in Donegal for a place on its standing committee, or executive. In truth, the ASTI could do with some controversy. After years in which it dominated the news agenda, it has now virtually slipped off the media radar.
School league tables here to stay
The response to the Irish Timesschool league tables last week was extraordinary, with countless calls and e-mails from parents (and teachers) seeking copies. The tables are part of the education landscape, despite being severely criticised by the education establishment. Will they ever learn? Teacher unions, the Department of Education and the rest of them should be working to give parents more information on schools. The traditional culture of secrecy is not working.
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