Sunday, 27 November 2011

Press Release: Looney: Threatened Education Cuts a Betrayal of Labour Values

Cllr Dermot Looney, a Labour Party Councillor on South Dublin County Council, has said that mooted cuts in the education budget are ‘anathema’ to Labour values and will hit disadvantaged children and communities hardest. Cllr Looney, who works as a primary school teacher in Tallaght, has called on Labour TD’s to stand firm against cuts targeted at special needs children and areas of disadvantage.

“Threatened cuts of up to 2,000 Special Needs Assistants (SNA’s) would amount to a scandalous betrayal of Labour values in Government,” said Looney. “The previous administration capped the total number of SNA’s at 10,575 in last year’s budget. Now, the threatened plans to cut almost 1 in 5 SNA’s would lay waste to great advances made in special needs education and bring us back to the bad old days of ignorance and neglect.”

“Approximately 6,000 SNA’s are currently employed in a mainstream primary education system catering for about half a million pupils, in addition to approximately 2,000 each in post-primary schools and special schools. The conservative spin being put out that SNA’s are some sort of luxury belies the modern, progressive education system we need for economic and social recovery. Withdrawing SNA’s will impact not only on the children to whom they are assigned; it will negatively affect the time and attention teachers can give to all pupils.”

“Putting up to 2,000 SNA’s on the dole is exactly the kind of ‘butchery’ that Labour rightly warned against in the general election campaign. Similarly, a return to class sizes of the past as threatened is anathema to the Labour values our party is supposedly in Government to protect. Ireland's average primary class size of 24 is already the 7th highest in 29 OECD countries. The proposed increase in the pupil-teacher ratio of 2 will, according to the INTO, result in the loss of 800 primary teachers.”

“The mooted pupil-teacher ratio increase at post-primary level to 20:1 will mean the loss of a similar number of teachers and will, according to the TUI, mean one less teacher or 33 less class periods per week in a small-medium size secondary school. Subjects which already attract smaller numbers – including key ones for economic recovery such as Honours Maths, languages or science subjects – may be culled, resulting in further-diminished prospects for our young people.”

“There are also major cutbacks threatened to Youthreach training programmes, which provide second-chance education and training to early school leavers, primarily in areas of socio-economic disadvantage. The economic and social costs of these headline cutbacks – along with the suggested cuts and fee increases at preschool, third and fourth levels – will hit young people in working-class areas the hardest.”

“As one of a handful of Labour public representatives to oppose entry into Government I still held out hope that Labour Ministers might protect the red-line policies for which the party received support. But instead of starting the difficult decisions at the top – by, for example, targeting tax exiles and the wealthy, and slashing funds to private fee-paying schools - it seems that the austerity agenda will begin at the bottom. Labour TD’s, many of whom are rooted in the educational needs of their communities, must ask what Labour in Government is for – and take a firm stance to protect the most vulnerable in the run-up to Budget 2012.”