THE Minister for Education and Skills, Jan O’Sullivan was greeted with measured applause as she addressed delegates at the INTO national congress yesterday.
In her first address to the annual congress since being appointed to cabinet last summer, Ms O’Sullivan told teachers she believes salaries and other education-related areas deserve increased funding.
However, she warned delegates at the congress in Ennis to be realistic in their expectations ahead of talks on a new agreement between teacher unions and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform
“I have no doubt that the next agreement will see gains for your members. But we will need to be realistic about how much can be delivered immediately. In just one year, we can never hope to deliver improvements to all of the areas in education, including public pay, that need additional investment,” said Ms O’Sullivan.
As expected, the minister used her speech to confirm plans to limit the number of places which schools can reserve for the children of past pupils.
She said the new legislation will ensure that all schools will be “fair and transparent” in deciding how to prioritise children for admission to their school but that she believes a recommendation to limit the number of places to 25% does not go far enough.
“It is certainly my view that a much lower exemption, of perhaps 10% of all school places, is as high as such a threshold should be set. Of course, access to education is only one component of delivering equality of opportunity. The resources that are in place to support children have an equal role to play in this regard,” she said.
The minister said the new law will also ensure that pupils from minority groupings are not discriminated against. “It makes clear that every school must be welcoming of every child – regardless of their colour, their abilities or disabilities, or indeed their sexual orientation or membership of the Traveller community,” she said.
Ms O’Sullivan received applause when she acknowledged there is a problem with overcrowding in many schools across the country saying: “Reducing class sizes will be a personal and political priority for me during 2015.”