Wednesday 23 October 2019

Government launch education plan for year ahead amid warnings of teacher shortages

Leo Varadkar at the launch with with Joe McHugh (Brian Lawless/PA)
Leo Varadkar at the launch with with Joe McHugh (Brian Lawless/PA)
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

The Government has spelled out its priorities for the education system in the year ahead, but it was greeted with warnings that its ambitions cannot be realised while teacher shortages continue and the third-level funding is not increased.

The Action plan for Education 2019 sets deadlines for more than 280 different actions targeted for 2019, across all sectors from primary level to higher education.

The plan covers a wide spectrum including new curricula, encouraging more female students  to take up STEM subjects, diversity in school patronage, teacher supply, a charter for parents and students’ rights,  improved access to higher education and tackling sexual consent issues at third-level.

It was launched by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Education Joe McHugh, along with junior education ministers Mary Mitchell O’Connor and John Halligan.

Minister McHugh said it was underpinned by a drive to prepare people in a balanced way for life and work.

“It emphasises the need for young people and students to aim high and to fulfil their potential while developing the skills to think critically and to adapt and innovate with a resilience and wellbeing,” he said.

Clive Byrne, director of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) said a new strategic plan was always welcome and he also welcomed comments by the Taoiseach and education minister about the role played by the system in nurturing students

But he added; “However, in order to do so we need teachers. Teacher supply is one of the biggest concerns for principals and deputy principals.”.

Mr Byrne said the implementation of the Teacher Supply Action Plan must be an immediate priority, recalling that in September 2018, many schools opened without a full complement of staff.

“We all have to redouble our efforts to tackle this problem before the next school term commences in September” and said the proposed National Forum on the issue, promised within months, was particularly welcome.

Meanwhile, the employers’ organisation, Ibec, welcomed commitment  to strengthen the apprenticeship system, promote lifelong learning and reform the employer-financed National Training Fund but warned that its ambitions for higher education and research were undermined by the Government’s “ongoing failure to address under-investment in the third-level sector.”

Ibec’s head of education and social policy, Tony Donohoe said it was over four years since the Expert Group on Future Funding for Higher Education published an authoritative report “and we do not need more reports to highlight the impact of significant under-investment over the last decade”.

He said Ireland spent 17pc less per third level student than the EU average, and “this lack of investment does not match or support the national ambitions to be a global education and innovation leader.

“Ibec has suggested that a proportion of surging corporate tax revenues should be allocated to critical national infrastructure such as higher education and research. This investment, combined with a more sustainable funding model, is urgently required if we hope to translate policy rhetoric into a reality.”

At the launch, Mr Varadkar was asked about concerns flagged by geography teachers in a recent open letter after the subject was dropped as a core subject in the Junior Cert cycle.

"More broadly, what we're trying to do by modernising and reforming the Junior Cert and Senior Cert cycle is to move away from traditional subjects to a system of long courses and short courses, for subjects like well-being or climate change, for example.

"I appreciate the request and I get the demand very often, to make 20 or 30 subjects compulsory, and add in new ones all the time, but we have to bear in mind overloading the curriculum, and having so many subjects would be counterproductive."

A review is under way regarding restoring history as a core subject after it was dropped in September. It is due to report at the end of March.

Education Minister Joe McHugh said his own opinion of dropping history is on the record.

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