Funding for the education sector announced in Budget 2021 has been met with mixed reactions with higher education institutes welcoming third level funding while second level teachers unions have warned that some areas have been neglected.
It was revealed on today that Budget 2021 will provide €8.9bn for the Department of Education, with €2bn of that going towards children with special education needs.
Funding will also be provided for 900 additional special needs assistants (SNAs) and 403 additional teachers.
The Budget also aims to reduce the pupil teacher ratio in primary schools to 25:1.
Meanwhile, €80 million extra will go towards school building programmes, ICT and the minor works scheme for the Department of Education while €270m will be provided for Higher Education building projects.
Budget 2021 will also aim to provide around 5,000 places for demographic changes arising from calculated grades.
It will also see increases in the SUSI grant for postgraduates from €1,500 to €3,500 and provide for a €50m fund to give all third-level full time students €250 social welfare rates to be maintained in 2021.
Interim president of University College Cork, Professor John O’Halloran, said:
“We welcome the establishment of the €50m fund to financially assist students in these unprecedented times, and provisions for extra third level places and support for capital expenditure are also positives to come from today's announcement.
“Fundamental core funding issues facing our sector remain, and a 2018 Economic and Societal Impact Report found that for every €1 of state investment, UCC returns €5.68 to the Irish economy.
“Continued state support will be required to support the third level sector so that it can maintain operations and contribute to Ireland's economic recovery,” he added.
His counterpart at Cork Institute of Technology, Dr Barry O’Connor, said:
“It’s important that the government recognised the important contribution to sustaining the economy but more importantly to developing it.
Dr O’Connor also welcomed increased funding for the SUSI grants and support for students.
“It’s also great to see the increase in Springboard places,” he added.
CIT was allocated more than €8 million in recent weeks under the Technological University development fund.
Dr O’Connor said it is good to see third level funding is not a one-off event.
“That’s a sign of the ongoing commitment to higher education and it’s targeted funding aimed at impacting the community and industries which is to be welcomed.” At secondary school level, the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland warned that Budget 2021 fails to protect students’ education during pandemic.
ASTI president and member of the Cork South branch, Ann Piggott, said:
“Budget 2021 represents a sticking plaster for schools, and does little to address the prolonged underfunding of Irish second-level education.
“While overall investment in education is to increase, at second-level much of the additional funding relates to demographic changes or the implementation of specific Covid-19 requirements in schools.
“While this funding is crucial, it is nowhere near enough to ensure the continuation of a safe and quality education for all students for the duration of the pandemic,” she added.
“The recently published OECD report Education at a Glance 2020 ranks Ireland in last place out of 36 countries for investment in second-level education as a percentage of GDP.
“This demonstrates the need for a substantially increased education budget to support our schools in staying open.” ASTI/ RedC research, published earlier this week, found that most Junior Cycle classes have in excess of 26 students.
“We note the commitment to additional teachers to support students with special education needs and we await the details regarding these arrangements,” said Ms Piggott.
“However, this will do little to reduce overcrowding in most classes, which poses such a distinct threat to social distancing measures.” The ASTI president also called for equal access to substantial IT investment to ensure all schools can avail of remote teaching and learning.
At primary school level, the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation acknowledged the commitment to reduce ‘supersized’ classes by an average of one pupil next year.
More than 20,000 emails were sent by concerned teachers, parents and members of the public expressing their concern and frustration that Ireland hosts the largest class sizes in Europe.
The budget has provided for a reduction in the staffing schedule by one point to 25:1 in primary schools, by providing more than 300 new teaching posts.
This is in addition to over 265 posts provided to meet demographic pressures across primary and post primary levels.
“This is a necessary and welcome commitment from the government to begin the process of reducing our class sizes in primary schools,” said INTO General Secretary John Boyle.
“This measure will be of most benefit to the one in five pupils who learn in classes of thirty or more.
“While tens of thousands of children will continue to learn in classes above the EU average, we are at least on the right road now,” he added.