Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 12 February 2019
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills
Statement of Strategy 2019-2021: Discussion
I will have to leave as soon as I ask my questions. I am not being rude. I will look back over the Minister's answers. I would like to raise a few points rather than ask questions. In his opening statement the Minister asked what strategic direction he wanted the education and training sector to travel in over the next three years. There are some basic things we need to tackle. One is access to education. I refer to two problems with access. One relates to children with additional needs who are still struggling to get spaces in schools or in autism spectrum disorder, ASD, classes. The other relates to the many rural areas in which there are still issues around school transport. We have debated school transport in this committee on a number of occasions and have had a number of questions back and forth, but it is still an issue for many people. It comes down to the nearest school rule. That is a bit of an archaic system. Transport and the lack of special classes are still serious issues.
I am looking at the goals of the action plan. Goal 1 is to "improve the learning experience and the success of learners" and goal 2 is to "improve the progress of learners at risk of educational disadvantage or learners with special educational needs". If we want to achieve these goals we have to ensure that the correct supports are in place. I know there has been a lot of work done on increasing the number of ASD classes and special needs assistants, but there is still an issue, particularly at second level. I put this to the Minister in our last round of questions. In some counties we only have one or two options for people at second level. That will not cater for the need, particularly over the next few years as more people come out of ASD classes at primary level. The spaces are not there at second level. They are some of the basic things we need to tackle if we want to give everybody equal access to education and equal opportunities.
Another issue is the quality of some of the buildings. A number of months ago some people were presenting before the committee. This is not just about prefabs, some of the schools are on waiting lists for new buildings. The conditions in which some people are teaching are not good learning environments for students. They are not good environments for teachers either. They are some of the things we need to get right.
My last point is similar to one made by Deputy Naughton. I agree with a lot of what she said about empathy. She made some very interesting points in that regard. The Minister knows that I am always going on about mindfulness, mental health, and mental well-being in schools. If we are trying to decide on our strategy for the coming years we should not only focus on the academic aspects but let students know, from a very young age, that minding one's mental health and well-being is just as important as doing well academically. That links into empathy and many other aspects of well-being. We really should be rolling out mindfulness in all of our schools. It does not have major cost implications. It is something very basic which could be done. The younger students are when things like this are tackled the greater the chance will be of success and of students adopting mindfulness in their everyday lives. They are my main points.