Education Budget cuts of €44m a ’difficult challenge’ - Quinn

Private school ratio cuts and student grant capital assessment discussed at meeting

Minister for Education and Skills Ruairi Quinn is addressing an Oireachtas committee on the budget today. Photograph: Cyril Byrne /The Irish Times

Minister for Education and Skills Ruairi Quinn is addressing an Oireachtas committee on the budget today. Photograph: Cyril Byrne /The Irish Times

Wed, Jul 17, 2013, 18:29

Cuts of €44m are required for next year’s education budget which will present a “difficult challenge”, Minister of Education Ruairí Quinn has said.

Seeking to protect frontline education while saving this amount in current expenditure would be challenging, Mr Quinn told the Oireachtas education committee in a pre-budget briefing.

Cuts to non-pay spending which are “already close to the bone” would “present challenges to the continued delivery of quality education services” , he said.

Among the savings discussed at the meeting were a capital assets test for student grants and cuts to the pupil-teacher ratio for private schools.

The € 44 million in extra cuts for Budget 2014 already takes account of extra savings that will accrue next year as a result of previous Budgets such as the increase in the third level registration fees, reduction in capitation payments to schools, he said.

The Department of Public Expenditure has told the Department of Education that it is being “credited” €51m in 2013 from the Haddington Road Agreement, Mr Quinn said. This was the figure assigned whether the unions agreed to Haddington Road or not, he said. No figure had yet been agreed for 2014/2015.

Over three quarters (78 per cent) of the Department’s expenditure is pay and pensions, Mr Quinn said. Aside from Haddington Road , securing further payroll savings would require a “reduction in the number of staff in education” he said.

A capital asset test for student grants could bring a savings “of the order of € 6m”, Mr Quinn said. In such a measure he would like make a “very clear distinction” between working capital cash needed to continue running a business or a farm and cash reserves. However he said it had not there had only been “informal discussion” on the matter which had not been discussed at Cabinet and no decision had been made.

There was a “possibility” of looking again at increasing the pupil teacher ratio in private schools, he said. He was asked by about TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin about disproportionately increasing the pupil ratio. The private school ratio was up to 23:1 from 21:1 last year compared with 19:1 in public schools, Mr Quinn said.

Mr Quinn said “no decisons have been made” in relation to any cuts. “Hopefully we will be able to cut some slack by he economic management council, “ Mr Quinn said of the budgetary negotiation process.

Mr Quinn said the earlier Budget in October 15th presented a “particular challenge” for the education sector because the academic year began in September when a “clearer picture of the student population for the year ahead emerges”.

Mr Quinn indicated that hundreds of extra resource teachers that may be required for extra demand for special needs students had not been budgeted for for the current financial year. He indicated that some 500 extra resource teachers promised after recent concerns over cuts in resource hours for children can be provided for within the existing resources.

“There will be extra teachers needed in the autumn,” Fianna Fail TD Charlie McConalogue said referring to new assessments and those who did not make the deadline. “Those students who need the resource teachers will simply be left waiting” Mr McConalouge asked if €7m in resources would be needed this year if there were 500 teachers over and above the cap to which Mr Quinn said “yes”.

Profiling schools for SNA and resource teachers rather than individuals getting diagnosis to unlock resources was among the measures being discussed in relation to reform of special education allocation, he said.Mr Quinn is to receive a report later this year on different allocation models. Mr Quinn said such a move would be “controversial” but resources were not evenly distributed with those who can afford diagnosis being able to get them.