Education in the #ge16 manifestos

Given that education hasn’t been a priority in the election, I thought I’d spend a day or two of my midterm in the spirit of public service (?!) scraping through the political parties’ manifestos for the imminent election to see if any of them have a clue what’s going right in education and how to keep it going, and what’s wrong in with it and how to fix it.

I’m concentrating only on issues at Secondary Level, there are things I’m leaving out (almost all parties mention restoring Guidance cuts for example), pet projects and hairbrained schemes are omitted, but I’ve narrowed it down to pupil-teacher ratio, special education, management, Junior Cycle, and pay, with an emphasis on new entrants. I’m starting with that one

Pay/new entrants

Fine Gael and Labour make no specific commitments on pay. No surprise there: teachers pay and conditions have been tied into the public service in more ways than ever, in relation to everything from sick leave to additional time in lieu of pay.

Fianna Fail want to restore allowance to new entrants. In further pay agreements they say they’ll equalise pay, they too state they are committed to the current pay deal. They also commit to repealing FEMPI over two years. 

Sinn Fein opposes two-tier pay scales, they say. They will prioritise low to middle income earners, ‘work towards’ equalising pay and ending casualisation. Again I assume this means they want to preserve the current pay deal.

PBP plan to reverse all of the cutbacks made to teachers’ pay and conditions. No other detail.

Renua don’t mention pay, but want to have a go at pensions, moving public sector workers from a defined benefit pension scheme to a defined contribution scheme and capping public sector pensions at €60,000 per annum. And they’d do away with increments and introduce ‘merit based pay’. Wow!

I couldn’t find anything from the Greens on pay.

Pupil teacher ratio

FG going for a reduction in PTR to 18:1 over the next five years by funding an extra 2,392 (very specific number there) extra teachers

Labour Delivering the smallest class sizes in the history of the State, 20:1, no classroom with 30+

Fianna Fail: no mention of PTR at second level, either an oversight or a big mistake

Sinn Fein say they will shrink class sizes and gradually reduce the ratio of pupils to teachers from 27:1 to 20:1, beginning with a one point reduction in year one and a further point in year two. After that they say they will analyse the need for reductions and introduce a capital programme to provide for further reductions. This seems to imply the first two points will go without a cost. There’s a further commitment to reduce the PTR to 15:1 in DEIS schools, but that’s only if they win two elections in a row.

Social Democrats: Steadily reducing primary school class sizes to the EU average of 20, but no mention of secondary

AAA-PBP: PBP policy is to establish a maximum class sizes with a long term goal of maximum numbers of students in any class, anywhere in the country set at 18.

Renua aspires to reducing student teacher ratios in line with international best practice, though don’t put a figure on this.

Green Party plans to reduce staff-student ratios across all levels, but no numbers or costs given

Special Education

Fine Gael are proposing in-school speech and language therapy, expanding NEPS, and committed  to ‘progress sections of the EPSEN Act that were introduced on  a non-statutory basis’ with an action plan on Educational Exclusion. All fine, but a poor reflection on five years in power.

Labour’s education document pay scant attention to Special Education: training for students who need assistive technology and mentions in the costing sheet of an allocation of an additional 1,000 SNA posts, additional educational psychologists and increased availability of speech and language therapy (combined cost of €72m). Only the first of these appears in the manifesto itself. Not as comprehensive as it should be (implementing EPSEN in full should be a basic promise) when you’ve had the department for a full term.

Fianna Fail say they will restore resource teaching hours to 100% of recommended hours at a cost of €70 million. Allocation should be based on need they say and they promise to employ 100 new psychologists at a cost of €7 million in 2017, with priority given to schools in disadvantaged areas. No mention EPSEN Act; curious as the FF leader often uses it a sign of his success in the department.

Sinn Fein promises to increase the number of psychologists in NEPS by 10%, to increase resource-teaching hours for children by 15% and increase funding for SNA provision to facilitate greater access by children with special needs. Lacking in detail on provision of SNAs, no mention of implementing EPSEN in full. And no numbers.

The Social Democrats if in government intend to invest in SNAs by removing the cap on appointment and giving them CPD. After that it’s special education provision based on need. That’s it. The lack of detail here is obvious, like I say in the summary of their policy, they don’t seem to have someone working on education.

The AAA manifesto talks about early intervention for students with special needs, matching SNAs with school needs, but considering the individual student’s needs. The PBP manifesto goes a bit further promising a full-time NEPS psychologist for every 200 students, widening the qualifying criteria for special needs support and provision of a full-time SNA for any student who needs one. This is all fine, but anybody could have said this, how is it proposed to do it?

Renua: ‘the extension of disability into the Ombudsman’s remit will play a key role in enforcing the often neglected rights of the disabled in Irish schools’. They say support structures for schools will be made available to ‘clusters of schools with their allocation based on need’. Would like to hear of a model for this type of provision, it seems to suggest the same kind of autonomy FG are suggesting.

The Greens have no mention of special education at all.

School Management/Moratorium on posts of responsibility

Fine Gael want everything localised: decision making, education clusters, a school excellence fund (no details). They believe local autonomy will improve school leadership, finance, accountability for performance and complaints procedures for parents. This is a major ideological difference from all other parties. I don’t intend to tell you who to vote for, but if this happens, and you work in education, your job is going to change past the point of rescue.

The Labour document mentions the new Centre for School Leadership, with a budget of €3m to mentor and support new school leaders, which it introduced late last year without telling the teacher unions,they say that it will ensure that every newly appointed principal has a Masters-level qualification in school leadership by 2020, as if that’s the only prerequisite for good leadership. It’s interesting how the two outgoing government parties are interested in beefing up the power of management, perhaps because they have seen over the last five years that this is the group most eager to comply. There is no mention to speak of the restoration of promotional posts in schools specifically, though there are some references to the public service in general.

Fianna Fail is committing ‘rebuilding middle management structures within both primary and secondary schools by removing the moratorium on posts of responsibility for assistant principals’. What about for special duties teachers? If this isn’t an oversight, then it seems to suggest that the B-post structure, as it used to be known, would disappear and there would be far fewer promotional opportunities for teachers, and far more competition for those that remain. Not a recipe for a contented staffroom. 

In both the AAA and PBP documents there are mentions of lifting the moratorium on posts of responsibility.

Sinn Fein don’t mention changes to management structures or the moratorium that I can find anywhere in their manifesto. Neither do the Greens.

Social Democrats propose lifting the moratorium on the recruitment of Special Duties posts (but not Assistant Principals?).

Renua  want to limit the length of  a principal’s contract, renewable every six years.They call assistant principals ‘assistant managers’, saying they, and principals should be allowed back into teaching if they want to go back. They also propose post holders would have their roles ‘term bound’ too. It calls the moratorium a ‘downgrading’ and a ‘deeply regrettable consequence of choices made during the financial crisis’. It does not mention a commitment to reverse the moratorium.

Renua are big into management. Some of these proposals are a huge departure from the current system, and the kind of management speak they use would scare quite a few.

Junior Cycle

There is no mention at all in the Fine Gael manifesto and Labour only mention it in reference to the wonderful work they’ve done so far. They seem to think it’s a done deal and they just need to tick a box or two when they come back into power. Oh dear.

The Fianna Fail make an interesting proposal on Junior Cycle. No they don’t want to scrap it but they want to restore History as a core subject. This is proof that a lobbying campaign can work, even if they don’t exactly say how it can be done.

Renua thinks the Junior Certificate (sic) and Leaving Certificate should be moved on to self-directed learning and continuous assessment(Labour also wants to extend the reform agenda to Leaving Cert). They appear to want to go beyond Junior Cycle reform. In fairness to them it isn’t populism, but it is nonsense.

The PBP manifesto promises to resist curriculum changes like the new Junior Cycle because they lead to ‘a marketised model’.

The Greens and Social Democrats don’t mention Junior Cycle at all.


Fine Gael overview

Overall this manifesto reads like something very comprehensive, with everything costed and very specific numbers. But when you dig down you find that the promised increases in funding are paltry, and commitments to work on the EPSEN Act are made without any regard for Fine Gael having been in government for the last five years (I can hear all the hacks shouting ‘we were in a crisis’ like Ross in Friends). Everything is costed, but no news on where the funds are to come from. The standout frightener for education at second level is the emphasis on local school autonomy, something that has never been tried in Ireland and will be fiercely resisted. Added to a dodge on the big issue of denominational schooling (everybody should have the school they want, whatever that might be, and we’ll see how it plays out), it doesn’t read as a plan, more of a wish list.

Liked: they go for reducing the PTR to the lower than all the other large parties.

Disliked: the school autonomy plan, not something you enter into without consultation, but consultation was never a strong point for FG. 


The manifesto is heavy on what they did over the life of the last government, which is an obvious gloss, given that there is no mention of the way they invited the anger of virtually every one of the education partners in the last five years. Many of the promises are things we knew they wanted already, but the big deal for them is proposing a new National Convention on Education. The previous Convention called by Labour in 1993 is worth a look because everything, good and bad, proposed in irish education in the last twenty years came out of the resulting report. LINK It doesn’t pander to any particular education partner, although it does promise they will legislate for a Parents’ and Students’ Charter, as well as publishing a new ‘School View’ website, giving parents information on school performance, subject choice and extracurricular options, but that isn’t the same as a league table. Oh no!

Liked: The National Convention is interesting, but can we trust that it won’t be an attempt to railroad education into introducing the latest fads from abroad?

Fianna Fail

On a first read (I read them all twice, full disclosure of how geeky I get at the crossroads of politics and education) the manifesto appears to be the most comprehensive and thorough, someone was definitely listening to the various lobby groups, there’s something for everyone: students, parents, teachers, managers. That’s the problem when you read it a second time is the logistics of doing all of this at the same time.

Liked: counting extracurriculars for Croke Park hours. And saving History.

Disliked: the ‘one for everyone in the audience’ approach.

Sinn Fein

The big difference with the three other big parties here is the lack of costings. The promises cover the broad range of what I read above, but here there’s little detail on where the money will come from, it’s much easier to make promises when you aren’t counting the cost or prioritising spending.

Liked: the mention of pay scales, no other large party has included it/

Disliked: the lack of detail: anyone could write a wish list, but implementation needs planning.

Social Democrats

Again there are no details on cost here, though it’s not mentioned in the manifesto, I know they’ve put a figure on providing free primary education to all children. The emphasis is on primary all through though, there are few specifics on secondary, beyond a passing mention on Guidance Counsellors (not councillors). I get the impression they haven’t got someone working on education, understandable in that it’s a very new party, but something they’ll have to fix. I noticed too that they did not provide a spokesperson on the Newstalk coverage of education (neither did FG or the Greens from this list of parties).

Liked: the mention of mental health in schools

Disliked: the scant detail, another wish list.


There is unfortunately a complete lack of detail here, from both strands of the grouping. The AAA manifesto has a broad call for all cuts to be reversed and adequate resourcing of schools. 

PBP wants to nationalise education and take it completely out of the hands of patron bodies. Both parties have another long wish list, but details on implementation are hard to find. I can see the draw for secondary teachers having class-contact time from a maximum of 22 to 18 hours, but what is to be done with the other four hours? If it’s administrative work, no thanks, I’d rather teach the maximum. The time off would be better used for those with posts of responsibility. Also the idea that every part time teacher is to be made permanent within the 18 hour timetable is a bold proposal, though it doesn’t explain what happens to those teachers when a school changes: fall in numbers, closure, teachers returning from leave, all affect their employment: how would a school function with surplus teachers in significant numbers? I accept the 18 hours might be more achievable with a larger number of teachers, but again, at what cost (in time and money) will this be done?

Liked: the boldness of the plan, it has at it’s heart a desire to revolutionise Irish education (at the least the PBP section has).

Disliked: the unwillingness to get away from a shopping list of bullet points which echo many of the approaches of the larger parties. 

Renua Ireland

Renua’s education policy is a charter for managerialism. It takes a swipe at Board of Management, saying standards of ‘corporate governance’ should be applied them. It suggests high targets and standards for people working in the second level system, which is fair enough until you read elsewhere that they want to ‘introduce a programme of management training that will begin at senior grades within the public sector and be cascaded down over a period of time’. Cascade down, not up. This is an education overview so I won’t go deeply into their proposals on public service pay, conditions and pensions, but I will share this line: ‘introduce a set of supportive tools and sanctions which will assist underperformers in improving their outputs and support managers in dealing with (my emphasis) underperformers after all reasonable steps to improve performance have been taken’. ‘Dealing with’ in this sentence means fire, I take it.


Short and sweet coverage of education here. The standout difference is a green initiative in transition year to provide a two week “learning in nature” scheme where they are involved in preparing and planting land for harvest later that year. Other than that there are the usual boxes ticked, even mentioning a reform of CAO. Run of the mill stuff really, no real thought on what the implications of the changes might be.

Liked: mention of student mental health, ignored in many of the other manifestos

Disliked: no mention at all of special education or pay.


A hell of a way to spend my midterm, I hope this helps!

Fintan O’Mahony









2 thoughts on “Education in the #ge16 manifestos

  1. Well done, Fintan. A lot of work went into this!
    Agree with you totally about the spectre of autonomy and the sheer creepiness of Fine Gael’s stated plans for education. It does look like the managerial bodies are being rewarded for their compliance and willingness to forget that almost every school manager in the country is also a member of one or other of the unions. The autonomy drive could also be coming from ideology within the party re. small government. Either way it’s bad news for the classroom teacher (and yes… reduction of hours is unwelcome if it’s to make way for pointless administration).
    The point where I disagree is your “likes” for the Greens and the Social Democrats focus on mental health. This is especially disappointing in the Greens, whose education spokesperson is an English teacher herself. No-one is against mental health, but an education policy should deal with education. And, no, I do not classify “mental health awareness programmes” or “resilience and bounceability training” as education. If we call these education and make way for them on the curriculum (by making history a short course for example) we deny our students, especially our disadvantaged students, access to the powerful knowledge it our job to pass on.

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