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05 Oct 2022

“Save Our Schools” says Aontú candidate

Gemma Brolly is standing in East Derry.

“Save Our Schools” says Aontú candidate

Gemma Brolly

The Aontú Election Candidate for East Derry, Gemma Brolly, who is also the party's spokesperson on Education says she understands the system from 'within' and has vowed to give all she has to saving our schools and improving our education system.

Ms Brolly said: “The pre-pandemic education system was in desperate need of review, investment and support. Unfortunately two years later, our education system is crumbling around us. With increasing numbers of children requiring support, reduction in Educational Psychology Service Allocation and shortage of staff to name but a few of the most significant challenges, we in Aontú believe the government must respond urgently with both forward thinking and investment. Aontú will push for this at every level, as detailed below.

“OUR CHILDREN ARE CURRENTLY BEING FAILED IN THEIR EDUCATION” 

These are the words of the NI Commissioner for Children and Young People prior to the Covid Pandemic. Whilst the Department of Education developed an ‘Engage’ programme to assist children who had struggled or required additional assistance, many of these sessions had to be utilised in order to cover absences of a workforce stretched so thinly on the ground. Growing numbers of children are on increasingly long waiting lists for additional support such as Literacy Teaching and Support Service or waiting to be assessed for Special Education Needs, whilst they struggle in class.

If we are to provide an education system which our children can all thrive in, we must direct all investment to our existing system. 

As a parent, teacher and Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator these are issues which are close to my heart and which we in Aontú are determined to improve. Aontú will work to achieve Permanent Learning Support within each school, reducing the cap on class sizes. We will work to increase recruitment of teachers, classroom assistants and educational psychologists, including within the Irish Medium sector. 

As a Special Needs Co-ordinator and parent, it disgusts me that only 2 pupils in a school of over 250 pupils can be allocated for Special Needs Assessment, this is completely unjust and inhumane. While we challenge those in power to improve this ratio, we will work to implement high quality Special Educational Needs training for all teachers and classroom assistants including Autism, Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder(ADHD), Attention Deficit Disorder(ADD), Developmental Co-ordination Disorder(DCD), Tourettes and Dyslexia. 

We demand there should be at least ONE DYSLEXIA SPECIALIST teacher in every school.  We will work to ensure that all our children achieve their full potential and that those children who need specialist help receive justice in our educational system.

INTEGRATED EDUCATION

Aontú believe that Integrated Education offers parents and children excellent education. We fully support Integrated Education, however the Integrated Education Bill is damaging. It has the potential to damage the diversity of our current pluralist system.

We cannot support legislation which elevates one education option above all others. We believe there should be equality in funding among all schools and for all students. The Integrated Bill damages that equality and could reduce funding for your local school. 

Deleting the choice of Catholic, Protestant and Integrated education options is the opposite of pluralism and diversity. It robs parents of the choice of ethos and excellent educational systems. We must develop and practice mutual respect. We must nurture efforts to listen to one another, to be able to debate and understand, to identify, agree and differ in opinions respectfully.  

There can be no hierarchy of educational ethos: Catholic, Protestant, Multi-faith based, Irish-medium or Integrated. They must be all treated equally. 

As you will be aware, currently there exists an Independent Review Panel for Education which may not be finished for at least one more year. Aontú believe urgent changes, adjustments and investment must be directed urgently into our current education system, prioritising the needs of every child regardless of what school they attend. We will demand a sensible, holistic review of the education system before any such bill is implemented and we will work to ensure this bill guarantees equality at every level. 

RURAL SCHOOLS UNDER THREAT

The current state of our education system however is screaming for more support in the form of smaller class sizes and increased human resources. Yet, the Department’s policy on sustainable schools states Primary Schools should have at least 140 pupils in urban areas and 105 in rural areas and Post-Primary should have at least 500 in rural areas. This policy is completely failing the best interests of our children and our communities.

Our schools are the heartbeat and hub of our community, Aontú will not allow the government to go unchallenged and cut corners, cutting off the lifeline to these communities. We will fight to save our schools and improve education.   Aontú will also continue in our work to ensure every school has an equal and high standard of safety, with the installation of part-time 20mph speed limits outside each and every school in the North, regardless of location.  We believe that the lack of speed limits outside some of our schools is putting the safety of our children under risk.

Never before has there been such a lack of common sense and investment in Education ‘on the ground.’ Never before have staff felt so undervalued,exhausted but yet been so desperately needed. As someone who has walked this path with you, I pledge, with my party to do everything in my power to improve our education system, to a system we can once again be proud of and have faith in, one in which our children will thrive, not just survive. Our children deserve so much better. Aontú will work tirelessly to ensure they get it.

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