Adjournment Debate. - School Staffing.

When the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Martin, was in Opposition, he reprimanded the then Minister, Niamh Bhreathnach, on 4 December 1996 for not attending Adjournment debates and accused her of having a high disregard for the House. This is the second time I have raised this issue on the Adjournment and on neither occasion has the Minister, Deputy Martin, seen fit to answer it himself. He has clearly changed his attitude to the House in the meantime. It is not the only thing. In the same debate on 4 December 1996, he said no one would begrudge additional teachers to schools in the Breaking the Cycle scheme. He said they deserve all the help they can get. Now he is not only not giving these schools additional help, he is taking what they have from them and undermining them. He has certainly changed in the past two years.

I will refer in detail to the two schools because of the misleading information disseminated from official sources in recent months. The Central Model School, of which the Minister is patron, is in his back yard in Marlborough Street. The children attending it are some of the most disadvantaged in the State, coming largely from the Seán McDermott Street area. There are 27 children in second class with two teachers under Breaking the Cycle guidelines. There are 19 in third and fourth class, 23 in fifth, 19 in sixth and a special class of ten.

The problem is that it now has one less teacher. What can it do? The obvious thing is to double the classes but that would mean one teacher with 38 children in the circumstances I have outlined. The Department's answer to the school is interesting. It told it to lump together all the children from the four educational levels and divide by three, which would leave approximately 27 children in each class. This ham fisted approach would have a disastrous impact on the educational progress of children already settled and working well in fixed classes with their own work programmes, and especially on the sixth class of 19 children. The school rightly refuses to disrupt this class and undo the progress achieved so far.

The Department's attitude seems to be uncaring and ignores the simple fact that the school does not have three classrooms physically large enough for 27 children in each room. In addition, the principal also teaches 23 fifth class pupils. The Department seems to believe he can cope with a further five children from different classes, run the school and teach a class comprising 27 children of varying educational levels in one of the most disadvantaged communities in the State. That is outrageous. Either the Minister is not familiar with the implications of the loss of a teacher to this school or he does not care.

At a time when the school was beginning to make real progress with the children under the Breaking the Cycle initiative, the Minister has dashed its hopes. We have returned to a situation where the children have no real opportunities. The Minister, like his predecessors, is patron of the school. How many children from this school have progressed to second or third level education during the past ten years? I ask the Minister to obtain this information if he is interested. After all, he is the patron.

I will now refer to Scoil Plás Mhuire, a boy's national school in Dorset Street, which educates children from Dublin's north inner city and which was selected for the Breaking the Cycle project as the most disadvantaged of disadvantaged schools in the State. The case for the school can be put simply. This week there are 108 children in the school while last year there were only 100. However, the school is obliged to cope without the services of one of its teachers. This cannot be justified.

On "Morning Ireland" last week the Minister argued his position armed with inaccurate information. He stated there are 12 children in junior infants in the school whereas there are actually 17 because the school took in five additional students. This means the Department is now in breach of the guidelines laid down for the Breaking the Cycle project, under which classes should contain a maximum of 15 children. The principal of School Plás Mhuire also teaches a class.

The Minister's approach to these schools is clearly undermining the Breaking the Cycle initiative. Both are situated in a heroin blackspot in the north inner city drugs task force area. The Minister's policy of removing desperately needed teachers from local schools will inevitably result in placing even more 13 and 14 year olds on the streets. I say this despite his announcement yesterday — a superficial PR exercise — that he intends to extend the school leaving age to 16.

I reiterate that the north inner city is the area with the lowest level of access to third level education in the State. The Department of Education and Science has consistently failed in its responsibilities to the children of this area. The Breaking the Cycle initiative was a step in the right direction but the loss of these teachers is a serious blow to the progress that has been made. I ask the Minister to reconsider this decision and to find some mechanism to appoint temporary teachers to each of these schools.

I apologise for the non-attendance of the Minister for Education and Science who is unavoidably absent. I am sure he would rather be present to reply to the Deputy's points but that is not always possible.

The Deputy will already be aware that the staffing of primary schools is determined by the enrolment of the school on 30 September of the previous school year. An agreement to this effect was made between the Government and the INTO in the 1980s and this agreement has been fully and rigorously adhered to since then. While the Minister is mindful of the fact that the schools in question serve communities which have many problems, the facts are that the overall staffing level at the schools is, in relative terms, quite good. Therefore, he cannot authorise the retention of previous staffing levels at the schools.

Scoil Plás Mhuire and Central Model senior national school, as the Deputy is aware, are two of the 33 urban schools participating in the Breaking the Cycle pilot project which was introduced in 1996. One of the main elements of the urban dimension of Breaking the Cycle was the implementation of a 15:1 pupil-teacher ratio in the junior classes of all schools included in the project. Since the introduction of the project, all the selected schools have been allocated sufficient staffing resources to ensure a maximum class size of 15 pupils applies in all junior classes. The allocation of teaching resources to schools participating in the Breaking the Cycle project is also determined by reference to the school's enrolment on 30 September of the previous school year.

The enrolment of Scoil Plás Mhuire on 30 September 1997 was 100 pupils. An enrolment of 100 warrants a staffing complement of one principal and three teachers. However, in addition to this staffing, the school also has the services of a full-time remedial teacher, a full-time disadvantaged concessionary teacher, a shared home-school liaison teacher and an amalgamated concessionary teacher. A member of the Department's inspectorate recently visited Scoil Plás Mhuire and reported that the school currently has an enrolment of 106 pupils.

The enrolment of Central Model senior national school on 30 September 1997 was 108 pupils. An enrolment of 108 warrants a staffing complement of one principal and three teachers. However, in addition to this staffing, the school also has the services of a full-time remedial teacher, a shared remedial teacher, a full-time disadvantaged concessionary teacher and a shared home-school liaison teacher, a shared teaching counsellor and a special additional assistant. A member of the Department's inspectorate also recently visited Central Model Senior National School and reported that the school currently has an enrolment of 116 pupils.

Even though Scoil Plás Mhuire and Central Model senior national school have experienced a slight increase in enrolments for the current school year, this does not warrant the appointment of additional teaching staff in either of the schools. Both are capable of being managed adequately with their current staffing, within the maximum class size guidelines, including the 15:1 maximum class size guideline for junior classes which applies to schools participating in the Breaking the Cycle pilot project. In the circumstances, the staffing levels currently sanctioned to the schools are adequate.