Coughlan backs plan to boost maths intake
Education Minister Mary Coughlan today backed a bonus points system for higher Leaving Cert maths to encourage more students to take up the subject at third level.
The Tanaiste told the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) annual conference in Co Clare that more needed to be done to help increase the number of science and maths graduates.
Her predecessor, Batt O'Keeffe, who set up a top level group of experts to review the country's performance in maths, had initially been opposed to the idea.
But Ms Coughlan said there was a need to take steps in the right direction.
"While I will await and consider the views of the expert group, it is my view at this point that we could send a clear signal to our second level student population with the introduction of a CAO points bonus for achievement in Leaving Certificate maths," she said.
"Ireland, to succeed in our ambition as the innovation island, must not be shy in targeting any skills gap we identify in our labour force."
"It is clear that maths is somewhere we could do better, so it is important that we embrace that challenge and take steps to right the situation."
In February 2009 Mr O'Keeffe expressed opposition to the idea, saying it would be counter-productive and reinforce the perception that maths was a tough subject.
But his stance has softened and the Government's innovation task force last month backed the plans on a pilot basis.
Meanwhile Ms Coughlan, greeted with silence by protesting delegates, said the Government would have to operate public services with less money, and touched on plans to further shave three billion euro from state spending in this year's Budget.
The minister said €1bn would come from capital spending with the remainder achieved through cuts in services or through a hike in taxes.
The Donegal TD said that while she was galled by having to provide such significant sums to banks who carried out irresponsible lending it was needed for the economy to recover.
"I fully accept that some of the decisions the Government has had to take over the past year created anxiety and difficulty for many of your members. People are understandably angry and find certain decisions hard to accept," Ms Coughlan said.
"Nobody wants to see less coming home in his or her pay packet at the end of the month.
"In response, I can only ask that you believe me when I say that in taking those decisions we were guided at all times by the national interest and the need to ensure we can sustain public services into the future."
Ms Coughlan also said she would look at reviewing the moratorium on recruitment and promotion to help under-staffed schools.
"I should say that I am conscious that the impact of the moratorium on these posts has applied unevenly in schools depending on the level of retirements," Ms Coughlan said.
"I would therefore like to give some comfort this afternoon to those members in schools where there is an acute problem that I am going to look at how some limited alleviation of the position might be applied for the next school year."
Meanwhile, the TUI has decided to urge the 15,000 staff it represents to reject the pay and reform deal brokered last week in Croke Park after a fortnight of intense talks.
TUI chiefs at the annual conference in Ennis yesterday vowed to conduct a vigorous campaign to see the package rejected.
Ms Coughlan said she wanted to acknowledge the difficult period in industrial relations.
"The necessary decisions taken by Government in the last Budget, together with earlier measures, have impacted on the living standards of your members and other public servants," she said.
"I wish that it were otherwise. No Government would want to take the measures we have had to take if they could be avoided."
She said she believed the pay agreement represented a reasonable basis to move forward.
"That said, I appreciate that your members must make their own decision in this matter through your own democratic processes. I only ask that you consider the agreement and the wider context carefully in finalising your decision."