Further cuts to teacher numbers threatened

THE Government may have to cut non-classroom teachers again next year to keep within education staffing limits as part of the EU/IMF bailout, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn has been told by his officials.

A 104,930 ceiling on education sector staff by the end of 2014 is almost 2,000 higher than at the end of last year, mostly to accommodate rising primary and second-level pupils without raising class sizes. But with further savings on teachers’ pay required in the next two years under the National Recovery Plan (NRP) underpinning the bailout, it appears Mr Quinn will have to make further cuts to teacher numbers beyond those already planned for next autumn.

Around one-third of the country’s 32,300 primary teachers work in special needs, language support and other support teaching roles. But from next September, almost 600 extra teaching posts for Traveller pupils are being cut and extra staff for a range of second-level programmes are to be axed.

While these cuts have already provoked strong criticism, a briefing document the minister received from senior officials when he took office suggests more teacher cuts are inevitable in future budgets.

“It should be noted that the NRP does expect significant further savings on teacher payroll costs during the period 2012-2014 and securing such savings may require further policy decisions to reduce teacher numbers,” they wrote in the document released under Freedom of Information.

The imposition of a cap on special needs assistant (SNA) numbers at last year’s level of 10,575 is already causing political pressure on the department, which last week ordered a pause on the sanction of additional teaching hours for pupils with severe learning difficulties while a review of numbers is carried out.

The briefing document says that, because significant staffing reductions have already been achieved in state agencies and non-teaching areas, further cuts will result in a reduction in some services, particularly from Fás. Redeployment of staff from education to other areas of the public sector will also be required, Mr Quinn was told.

The minister yesterday repeated recent warnings to school managers of the serious implications of the economic crisis, in which education is one of few areas of the public service where overall employee numbers are not being reduced.

“I am concerned the reality of our reliance on the EU/IMF funding has not been fully grasped by the general public and within the education sector and there is as yet a less than full appreciation of the extent to which we operate with reduced sovereignty,” he said.

He told the conference of vocational education committees (VECs) chief executives and education officers that the NRP includes plans to raise class sizes if further teacher payroll costs cannot be identified in talks with teacher and management representatives.

Mr Quinn said the previous government’s plans to reduce the number of VECs from 33 to 16 is being advanced and some chief executives will have to be redeployed but he is willing to consider alternatives to the configuration of the VECs to be merged.


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