Adjournment Debate. - School Staffing.

I thank the Chair for allowing me time to raise this important issue. St. Gabriel's national school, Cowper Street, Dublin 7, has already documented for the Department in great detail, the problems the school is tackling and the resources it needs, given its special circumstances. The school needs an extra teaching post over and above the promised staffing level for September this year. This is essential to enable the school to retain a teacher per class at each level in the school, operate a manageable pupil-teacher ratio in each class and provide a badly needed remedial mathematics class.

There is a very young population in the school's immediate catchment area which is located in area D of the north-west inner city. More than one fifth of the population is aged 14 years and under. The 1996 census shows that 70.4% of the population aged 15 years and over had left school at the time of or before their junior certificate, compared to 40.2% in the north-west inner city as a whole and 36.2% in Dublin. Only 10% of the past pupils of the school in question have completed the leaving certificate since 1994.

The area network, in its area action plan for 1999-2004 for the north-west inner city, states that the school is located in an area of immense socio-economic disadvantage and deprivation. Difficult family circumstances impacting on children and their experiences, development, education and future employment denote a spiralling circle of disadvantage. School is a refuge and a haven of peace and fair play and a step towards equal opportunity, provided the pupil-teacher ratio enables effective delivery of a child-centred education where the needs of the individual pupil are adequately met.

Following an amalgamation in 1996 of the former girls' and boys' schools it was considered by the school authorities a priority to have a teacher per class, in order to meet the needs of every child. The pupil-teacher ratio for disadvantaged schools was reduced to 29:1 a number of years ago. Because the school has always considered 29:1 to be far in excess of one where the needs of all could be met, one of the remedial teachers and both concessionary teachers were assigned to classroom duties. Consequently class sizes have been around 20.

During the past year, however, the school's numbers have increased, particularly in the junior section. With no extra staffing and a directive to keep the pupil-teacher ratio in junior classes at 20:1, the school will have to lump senior classes together. Some of fifth class will have to work with sixth class, and so on. This would be a retrograde step and detrimental to the excellent efforts being made by teachers to meet the individual needs of all pupils.

The school is due an extra teacher next September, due to the increased enrolment of the previous year. It had hoped to establish a much needed remedial mathematics post with that appointment. However, in order to keep classes in the junior section to 20 pupils, it must deploy six teachers there. As there are at least 27 in second class, seven will have to be moved back to work with first class in order to maintain a pupil-teacher ratio of 20:1, and so on along the line causing multiple or mixed classes. This, the school says, is not a satisfactory arrangement and furthermore, means new children who come to live in the area cannot be enrolled.

In order to keep senior classes as single units the school must deploy four teachers there. Consequently the new assistant must take a class and the school must again forgo its remedial mathematics class.

I appeal to the Minister of State. I know the work of this school at first hand. It deserves this chance and badly needs these resouces.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to outline to the House the current position on staffing at St. Gabriel's national school, Cowper Street, Dublin 7.

The staffing of a primary school is determined by reference to the enrolment of the school on 30 September the previous school year. The actual number of mainstream posts sanctioned is determined by reference to a staffing schedule and finalised for a particular year following discussions with the education partners.

The enrolment at the school in question increased from 166 pupils on 30 September 1999 to 188 pupils on 30 September 2000. This latter enrolment will entitle the school to a staffing of a principal and seven mainstream class teachers for the 2001-02 school year as compared with a principal and six teachers for the current school year. In addition, the school has two learning support teachers, a special class teacher, two concessionary posts due to the school's disadvantaged status, a home-school liaison teacher based in the school and a teacher for non-national pupils.

The House will be aware of the new disadvantaged programme, Giving Children an Even Break, which was launched by the Department on 4 January last, will run over a three year period and cost £26 million. The programme involves the creation of 204 new primary teaching posts and the allocation of cash grants to over 2,300 primary schools in respect of disadvantaged pupils.

Schools invited to participate in the new programme were identified through a survey of edu cational disadvantage in primary schools carried out by the Educational Research Centre for the Department last year. A key condition of participation in the new programme is that the additional resources must be used for the provision of holistic supports for pupils from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds. The additional supports to be provided reflect the level of concentration of pupils from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds in each school invited to participate in the programme. There are separate urban and rural dimensions to the new programme. Schools categorised as urban with the highest concentration of at-risk pupils will be supported, where necessary, over the three year period through staff allocation to implement a pupil-teacher ratio of 20:1 in junior classes, infants through to second class, and a ratio of 29:1 in senior classes, third class through to sixth class.

The school in question is included in the urban dimension of the programme and is eligible to receive supplementary grant aid of £2,479 in the current year towards the provision of suitable educational supports for the pupils concerned. The school concerned is also one of a number of urban schools considered for additional teaching staff under the programme. However, it was deemed that the school already had sufficient teaching staff to implement the maximum class sizes of 20:1 in junior classes and 29:1 in senior classes in respect of both the current school year and the school year commencing next September.

I sincerely thank the Deputy for raising this matter and trust that I have clarified the staffing position in relation to this school. I am sure the Deputy will agree the school will benefit from the generosity of this Government to our educational system at primary level and at all levels.

In other words, the answer is "no".

The answer is that there is a positive improvement.