North Tipp Ogra Fianna Fáil Attend Education Conference‏

Colm Reddin, Micheal Martin and Seán Ó Tighearnain

On Saturday the 25th of June members of North Tipperary Ógra Fianna Fáil travelled to Birr to attend the party’s conference entitled “Educating for the Future”. The conference was attended by Uachtaráin Fianna Fail Micheál Martin, along with Fianna Fáil Education spokesperson in the Dail Brendan Smith TD and Senator Averil Power spokesperson for education in the Seanad.

The special guest speaker was Professor Tom Collins of NUI Maynooth who intrigued the crowd with his abundance of knowledge in the field of the future of education in Ireland. He spoke of the need to concentrate on certain key areas within the sector that the state must prioritise in order to maintain the high standard of education we currently portray.

Micheál Martin Spoke in relation to the way in which the debates on education are being handled at the moment. “There are very definitely problems with our education system which go well beyond resource levels.  There must be reform and it must inevitably be uncomfortable for some.  But we should never forget something: You cannot build up the education system by tearing it down.  You can never find an effective agenda if you fail to acknowledge strengths as well as weaknesses.

Micheál Martin later met with members of the North Tipp Ogra Fianna Fáil where he spoke regarding the parties view on the future of education. “I believe that there are still serious challenges that have to be confronted in the education system and I must assure you that we intend to use every opportunity in the Oireachtas to promote a positive agenda to address them.”

He was adamant to assure everyone that the conference was about having an open conversation about the future of education. He accepted fully that the party had been detached in the past from drawing on the full policy expertise of its members and supporters, though he assured Ogra that this had now changed.

“This is intended as a first step in an ongoing process where you will be actively encouraged to help frame our policies. Even in the midst of an unprecedented recession we have a world-leading export sector which is concentrated in industries which rely on highly educated people. ”

He outlined that the Fianna Fáil party had shown its commitment to being constructive in April when it tabled a private members motion in the Dáil which succeeded in gaining cross-party support.  The debate motion is so far the only time that the new Dáil has discussed education.

“It is a simple fact that every significant expansion in education participation in every part of the education system – and especially special education, second-level, third-level, further education and advanced research – was implemented by Fianna Fáil administrations.  This didn’t happen by chance, it came because our leaders and members chose to make education our priority.  I am determined that we will be true to this great tradition.”

Chairman of Ógra Fianna Fáil Colm Reddan asked Mr. Martin his views on the current issue regarding special needs and the reduction of SNA’S in our schools.

Mr Martin said that “fourteen years ago the provision of supports for children with special education needs was generally small and always segregated.  In fact the state didn’t even acknowledge the specific education needs of many children, including children with autism spectrum disorder.  The entire school system had around 200 special needs assistants. Today that figure is over 10,000.

“Special needs is an area where you have to have a permanent commitment to evaluation and development of policy.  At its best it is driven by a programme suited to an individual child or small group of children.  Methodologies are constantly changing as are the patterns of need.  An individual school may only need to provide particular supports for brief periods. Special education was ringfenced in the last Budget and it should be ringfenced in future budgets.  Within the budget, extra effort should be placed on evaluating the impact of provision and making sure that resources are allocated solely on the basis of the identified needs of children. I am determined that we will play a broad and constructive part in the education debate in the years ahead.  We will fight to protect real advances of recent years, but also propose significant reform where it is necessary.”

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