Drive Quality and Access in Education

Everybody, regardless of background or means, should get the best education possible. It is the single greatest driver of opportunity, quality of life, social equality and economic growth. Ireland should be a republic in which every child has the opportunity to achieve their potential – that can only happen with a well-funded and modern education system. Such a system should ensure that our early years professionals, teachers, principals, lecturers and professors are free to be the very best they can be. Resources must be targeted to where they are most needed, and every effort must be taken to ensure access at all levels across all socioeconomic backgrounds.

Literacy is key to unlocking other areas of learning. It is simply unacceptable that 44% of pupils in the most disadvantaged primary schools perform at or below the lowest levels of reading proficiency. Parents play the most fundamental role in children’s learning and it is essential that they are given the supports they need to do this. Social Democrats would invest in the delivery, by schools, community organisations and others, of a range of programmes and initiatives to engage and support parents in their children’s learning and development.

As a small country in an increasingly globalised and competitive world, our Ireland’s education system is our single greatest competitive advantage. And yet, funding to Ireland’s schools and colleges has been cut year-on-year – resources for teachers, schools and colleges have been slashed, and much-needed modernisation across the sector hasn’t happened.

Let’s be clear – Ireland has a good education system by international standards. But the on-going lack of investment and modernisation means that many are being left behind, and that what’s been achieved is being put at risk. We must strive, instead, to have an education system that helps every child achieve their potential, one that competes with the best education systems on earth.

The Social Democrats believe Higher Education is predominantly a public good, and our ambition is to provide universal equality of opportunity to a world-class, globally competitive third-level system. It’s clear that significant investment in Higher Education is required to address the chronic underfunding of recent years, significant demographic demand, and to maintain, protect and enhance quality.

There are many policies that should be implemented in the next Dáil term and others that will take longer to bring to fruition. Listed here are what the Social Democrats believe should be the policy priorities in education for the next ten years.


  • Steadily reducing primary school class sizes to the EU average of 20;
  • Making primary education free by funding school books, schools transport and classroom resources;
  • Restoring capitation grants for schools to 2010 levels;
  • Ensuring resources are targeted to greatest need, including both areas of high economic disadvantage (as pursued by the DEIS programme) and the needs of disadvantaged students outside these areas;
  • Investing in Special Needs Assistants, SNAs, including removal of cap, to ensure sufficient resource and provide continuous professional development for SNAs;
  • Ensuring SEN students have access to education based on their needs;[1]
  • Connecting every school with fibre broadband and funding ICT hardware and software for education;
  • Equipping teachers to help close the gap in literacy outcomes, and reinstating literacy and numeracy professional development services;[2]
  • Ensuring pluralism in schools, by ending the practice of children being refused a place in a school because of their parents’ belief system (see separate section on pluralism in education);
  • Introducing curriculum to proactively develop children’s mental health and wellbeing in the classroom;
  • Enhancing continuous professional development for teachers and principals;
  • Re-establishing the role of career guidance councillors;
  • Lifting the moratorium on the recruitment of Special Duties posts, allowing principals focus on school leadership;
  • Introducing skills-based courses to include innovation, entrepreneurship, communications and critical thinking, together with required professional development for teachers.[3]


  • Capping and then reducing the Student Contribution Charge to the level of the Dutch system (€1.9-€2K) in the lifetime of the next Government;
  • Reforming the maintenance grants scheme, to provide better tapering of supports;
  • Investing in access programmes, building on existing successes, to ensure broad sociodemographic representation across the third level system;
  • Restoring maintenance grants for postgraduate students;
  • Progressively increase funding to achieve EU average funding levels;
  • Improving the level of autonomy of colleges, together with accountability for results – a programme of modernisation that must be developed in partnership with the third level sector;
  • Creating new apprenticeships and advanced qualifications.


[1] Multiple approaches to this should be considered, including working with the NCSE to increase the cap on resource teachers, or working with the NCTE in rolling out the proposed changes in ‘Delivery for Students with Special Educational Needs’.

[2] For example, increasing capitation to allow schools to budget for CPD or providing in service for CPD in Literacy and Numeracy.

[3] This would complement Civil, Social & Political Education, CSPE, course now in place.


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