Investment in education at all levels is essential in Budget 2023. Our education system, already dealing with the fallout from Covid-19, including the worsening of existing inequalities, must also meet the needs of those pupils fleeing war in Ukraine, and begin to provide supports and places at all levels for students with special educational needs.
Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE)
Ireland performs poorly when it comes to investing in early years and ECCE, spending just under 0.4 per cent of GDP on pre-primary education for 3-5 year olds. Social Justice Ireland proposes that Government allocate €115m in Budget 2023, to bring spending in this area to 0.5 per cent of GDP, and build on this investment each year to reach 1 per cent of GDP by 2027. This investment must include non-contact ECCE time.
Reducing class sizes and Pupil-Teacher ratios
Ireland’s class sizes have long been above the European average, particularly at primary level where the average class size is 25. (The EU average is 20). Budget 2023 should set a target of keeping average class sizes below 20 and reducing the Pupil-Teacher Ratio (PTR) further with a special focus on primary level and DEIS schools. €29m should be allocated in Budget 2023 to reduce the PTR.
Supporting newly arrived students
Schools will need additional resources to support students from Ukraine in the education system. Social Justice Ireland proposes that the CLASS scheme be expanded to incorporate the additional requirements of this cohort with an initial investment of €5m in Budget 2023.
Students with Special Educational Needs
Budget 2020 should invest €100m as a first step to commence and implement EPSEN Act in full by 2024.
DEIS Schools at Primary and Post-Primary level
Continued support for DEIS schools must be a policy priority, with a suite of measures to address educational disadvantage including reduced PTR and class sizes, and sufficient ongoing resourcing available to support new ambitious literacy and numeracy targets. Social Justice Ireland proposes €15m to support the continued expansion of the DEIS programme in Budget 2023.
We also recommend the restoration of the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance to 2011 levels (€18m) increase funding for Schools Meals Programme by ten per cent (cost €6.5m), and €15m to fund school places, programmes and supports for students with special education needs. Finally, Budget 2023 should see a 10 per cent increase in capitation grants at both primary and secondary level (cost €20.4m).
Further and Higher Education and Training
An additional €40m investment in Further Education and Training to develop and expand apprenticeships and traineeships to meet future skills needs and advance the circular economy, particularly at a regional and community level with €1m to support a skills transfer programme for migrants.
An additional €100m in State funding in higher education as a first step towards meeting the core funding gap of €307m identified in ‘Funding the Future’ by 2025. Social Justice Ireland also proposes that Government allocate €61m in Budget 2023 to increase the maintenance grant by €1,000. We also propose an increased allocation of €1m to the Fund for Students with a Disability in Budget 2023 and a €2m investment in additional apprenticeship and traineeship places for Traveller students.
We propose that €10m be invested in a Transition Skills Fund targeted at young people not engaged in education or training (NEETs) and people employed in sectors whose jobs are at high risk of automation. €5m investment for the newly established Technological Universities to provide digital and green skills training to address gaps at a regional level
Lifelong Learning and Adult Literacy
Social Justice Ireland proposes an investment of €5m in Budget 2023 to expand the Human Capital Initiative and improve lifelong learning across all cohorts of the population. €25m investment per annum until 2028 in adult literacy - €20m to rollout the new Adult Literacy, Digital Literacy and Numeracy Strategy and €5m to fund ancillary and support services. We also propose an additional investment of €1.5m in Community Education.
Budget Choices 2023 is available to download now.