Budget 2023: Welcome measures but important aims must not be forgotten

Members of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) participated in a grassroots campaign calling for increased investment in primary education.

As Ireland emerges from COVID-19, the shortfalls in our primary and special education system, which were brought into sharp focus when the pandemic emerged, are still clear for all to see.

Many primary classes are overcrowded, our school leaders are under-supported, mental health services for pupils are under-resourced, and our schools are under-funded. These four areas were therefore in need of priority investment by Government in the budget.

Reduction in primary school class sizes by one pupil

The complexity of the contemporary classroom is such that, with larger class sizes, the ability of teachers to meet the broad spectrum of needs children now present with is seriously impeded.

When class sizes are smaller, modern teaching methods work more effectively, and teachers have more time to give individual attention to children who need the most support. This is particularly important for children with additional needs and those from disadvantaged communities.

The Budget provides for the hiring of 370 primary school teachers to reduce the staffing schedule by 1 point for all primary schools.

Reacting to the class size provision in Budget 2023, INTO General Secretary John Boyle said:

Over the last three years we have mounted a grassroots campaign to tackle Ireland’s supersized class sizes, an ongoing national shame given our place at the bottom of EU league tables. Today, we move yet another significant step closer to our goal of ensuring Ireland’s young children will no longer learn in a class with more than 20 pupils. 

We set an ambitious goal of a two-point reduction this year in the primary school staffing schedule. As a union, we are conscious of the detrimental impact of the pandemic on primary education. Government have today met us halfway. However next year’s budget must finish the job and ensure we bring our class sizes down to the EU average for once and for all. We expect the one-point reduction announced today to be applied to all primary schools, including DEIS schools from next September.”

Special Education

The INTO welcomes the Government announcement of an increase in funding to create 234 special education classes for pupils with additional needs. In todays’ budget the Government has further committed to recruiting 1,194 additional SNAs and 686 additional teachers for special education, working in special classes and special schools (the breakdown between primary and post-primary is not yet available).

The Government has also announced the hiring of additional staff for the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) and general increases in funding for the organisation, including funding for Irish sign-language tutors.

Reacting to the special education provisions of Budget 2023, INTO General Secretary John Boyle said:

Our members are deeply committed to supporting children with additional needs in mainstream classes, special classes, and special schools. The additional resources while welcome must be accompanied by frontloaded training and facilities.”

School Funding

Prior to the pandemic and the current cost of living crisis, schools were already struggling to meet basic expenditure. High inflation is impacting hugely on primary schools. Without adequate support these costs get passed to parents.

Primary schools receive a capitation grant of about €1 per pupil per school day to cover running costs. Second-level schools receive almost double that amount.

Recent OECD figures show Ireland spends on average 20% less per student at primary level than other developed countries.

The Government has announced an increase of funding of €100 million for schools and school transport providers to address increased running costs and transport, to be provided to schools this year. A specific breakdown for primary education is not yet available, nor is an outline of school funding for 2023.

Reacting to the school funding provision in Budget 2023, INTO General Secretary John Boyle said: 

With schools struggling to cover basic costs, the increase in funding announced today will be welcome. However, todays’ budget does not appear to address the chronic underfunding of primary education through permanent changes to the capitation grant. We call on Government to quickly clarify how this funding will be provided to primary and special schools and if there are any changes to the school capitation grant from next September.”

Free schoolbooks

The Government has today pledged to provide free schoolbooks to pupils every year from September 2023, under a free books initiative.

Reacting to the free schoolbooks provision in Budget 2023, INTO General Secretary John Boyle said: 

“We welcome this key cost saving measure which will help so many families across the country and commend those who have pushed Government into developing and delivering a pilot scheme and now rolling the scheme out nationally. This initiative which has been in place in Northern Ireland for many years will help parents struggling with education costs from next September.” 

General reaction

Reacting to Budget 2023, INTO General Secretary John Boyle said: 

From a primary and special education perspective, today’s budget tackles the immediate over the important – while schools and families require immediate financial support, we must ensure Government keeps their promise to support primary school children in the aftermath of the pandemic. In that regard reducing primary class sizes to the EU average of 20 pupils remains key.”

Other key education measures included in the Budget

Additional funding for school transport. 

  • An additional €45 million is being allocated as temporary non-core Covid-related funding to facilitate the continuation of selected Covid measures.
  • An additional €375 million in current core expenditure and an additional €68 million in core capital funding, to include the commencement of 150 new school building projects and the provision of classrooms for special classes.
  • An allocation of €20 million for the enhanced summer provision programme for summer 2023 and other wellbeing/ inclusion initiatives.

We will endeavour to provide a more comprehensive update to members when further detail is made available later in the week.

Overview of general cost of living measures contained in Budget 2023

The following key measures have been announced in Budget 2023 today. Additional detail will likely emerge in the coming days in relation to some of these measures from individual Government departments.

Note, this is an initial assessment of general measures announced in the Budget today. As with all such measures, members should seek specific advice from the relevant department / Revenue Commissioners in respect of their own situation.

There are welcome permanent measures to increase workers’ income including:

  • Increasing Income tax relief through raising the entry point to the top rate of tax by €3,200/ from €36,800 to €40,000. This will be worth €640 a year/ €12.30 a week to workers on the higher rate (34% of earners).
  • Increasing both personal tax credit and employee tax credit by €75 from €1,700 to €1,775. Together with the widening of tax bands this will save a single worker €800 a year and couples €1,600.
  • Increasing the Minimum Wage by 80c an hour from €10.50 to €11.30. This means €32 per week or €1,664 per annum for a full-time worker.
  • Increasing and widening of eligibility for the Working Family Payment. The threshold is to be increased to €40 for under-12’s and €50 for children over 12, with an additional €500 payment in November.
  • The USC rate band 2 is being increased from €21,295 to €22,290, which ensures no worker on the minimum wage will pay USC and provides a modest increase in wages for all other workers.

Workers’ spending power is also increased through more social spending, including:

  • Childcare fees: Projected to see fees paid by parents’ fall by up to 25%. This is projected to put €2,100 a year back into parents pockets.
  • Healthcare:
    • GP care: 430,000 more people to receive a GP visit card, including children aged 6 and 7.
    • Contraception: Free for all women up to age 30 (up from 25) from next year.
    • IVF: Providing supports for the first time in relation to access to IVF treatment, expanding women’s health hubs and providing additional funding for screening and other women’s health services.
    • Hospital charges: To be abolished for adults, where removed for children previously.
  • Education:
    • Schoolbooks: Free schoolbooks for all primary school children from next September.
    • Student contribution charge: A family earning under €100,000 will see a permanent reduction of €500 in third level fees to €2,500 and any family earning under €62,000 will pay no more than €1,500 in fees.
    • SUSI grant: all SUSI grants will increase by between 10-14% from September 2023.

Temporary spending / cost-of-living measures – workers and their families

  • Energy Credit: €600 for all households over three (x €200) instalments, one before Christmas and two early next year.
  • Public Transport Fares: 20% cut in fares extended to end of 2023.
  • Excise duty on fuel: Extension of reduction to February 2023.
  • Education: 
    • School transport: Additional funding to increase capacity.
    • Student contribution fee: Reduced by €1,000 from €3,000 to €2,000 for all students as part of a once off cost of living measure.
    • SUSI grant: Once-off double monthly payment for those in receipt of the SUSI maintenance grant in the current college year.
  • Housing:
    • Private Renters: 2 x €500 tax credit per renter, not per tenancy, one payable this year and one payable in 2023. This applies to renters who are not in receipt of any other housing assistance.
    • Help to Buy Scheme: To be extended for another two years.