Cut to capital budget will ‘not affect’ plans for thousands of new school places

Millions of euro from capital education budget diverted into teaching supports

Minister for Education Joe McHugh says millions of euro from the planned capital budget for next year is being diverted into day-to-day spending on resources for special needs and other pupils. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Education Joe McHugh says millions of euro from the planned capital budget for next year is being diverted into day-to-day spending on resources for special needs and other pupils. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

The Government has insisted that thousands of planned new school and college places will be delivered next year despite a cut to the capital budget for education.

Minister for Education Joe McHugh has confirmed that millions of euro from the planned capital budget for next year is being diverted into day-to-day spending on resources for special needs and general teaching provision.

As a result, the overall capital budget this year is €922 million, down €19 million on last year. This is the first cut to the capital budget in six years.

It comes at a time where there is acute pressure to deliver new schools, renovate old buildings and tackle building defects in dozens of substandard schools.

At a press conference at Government Buildings on Wednesday, Mr McHugh said 30,000 planned additional school places would still be delivered as promised next year.

He said he reached an “understanding” with the Department of Public Expenditure that some of the capital budget would used for current spending due to the pressure to meet the needs of a growing school-age population and pupils with special needs.

“This will not in any way affect [building] plans for next year. We will provide an extra 30,000 places, we’ve got new schools, new additional buildings and these are all near-zero energy bodings. We will continue apace.”

Of the €922 million capital budget for next year, a total of €620 million will go towards school buildings. This is down from €622 million last year.

Demographic pressures

Overall, the bulk of this year’s €11 billion education budget – up 3 per cent on last year – has gone towards meeting demographic pressures linked to the growing school population.

Hundreds of extra teachers will be hired next year along with more than 1,000 additional special needs assistants.

In addition, all schools will see a 2.5 per cent increase in the State’s capitation grant per child from September 2020.

There will be no reduction in the overall pupil-teacher ratio for schools nationally, though small schools – with four teachers or fewer – will benefit from improved teacher staffing levels.

This mean two-teacher schools will be able to retain a second teacher with an enrolment of 16 pupils and recruit at 17; three-teacher schools will retain at 50 pupils and recruit at 52; and four-teacher schools will retain at 80 pupils and recruit at 83.

About half of the country’s primary schools have four or fewer teachers, though they account for just a quarter of enrolments.

Mr McHugh said that if there had been greater scope for spending, he would have liked to have increased school capitation and reduced the overall pupil-teacher ratio.

“The focus which we had from day one was to protect frontline services around special needs, such as school transport and taxi transport... It’s what we wanted to protect at all costs.”

Additional funding

In higher and further education, a detailed breakdown of the budget shows there is an extra €153 million for the sector this year.

Much of this additional funding has been sourced from a levy on employers which is ring-fenced for education and training.

This includes a new €60 million “human capital initiative” which is aimed at assisting the third-level sector to respond to the challenges of technological disruption and the changing world of work.

There is also €18 million to address demographic pressures which will create 2,700 third-level places.

In addition, there is fund to assist the development and progression of technological universities, as well as a new €3 million “research excellence” fund.

This competitive fund is aimed at strengthening the research capability of the higher education sector.

A further €2 million is being invested for student mental health and wellbeing initiatives in the higher-education sector, which will lead to the appointment of an estimated 30 counsellors.