FINE GAEL MANIFESTO 2016 – EDUCATION
Education is the key to giving every child an equal opportunity in life and a key driver of our economic recovery. Fine Gael’s ambition is that no child is left behind in economic recovery and that we use the benefits of a strong economy to become a leader across all PISA rankings and in the provision of quality higher education and skills. We have the capacity to achieve this by 2022.
We have a well-trained and committed teaching profession and high and rising rates of school completion and participation in higher education. And yet, too many of our children still fall through the cracks, and are in danger of being left behind in a fastchanging world. The Literacy and Numeracy Strategy along with the Project Maths course will play a role in improving outcomes, but we want to go further, and to chart a course for Ireland’s education system to become “best in class”. Fine Gael has a 4-point plan to invest in a reformed and well-managed education system that makes sure that the economic recovery leaves no child behind.
1. We Will Invest in Schools, Education and Teachers.
Early childhood interventions have the greatest impact on long-term educational outcomes. By keeping the recovery going, we will create the resources needed to invest wisely in our teachers and education system.
Reduce the Pupil-Teacher Ratio for Junior and Senior Infants: 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. Smaller classes have the greatest beneficial impact on younger pupils. Budget 2016 provided for 2,260 teachers, commencing this September. In addition, we will fund an additional 2,392 teaching posts by 2021 to – at the very least – maintain the pupil teacher ratio in all other levels of the primary and secondary schools.
School Buildings: We are committed to delivering an extensive school capital investment programme. We have already committed €2.8bn to deliver 310 major extensions/refurbishments, 62,000 additional school places and eliminate the use of prefabs by 2021.
Continuous Professional Development (CPD) for Teachers: We will invest an additional €10m by 2021 (bringing the total spend to €35m per year) to fun additional CPD provision for teachers, including mandatory modules in Maths, Special Needs, Irish Language, and ICT. Initial teacher training in these areas will be strengthened.
More Support for Schools with General Operating Costs: Fine Gael will provide an additional €50m in funding for primary and secondary schools by 2021 for general operating (capitation) costs, conditional on schools making their facilities available for afterschool care where sufficient demand exists.
Introduce In-School Speech and Language Therapy Service: Fine Gael will invest €10m by 2021 to fund 217 additional therapists for a new model of In-School Speech and Language Therapy, involving collaboration between parents, schools and primary care services that has been proven to be effective internationally.
Expand the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS): We will invest an additional €3m to increase the number of NEPS psychologists from 167 to 209 so that the Service can provide enhanced early intervention strategies for staff and pupils, and offer immediate support to schools in cases of critical incidents.
Special Educational 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. Over €1.4bn is spent annually on special education, yet families still face anxiety in accessing services. We will examine the adequacy of current funding provision, with a view to ensuring children get the earliest and best support possible. 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. We will consult with stakeholders to see how best to progress sections of the EPSEN Act that were introduced on a nonstatutory basis.
Action Plan for Educational Inclusion: We will publish a new updated Action Plan for Educational Inclusion, within 12 months, aimed at narrowing the gap between DEIS and non DEIS schools, while also examining how students outside of DEIS can be supported. We will reform the funding models to reward schools that succeed in improving outcomes.
Curriculum Modernisation: We will mandate the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment to publicly consult on how schools could introduce new subject choices. This includes:
• Literacy and Numeracy: A key priority since 2011, we have ensured that Maths and literacy performance have improved. We must drive this further and also look at new approaches to improve our PISA results, including exploring game-based learning and STEM opportunities.
• Mental Health and Well-being: An increasing concern in schools, we need to promote awareness and prevention rather than simply reacting to incidents. Consultation on how best to teach resilience and coping mechanisms for pupils must take place.
• Entrepreneurial Education: We will open up opportunities for industry and local leaders to share their skills and experience at primary and post primary level.
• Computer Science: We will roll out a pilot scheme of computer science in our secondary schools to build on existing skills not only for coding but also to lay the foundations for skills in computer architecture and the business application of IT.
• Physical Education: We support the introduction of more PE in primary schools and its introduction as a Leaving Cert subject. We will look at various ways in which organisations with experience in children’s sports and fitness might provide schools with support.
ePortfolios: In partnership with industry, we will pilot a cloud-based ePortfolio system at primary level which will act as a storage and private reference system that allows pupils, along with their parents, to track their own academic achievements. A similar initiative used by 85% of schools in Estonia allows for better communication and involvement between parents and teachers.
Extend Mandatory Schooling Age: We will increase mandatory schooling to age 17.
2. We Will Strengthen Local Decision Making, Leadership, Innovation and Accountability
School principals, teachers and parents are in the best position to drive reforms that improve educational outcomes and to prioritise resources. Central Government already micro manages too many decisions in our schools, from curriculum design and timetabling to minor capital works. Our Plan will give more decision-making power, responsibility and flexibility to schools and their communities.
Local Decision Making: We will extend, until May 2016, the period of consultation with parents, schools and other stakeholders on the “Advancing School Autonomy in the Irish School System” research paper published by the Department of Education and Skills in December 2015. On foot of this consultation, we will transform the School Admissions Bill agreed by the current Government, but not yet passed by the Oireachtas, into a new School Admissions and Excellence Bill.
This Bill, alongside a revised admissions framework, will give new freedoms to schools on staff deployment, performance management, curriculum design and other matters. As part of this consultation, we will examine the structure of boards of management, with a view to ensuring accountability and transparency as well as support mechanisms for these voluntary boards and parents. The role and power of an Ombudsman for Education, to whom a parent could complain and appeal on foot of a decision by a board of management, will be examined by the Oireachtas Committee to ensure its consistency with the need to ensure better local decision making and accountability to parents.
Local Education Clusters: Fine Gael will incentivise voluntary school participation in new “Local Education Clusters” that encourage schools to improve student outcomes by sharing best practice and school improvement experiences, foster collaborative in and out-of-hours initiatives, staff peer mentoring and leadership, and that allow for cost reductions through economies of scale.
Schools Excellence Fund: We will establish a new €50m Schools Excellence Fund, which rewards collaborative approaches driven by schools and by parents themselves, aimed at improving school outcomes through the teaching of subjects such as Maths, Science and Technology, key life skills programmes, and pupil retention initiatives. Applications that seek to tackle educational disadvantage will be prioritised. Outside bodies, such as business and higher education institutions, may collaborate with second level schools as part of this initiative.
School Leadership: School principals will have the support of Fine Gael to introduce reforms that drive up educational standards. Budget 2016 increased the number of release days provided to teaching principals. Teaching principals within Education Clusters will be resourced to spend one day per week focusing on improving school outcomes. We will also establish a pool of experts (educators, employers, accountants, business leaders, IT specialists etc.) to assist school initiatives that drive better outcomes in schools. Newly appointed school principals will take a preparation course in advance of taking up their role, and will be expected to take regular leadership courses under CPD.
Financial Certainty: We will set out capitation rates to schools on a rolling 3-year basis allowing for forward planning. School management will have the decisionmaking power to allocate these resources as they deem appropriate, including to posts of responsibility
More School Accountability for Performance: With more autonomy will come more school accountability, to both parents and taxpayers. Parents have a right to information about their children’s educational performance. Fine Gael will, within 12 months, complete a review of options for standardised testing in our schools, with a view to implementing a single model by 2018, aimed at delivering clear performance information for teachers, parents and students. In the interim, we will require schools to publish annual reports, taking into account test results, facilities, extra-curricular activities, ICT resources, and special education resources.
Schools, together with parents, will set targets against which they will be reviewed. Self-evaluation will be strengthened and will be the basis on which schools are inspected. Fine Gael will also make available – at the request of school parents and patrons – “School Support Teams” with special powers to turn around failing schools.
More Effective Complaints Procedures for Parents: Real accountability for performance also requires a credible complaints procedure for parents, within a stronger regulatory framework for teaching. We will commence, the “Fitness to Teach” provisions of the Teaching Council Act and – a decade after its enactment – complete a review of the Teaching Council Act with a view to strengthening the independence and effectiveness of the Teaching Council.
3. We Will Improve Parental Choice and School Diversity
Uniformity is the enemy of innovation, change and ongoing improvement. Resources go further when users of public services choose and shape their delivery, and are well informed about quality. Fine Gael supports real parental choice within a more diverse system of school patronage.
More Multi-Denominational and Non-Denominational Schools: Fine Gael will strengthen parental choice and diversity in our schools system, reflecting the need in modern Ireland for new forms of multidenominational and non-denominational education. A road map has been agreed for a phased transfer of Catholic schools to new patrons, where the support of communities exists. Fine Gael will work with all stakeholders to facilitate this process. Since 2011, 49 new multi-denominational primary and post primary schools have been established. Fine Gael will continue to increase the number of non-denominational and multi-denominational schools with a view to reaching 300 by 2030.
Protecting the Denominational Ethos of Schools: Consistent with expanding the choices available to parents, we will safeguard the right of parents to send their children to denominational schools that offer a distinct religious ethos.
Taxpayer Support for Fee-Charging Schools: There will be no further discrimination in taxpayer support for fee-charging schools. The reduction in the pupilteacher ratio in September 2016 will benefit all schools.
Small Schools: We will not close any school against the wishes of parents. Fine Gael will, however, provide positive incentives for small schools amalgamation, such as additional capital works. Within 3 months, we will commence a review of the teacher appointment thresholds for 3 and 4-teacher schools.
4. We Will Expand the Range, Affordability and Quality of Higher Education Options.
Fine Gael is determined to deliver a step change in our higher level education system’s capacity to educate, develop, deploy and retain talent.
More Taxpayer Support for Higher Education: Fine Gael is committed to addressing the funding gap for the higher education sector. Just to stand still, the sector requires €100m of additional funding to provide for the growing number of students going on to higher level education and Fine Gael is committed to providing this out of exchequer resources. In addition, we are committed to providing €150m in additional capital resources for facilities, as outlined in the 2016-2021 Capital Plan, including the €40m that has been committed to the Grangegorman DIT project. Following the publication of the Expert Group report, Fine Gael will outline a complete funding plan for the higher education sector.
A More Efficient Higher Education Sector: Fine Gael will ensure that additional funding for the higher level education sector will be conditional on continued reforms of the sector that cut out waste and unnecessary costs, encourage more income generation by the sector in collaboration with the private sector and address identified national challenges and skills shortages.
Online Higher Education: Online learning can open up higher education opportunities to more students and reduce costs. Fine Gael will commence an extensive consultation exercise to consider how this can be accomplished in a way which does not compromise standards.
“Earned Autonomy” for Universities: We will give universities new freedoms – within strict budgets and new accountability systems – to set their own staffing needs, hire the best lecturers, automate routine processes and adapt work practices to local staff and student needs. The Government will, within 6 months, publish a substantially revised Universities Bill that will free from Central Government human resource controls those universities that demonstrate a sustained commitment to cost efficiency, performance accountability and pay transparency.
Flexible Learning: Some third level institutions do not offer part-time courses to learners as part of their fulltime day provision. We want to address this anomaly and offer learners the opportunity to attend courses part time, evening, summer and weekends.
Preparing Students for the Workforce: We support the introduction of mid-degree “sandwich year” courses, whereby students spend their third year of university working for an Irish business. Such courses have been shown to significantly increase a student’s job prospects, post-graduation.
Student Accommodation: We will amend the planning guidelines to support the construction of on-campus or near-campus, high-quality, purpose-built student accommodation that can help contain the growth in rents.
Technological Universities: Fine Gael continues to support the creation of Technological Universities, which will be linked to industry and will have an enormous impact on our capacity to create and retain jobs in regions. We will prioritise those institutions with clear ambitions and plans for the furthering of industry-relevant technological research and education.
Further Education and Training Centres: Fine Gael will work with further education institutions to utilise facilities and during summer months offer more flexible, frequent courses, including conversion courses. We will also work with industry to ensure courses are designed with in-demand skills need in mind.
Enterprise Engagement: We will internationally benchmark entrepreneurial activity in Irish higher education and work with the HEA to ensure an ambitious and implementable plan to identify and address skills gaps and ICT and STEM needs.
Apprenticeships for the 21st Century: Fine Gael in partnership with the Apprenticeship Council and industry will double the number of apprenticeships to provide a total of 31,000 places by 2020 through an annual call for new proposals. We are targeting over 100 different apprenticeship schemes spread across sectors of the economy.
Local Industry and Career Traineeships: Fine Gael replaced FÁS and 33 VECs with 16 new Further Education and Training Boards (ETBs) to strengthen local training capacity and ability. With student outcomes in mind, we will reform the ETB funding model to reward ETBs that partner with local enterprises to develop career traineeships that combine classroom education with on-the-job training. We will benchmark progress. As part of our National Skills Strategy, we will also provide 19,000 traineeship places by 2020.
Springboard: We will review the successful Springboard programme to determine if new 2-year courses are merited for sectors with complex skill requirements.
Momentum: We will continue to provide quality upskilling and training opportunities to long-term job seekers under the Momentum programme. We will also keep the opportunities provided under review, to ensure that we target the needs of jobseekers and employers in a recovering economy.
Adult Literacy: Fine Gael recognises that low levels of proficiency in literacy, numeracy and problem solving can have a negative impact upon a person’s social and health outcomes. We will improve access routes to learning to ensure that those with low qualifications or skills are not left behind.
Click here for further details on our plans for Education in the Fine Gael Election Manifesto