Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD has criticised the lack of ambition shown by the Minister for Education in her Budget 2021 plans.
He expressed particular disappointment that some of the most disadvantaged children will be passed over for the pupil-teacher ratio reduction.
Speaking this evening, Teachta Ó Laoghaire: “The pandemic showed us that Irish schools are underfunded, understaffed, and overcrowded.
“Budget 2021 provided the government with an opportunity to finally address these longstanding issues and to make sure that our education system is never again as vulnerable as Covid-19 has shown it to be. The minister has missed the boat on this.
“I welcome the additional allocation of special education teaching posts, but there are many areas where the department has not shown the same levels of ambition, and others where the plans are unclear.
“I welcome that a commitment has been made to reduce pupil-teacher ratios, however a reduction of one point is not the shift of two points that was needed to radically change the experience.
“Shamefully, for some of the most disadvantaged schools in the country, DEIS band one schools, the majority of them will not see a reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio. Not a single point.
“The department has proposed to extend the planned class size reductions to DEIS band one senior schools only, ignoring DEIS band one junior and vertical schools, which is the majority of the 299 DEIS band one schools.
“I also know that post primary teachers are disappointed that their overcrowded classrooms are not being tackled either.
“Not only would Sinn Féin have reduced the pupil-teacher ratio by two points, but we committed to a fund of €100m to enable this, tackling schools struggling the most with space.
“The government also missed an opportunity in terms of capitation funding for schools. The small pot of additional funding in July to tackle increased Covid-related costs, whilst welcomed, was merely a sticking plaster for the wider funding issues that primary and secondary schools are dealing with. It appears the government does not intend to make any increase on what was promised in July.
“Schools across the state are having to fundraise or charge parents to pay for essential services such as heat and light, or essential safety materials to protect against Covid-19.
“If we were in government, we would have increased capitation to primary and post-primary schools by €14.7m to ensure these costs were met by the state, and not as an additional burden on parents and schools.
“I am also extremely concerned that the government does not intend to honour its commitments to teaching principals. Given the additional challenges this year with the implementation of Covid-19 safety measures, teaching principals require additional support.
“The government initially promised one release day per week, but do not appear to honour this commitment in the next academic year. In our alternative budget, we allocated €5.53m to do just that.
“This is not an ordinary year. But it cannot be denied that the pandemic has shone a light on the large amount of issues facing our education system.
“Keeping schools open safely and sustainably is the most pressing issue we face – I am concerned that Budget 2021 is simply not ambitious enough to achieve that.”