Tuesday, 4 October 2022
Ceisteanna - Questions
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 7, inclusive, together.
The measures announced in the budget last week will continue to strengthen our schools and third level institutions, help families, support students and children with special needs and improve the learning environment for all. I do not have a date for the next meeting of the committee but, obviously, I liaise regularly with the Ministers for Education and Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science.
In line with our commitment in the programme for Government, we will further reduce the pupil-teacher ratio at primary level to a historically low level of 23:1 and will provide for 2,180 new teachers and special needs assistants. This is a further reduction on the already historically low level and the first time such a reduction has been made in three consecutive budgets. A sum of €50 million has been allocated for the introduction of free books for primary school students from autumn 2023 which will benefit half a million children next year.
Additional funding of €2 million will be made available in 2023 to continue progress on senior cycle reform which puts the student at the centre of the process and includes the development of new subjects and revised curriculums for all existing subjects. There will be a significant emphasis on additional assessment components outside of the traditional final written exams.
We have made an unprecedented commitment to students with special educational needs and their families. We are making an investment of over €2.6 billion to build on progress made to date around additional classes, teachers and supports.
We have provided for a once-off €1,000 reduction in the undergraduate student contribution fee. Student maintenance grant rates will increase from January 2023. Funding of €17.4 million has also been provided for a once-off and extra one-month payment for all student maintenance grant recipients, to be made by this December. All apprenticeship fees will be reduced by one third this year and over 8,000 additional apprenticeship places will be supported. A once-off increase of €1,000 to support eligible postgraduate students will be made available, increasing the figure to €4,500.
The Cabinet committee on education oversees implementation of the programme for Government commitments in the area of education. Its next meeting will take place shortly. I have regular engagement with Ministers at Cabinet and individually to discuss priority issues relating to their Departments. In addition, a number of meetings have been held between my officials and officials from relevant Departments since the establishment of the Cabinet committee in July 2020.
This Government has made great strides in delivering on our education commitments in the programme for Government. Some of the highlights include the massive increase in apprenticeship places and the establishment of the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, which will ensure that our commitment to the primacy of learning continues into the future.
In the past two years, we have introduced our plan for reform of the senior cycle of education and significantly expanded the DEIS programme for schools at risk of educational disadvantage.
At third level, we have launched Funding the Future - a landmark policy on the future of higher education. We are also addressing cost as a barrier to higher education, including changes to the student contribution and enhancements to the SUSI grant.
Since 2019, five technological universities have been established and since last year, as part of CAO reform, apprenticeships have been included on the application system for students. We are also working to support inclusion and diversity in our student body through our National Access Plan: A Strategic Action Plan for Equity of Access, Participation and Success in Higher Education 2022-2028.
In the early years and childcare sector, we have continued investment in the national childcare scheme and are making access to early learning and childcare substantially more affordable through the core funding scheme of €221 million which was introduced in September 2022. In addition, employment regulation orders, the first of their kind for the early years services sector, commenced on 15 September 2022. These orders will see increases in funding to early learning and childcare services to support improvements in staff wages.