Young Scientists Exhibition

January 29, 2010 § Leave a comment

Earlier this month, I met some young people from the constituency at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition.  The projects were all very impressive.  Above, you see me trying out an exhibit from Andrej Pacher of Rockbrook Park School.  His exhibit was a ‘General Use Augmented Reality Project (GUARP)’.

Below, I meet Kate Lally and Lauren McCauley from St Colmcille’s Community School whose project was entitled ‘The Fear Factor: Who is more daring?’

Special Needs Assistance in danger of ‘a serious backward step’

January 26, 2010 § Leave a comment

Will the Minister for Education and Science explain why it appears that within the next few days, the system is to lose 1,200 special needs assistants? This has not been denied or confirmed but can we have an indication that the report is wrong? Will Senator Dan Boyle tell us if it is wrong as his colleague, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, was on radio no more recently than at the weekend again emphasising the importance of education to the Green Party?

Will the issue be clarified to this House if it cannot be clarified on radio or to anybody else? Special needs assistance is one of the small number of things we have achieved in the past ten or 15 years of prosperity. It is a genuinely progressive step that has occurred in our schools. It would be a most serious backward step for people who are genuinely needed in the system, special needs assistants, to be made redundant at the end of this week or anytime soon. That appears to be what is contemplated by the Department.

The Department’s evaluation paper on these matters, submitted to the Department of Finance, stated in a rather prescient manner that there is a redundancy scheme in place. The document states:

However, removal of SNAs, even on a moderate scale, is likely to result in significant rearguard action by schools. It may result in schools refusing to continue to retain pupils with special needs and will undoubtedly attract significant adverse public and media reaction. Previous experience in the special needs area indicates that even where criteria are not met, removal of resources can be very contentious.

This is a genuinely contentious issue and it should be dealt with in this House.

More :: Department reviewing SNA posts (RTE)

Solving literacy problems key to addressing social exclusion

June 18, 2009 § Leave a comment

The National Economic and Social Forum has reported that one in three children in disadvantaged areas has severe literacy problems.

Literacy levels among children are very closely linked to outcomes later in life, and children who do not read or write effectively are far more likely to end up leaving school early, becoming unemployed, or being drawn into crime and anti-social behaviour.

I agree with the NESF conclusion that a national literacy strategy is now needed. In fact it is astounding that there is no such strategy already in place. Any such plan can only work if it has input and commitment from a wide range of Government Departments and other public agencies

Labour has proposed a number of substantial and workable proposals that should be included in any national plan to tackle poor levels of literacy. We should:

  • Give every encouragement to primary school teachers to undertake more intensive training in literacy and education, with additional training available to teachers in disadvantaged schools.
  • Encourage public libraries to increase their opening hours and to have outreach programmes aimed at maximising community literacy.
  • Provide all possible funding and training support for family literacy schemes.
  • Work with local authorities to incorporate educational facilities, such as space for homework clubs, into local authority housing developments.
  • Require schools to develop whole school literacy policies and target outcomes for class groups and individuals.
  • Make provision for homework clubs run by trained tutors in schools with low achievement in literacy and numeracy.

Archbishop ahead of debate on future of education

June 17, 2009 § Leave a comment

Once again, today, the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin has taken what can only be described as a leadership role in the debate on the future of education, particularly of primary school education. He appears to be ahead of the debate in many cases, certainly ahead of many people who purport to speak on behalf of church interests in this vital area. The Archbishop has described the situation with regard to primary school education as a near monopoly of control by the Catholic church and has said that it does not reflect current realities. He has called for a debate, the kind of debate for which many Members have been calling for two years.

When Deputy Mary Hanafin was Minister for Education and Science, she declined in this House to set up a national forum to consider these questions. The subject was raised last week in the House. Has the Minister for Education and Science been persuaded to come to facilitate a debate on this crucial issue? The matter arose again in the context of the recent developments on the Ryan commission report. However, I have no difficulty in decoupling those two issues if that would make people feel more comfortable in debating the matter. The issue of the church’s control and management of primary schools throughout the State requires debate in its own right, with or without the Ryan commission report.

There have been some developments in this regard, for example, a development with regard to VEC involvement in primary schools in Dublin city. The issue arises again and again. Can we now have a full and comprehensive debate on the issue that takes note of the fact that the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin has said that the current position is a historical hangover and is, essentially, a monopoly. To his credit, he said the position is detrimental to the possibility of maintaining a true Catholic identity in Catholic schools. That is the Roman Catholic view on the issue.

When this question is debated in the Seanad, on radio programmes and elsewhere, people always say it is a question of choice. We are all in favour of the maximum amount of choice being afforded to citizens, parents and children, but resources must also be considered.

In any country or economy, scarce resources will dictate what level of choice we can provide or can vindicate for parents, whether religious, non-religious or multidenominational education.

Launch of Cherishing Children

May 25, 2009 § Leave a comment

Cherishing ChildrenThis afternoon, the Labour Party launched ‘Cherishing Children’ – our new manifesto for children. As the Party Spokesperson on Children, I attended the press launch with Leader Eamon Gilmore and our by-election hopeful in Dublin Central, Senator Ivana Bacik.

In these economically difficult times, it is very easy for a government to pull investment away from those who need it most – our children. What this policy document does is outline a core Labour belief that investment in children is fundamental to a better economy.

According to the OECD, Ireland is at the bottom of the league for early
childhood education, with only 2 per cent of three year olds in statesubsidised pre-school. This compares to 100 per cent in Italy and France.

3563532686_bfea3cd5eeThe Labour Party fought the 2007 General Election with a commitment that if elected, we would introduce one year of free childhood education for every child. Although Minister for Children Barry Andrews announced in the last budget the introduction of such a scheme, it’s implementation has been haphazard and with 7 months to go until the scheme is launched, we still have not been given the full details of the scheme. We don’t know the curriculum. We don’t know if they have enough staff to cope. This is worrying for parents and providers.

If the country is to be economically vibrant again, investment in children is essential. One of the focuses of ‘Cherishing Children’ is on how the boom that we had never guaranteed an improvement in a child’s well-being. We built homes and new towns, but not the schools to cope with the surge in population. Only last week I visited Holy Trinity NS which spent €125,000 last year on prefabs. On Friday I will be attending St Colmcille’s Junior School which has been waiting reconstruction despite the fact it was promised by Fianna Fail in the last general election. I’ve raised their situation in the Seanad previously:

This government has withdrawn funding for school books, has reduced investment in playgrounds and has deemed building footpaths an optional investment. They withdrew support for the Cervical Cancer Vaccine. Cherishing Children seeks to place children at the heart of Labour policy at local level, at national level and at European level. We will seek to reverse the decision on the Cervical Cancer Vaccine. We will seek to replace anti-social behaviour at nighttime with sport and recreation. We will support the setting up of a pan-European missing children’s hotline.

Studies have shown that if the State invests in children, they will receive multiples of that investment back in tax, less social welfare and a successful knowledge-based economy. Labour strongly believes in this.

More :: Click here to read ‘Cherishing Children’ (PDF)
More :: See more photos from the launch on the Facebook page

Alex receives a lesson in Science!

January 9, 2009 § Leave a comment

Yesterday, I was pleased to attend the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition in the RDS and meet with pupils from some local schools. I was thoroughly impressed by the high standards the students have set themselves this year, and local students were particularly inspiring!

I managed to catch up with students from Wesley; Our Lady’s Grove Secondary School; St. Columba’s and Pobail Scoil Naomh Choilm Cille.

Above is a photo of myself with Danielle Ronan from Mount Anville Secondary School. She explained to me her project on producing Siamese Fighter Fish!

More :: View more photos of the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition at the Labour Flickr Site

Local schools to lose 14 teachers in budget cutbacks

October 29, 2008 § Leave a comment

Senator Alex White, Labour Leader in the Senate and his party’s candidate in the Dublin South by-election, has expressed dismay at the fact that primary schools in Dublin South will lose up to 14 teachers under the new pupil-teacher ratios set by the Government as a result of the Budget changes.

Speaking prior to a Labour Party motion in the Dáil on class sizes, Senator White stated that: “The Government are saying that class sizes will be increasing by only one child. In reality, it’s much more serious than that. Schools will lose teachers, every child’s education will be compromised, and class sizes in Dublin South will be as high as 32.

“The worst case is St. Colmcille’s National Schools in Knocklyon, who will lose an extraordinary 5 teachers according to initial figures from the INTO. This is the same school that, in the last election, the Government promised to redevelop, ending the plight of 500 students in prefab accommodation. Today, the Government will still not let the school apply for planning permission.

“The INTO have also reported that Taney NS, Dundrum and St Mary’s NS, Lamb’s Cross will each lose a teacher. Holy Cross NS, Dundrum will lose 3 teachers and Oatlands NS, Stillorgan will lose 4 teachers under the new rules. 14 teachers is a shocking number to be lost in one constituency, and this doesn’t include the loss of English Language Support Teachers.

“The Government has responded by insisting that these measures are required in these tight budgetary times.

“However, Minister O’Keeffe is ignoring the fact that the people who will be most affected by his cuts are children, who in many cases already have had to endure high class sizes, and low standard accommodation.

“What Labour is asking tonight is simply for the Minister to stick to his own Programme for Government – which promised to decrease class sizes, not increase them.”

More :: Labour’s Private Members’ Motion will be taken in the Dáil at 7.30 pm tonight. You can view the proceedings live by clicking here.

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