The Government’s decision to increase the pupil-teacher ratio in Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) programmes has been slammed by the President of the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI).
Galway native Gerard Craughwell said the cutbacks, which will see the ratio rise from 17:1 to 19:1, will amount to a huge reduction in front-line staffing levels, including the loss of some 200 whole-time teaching posts, with as many as 500 non-permanent teachers being taken out of the system.
Mr Craughwell said it is “unforgivable” that the Government has inflicted such a savage cut on the further education and PLC sector at a time when educational attainment is a national economic priority.
He said the “foolhardy” cutback would take the legs from under a sector that for many years has been operating under an artificial ‘cap’ on student places on courses funded by the Department of Education.
“Further education colleges found themselves unable, in conscience, to turn away from the door applicants who needed a second chance or up-skilling educational opportunity; including, in particular, the unemployed and most disadvantaged people in our communities.
“In practise, this has led to a situation in which these colleges cater for up to 200 student places more than those for which they are funded. As such, the sector was already under-staffed before this latest reckless and retrograde cut.”
Mr Craughwell also said that it makes no sense to consign so many highly-qualified teachers to the dole, resulting in a double cost to the social welfare bill.
He added that it makes “absolutely no sense” to cut from the education system teachers who devise and deliver innovative, labour-market-focused courses aimed at assisting the unemployed.
“This cut in the Budget is not just anti-education, it is anti-jobs,” he said, warning that an increase in the PTR will mean that many new, cutting-edge courses will have to be axed, such as those in cloud computing, music technology, and green energy.
Mr Craughwell also criticised reductions in training allowances in the 2013 Budget.
Participants in VTOS, Youthreach and FÁS further education courses who move from jobseekers payments will no longer have their payments increased to a maximum of €188 per week. Instead, the standard maximum rate for those under 25 years of age will be €160 per week.
Capitation rates in further education and PLC colleges and VTOS are also being reduced by two per cent and from January 2013, the €300 Back to Education Allowance will be discontinued for new and existing participants.
“These cuts, coupled with the €200 fee introduced in the last budget, and increasingly out-of-reach commuting costs, will put second-chance education or up-skilling out of the reach of many,” warned Mr Craughwell, urging stakeholders to “make it patently clear that this is an intolerable cutback” that Education Minister Ruairi Quinn must revisit.