Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Education and Skills Thomas Byrne says the forthcoming Education Strategy 2016 – 2018 must represent a complete change in direction for the education system, and undo the damage caused by five years of regressive policies pursued by the previous Fine Gael led Government.

Deputy Byrne said, “The previous Fine Gael led Government did enormous damage to our education system. They dismantled schemes which had helped tackle inequality in the education system. Small schools were also placed at risk, third level fees were increased and guidance counselling was effectively abolished in many schools. The removal of post graduate grants was also an appallingly regressive move which acted as a barrier to accessing further education.

“The previous Government’s strategy which was published in 2014 remains technically in force. However it is an unfulfilled wish list which ignores the damage caused by successive cutbacks to education supports. It is absolutely essential that the Government brings forward a new strategy which marks a radical shift in policy.

“Among the Fianna Fáil priorities for enhancing primary education include a reduction in the pupil teacher ratio, increased capitation funding to reduce the burden on schools and parents and supporting small schools. At second level, the restoration of ex quota provision of guidance counselling is a top priority for Fianna Fáil and is a key provision of our confidence and supply agreement with Fine Gael.

“Further resources for special educational needs at all levels must also be emphasised in the new Government strategy. The three-year Strategy should also commit to removing the cap on the expansion of the DEIS Programme to new schools and enhance investment in underperforming DEIS schools.

“At third level, the restoration of post graduate grants is absolutely essential. In addition, whatever decisions are made in the future about funding third level, without a doubt a substantial and recurrent increase in funding is absolutely required, as is clearly recommended through the Cassells Report.

“The Government is facing serious industrial unrest in our education system from September, and must ensure that all avenues at its disposal are used to successfully resolve this dispute. It is essential that current talks on restoring allowances for young teachers bring substantial progress before September. Minister Bruton needs to bin the failed policies of the past five years and instead focus on a complete change of approach to our students, teachers and education system in the forthcoming strategy.”