Record investment - but schools will need to keep fundraising

Analysis: More funding than ever going into education, though much of it is swallowed up on demographics and public pay deals

The 1,300 extra classroom posts  will just keep pace with the continuing rise in student numbers, rather than reducing the pupil-teacher ratio to average levels for developed countries. File photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

The 1,300 extra classroom posts will just keep pace with the continuing rise in student numbers, rather than reducing the pupil-teacher ratio to average levels for developed countries. File photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

 

On the face of it, certainly, it’s impressive: an eye-watering €10.8 billion for education next year.

That’s record funding for new school buildings, thousands of classroom posts and and additional university places.

But when you dig a bit deeper it’s clear the bulk of this is swallowed up bayoneting the needs of our growing school population, along with pay increases under public sector pay deals, pensions and previously announced capital spending plans.

The 1,300 extra classroom posts, for example, will just keep pace with the continuing rise in student numbers, rather than reducing the pupil-teacher ratio to average levels for developed countries.

The extra funding for higher education - about €57 million this year - means State funding per student will barely budge upwards.

This means our resources for the sector will be a fraction of those in competitor countries such as Germany and the Netherlands.

There’s a record capital budget for new schools and education facilities - though a large chunk of this is to provide about 45 large-scale school projects in areas where the population is growing rapidly.

In many ways, it feels like much of the record investment is simply to ensure the system treads water at a time when there are record numbers of children in the education system.

Where, ask some, is the kind of funding for decisive, system-wide change if we’re really serious about fulfilling the Government’s aim of creating the best education and training system in Europe?

Minister for Education Richard Bruton rejected any suggestion that next year’s budget was to keep the system ticking over.

He points out that millions are being set aside for school excellence funds and leadership initiatives, along with ambitious plans to ramp up our output of apprenticeships.

There’s also a new fund to be established in 2020 for higher education to help tackle emerging skills needs.

More broadly, he references curricular reforms, the addition of new subjects and excellent achievements which put our 10 year olds towards the top of the global league table for reading.

And he’s right: there have been hugely impressive achievements and the system is certainty heading in the right direction.

But there are still hangovers of the austerity era which don’t sit well nowadays with our ambition to be the best education and training system in Europe.

Schools, for example, are still heavily reliant on voluntary contributions and fundraising to pay for basics such as heat, light and maintenance.

Budget 2019 provides a 5 per cent increase in school capitation this year, the first in a decade, equivalent to €8.50 per student at primary level.

When asked why more wasn’t announced to at least fully reverse austerity era cuts, education sources said it would have meant cutting from other non-negotiables such as extra teachers and special needs assistants.

We may have record education spending - but the school’s tin raffle box isn’t going away anytime soon.

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