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Tackling educational disadvantage must be prioritised – Morgan

3 July, 2007

Speaking this morning, Sinn Féin's Arthur Morgan TD said Ireland's educational apartheid must be tackled if this government has any aspiration of ensuring a more inclusive and fairer society. Speaking ahead of the publication of a report from the Higher Education Authority which is expected to confirm that students from poorer backgrounds are at a disadvantage Deputy Morgan said Ireland's Celtic Tiger economy has failed to address educational disadvantage which remains a blight on the record of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats.

Deputy Morgan said, "Educational apartheid breeds social inequality and vice versa. With most recent figures, the government have obviously failed to bridge the gap that exists between the opportunities for children from well-off backgrounds and those from poorer areas.

"Sinn Féin, as republicans and socialists, have an extremely clear ideological position. We staunchly believe that equality should be at the core of any progressive society; this necessitates equality to be at the core of education policy. Currently in Ireland it is not. Instead successive governments have created and intensified an educational system that invariably results in students from wealthy backgrounds securing the university courses with the most points and subsequent more lucrative employment opportunities, namely law and medicine. Parents of such students can afford to send their children to expensive grinds and to send them to private well-resourced schools. In addition tax payers subsidise private schools to the tune of €80 million per annum while generational inequality is reproduced.

"Only 82 per cent of children sit the Leaving Cert overall. Some 23 per cent of the children of semi and unskilled manual workers don't even make it to the Leaving Cert and do not even get to the starting gates.

"In the Six Counties, Sinn Féin Minister for Education Caitriona Ruane has pledged to tackle educational inequality and in the 26 Counties Sinn Féin will provide a strong voice in creating a fairer and more progressive educational system whereby the socio-economic status of one's parents will not largely determine a child's educational and employment opportunities.

"Sinn Féin have proposed a range of measures to eradicate educational disadvantage by reducing class sizes by providing extra teachers and initiating a comprehensive school building and modernisation programme, allocating extra resources for schools in areas of high disadvantage and those with low Leaving Cert completion rates, introducing a state-wide school breakfast and lunch system, extending the school book rental system to all schools, targeted literacy campaigns and the introduction of free publicly funded universal pre-school education.

"Ireland's educational apartheid must be tackled if this government has any aspiration of ensuring a more inclusive and fairer society. Education is key in tackling many of society's ills, ensuring everyone will have a fair chance in life.

"Sinn Féin is concerned that tackling educational disadvantage has been dropped from the title of the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science. We are concerned that this is a signal that the new government will be putting a lesser focus on tackling educational disadvantage. This is completely unacceptable to Sinn Féin". ENDS

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