MORE schools programmes must be cut or reduced if increases in class sizes are to be avoided, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn has told primary teachers.
Despite praising them for being one of the first public service unions signed up to the Croke Park agreement last year, the minister told the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) members he wants to start talks with their leaders within weeks on ways to find further savings.
Under the four-year national recovery plan, such savings must be identified to counteract the increased teacher requirements to match rising pupil numbers, or else school staffing levels will have to be reduced next year like they were in 2009.
He admitted afterwards that he does not know where the savings can be found. But, he said, it will be up to unions and school managers to go through every programme with his officials.
“We will have to justify whether each programme should continue and ask if the circumstances under which it was brought into existence in the first place still exist,” he said.
Mr Quinn said INTO has had a very positive and constructive approach to the Croke Park agreement and it is vital that its implementation must be real and meaningful on the ground.
“It must be clearly visible to pupils and parents and the wider public and it must bring real value to our education system,” Mr Quinn said.
He also stressed his commitment to public service and the role of the public servant in the life of the country, a role which he said is frequently attacked.
Since February, INTO members have given one hour a week towards non-classroom duties, including school planning, after-school staff or parent-teacher meetings and other roles.
INTO general secretary Sheila Nunan welcomed the minister’s recognition of the reforms, which will deliver more than one million extra hours of work each year or the equivalent of 1,100 extra teaching jobs and more than €70m.
“Your comments stand in contrast to blanket or global critical comments of the public service by some of your Government colleagues. Your comments stand in contrast to the ‘eaten bread soon forgotten’ mentality of many,” she said.
“We are fully compliant with the terms of Croke Park, we have stepped up to the plate. We have kept our side of the agreement and we fully expect the Government to keep theirs.”
While agreeing to enter talks on achieving further savings, Ms Nunan said later that the choice was a stark one as so many freezes and cuts had already been placed on programmes helping disadvantaged pupils or children who need additional English-language support.
“In terms of payroll savings, things are fairly sparse at the moment in relation to any low-hanging fruit that’s left. If you put up class sizes, then you’re challenging the teacher on promoting inclusion in the classroom, but if you lose supports it’s a very difficult one to reconcile because they’re interlinked,” she said.
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