Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - National Schools Pupil-Teacher Ratio.

Enda Kenny

Question:

9 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Education if she has any plans to improve the pupil-teacher ratio in primary schools, in view of the impairment of education in large classes in some schools.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

16 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Education if she has any plans to improve the pupil-teacher ratio in primary schools, in view of the impairment of education in large classes in some schools.

John Browne

Question:

23 Mr. Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny) asked the Minister for Education if the 500 new posts promised by her for the new pupil-teacher ratio in September 1990 remains the policy of her Department.

Godfrey Timmins

Question:

29 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Education if she has any plans to improve the pupil-teacher ratio in primary schools, in view of the impairment of education in large classes in some schools.

Monica Barnes

Question:

30 Mrs. Barnes asked the Minister for Education if she has any plans to improve the pupil-teacher ratio in primary schools, in view of the impairment of education in large classes in some schools.

Seán Barrett

Question:

42 Mr. S. Barrett asked the Minister for Education if she has any plans to improve the pupil-teacher ratio in primary schools, in view of the impairment of education in large classes in some schools.

Nuala Fennell

Question:

68 Mrs. Fennell asked the Minister for Education if she has any plans to improve the pupil-teacher ratio in primary schools, in view of the impairment of education in large classes in some schools.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 9, 16, 23, 29, 30, 42 and 68 together.

As agreed already with the Central Review Committee under theProgramme for National Recovery the Government are implementing a reduction of 1 unit in the enrolmentstaffing schedule for national schools to be effective from 1 September, 1990. This reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio will result in an increase of approximately 500 in the number of authorised teaching posts over the number that would have been warranted had the reduction not been approved.

Under existing arrangements negotiated under the auspices of the Central Review Committee, school authorities, in particular the principal teacher, are responsible for arranging the organisation of the day.

Under the same arrangement the number of teachers is compiled from 30 September the previous year. I have recently doubled the total allocation of concessionary teachers to schools serving disadvantaged areas. During the 1989-90 school year I allocated an additional 30 remedial posts to schools which brings the total number of remedial teaching posts in primary schools to 887.

A continuing review of the pupil-teacher ratio at primary level is taking place in consultation with the Central Review Committee with regard to the feasiblity of a further reduction under a newProgramme for National Recovery. The Primary Education Review Body who are due to submit their report shortly have also been examining this issue and their recommendations in the matter will be considered as soon as they are available.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): Will the 500 jobs be created in the future? They are due on 1 September 1990 and may I take it that in September there will be 500 new jobs waiting for teachers?

No, there are 250 new teaching jobs and there are 250 which the decreased ratio will allow in the schools and together they add up to 500. I regret that there was a misinterpretation of what I said — not in my script but in the way it was taken up — in the course of the Seanad debate. That may have given rise to the Deputy's question.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): In view of the fact that we have exported £60 million worth of teachers, if one is to take the cost of their training into consideration, and that they are being encouraged to go to England, will the Minister consider putting weight into the negotiations on a new national agreement and seeking a reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio. Thankfully, the Department have moved on from the stage of thinking that there were only retarded teachers. At one time the Department felt that every child in a class was of the same standard and, thankfully, that attitude has changed. For the sake of the children the sooner the Minister can use the teachers who have been trained at great expense here for the benefit of our children the better.

I agree. The Deputy has asked me to use my weight in the consultations that will take place in the autumn under the Central Review Committee and I shall do so.

Will the Minister agree that the further improvement to which she referred will bring the pupil-teacher ratio back to the level that obtained when she took office, despite all she said in her four years in Opposition about the need for improvements on that level? Will the Minister agree that there are many children — I speak from almost personal experience — being taught in classes of 40, 41 and 42 children? I am referring to junior classes where it is literally impossible for a teacher, without risk of a nervous breakdown, to communicated with all the children in such a class and fulfil the requirements of the curriculum. Will the Minister agree that there is a need to deal with this matter in time for the next academic year and that it should not become an issue that will be given as a concession at the last minute to but union support for a new programme for national recovery? We cannot wait for that to happen; we need the improvements implemented in the next academic year.

I have already explained that they will be.

Not further improvements?

These schedules went to the schools last April and the schools know exactly what the procedure will be from September. With regard to further improvements in the pupil-teacher ratio all sides have agreed that they will enter into talks in the autumn on the basis of a further review of the numbers.

Will the Minister agree that it is too late for the children who will continue to be taught in classes of 40 and 41 children?

In September the pupil-teacher ratio will be lower.

It will go back to what it was when the Minister took offices.

No, because of the increases in remedial and disadvantaged teachers the PTR will be lower in September than it was in September 1987. I will forward the statistics to the Deputy.

The PTR in schools will be as bad as it ever was.

Will the Minister agree that 10 per cent of students tend to have literacy and numeracy difficulties? Bearing in mind that there will be an increase in the number of teachers, will the Minister accept that that will not help the rural schools who do not have the services of remedial teachers? Does the Minister propose to take any action which will alleviate the position of the small number of students who are attending rural schools where no remedial service is available? Those children are at a serious disadvantage.

We are seeking, where there is an arrangement for new appointments, to give some to rural schools and to join rural schools together for the purposes of the services of a remedial teacher. The idea is that three or four schools in one location should be joined together for the services of such a teacher and that the teacher be paid accordingly. While, correctly, there is great emphasis on the deprivation in cities and towns people tend to forget that there is deprivation of a different type, but equally searing, in small rural communities who do not have access to such facilities as libraries and so on which town children have.

(Interruptions.)

I am calling Deputy Brian O'Shea for a final, brief, succinct question.

I will let the Deputy have the information.

The reduction to be implemented in September, although welcome, will not lead to the provision of remedial teachers in the 2,000 schools which do not have them. Furthermore, it has been predicted that the number of pupils entering primary school will fall by 10,000 each year in the foreseeable future. This should result in the release of resources which would enable the Minister to improve the position far more.

I hope that in the years ahead we will be able to reduce the ratio even more. Indeed, the rate at which it is being reduced is increasing. The question of the provision of remedial teachers is constantly examined within the Department and it is my intention to consider it during the summer.

I hesitate to disqualify my colleague, Deputy Theresa Ahearn.

Would the Minister agree that the present PTR has led to many teachers suffering from an alarming degree of stress? The last three teachers to retire from my local national school all retired on the grounds of ill-health.

I have always said that teachers have stressful lives and no one knows this better than Deputies Brown, Cotter, McGrath, O'Shea, and Fahey, who is sitting beside me. I have no doubt that Deputies Bruton and Currie are also aware of this fact.

An oppressed minority.

The work of a teacher is never done despite what many members of the public seem to think — that they merely pack their bags at 3.30 p.m./or 4 p.m. and go home. This is not true as they carry a burden all the time. Large classes, of course, are a contributory factor.