Class sizes in private schools to rise

 

Cuts to maternity leave for teachers and a significant increase in class sizes in fee-paying schools are among the main features of the education budget.

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has also confirmed a further €250 increase in the Student Registration Charge which will be €2,500 from next September.

At a briefing today, Mr Quinn said he had been successful in protecting "frontline services in schools and higher education institutions to the greatest extent possible in the Budget".

After intense pressure from the primary teachers’ union, the INTO, there will be no increase in class size in primary schools. With pupils numbers rising, the decision should create job opportunities for several hundred teachers.

There is also no reduction in the number of Resource Teachers or Special Needs Assistants (SNAs). The DEIS scheme for disadvantaged schools is also fully protected with no overall changes to staffing levels or funding as a result of the Budget.

The two point increase in staffing levels in fee-paying schools, starting from next September - will dismay the sector, which has been targeted by Labour backbenchers. 

Mr Quinn said today the move was designed to promote fairness in funding second-level schools.

The pupil teacher ratio will increase to 23:1 in schools that charge fees. "These schools have the resources, through fees charged, to employ teachers privately, an option which is not available to schools in the free education scheme," Mr Quinn said.

Mr Quinn was under pressure to secure savings of about €90 million from the Department's budget of €8.5 billion - about 80 per cent of this is absorbed by pay and pensions.

"Given that four in every €5 in my gross current budget is spent on pay and pensions, it has not been an easy task to identify the savings of €90 million needed. However, I have sought as far as possible to meet the Programme for Government commitment to prioritise education and to protect frontline services," said Mr Quinn.

Two measures are being taken in order to reduce the substitution costs for teachers and SNAs in schools.

Firstly, sick leave referrals will be harmonised with those that apply in the civil service. This will mean that schools will be required to refer teachers and SNAs to the occupational health service, the equivalent of the company doctor, after four weeks of sick leave.

Secondly, arrangements for maternity leave-in-lieu for teachers and SNAs will be revised, with teachers’ annual leave entitlements covered by school closures. This move will not affect their statutory entitlement to six months’ fully-paid maternity leave and to 16 weeks of unpaid leave. A similar change will take place in respect of adoptive leave in lieu.

In other changes, those on VTOS, Youthreach and other further education and training programmes who move from Jobseekers payments will no longer have their new payments increased to the maximum €188 per week, in cases where their Jobseekers allowance is less than this. However, people under 25 will continue to receive a top-up rate of up to €160 per week.

Other changes include:

* A 3 per cent reduction in the income threshold for entitlement to student grants;

* A “one off’’ €25 million reduction in funding for third level colleges;

* The allocation to VECs will be reduced by €13.2 million in 2013;

The INTO described the budget decision to cut pregnant teachers’ entitlement to time in lieu for some holidays that fall during maternity leave as regressive and unfair.

General secretary Sheila Nunan said the union would closely examine the implications of the decision on equality grounds and would seek advice. But the union welcomed the decision not to change to the staffing schedule in larger schools. An increase in class sizes in all primary schools was widely predicted in the run up to Budget 2013.

Submit your budget queries to experts from The Irish Times and PwC who will  answer questions until noon on December 6th. 

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