OUTGOING INTO President Mary Magner has criticised the Department of Education for the ‘chronic failings’ in primary education as she delivered her presidential address at the INTO Congress 2021.
The Cork native said it is incumbent that lessons are learned from the global pandemic.
“The virus shone a spotlight on decades of underinvestment, exposing chronic failings in our primary education system. This pandemic has highlighted the dire neglect and totally inadequate budget spending in our education system,” she said.
Ms Magner also directly appealed to the Minister for Education Norma Foley to announce a change to last week’s decision to change the Covid-19 vaccine roll-out from an occupation-based schedule to one based on age.
Ms Magner highlighted the failure of successive Governments in tackling class sizes, but she warned this reduction needs to be prioritised going forward.
“The failure of successive Governments to tackle class sizes consistently meant our primary schools still have the largest class sizes in Europe. It was Ireland’s shame to be the only country in the EU, that had to plan for public health measures in a class of thirty or more pupils. Never again will we tolerate being packed like sardines in overcrowded classrooms.
“Reduction in class sizes needs to happen and happen quickly to give our pupils equal opportunity with their European counterparts. If Government really wants to prioritise education, reduction of class sizes should be their policy, without being “shamed” into it by teachers, parents, school management and unions alike,” she added.
Ms Magner who hails from Castletownroche applauded teachers for their ‘strength and resilience’ in very challenging times in recent months.
“Never before have teachers been so appreciated, valued and admired. This respect was richly deserved. Teachers upskilled, almost overnight, on virtual platforms to embrace the digital world, to support learning for our pupils.
“Teachers reached out to the most vulnerable children and their families, delivering school meals, supporting their mental health, allaying their fears and anxieties and making sure that every child mattered.
“Teachers spent hours, preparing for online lessons, updating school policies, communicating with children and their parents,” she said.
The outgoing INTO President said that Covid-19 uncovered the ‘dearth of physical, emotional, social and mental health supports’ for the most vulnerable and challenged pupils. She said this situation to be rectified immediately.
“The appalling absence, of education psychologists, speech and language therapists, psychiatrists, occupational therapists and counsellors is at crisis point. The educational system simply does not have enough of these therapists in our schools.
“Special Education inclusion comes at a price. It is a price worth paying. Any new model of special education provision is doomed to fail, if, it is not resourced properly.
We should not have to put up with an education system that does not support its most vulnerable because it fails to provide a full range of clinicians, highly skilled and trained teachers, and appropriate resources,” she added.
Ms Magner appealed for a ‘different vision’ to be adopted going forward and for the new normal to make education the ‘bedrock of our society’. She said education spending and budgets ‘should be above and outside of politics to give a guarantee of adequate resources’.
“Our new normal must make education the bedrock of our society and fund it, on par with our European neighbours. Investment in primary education is an investment in all of education and all of society.
“Teachers are determined to build a great nation. The government needs to commit to the same vision,” she said.