Teacher's Pet


Budget was kind to Quinn

In narrow political terms, Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn had a very good budget. Cuts totalling €132 million from an overall education budget of close to €9 billion represents a very good result.

The increase in student charges (€250) was much less than envisaged while Quinn managed to avoid substantial cuts in the pupil teacher ratio at primary school.

The result underlines Quinn’s status as a senior minister and someone who carries real weight in the Cabinet. He is well placed to be Ireland’s next EU commissioner.

But the budget outcome – while good for Quinn – was not so good for the education sector. Indeed, some of the decisions made – or not made – could impose long-term damage on the system.

The failure to provide a long-term sustainable base for higher education is the most striking mistake.

A student contribution fee of €2,250 will simply not generate enough revenue to address the funding crisis at third level.

Things will get worse before they better. Irish colleges will continue to slide down the international rankings while the expected 40 per cent increase in enrolment by 2020 will push the crisis to breaking point.

Meanwhile, the cuts in postgraduate supports will undermine Ireland’s research base.

Budget winners . . .

Ruairí Quinn, the INTO, the Union of Students in Ireland, parents of children with special needs and the 100k-plus club in education (whose salaries are protected by the Croke Park agreement).

. . . and losers

Guidance counsellors, fee-paying schools, higher education, postgraduate students, modern laguages in primary schools.

Race heats up for top job

The race to be the next secretary general of the Department of Education will intensify over the coming weeks. But will any of the seven university presidents or the heads of the ITs apply?

College heads have been very critical of the low priority given by the “Department of Schools and Teachers” to third-level matters. But will any step up to the plate?

There is also speculation Anne Looney, head of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (and sister of broadcaster Fiona Looney) could be a candidate. Looney is much admired in the department for her success in pushing through those Junior Cert reforms.

HEA boss Tom Boland is also likely to be a strong candidate. But department heavyweight Pat Burke will not be applying.

Three names will come from the interview panel to Ruairí Quinn who will make the final decision. Clearly, those who know Quinn are best placed to get the job.

Our best guess is that the race appears to be between three assistant secretaries – Kevin McCarthy, Martin Hanevy and Seán Ó Foghlú.

Wunderkind McCarthy is the current front runner.

Counsellors furious

Who killed off the guidance counsellors? And could some school leaders be implicated?

Guidance counsellors are furious at the budget cut which they say will dismantle an essential service built up over 30 years.

But how did the cut materialise? The suggestion is that the idea was first floated by some senior school leaders who claimed guidance counsellors were unaccountable in schools and a “luxury” they could do without. There are even suggestions in Department of Education briefing documents that some school leaders offered cuts in guidance as an alternative to general increases in class size.

Guidance counsellors are right to resent the criticism of their role. Most do outstanding, unheralded work in schools. But were they stitched up by more senior colleagues?

Got any education gossip? Email sflynn@irishtimes.com or teacherspet@irishtimes.com