Education investment

Outlined in the Action Plan for Education, the Department of Education and Skills’ ambition to make Irish education Europe’s best over the next 10 years has been aided by significant investment through Budget 2018.

A 5.8 per cent increase in the budget has seen planned spending rise by 554 million amounting to over 10 billion for 2018.

It what was his second budget as Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton welcomed the total 1 billion increase over the past two years. “We are now spending more on education than ever before. This shows the strong priority that the government has put on education, which is key to helping everyone to fulfil their potential. Nothing is more effective at breaking down cycles of disadvantage and achieving the republic of opportunity which we wish to create.”

Within the budget allocation, there is provision for an additional 2,200 extra posts to be provided in September. While 5.5 million has been allocated to support new policy measures including implementation of a foreign languages strategy, STEM education, digital learning and the Government’s creative Ireland initiative.

Despite announcing 100 additional guidance posts towards a focus on student wellbeing, The 500 guidance posts that will exist after September 2018 is still short of the 600 posts that existed prior to previous education cuts. A further 10 new NEPS psychologists are to be appointed.

Government documents have revealed that Minister Bruton faced a fight to secure additional investment, especially for SNAs. Prior to the budget, it was revealed that Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe had expressed concerns around the “rapidly escalating” costs in the sector for education of children with special needs. Donohoe said that special education expenditure was growing at a “concerning rate” and called for a review of the special needs assistant (SNA) scheme. The departmental memo also highlighted growing costs in transport for these children. 

New teachers will benefit from a 65 million pot for the extension to the Lansdowne Road Agreement in 2018. From 1 January, new teachers, directly from college, will start on 35,958 and in October 2020 this will rise to 37,692.

Currently undergoing a funding crisis, higher education is awaiting the outcome of the desired new funding model from the Education Select Committee. It’s estimated that the sector needs at least 1 billion if it is to challenge globally. In the meantime, the Government has outlined 64.5 million for the higher and further education sectors, 47.5 million which will come from an increase in the National Training Fund Levy.

Included in some of the measures set out for the allocation funding is 6,000 new apprenticeships and 10 new apprenticeship schemes, progression on technological universities and institutional mergers and 8 million towards capital funding.

The National Training fund is to undergo reform following on from a consultation on the Employer-Exchequer Investment Mechanism. Included in a review of the Fund will be ‘in employment’ programmes to 154 million in 2018.

Speaking about curricular reform and tackling educational disadvantage, Bruton said: “Our programme of curricular reform will gather pace with this budget allowing us to deliver a range of curricular reforms in areas such as physical education and computer science.

“Our emphasis on tackling disadvantage and improving access to education will continue with this year’s budget providing additional funding for our DEIS programme. Taken together, these new measures, along with all the activities that already underway will ensure we are well on our way to becoming the best education and training service in Europe within a decade.”

13 million of funding has been allocated to deliver further on Junior Cycle reform, as well as other curriculum reforms in areas such as primary language, politics and society, agricultural science, applied maths, physical education, computer science and science. While 2 million has been allocated to a new programme increasing access to in-school speech and language services. A further 1 million will be dedicated to Gaeltacht Education.

Taken together, these new measures, along with all the activities that already underway will ensure we are well on our way to becoming the best education and training service in Europe within a decade.

Capital investment 

On the back of the recent Capital Review, the schools sector (332 million) and the higher education sector (331 million) will split 663 million to 2021, However the 2018 investment will be just 28 million.

The additional investment in the school sector is expected to advance over 300 large scale projects currently outlined in the Department’s six-year construction programme. The majority of funding in the higher education sector is to be allocated to upgrades and extension to current institutions, 53 million will cover capital costs associated with supporting the further education and training sector and over 20 million towards research. The Minister stated that the investment will take place alongside the roll-out of a 200 million Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Programme for higher education. 

The Department has recently come in for criticism from Fianna Fáil after it was revealed that 26 of the 70 large-scale projects it outlined to have started in 2015 had not begun construction. TD Thomas Byrne said that the findings were the “tip of the iceberg” in terms of delays, however, Minister Bruton hit back by stating that he was not the authority on planning delays.

While the education budget was broadly welcomed, some reserved criticism for a failure to tackle pay inequality among teachers. President of the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI), Joanne Irwin, says: “Budget 2018 is silent on the pay inequality that exists between those who began in the profession before and after 2011, despite it becoming increasingly difficult for schools to employ teachers in particular subject areas when they can secure better paid work in other employments.

“Last month, TUI members overwhelmingly rejected the proposed Public Service Stability Agreement over its failure to appropriately tackle this unacceptable situation.”

  • 1,091 Special Needs Assistants (SNAs)
  • 1,280 new teaching posts in schools in 2018. Including:
  • 545 new teaching posts to cater for an estimated 8000 extra pupils in 2018
  • 305 posts to provide for a reduction in the primary staffing schedule from 27:1 to 26:1
  • 230 new teachers in special classes and special schools
  • 100 new Special Education teachers
  • 100 teaching posts for guidance
  • 10 NEPS psychologists will be recruited in 2018
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