IMPACT has demanded an acceleration of recruitment in the education sector, and has sought Government support for a range of measures to tackle educational disadvantage. The union, which represents over 10,000 staff in the education sector, put forward the proposals today (Wednesday) in its submission to education minister Richard Bruton’s consultation on an education strategy for the 2016-2018 period.
IMPACT welcomed the limited easing of recruitment restrictions in some parts of the education sector, and Programme for Government commitments to future recruitment in certain areas. “However, in the context of a strengthening economic recovery, together with demographic and other challenges facing the sector, it is essential that further and more rapid recruitment programmes are now undertaken in a number of areas,” it said.
“The recruitment moratorium, and the strict application of employment control frameworks (ECFs), continues to place a huge burden on services and the people who deliver them. In some cases, it has led to the inappropriate use of contract staff, internships, and other labour market activation programmes,” according to the IMPACT submission.
The union says vital support roles have been hard hit by the recruitment embargo, and argues that hiring should not be restricted to teaching staff. “While administrative and other support workers constitute a relatively small proportion of education staff numbers, they perform functions vital to the effective delivery of education services at all levels. They have also felt the full force of employment control frameworks (ECF) in recent years, and should be included in the easing of staffing restrictions in the coming period,” it says.
A number of professions and grades have outlined the impact of staff reductions on services, including special needs assistants, special educational needs organisers, National Educational Psychology Service (NEPS) staff, school completion officers, primary and post-primary inspectors, and staff in institutes of technology and educational training boards.
Tackling educational disadvantage
The IMPACT submission also highlights the need to tackle educational disadvantage by increasing funding for early childhood provision, bolstering support for children with special needs, developing the DEIS programme, and improving access to higher education. “Now that Ireland’s economic recovery is strengthening, IMPACT believes there is significant scope to strengthen measures to tackle educational disadvantage in the period 2016-2018 and beyond,” it says.
It emphasises the need for enhanced investment in the early childhood sector. “Evidence shows that investment in early years’ services delivers huge benefits for children, particularly those from lower income backgrounds, and for society and the economy more generally. Yet Ireland spends just 0.2% of GDP on childcare, compared to an OECD average of 0.8%.
“The education strategy should include a commitment to sustained investment in early years to at least bring Ireland’s state investment up to the OECD average. Investment should be linked to top quality service provision which, in turn, requires the professionalisation of all early years’ staff to enable them to deliver the range and quality of services that children need and parents demand, and to ensure that the people who provide services are properly rewarded with decent pay, regular working hours, and a modern career structure,” it says.
Children with special needs
IMPACT welcomes the announcement of additional special needs assistant posts in Budget 2016, but said a continued expansion of the service is required to meet growing demand. The union also expresses concerns about the fragmentation of SNA posts, and the impact this has on service consistency and quality. “The issue of certainty over the allocation of special needs provision, including the timeliness of the publication of allocations in advance of each school year, is a perennial problem that should be addressed in the education strategy for 2016-2018. This should include immediate action on the inadequate recruitment of special educational needs organisers,” it says.
Development of the DEIS programme and mental health
The union’s submission argues that the viability of the schools completion programme, which plays a crucial role in tackling educational disadvantage, has been compromised by repeated funding cuts over recent years. It also outlines three other priority areas for tackling educational disadvantage including food poverty and hunger prevention in schools, arts and social inclusion in education strategy, and the need for enhanced emotional and mental health supports.
On mental health supports, IMPACT welcomes the Programme for Government’s commitment to a limited expansion in staffing in the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS), which has been subject to strict staffing restrictions since 2008 – a period in which the school population has increased by 50,000 – but says more specialist staff are needed.
You can download the full submission here.
Separately, IMPACT has formed a coalition with the USI, IFUT, SIPTU and the TUI which has today (Wednesday 8th June) published a joint proposal on higher education funding as part of Minister Richard Bruton’s public consultation on an education strategy for 2016-2018.