As a former school Principal of the Harold School in Glasthule and Chair of the Internal Fine Gael Committee on Education and Skills, I would like you to know that education and the needs of your children are very important to me. Every child deserves the highest standard of education and every child must be given opportunities to reach their true potential.
I had the honour to draft the Fine Gael Education Manifesto and am pleased that many of my plans and programmes have been taken on board, including:
• Pupil-Teacher Ratio
Reducing Pupil/Teacher ratios will help ensure children get a chance to experience quality learning and teaching. Fine Gael will fund, by 2021, an additional 832 teaching posts and reduce the Pupil-Teacher ratio for Junior and Senior infants from 28:1 to 18:1, phased in from September 2017.
• After-School Programme
Childcare is one of the single biggest obstacles facing young families. As Principal of the Harold School in Glasthule, I successfully launched an After-School Programme which has now grown from strength to strength. It offers parents a cost effective flexible childcare alternative. I am delighted that Fine Gael in government will provide an additional €50m in funding for primary and secondary schools to make their facilities available for after-school care.
• Special Needs
For a young child, parent and teacher, it is crucial that early detection and intervention takes place so that each child can reach their full potential. In Government, Fine Gael increased the number of Special Needs Assistants from 10,575 to 12,040. We also increased the number of resource teachers from 5,175 to 7,452 in 2016. We will continue to do so.
• Speech and Language Therapists
I believe the best environment for children with speech and language difficulties to develop and grow is within the school. I am thrilled that Fine Gael will allocate 217 additional therapists for a new model of In-School Speech and Language Therapy.
• Free Pre-School
Bringing up our children is a big, complex challenge. Childcare should not be one of those biggest challenges. We have extended the free preschool year for children age 3 until they start school. Commencing in September, this will reduce preschool costs by €1,500 on average for a family.
• Mental Health and Well-Being
We need to promote awareness and prevention about our mental health and well-being rather than simply reacting to incidents. Consultation on how best to teach resilience and coping mechanisms for pupils must take place. I believe a designated subject on this matter would be beneficial to student, parent and teacher.
• Physical Education
We are now facing an obesity crisis with 4 out of 5 Irish children being obese. We need to promote greater time and engagement in physical activity in our schools. We will explore the option of making Physical Education a Leaving Certificate subject.
• Fee-Charging Schools
I greatly appreciate the contribution that fee-charging schools make in educating our children and recognise the sacrifices which parents and education partners have made in recent years. There will be no further discrimination in taxpayer support for fee-charging schools. The reduction in the Pupil-Teacher Ratio in September 2016 will benefit all schools.
I would like to thank you for all your support over the past five years. I am hard working and passionate about the needs of your children. If re-elected I assure you this Education Manifesto will be my priority and remain at the forefront of my agenda in Government. Education is the key to giving every child an equal opportunity in life.
Yours in Education,
Mary Mitchell O’Connor TD