PLC cuts to hit disadvantaged students worst, say opponents

Students from disadvantaged communities will be left with the choice of emigration or the dole instead of increased job prospects because of a €12m budget cut, opposition parties have warned Education Minister Ruairi Quinn.

The claims come as he and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore plan a major announcement with Fás this morning about training places for the long-term unemployed.

Sinn Féin education spokesman Jonathan O’Brien said the reality of the cuts to staffing in the further education and post-Leaving Certificate (PLC) sector was an end to the only chance many young people leaving school in disadvantaged communities would have of training for work.

“In my own community of Knocknaheeny, where big numbers do the Leaving Certificate Applied, further education is a lifeline for those young people who have no other options after school. But if this goes ahead, they could lose a number of teachers at Terence MacSwiney Community College’s further education courses, which should be increasing intake instead.”

Mr O’Brien said the minister should reverse this cut if he was serious about tackling youth unemployment, or young people will have to choose either the dole or getting on a plane.

“There are plenty ways he could have found the €3m next year of €12m a year, he did nothing to tackle the high pay of big numbers in higher education, or he could have done more to take money from fee-paying schools that can absorb the kind of cut that further education colleges can’t.”

Mr Quinn last week told representatives of the vocational education committees (VECs), which run most further education courses, that it was up to them to find ways to minimise the impact on course provision. His 2013 budget sets out an increase in pupil-teacher ratios in the PLC sector from 17:1 to 19:1.

Fianna Fáil education spokesman Charlie McConalogue said there was understandable uproar over last year’s cuts to disadvantaged schools that were later reversed, but Mr Quinn had once again targeted the most disadvantaged students.

“These are second-chance learners who are, for the most part, unemployed or from very disadvantaged backgrounds,” he said.

The country’s largest further education provider, Cork College of Commerce, said it would have no choice but to cut many specialist courses if teachers were made redundant. Principal Helen Ryan said it had 1,835 post-Leaving Certificate (PLC) students learning 150 subjects ranging from theatrical makeup and pastry to accounting and computer programming.

“To describe it as an increase in the pupil-teacher ratio hides the truth, this does not mean we will have two more students in each classroom,” she said. “The cut really means that we lose over 10% of our teaching staffing hours and that actually means we lose 22 essential teachers by next September. It translates to 50 [part-time] teachers across the whole Cork VEC scheme.”


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