State tight-lipped on school-age plan
Officials not ruling out proposal that would leave parents in lurch
THE Department of Education last night refused to say whether controversial proposals to raise the school starting age were still under active consideration.
Parents face the possibility that the minimum age for school enrolment will be increased to five in December's Budget, costing them an extra year's childcare costs.
The Irish Independent revealed yesterday that a number of radical proposals were put forward by officials in order to cut the €9bn spent each year by the State on education.
The department yesterday moved to try to allay parents' fears by pointing out that the documents were drawn up last year.
But last night it continued to refuse to say if any of the controversial proposals have been taken off the table -- a number of which have already been implemented.
A statement said that "no decisions whatsoever have been taken in relation to changing the school-going age of children or abolishing the transition year".
However, when asked again if they have decided to reject the proposals to raise the school starting age or abolish the transition year, the department declined to comment further.
The proposals that have already been introduced include increasing the teacher/pupil ratio, an increase in college registration fees, and cutting the number of resource teachers.
This is despite Labour promising the electorate that it would reverse a decision in last year's Budget to increase the college registration fees by €1,500 to €500.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn has also hinted recently that college fees may be reintroduced.
The dramatic proposal to prevent children entering school until they reach the age of five would immediately cut the number of youngsters starting school from 60,000 to 20,000, saving up to €116m over a four-year period.
However, it would lead to chaos for parents whose children are on the verge of starting school, forcing them to make childcare arrangements for another 12 months.
A spokeswoman said that "all areas are under scrutiny" -- but parents won't know what cuts were being introduced in the education until the Budget is announced in December.
Last night the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) expressed concern about the proposals and said there was evidence that huge economic rewards could be reaped from early childhood education.
INTO general secretary Sheila Nunan said: "If this goes ahead many children will not be allowed into school until they are six.
"They will be locked outside schools at the very age when they learn most and gain most from the education system.
"Early childhood development programmes are rarely portrayed as economic development initiatives. That is a mistake."
Education costs currently account for 16pc of government expenditure.