The talk of education
Is Minister for Education, Ruairí Quinn on a collision course with the INTO, the biggest and most powerful teacher union in the State?
Budget leaks suggest an increase in class sizes. But the department has accepted the argument advanced by the ASTI and the TUI that cuts in class size at second level would limit subject choice and generate huge practical problems for smaller schools. Instead, the gaze of Department of Education officials is fixed on primary schools, where, it is argued, the impact would be “less severe” on schools and more “clear cut’’.
Quinn needs to find savings of about €100 million. Some of this will be achieved by cuts in support for fee-paying schools and cuts in school support services. But those savings – about €10 million – will make little impact on that €100 million target.
That explains why Quinn and his officials are so focused on class size. A one-point increase in the staffing schedule at primary level would deliver savings of about €40 million in a full year. Quinn was ready to back a cut last year, but it was vetoed by some senior ministers. This time the department believes it has no alternative. Any increase in class size will infuriate INTO general secretary Sheila Nunan and her 25,000 members. Four years ago the union mobilised more than 100,000 teachers and parents to protest against an increase in class sizes.
The questions now are whether Quinn is prepared to take on the INTO and if there is any other, less painful way to save the same amount.
Estimated number of job vacancies in IT companies which cannot be filled because of the skills gap.
Number of IT experts from outside the EU hired by multi- nationals based in Ireland in the past year.
That WIT flight
The controversy over the decision by Waterford Institute of Technology to charter a plane for a special visitor continues to rumble. Correspondence lodged after a recent meeting of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) shows €4,200 was approved in 2007 by former WIT president Dr Kieran Byrne and former governing authority chair Redmond O’Donoghue. The visitor was Dr Jim Port, a British academic, commissioned by then education minister Mary Hanafin to explore WIT’s case for university status.
The trip involved the hire of an aircraft and a pilot to ferry Port from Bristol’s Filton Airfield to Dublin Airport. There is a separate invoice for €769.56, covering the cost of a Waterford-to-Dublin flight.
In a briefing note to the Comptroller and Auditor General, WIT says its finance office queried the payments but “the President’s office said it was in order to pay”. O’Donoghue says that while the spending may now seem excessive he was “comfortable authorising it at the time”.
Teacher’s Pet is compiled by Seán Flynn; email firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter @SeanFlynnEd