Hike in college fees on cards as Quinn eyes €90m saving

Larger primary school class sizes and increases in college fees still look likely to be among the main features of Education Minister Ruairi Quinn’s 2013 education budget.

The unforeseen level of teacher retirements has led to a recent increase of €13m in the amount he has to cut next year.

This is in addition to the €77m target flagged earlier in the year, with almost 80% of his €8.2bn budget committed to pay and pensions.

It is understood the minister will bring an end to maternity leave for teachers that is six weeks longer than that available to other public servants. The measure was introduced over 20 years ago to compensate for the fact that teachers may be on school holidays during the maternity leave period.

While Department of Education figures last year suggested reducing the additional leave could lead to savings of €13m after two years, cutting it entirely could make a far bigger contribution to Mr Quinn’s €90m target.

It is understood the saving on related substitution costs could be as much as €20m a year, although it is unclear if that much would be saved in 2013 or if it would be the following year before the full saving is realised.

A one-point increase in the staffing schedule of all primary schools could cut more than 350 teaching jobs and save over €7m next year, followed by €21m or more from 2014 onwards.

Having effectively inc-reased pupil-teacher ratios at second level this year by including guidance counsellors in all schools’ teacher allocations, a similar move is less likely for 2013.

In September, Mr Quinn told the Oireachtas education committee that the impact of teacher cuts at second level would be harder as smaller schools could be forced to drop subjects.

More likely to be increased, however, are pupil-teacher ratios in fee-paying schools which already require two students more than the 19 needed in other schools for each teacher to be sanctioned.

The minister has not yet published a review of the use made by fee-paying schools of the €95m his department gives them towards staffing and other costs, but it is unlikely that he will bow to Labour Party pressure for a significant cut in that support.

Mr Quinn has already made clear there will be another €250 increase in the fee for third-level students who do not receive grant support, bringing it to €2,500 for 2013.

This was made certain last month when he revealed no Government decision on student fees or third-level funding is likely for another year, despite numerous reports and higher education figures calling for a student loan system.

The other main areas of pressure include schools funding, with the additional savings target meaning the cut in day-to-day budgets at primary and secondary level could have to be more than the 2% signalled a year ago.

The effects could be felt by parents as school boards feel the pinch further next year, while school bus fees may also be increased, and social welfare payments to assist with back-to-school costs could be cut further as weekly welfare rates are expected to be preserved.

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