Fianna Fáil Education Spokesperson Thomas Byrne TD has said that the Education Minister Richard Bruton does not inspire confidence on the issue of tackling disadvantage and warned that the lack of substance in his recent remarks should be a source of major worry for anyone working on or living with the issue.
Deputy Byrne’s comments came following the visit of Minister Bruton to a school in his constituency where he issued a formulaic demand that ‘something must be done’.
Deputy Byrne said, “Tackling disadvantage in our education system needs to be one of the foremost strategic objectives for our country. It is key to tackling inequality, enabling future economic growth and facilitating social progress. Fianna Fáil is proud of our track record in this area, especially with our establishment of the DEIS programme, but the sad fact is that the last Government did not understand or appreciate the importance of this work.
“Indeed, the Fine Gael/ Labour government curtailed the DEIS programme, limiting its effectiveness, as well as introducing a regressive series of cuts which disproportionately impacted DEIS schools.
“At the time, FIanna Fáil worked hard to force a u-turn from the Government and Fine Gael / Labour ultimately commissioned the ESRI to study the impact and effectiveness of the programme. That report vindicated investment in DEIS, recommended an expansion of DEIS status to new schools, a greater focus on Urban Band 1 schools as well potentially re-balancing the programme to place a greater emphasis on individual disadvantage rather than area-based disadvantage.
“Inexplicably, Minister Bruton makes no mention of this important study in his statement. His party’s ambivalence about the need for investment to tackle educational disadvantage clearly remains.
“This is unacceptable to Fianna Fáil and I will be fighting for full consideration to be given to the ESRI study. There are also some measures that need to be taken immediately. The cap on the expansion of the DEIS Programme to new schools needs to be removed. DEIS must be available to all communities where required.
“While I am willing to give Minister Bruton a fair wind in this early stage of his tenure, a visit to his local primary school to fly a kite about a plan that hasn’t even been written yet, on an issue where his party has a shameful track record, will force anyone with a genuine interest in developing DEIS pause for thought,” concluded Deputy Byrne.