Prioritising tax cuts would be immoral and irresponsible, says economist

Children need protection from ‘tax-cutting mania’, says Nevin institute director

Nevin Economic Research Institute director Tom Healy told the INTO conference “societies should not spare on investment in the early years”.

Nevin Economic Research Institute director Tom Healy told the INTO conference “societies should not spare on investment in the early years”.

 

Prioritising tax cuts ahead of investment in early childhood development would be “immoral, economically irrational and fiscally irresponsible”, the director of the Nevin Economic Research Institute (NERI) has said.

Speaking at the opening of the INTO primary teachers’ conference, Tom Healy said “societies should not spare on investment in the early years because, potentially, there is a large social and economic dividend that allows for a more efficient and balanced provision for education throughout the lifecycle.

“This is what I call ‘downside up’ education.”

Mr Healy, who previously worked as an economist with the department of education, said children needed to be protected “from the ravages of the tax-cutting mania”.

While there had been no alternative to austerity following the financial crash, “there were other options” for the Government, and there were also options now.

“Let me be abundantly clear about this. How can we as keepers of the democratic revolution tolerate a situation where 3,000 children . . . are waiting more than a year for urgent speech and language therapy when there is talk of cutting income tax?

“This is immoral, economically irrational and fiscally irresponsible.”

He noted some OECD countries invested more in higher education than primary education but this “does not make sense”, given the payback of early intervention in the long run.

Mr Healy also cited a risk of boys disengaging from education due to the “predominantly academic approach” taken at second level.

Traditional methods

“There is much in the area of cognitive sciences and even recent brain research to lead us to question traditional methods and approaches to teaching and school organisation.

“The idea of a detached, rote-learning and hierarchical way of organising schools and formal education does not properly keep with the way in which people naturally learn.

“Thankfully much curricular progress has been made in recent decades to change the way education happens - especially at primary level.

“My sense is that much work is still needed at secondary level in most OECD countries to transform the way teenagers are ‘educated’ at this crucial transitional stage of life. Emphasis on terminal examinations, testing and a predominantly academic approach to teaching and learning may be unhelpful.”

However, he stressed, apprenticeship-type education was “not a panacea”.

In his opening address to the conference in Ennis, Co Clare, INTO president Sean McMahon renewed the union’s call for repeal of section 37.1 of Employment Equality Acts which allows religious employers to discriminate in recruitment where it was deemed necessary to protect the ethos of their institutions.

The Catholic church has argued that abolition of the section 37.1, as planned by the Government, would undermine religious freedom. But Mr McMahon said “its continued existence is unnecessary.

“Employers in religious-run schools are adequately protected by other parts of the legislation in ensuring that teachers are willing and competent to carry out their jobs in religious run schools.”

“Amending a bad law does not change it. Section 37.1 causes real anxiety to teachers whose family status, sexual orientation or gender identity may be perceived as being in conflict with the ethos of a school,” said Mr McMahon.