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Recently published article in the Irish Independent by the General Secretary

20th April 2018 | News

The End of Spin Minister Moves to Tackle School Building Barrier


Last June a spokesperson for the Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton T.D. told the Irish Times “there was no evidence of a shortage of school places and the Department of Education carefully monitored supply and demand across the country.”

The Ministers’ smooth-talking Spin Doctor was responding to the argument made repeatedly by CPSMA, that despite the Minister’s claim of a baptism barrier, the only real barrier keeping children out of schools in Dublin was a buildings barrier.

We knew we were right, and we had the evidence to prove it – that resources not religion was the real issue keeping children out of local schools.

We had surveyed our schools, talked to our school Principals, the people who more than anyone else knew the real situation on the ground. They could tell us not only what was happening in their own schools but in all the schools in their locality. We kept on hearing the same story from them – “it’s not just us all the schools in the area are oversubscribed”. We painstakingly mapped the results of our research to show the pressure points across the city.

The evidence was clear and compelling, you didn’t need to be Hercule Poirot or Philip Marlowe to figure it out, Dublin was short of primary schools in areas of rapid growth.

The official response though was still that there “no evidence of shortage of school places.” Doubting Thomas had nothing on the Minister.

However, in the last year the Department of Education has conducted a belated and much needed analysis of where the need for additional primary and secondary school places is greatest.

Last week finally, the Minister gave in to reality, accepted the overwhelming evidence of a shortage of school places in Dublin and announced 16 new Primary Schools for the city.

The simple truth is that spin may fool the media but you can’t spin away a lack of school places for ever. Facts are by their nature stubborn.

I am delighted the fact that the Minister is finally tackling the Buildings Barrier by providing more school places. Hard pressed Principals who have had to cope with the official denial of reality and the anger of concerned parents will be even more delighted.

Ultimately more school diversity and more school places will give parents and children access to local schools of their choice and that’s a good thing.

However, this episode should also serve as a warning to both the media and politicians. Policy needs to be driven by evidence and data rather than spin, sound-bytes, and fake news.

There is no reason why we cannot have, what the Minister aspires to the best educational system in Europe.

Ireland has a very solid foundation on which to build the best Educational system in Europe. Ireland has a very good Primary Education system, mainly due the high quality and commitment of the people who teach in and lead our schools and these who serve as volunteers on Boards of Management with no recompense but the satisfaction of a job well done.

However, the Primary System faces some major challenges. There is now clear evidence that Irish education is underfunded. There is clear evidence that that the subs crises is real and is impacting on our children’s education. There is emerging evidence of initiative overload.

If we want to keep our primary system working well the evidence shows the need to invest and tackle the real issues in Education.

We need to solve the subs crises, so that children always have a qualified teacher for their class.

We need to fund schools properly so that principals can focus on improving teaching and learning rather than ceaseless fund raising.

We need to slash the burden of admin so teachers can focus on pupils rather than form filling.

In short, we need to get the basics right.

Politicians and policymakers need to stop embracing every fad from Finland Silicon Valley or the letters page of the Irish Times. Shocking as this may seem to some of Ireland’s leading opinion writers we are not “simply the worst” and there is a lot other countries could learn from our schools and our teachers. We need to be confident enough to build on our very real strengths rather than thinking we always have to copy others.

Finally, as a country we all need to understand that a course in primary school is not the solution to every social ill. Primary Education is about identifying and developing the talents of our young people not solving every real or perceived social ill.

If we focus on supporting to teachers to do just that we will create the best educational system in Europe, our children deserve no less.

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