Quinn defends education cuts
Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has said he could not defend a better pupil-teacher ratio for courses geared at adults than those for teenagers.
Staunchly defending the cuts announced in the Budget for the further education sector, Mr Quinn told the Dáil that while they would have preferred not to make the cuts, they would still spend almost €900 million this year on further education.
He said there would still be 32,688 places for post leaving certificate (PLC) courses despite the increase in the pupil teacher ratio from 17:1 to 19:1.
"In making my decisions last December I found it hard to justify providing more generous pupil teacher ratios in PLC colleges, which are largely geared towards adults, than in second-level schools which cater for teenagers," he said.
He acknowledged the move might well reduce the subject choice available to students. "I trust that chief executive officers of VECs and principals in colleges of further education will protect the courses which deliver the best outcomes."
But Fianna Fáil education spokesman Charlie McConalogue said it was disingenuous and misleading to somehow say these schools are operating on some sort of preferential ratio.
The Donegal North East TD, who introduced a private member's motion calling for the increased ratio to be reversed, insisted: "This is a cut to frontline services and a cut that will decimate the further education and training sector. Hundreds of jobs will be lost and thousands of students will be affected.
"Please don't insult the many teachers here by telling them that you are simply bringing the colleges of further education into line with second level schools."
Mr McConalogue called for a reversal in the cut to the further education sector and said the Government should ensure the sector was protected to continue its proven, very valuable work.
Teachers from the further education and post-leaving certificate sector were in the Dáil public gallery for the debate on education cuts in the Budget, which totalled €90 million.
Mr McConalogue said the future of the country was about education, and would be built on education.
Criticising the Government's approach to education budget cuts, he said last year there were cuts to the Deis or disadvantaged schools, and afterwards the Minister had admitted it was a mistake. But that only came after severe prolonged pressure from schools, teachers, the wider community and members of the Labour Party.
The Donegal North-East TD also pointed to the subsequent cuts in career guidance teacher ratios and said the number of one-to-one hours spent with guidance counsellors was down by half since the cut was implemented.
Mr McConalogue rejected the Minister's assertion that the Government had made considerable efforts to protect frontline education services.
"In those measures you took you didn't fully comprehend the impact of those measures and in this Budget you again don't understand and appreciate the impact of increasing the pupil-teacher ratio from 17:1 to 19:1."
Referring to the equivalent of 200 whole-time posts being cut, he said these were niche courses depending on specialist teachers to bring in specialist knowledge and expertise.
"They are not permanent and will be hit hardest - and many schools will not be able to continue the courses they are currently providing," he said.
"The Minister did an impact assessment on the Budget - but on how that was going to affect you and impact on you politically, rather than the education sector."
He urged Mr Quinn: "Realise what you are doing is going to decimate a sector and do irreparable damage to something that has taken years to build up - a sector that looks after many of the most disadvantaged students, who need the support."
Fianna Fáil Wexford TD John Browne said the cuts to the sector were a disgraceful attack on unemployed and disadvantaged learners trying to access second level education.
Sinn Féin education spokesman Jonathon O'Brien said it was not true to say the Government's move was to protect frontline services. This measure is doing the complete opposite, he said.
Independent TD Michael Healy Rae said the move would ensure hundreds of people would now remain on the dole for life.