OECD report points to clear need for free education and genuine education equality

16 September 2021
  • Catch Up funding must be doubled
  • Budget 2022 should make primary education free
  • Greater investment in extracurricular activities needed

Labour education spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said that the Minister must act on the OECD education report published this morning and bring Ireland’s investment in education up to speed with our European colleagues. Pointing to the inequity in education that has been exasperated by the pandemic, Deputy Ó Ríordáin said that there is a clear and obvious need to double the funding provided to help children make up for the loss of in class learning. Budget 2022 will be an opportunity for the Minister to invest in school communities and extracurricular activities to provide for a more holistic approach to education in this country.

Deputy Ó Ríordáin said:

“Ireland’s teachers and school communities are among the most dedicated in the world, going above and beyond to provide remote teaching throughout the pandemic. This is reflected in the statistics that we have fewer children from lower socio-economic groups performing at the lowest level in standardised tests compared to the OECD average. However, at 16%, it’s clear that there is more to do to ensure every child gets a fair start at life.

“This inequity has the potential to perpetuate even deeper as a result of the pandemic. Ireland’s children were closed for longer throughout the pandemic in comparison to the OECD average. This is why we’ve been pressing the Minister to put money into a Catch Up for Children fund to make up for the missed learning and development as a result of school closures. Children have missed out on a whole range of important in class learnings and experiences that are vital to their full development. The Labour Party estimate that a fund of €100 million would be required to target recovery in lost learning, focusing on one to one and small group tutoring programmes, as well as supporting the return to school and development for disadvantaged children in early years settings.

“There’s no simple solution to ensuring full education equity in Ireland but it’s clear from these figures that the Government needs to prioritise investment in education as part of Budget 2022. This investment needs to respond to the needs of school communities – including better ventilation to ensure a safe teaching environment, better physical infrastructure that reflects the growing population size and better investment in our special needs assistants in schools. The Minister must also make a commitment to reduce primary class sizes to the EU average by 2025, something we have long called for.

“Budget 2022 should look to make primary education genuinely free of charge. In the run up to schools returning, my office was inundated with queries and stories from families struggling to meet the costs of the return to school. Year on year, the cost of sending children back to school is rising, with parents forgoing bills and cutting back on daily essentials in order to send their kids back to school. Parents pay too much for young children to go to school. We have made numerous proposals to Government to substantially reduce the cost of education for parents. The Minister should look at investing resources in providing free schoolbooks, a uniform grant and healthy school meals in particular. Strong international evidence points to the success of school meals programmes in improving children’s capacity to learn. They are also essential for the most vulnerable children who come to school without having eaten breakfast and with no school lunch.

“Education is about more than simply academics and government should also use the Budget as an opportunity to invest in the extracurricular activities that are so central to a child’s school experience. In June, the Labour Party called on the Government to create a transition year programme in participating schools to develop a football academy structure, based on existing models including Stephen Elliot’s Improtech academy in the UK.

“Football is a game that reaches across Irish society and plays a vital role in many of our most disadvantaged communities. It brings people together from all ages and walks of life. Intensive football coaching would be provided in schools in tandem with regular schoolwork and progress towards qualifications. It would be part of the school curriculum and has been proven to improve football ability, school attendance and career pathways for the young people involved.

“We all know it is expensive to raise a family in Ireland. Seeing that the Government is not investing to the same degree as OECD colleagues is a slap in the face to many. Greater investment and attention is necessary to ensure that no child is left behind.”

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