The chairman of the Oireachtas Education Committee said even minimal cuts to the €9 million education budget would mean swingeing cuts being taken to non-pay areas because around 80% of education spending goes on salaries.
He told a committee hearing about second-level curriculum reform that, while he believes education spending should be protected, the Government has to agree four years of tough budgets to get the country out of the economic mire.
“I would hope the level of cuts are minimised but, as it stands, there’s huge pressure coming on from the fact that 80% of the [education] budget is on salaries,” he said.
“If you take a 5% cut, for example, [in education overall] that means much greater cuts in areas that are not wages,” the Green party TD said.
Last year’s Revised Programme for Government stipulates, based on Green party insistence, that pupil-teacher ratios in primary and second-level schools cannot be cut. In addition, the Croke Park agreement would guarantee no further pay-cuts and no compulsory redundancies across the public service.
Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) general secretary, Peter MacMenamin, said the greatest protection must be given to initiatives to help students at risk of dropping out of school early.
“If there can be investment to prevent people falling through the cracks, that is good spending because it costs less than putting them in jail or [the state] supporting them throughout their lives,” he said.
The TUI has not engaged in negotiations on reforms in the Croke Park deal but a ballot issued this week is asking its members if they should suspend industrial action in schools and colleges to allow them join talks.
TDs and senators praised the Project Maths second-level syllabus introduced this autumn to improve understanding of the subject but National Council for Curriculum and Assessment chief executive Anne Looney said reform of other subjects must be continued.