Pupil-Teacher Ratio: Motion (Resumed).

The following motion was moved by Deputy O'Sullivan on Tuesday, 20 March 2007:
That Dáil Éireann noting that:
the educational needs of children are more difficult to meet in large classes;
there is growing concern among parents and teachers at the lack of progress on class sizes;
the Government has reneged on the commitment contained in An Agreed Programme for Government that the average size of classes for children under nine would be brought below the international best-practice guideline of 20:1;
there are more than 100,000 primary pupils and 35,000 second level pupils being taught in classes of 30 or more;
Ireland has currently the second highest average class size in the EU; and
additional teachers are also urgently required to meet the needs of pupils with special educational needs and those from disadvantaged areas;
calls for:
the setting out of a timetable for meeting the commitment on class sizes given in An Agreed Programme for Government and to put in place the steps needed to ensure the recruitment of the additional teachers required and the provision of the extra classrooms required;
the reduction of class sizes to the European norm;
a reduction in maximum class sizes to 25:1 in mainstream classes and 15:1 in schools where there is chronic disadvantage;
sanction for the appointment of additional special needs teachers to meet current needs and to implement the terms of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004; and
greater engagement between the Department of Education and Science, the planning authorities and local communities so that school needs can be delivered on a timely and orderly basis.
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:
commends the Government on putting 10,000 more teachers in place;
supports the priority given in recent years to providing vastly improved services for children with special needs and those from disadvantaged areas;
notes that as a result approximately 50,000 children from disadvantaged areas are already in much smaller classes;
further notes the major increases in staffing supports for children with special needs, the improvements in the process for accessing such supports and the Government's commitment to the full implementation of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004;
welcomes the fact that last year there were 80,000 fewer primary school children in classes of 30 or more than in 1997;
appreciates that another 800 primary teachers will be put in place next September, with the focus on reducing class sizes;
commends the fact that there is now one teacher for every 13 students at second level;
further commends the Government on the unprecedented level of investment in school buildings in recent years and the improvements that have been made in school planning; and
welcomes the provision of €4.5 billion for the school building and modernisation programme under the National Development Plan 2007-2013.
—(Minister for Education and Science).

I wish to share time with Deputies O'Connor, Curran and Dennehy.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I am pleased to have a brief opportunity to contribute to this education motion and the amendment thereto. Throughout my 11 year career in the House, my anniversary being on 2 April, education has been to the fore of my thoughts. Following the 1997 general election I was appointed as a member of the Joint Committee on Education and Science and we dealt with various issues. Despite the fact that post-2002 I was appointed Chairman of the Joint Committee on Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, this did not reduce my interest in the education field.

As a former teacher, I am au fait with the classroom. The predominant issues addressed to me during the years have been the need for new school buildings, extensions and repairs of our current schools. It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the huge level of success that has been attained in those areas.

In Moville a new second level school has been created from a standing start. It had its first leaving certificate class leave last summer. We want to see the balance of the accommodation built and I ask the Minister, Deputy Hanafin, to look to the wonderful opportunity the new devolved grant initiative gave us to deliver a wonderful phase one building in bricks and mortar rather than prefabs. Our VEC and the school board of management, students, parents and staff all rose to the trials of delivering on our promise of no overspend and no late completion of work. We will save the Department more money if the Minister trusts us again with the devolved scheme for phase 2.

In mentioning this precise case I applaud the level of innovation occurring in the Department. Throughout my constituency, schools, particularly at primary level, have attained a devolved grant and this has moved on the building programme significantly from Gleneely, St. Muras, Buncrana to Desertegney and many others. Both Rasheeny and Glassalts were disappointed this year that their needs were not met but I know that interim supports needed to deal with their realities for the incoming year will be addressed by the Department and that their more permanent solution will be looked at in the next round of applications. I am aware of this because the investment programme that yielded only €92 million in 1997 stands at €542 million in 2007. This is the shape of the Fianna Fáil commitment to educational investment into the future.

Similarly, there is a story to be told in regard to the repeat design concept. For many years money and time were wasted on multiple designs for what is a standard problem. The concept of the "X" school class design is speeding up a process being financed through the Department of Finance. Again, I point to many schools in the county which are winners from this — from Moville primary school, Scoil Íosagáin Buncrana, Clonmany national school and many more.

The summer works scheme also has enabled schools to get small but important jobs done to the school. I have been invited to view the success of new floors, new guttering, safer access, better facilities in many schools, including Cockhill national school in Buncrana.

These grants supplement improved minor works and capitation grants. I accept that issues like heating and lighting have eaten sharply into the coffers of many boards, yet I point to the green schools initiative and the very clever and environmentally sound work ongoing in many schools that leads to energy savings and awareness campaigns begun by students that transcend into their homes.

I know of a school which fought hard for two extra classrooms on the basis of need. The classrooms are there now and the student population has dropped by almost half. The two new rooms are a source of concern for the board of management as they have to be maintained and heated, even though they are not needed. This is not an isolated case and schools such as Scoil Mhuire in Buncrana are frustrated at the need to continue to prove their potential to expand so as to gain the works they aspire to carry out.

For various reasons, some schools need a level of consolidation — a case in point is Carndonagh community school. With the reduction in numbers due to the new second level dynamic in the peninsula there is a need to mobilise the school in a more efficient manner. I trust the Minister may look to that case and also seek to accommodate the local community in any spare capacity deemed to be available, as there is a great wish for community facilities in the town. I strongly believe that a town, its school and its community, where possible, should be linked in real terms.

Similarly in Buncrana, Crana College, the Gaelscoil and the new Gael Choláiste are seeking to build on the one site to form an educational entity of which the Minister aspires to see more. As ever, the acquisition of a site can often be the hardest part, but the Department is in favour of the concept here and also in locations such as Monreagh.

How are school sizes and class sizes linked? Having recently visited a number of small schools like Glentogher and Urblereagh, it comes home to me that had Fianna Fáil not made a conscious decision to keep these schools open they would, by now, be closed. We put a second teacher into many schools that were low in student numbers but hugely part of the fabric of the community. That has used up some of our teaching complement that may have reduced our class sizes generally but the people of those areas are proud of their schools and aware of the decision that favoured their children.

Trying to establish the intake that will come into a school has proven very difficult and more difficult than the average person looking on can imagine. If I look at County Meath where, say, 5,000 houses are being built, people ask how the Department did not have schools built simultaneously. I look at hundreds of houses that developed in one village in my area, Muff. Had we doubled the size of the school to accommodate the influx we would have been left with a white elephant as only one child came to the school at that initial time, the rest stayed in Derry. Similarly in Border villages and towns, the projection for the school year is hard to establish as the usual manner is to look to the births and baptisms for the four years leading up to school age. In my area many of the children attending school in Donegal may not have been born or baptised in Donegal but arrive through the very fluid Border building programme that is now at a huge scale. What school they will chose to go to is uncertain.

This unpredictability is very difficult for the Department but also a real issue for schools which have to deal with the reality of what comes in the door and await a teacher the following year if that is what the numbers yield. That is an issue. To struggle on in one year with what will receive an extra teacher the following year is a problem.

To come to the crux of the motion: I grew up in a national school system where junior and senior infants; first and second; third and fourth; fifth and sixth shared a room and a teacher. When one was in the lower class one was brought along by hearing the work of the class above. When one was in the class above one's learning was reinforced by hearing the work of the lower class and-or one was used as a surrogate-type teacher for the weaker pupils at times which again served as a reinforcing technique. Now classes tend in the main to be one teacher, one class unless a decision has been taken to split them up. The class size has gone from 30:1 to 29:1 to 28:1 and in September will be 27:1. I want to see this trend continue. The Government has put many more teachers through college with the goal of working to a 20:1 ratio for the under nines. However, there is an aspiration and a reality in life. The success of the economy has yielded many changes in a very short period of time. If one looks at the length of time it takes for a teacher to become qualified and the resources needed within the teaching colleges and teaching practice locations, one can see that it has proven to be a different dynamic in Ireland even in that short space of time, due to, for example, the entry of non-nationals into the country. This is a reality that must be taken into account as many people do not speak English as a first language and their needs are real.

Given this reality, there is the need to prioritise the rest of the sector. Therefore, special needs education and disadvantaged areas were given special consideration and the Minister has still continued to reduce class sizes by another one this year to 27. Within the current system and, given that I am a member of a board of management, I know that splitting classes can cause great anxiety, particularly if children worry over the summer about what is going to happen in September. I feel that staff, parents, boards of management and students should work together to minimise disruption and have a trial run of the new system prior to the holidays to get children used to it and get them over the fear about what will happen when they return in September.

I know how things were in 1996. I was here raising issues about the lack of remedial teachers in my county. I fought a running battle in respect of the supports needed in places like Scoil losagáin which were innovative in embracing children with special needs. I have seen the resource teachers, special needs assistants and classroom assistants evolve in terms of the number of extra hands in the classroom and have seen the standard of accommodation rise. I am not in any way complacent, but I look at what the reality was in 1996 and what the expectation is in 2007 and applaud the huge level of work that has gone on to achieve that change.

For example, one of the parliamentary questions I tabled when I first entered this House concerned the level of remedial teachers in 1997. I was told that the county of Donegal had 37 remedial teachers, which was 37 out of 178 schools. No remedial teachers were appointed at all in 1996. The Minister for Education at that time, Niamh Breathnach, said in June 1996 that she was not in a position at that time to make additional remedial teacher posts available to primary schools. She went on to say in October 1996: "I am satisfied that since my appointment as Minister for Education I have achieved substantial advances across the entire spectrum of special needs, including the remedial area. It is my intention to continue this process." I noted at the time that this was frankly terrifying because there were no supports.

I previously mentioned Scoil Íosagáin. When I raised the issue in 1997, Scoil Íosagáin had a class for 12 Down's syndrome children with a moderate handicap. The classroom assistant was to be taken away from that class to be placed in a new class for profoundly handicapped children that was created at the time. I use this as an example because the then Minister for Education was going to take the classroom assistant away from the class with 12 Down's syndrome children.

The current staffing for that particular school is one principal, 23 mainstream class posts, one permanent development school post, three learning support-resource posts, eight permanent special class posts, two permanent resource posts, two temporary language support posts and one post for administrative deputy principal. I have served in this House since 1996 and have seen massive changes, both in the number of hands in the classroom and the standard of those classrooms into which people are going. I aspire to where we need and want to go, but I see the reality of reacting to the situation on the ground. There are certain pressures in respect of the massive increase in teachers brought into the system and we have reacted to the reality. I also look forward to the continued support in our education that targets our children's needs and enables them to achieve their best.

I appreciate the opportunity to say a few words on this important matter. As is traditional on these occasions, we often compliment the Opposition spokespersons on raising the issues and I am happy to do so sincerely. People talk a lot about the relationship between Limerick and Tallaght; I am happy to acknowledge this in a positive way.

I am also cheered by the fact that a former Minister, Deputy de Valera, is present because when she is in the House, she reminds me that had she not moved to County Clare, I might not be a Deputy today. In fact, I would not be a Deputy today because she represented my constituency very well and is still held in very high esteem in the Tallaght region and throughout the area. That is true in schools and people still talk about her, which is very positive.

It is also very important that we understand that there are challenges as far as education is concerned. I often say I did not set out to be a politician. I certainly was not born a politician. The first contact I had with the political system was through the local school when I moved with an employer to Tallaght all those years ago. My local parish priest appointed me as an Archbishop's nominee to the board of management of St. Mark's community school. It gave me an interest in local school development and education; my political interest developed from that and people were kind enough to encourage me. I always remember that this was my first interest as someone with a young family, two of whose children attended St. Mark's community school and whose youngest son attended Scoil Santain, which is the all-Irish school on Avonmore Road in Tallaght. As a parent, I took a particular interest.

It is very important that I take seriously my responsibility as a Member of the Dáil for the area and speak up for those who have issues about education. This is why, in recent years, I brought my concerns to the attention of the Minister. As we are talking specifically about primary education tonight, I will confine myself to that issue. However, I have pointed out to the Minister the need for a modernisation programme for many of our schools. During the time I have served in the Dáil, there has been much progress in this regard in Tallaght, Firhouse, Templeogue and Greenhills in Dublin South West and, indeed, Brittas. It is good that we are able to acknowledge this. I do not want Deputy Curran to think I am moving into Brittas because I know he represents most of it. It is very important that we understand that many of our schools need modernisation and it is good that we have been able to do this.

The Minister must be commended on the work she has done with regard to special educational needs and educational disadvantage because, again, there have been huge strides in this regard. I have often brought to the attention of the Minister the particular challenges faced by many schools throughout the country and certainly throughout my constituency. I have brought her to Jobstown and Killinarden in order that she could see the positive uses that can be made of additional moneys. The former Minister of State, Deputy de Valera, also visited some of those schools and saw the worth of that particular work.

Unfortunately, I missed the INTO meeting for my region in Liffey Valley because I genuinely had the flu that day. I jokingly said to somebody who I hope took it as a joke that I had a doctor's note which I was happy to produce. I am sorry I missed that meeting because I know parents and teachers from the general Tallaght area went and expressed their concerns. I will continue to represent those concerns and stress to the Minister the need for continued progress.

I do not wish to be too parochial, but I wish to speak for a second about my own parish — St. Mark's community school and St. Mark's senior national school in Springfield where I live, both of which have nearly 1,000 pupils. Almost half of that school population is drawn from the international community, which has presented particular difficulties and challenges. I am glad the Minister has recognised that and that she recently announced additional language support teachers for both schools, although I am informed by St. Mark's senior national school, which is the primary school, that it still needs one more teacher. Perhaps the Minister of State, Deputy Smith, might mention this to the Minister because the school is very anxious to acquire this teacher. He might also tell the Minister that among the things I wish to tackle in respect of my constituency and educational needs is the much needed new development in Saggart, an area represented by Deputy Curran. Many children from the Tallaght region go to St. Mary's national school in Saggart and it is important the Minister understand there is a need for a decision. This has nothing to do with the election, but there is a need for a decision in this regard.

I am happy to concede my time to other colleagues.

During my time as a Deputy and politician, different people would talk to me about how tough it must be being a politician and a Deputy representing County Donegal, but I would choose it any day before I would be a teacher. I will begin by recognising the job our teachers do for our children and society. It is not an easy job. Teachers have a tough time implementing curricula and must be recognised for the good job they do.

On the other side of the equation, it is only right tonight to recognise the work done and the effort made by the Minister since she assumed office. She has really shone in her role as Minister for Education and Science. There has never been so much work carried out under the aegis of the Department of Education and Science as there is now. I take my hat off to the Minister for her decision to prioritise children with special needs and those in disadvantaged areas. Had she not done so, we would probably have the INTO and others arguing that the pupil-teacher ratio should be reduced to 1:20. If she were to do this, we would not hear of a lobby for special needs, as is currently the case. That is a fact.

The Minister continues to do great work in the Department of Education and Science across the education sector in both primary and secondary schools. She is lowering the pupil-teacher ratio, even though the population has exploded and 1,300 new school buildings or refurbishment projects are under way. In spite of the explosion in the non-national population which required the designation of 1,200 new English teachers, class sizes continue to reduce. People should at least recognise this fact. Some 15,000 adults in mainstream primary schools are working solely with children with special needs compared to just a fraction of that number a few years previously. As well as providing for significant increases in staff numbers, the Minister has also improved procedures for accessing extra support. A guaranteed allocation of resource teaching hours has been given to all primary schools. This is an important step which has replaced the need for an individual assessment for every single child. A team of 80 local special educational needs organisers has been put in place to work with parents and teachers. We hear little from the Opposition and others about this unprecedented step.

At second level, approximately 1,900 whole-time equivalent additional teachers are in place to support pupils with special needs, compared with the previous figure of 200 teachers in 1998. In addition, there are more than 500 whole-time equivalent learning support teachers and approximately 1,400 whole-time equivalent special needs assistants in second level schools.

When I look around my constituency, I see ongoing work in schools. New primary and secondary schools have been built and existing schools have been refurbished. I refer to new bunscoileanna and meánscoileanna. Great facilities are being put in place. A number of years ago all we heard about was rat infested schools. I hear nothing about them now but we do not hear the Opposition congratulating us for addressing that problem. We do not hear the INTO referring to it either.

The number of schools in my constituency that are being or have been built is phenomenal. This is the case right across the Letterkenny, Inishowen and Muff electoral areas. We are still waiting for a few projects to get the go-ahead. At least 12 new schools have been built in recent years. That is a phenomenal number of schools. Summer works programmes are ongoing across the board. I am sure the situation is no different in other constituencies.

The Minister has done unprecedented work and it is time this was recognised. She will go down as the Minister for Education and Science who has done the most to progress education since the foundation of the State, with a particular emphasis on helping pupils with a disadvantage and those who live in disadvantaged areas, for which I congratulate her.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion on education. Its primary focus is the pupil-teacher ratio, special education and forward planning. It is worth noting that when the Opposition tabled the motion, the issues that had been highlighted during the years were no longer on the agenda. As previous speakers stated, this is due primarily to the significant progress made.

I met some colleagues recently and, in view of the upcoming election campaign, we carried out a review of issues that had been current. I note the presence of Deputy Gogarty who is familiar with the Lucan area. This time five years ago heading into the election campaign the single biggest issue for people living there was access to primary education for their children. Parents had difficulty simply enrolling their children in a school. The big issue in Clondalkin was the condition of older school buildings. It is interesting to note the progress made in the years since the election. I acknowledge the roles played by both the current Minister and the previous Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, in addressing those issues. Too often we fail to acknowledge achievement. Since the election Griffeen and Lucan Educate Together schools opened. Archbishop Ryan national school was the first of the new modular design which had a junior and senior school on the one site. Coláiste Phádraig doubled in size. Gaelscoil Eiscir Riada was established and the secondary school moved to a permanent building. That is just in Lucan alone. They are the real issues.

The majority of schools in my constituency which had problems with leaking roofs or electrical and heating problems have been addressed through summer works and other projects. Because we have addressed those issues we can now move on and examine other issues such as the pupil-teacher ratio and special education. The roles played by both the current and previous Ministers in addressing these issues should be acknowledged. Since 1997, a total of 10,000 additional teachers have been employed, 8,000 of whom are specifically involved in primary teaching. Much of the emphasis has been on special education and areas of disadvantage.

Too often we spend our time looking at figures. We refer to average class size or the pupil-teacher ratio. We say the pupil-teacher ratio is not really relevant because we have all the other special needs supports in place and that average class size is a more accurate benchmark which allows us to make a comparison with the European league tables and so on. However, that is not a great way of doing it either. When my daughter started school, she was in mainstream education. Later, when she was ill, she had a special needs classroom assistant. Average class size is one issue but the impact of a classroom assistant should not be underestimated. I do not refer specifically to my daughter in this case, but to the amount of time freed up for the teacher to devote to the rest of the class. When we look at the figures using such a crude method, it is disingenuous in terms of what is happening in schools. We are ignoring the real impact special needs education is having, not just on those individuals who are the beneficiaries but on classes in general.

I agree class sizes in excess of 30 need to be radically tackled. However, when we look at the underlying causes, in some cases it is because various schools do not wish to have multi-grade classes. I am a member of a school board of management and have heard this issue discussed. I was in a multi-grade class for a couple of years at a time when it was the norm. In those days the population in Clondalkin was so small, it was the only way to sustain one school. That is difficult to believe now. In some schools it is a question of the management and allocation of resources. This issue must be dealt with at local level.

I agree with one point referred to in the motion; the one relating to forward planning. This involves all partners in education, not just the Department of Education and Science, the Oireachtas and so forth. The involvement of local authorities and planners is also required. Deputy Gogarty and Senator Tuffy who is a member of the Labour Party are familiar with the Adamstown development where schools are being built in tandem with housing development. This is a good model because the infrastructure was planned. I do not say it is perfect but it is an improvement on what was done heretofore. I admit we can always improve but it is a model that deserves consideration. In other words, we will not have thousands of houses with no possibility of schools, as was the case previously. Deputy Gogarty will agree that the model is working but it can certainly be improved. I would like to see that happen, but there is a role for local authorities alongside the Department of Education and Science. All partners in the education system must play a role.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute. Being the newest member of the Joint Committee on Education and Science, I have been learning a fair amount in recent weeks, having replaced the newly elevated Minister of State, Deputy Haughey. I am very interested in its work. I agree with Deputy Curran that everyone is in favour of forward planning and can name examples. In Ballygarvan, County Cork efforts to acquire a site for a school have been ongoing for seven years. I made the point to the Office of Public Works at the Committee of Public Accounts that we might have acquired a site on the Gaza Strip more quickly.

Special needs are a particular interest in the field of young people's education services to which I accord priority. There are a few reasons for this, one being that I chaired the Southern Health Board for several years, allowing me to see at first hand just how bad the situation was for young people with special needs. Years were spent passing the parcel between the Departments of Health and Children and Education and Science and officials' advice to successive Ministers was at all costs to avoid taking responsibility for the issue. The result was that children suffered. A very cruel and cynical approach was taken to the needs of young people and it took Mrs. O'Donoghue in 1992 and Mrs. Sinnott a few years later to force the State to accept responsibility through the Department of Education and Science.

The people mentioned created their own dynamic in education, but we still see the results of the years of indifference prior to 1992. There were no trained staff to implement court rulings in the wake of the O'Donoghue case and that situation obtained up to 1997, the baseline. Figures for staff at the time made for dismal reading. I contrast this with the current situation, with the Minister, Deputy Hanafin, overseeing the employment of over 1,500 adults in mainstream primary schools to work solely with children with special needs. I do not suggest for one moment that it is the complete picture. We need more, with back-up, psychologists' reports and so on. However, much has happened in a short time that should be lauded. In second level education there are now nearly 1,900 such staff, compared with fewer than 298 supplying such services previously.

Those are aspects of a programme about which I am concerned. One concern is that I understood when this was dealt with in the past two years that everyone, including unions and teachers, had agreed on according priority to special needs. I may have been mistaken in believing the target was to be met. Friends, including union activists, tell me that the development was to happen in parallel with the lowering of the teacher-pupil ratio. I worry about the entire concept in that regard.

Last night I heard a speaker say the Minister would trot out statistics for special needs education. Why should she not do so? They should be given repeatedly and we should highlight the issues involved until we have met needs. It was bad to hear someone suggest they would be trotted out as a cover. I am proud of what has been achieved on this Minister's watch and hope it will continue.

I wish to share time with Deputies James Breen, McHugh, Finian McGrath, Catherine Murphy, Gogarty and Crowe.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I support the motion. As a former teacher, I know from first-hand experience the critical significance of class size in the educational development of all children, especially those in socially disadvantaged areas. I listened carefully to the Minister last night but heard no convincing reasons for Ireland, apparently the second richest country in the European Union, still to have the second largest class sizes. When the past ten years have offered such a golden opportunity, with budget surpluses of billions to invest to a far greater degree in education, that is unacceptable. Despite that opportunity, the Government failed to deliver on its own commitment to reduce class sizes to 20 children. That should be a priority for all Governments, as well as in the partnership talks in which the teacher unions are represented and decisions are made on such issues.

Primary education has been grossly underfunded by the Government, despite budget surpluses. Parents' committees, even in the most disadvantaged areas, find themselves having to raise funds for the most basic school items. That cannot be fair or just and makes no sense at a time of such affluence. It is not in the interests of equality of opportunity.

Despite claims in the Government amendment regarding investment in school buildings, in Dublin Central children still attend school in intolerable prefab conditions. Gaelscoil Bharra in Cabra provides an example of great community spirit, with marvellous commitment on the part of parents and teachers to educating children through the national language. However, the Department has dragged its feet on a new school building, although the site is readily available on a long-term lease. This issue must be addressed urgently.

In tabling her amendment to the motion, the Minister, Deputy Hanafin, showed her ignorance of the national class size crisis. Once again, she has displayed the Government's ineptitude in trying to tackle the problem.

In its programme for Government in 2002 the Administration did not state some or most children under nine years would be in classes of fewer than 20 pupils. Rather it stated all would be in such classes. The truth has been starkly different. The Minister has failed the children and parents of this country. In County Clare the average class size in primary schools is 27. Last May some 6,500 people signed a petition to force the Minister to act. However, she has done absolutely nothing and failed once again.

In Scoil Maighdine Mhuire in Newmarket-on-Fergus the principal has divided fourth class in two owing to pupil numbers but cannot secure extra accommodation. St. Mochulla's national school in Tulla has over 30 students in some classes and those numbers will increase with the enrolment of new pupils. The school in Sixmilebridge is fighting an ongoing battle with the Department to secure extra teachers and prefab accommodation. Every possible obstacle has been put in its way. The Educate Together school on the Gort Road in Ennis is severely overcrowded and has a network of prefabs and Portakabins for accommodation. It relies on a domestic sanitation system for its sewerage requirements.

Last month I visited St. Clare's, a special needs school in Ennis. The principal expressed exasperation at the way in which Ministers dealt with special needs education. The Minister boasts of the structures she has put in place, but what are they? The special educational needs officer in the area told the principal that a resource teacher could be divided between two classes. By God, she is a mighty woman.

The Minister runs around patting herself on the back at every opportunity. This month I issued a press release as one of nine Independent Deputies making a commitment to reduce average class sizes by one pupil each year for the next five years. We do not believe in grandiose public announcements followed by the pathetic inaction that has been a feature of the Government's term of office. We have made a realistic and achievable promise on which we will deliver.

There is a severe shortage of primary school staff at a time when qualified teachers frequently seek my help in finding full-time employment. The Minister tells us how many teachers are now in posts, but, with the rest of the Government, she has failed the children and teachers of Ireland. The Government has failed the people and the sooner it is run out of office the better. We cannot have our children in big classes in which teachers can only devote two or three minutes a day to each one. That is not on and has to stop.

I commend the Labour Party for tabling this motion and compliment Deputy O'Sullivan on her grasp of the education portfolio and interest in the sector generally.

I suspect the motion arises from the INTO campaign run around the country for the last few weeks. I compliment the INTO on the manner in which it has publicised the issue of class sizes. This publicity clearly indicates that the Government made a commitment when the last programme for Government was being formulated to reduce class sizes for the under-nines to less than 1:20. It has not delivered on that promise but, worse still, the Minister for Education and Science is in denial about it. She continually trots out the old story about a teacher-pupil ratio of 1:17, but fails to mention that in some instances that figure is due to special needs teachers and other professionals. That is a dishonest approach. She should be ashamed of herself for trying to create this false impression. It is not fair to behave in such a fashion.

Everybody accepts that if young pupils do not receive the attention they deserve at school, it means trouble is being stored up for the future. That will be the Minister's legacy. She failed to deliver on the Government's promise. As a consequence, trouble is being stored up.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for giving me the opportunity to speak on this important motion on class sizes. In a country awash with resources it is not acceptable to have 100,000 primary school pupils and 35,000 secondary students being taught in classes of 30 or more. In Dublin there are 8,580 children in classes ranging in size from 30 to 39 pupils. Nationally, the figure is 107,639. This is unacceptable and shows a lack of vision, care and sensible planning in the education sector. Some 10% of our children go to school without proper food or warm winter clothing. Mental health services for children are inadequate, while access to speech and language therapists is extremely limited for children with disabilities. Pre-school facilities are extremely expensive for young parents and many primary pupils attend substandard school buildings.

The motion seeks a pupil-teacher ratio of 20:1 but that is far from the reality in the Ireland of 2007. The matter could be resolved without any major difficulty but it will not be resolved by auction politics. I stand by the demand for a reduction in class sizes to 20 pupils. I also stand by a quality health service and will take tough decisions in the interests of our children, the disabled, the elderly and other citizens. We do not want flash promises or gimmicks, just the delivery of sound policies for working people. I believe in hard work and honest politics. At a recent meeting in St. Brigid's School, the people of Dublin North Central gave me that mandate. Hundreds of parents and teachers turned up at the meeting. I commend the INTO for its magnificent work on this campaign. Class size is a major part of that agenda.

Education is an excellent investment opportunity, not just a matter of public expenditure. When one invests in children, one reaps the rewards. I will not compromise on that core principle. It is time for real community politics and to draw a line in the sand on rampant greed and consumerism. In case people have forgotten, this is a country, not just an economy. We are a society of people, without whom there can be no such society. We need to develop respect and community spirit through people-centred policies and action. Together we can create a new era for this country. Education and class sizes are the building blocks for the future. I urge all Deputies to support the motion which concerns our children, the future of education and common-sense politics.

The programme for Government made strong and specific commitments on class sizes. The year 2002 was not "year zero" for Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats which had been in government for the preceding five years. That commitment was made with full knowledge of the resource implications and teacher numbers. We were told that the question was rowed back on because they did not realise the position and had to change in mid course, but let us nail that fact in the strongest possible manner because the commitment was made with all the information to hand. While special educational needs had been shamefully neglected since the foundation of the State, it was clear that the driving force for change was as a direct result of parents taking court action to seek an appropriate education for their children. The Government had no choice but to do what the courts instructed.

Class sizes in my area are among the highest in the country. New areas of educational disadvantage are being constructed. It is not a question of whether we can afford to reduce class sizes to 20 pupils, we cannot afford to delay doing so.

Real planning would entail refusing planning permission if sufficient school places were not available. People cannot understand why houses continue to be built when there is an obvious shortage of school accommodation. Until we achieve a balance between housing construction and school places, we will continue to have this problem.

The INTO is winding up a successful series of meetings on class sizes. I congratulate the organisation for its campaign which has been focused and effective in highlighting the Government's embarrassing track record and in outlining what needs to be done to provide our children with the best education possible. Parents and teachers now know beyond doubt that they have been cheated by Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats, whose promises have been repeatedly broken. Attempts have been made to divide and conquer by trying to make funding available either for class size reductions or special needs. Despite this, some Government representatives valiantly attempted to defend the indefensible at INTO meetings. Most of them took the easy option, however, and did not even bother to turn up. At the meeting I attended not one of five Government Deputies from three constituencies turned up. They left the explanations to their personal assistants, local councillors and unelected candidates. Their absence was noted and will not be forgiven by the thousands of parents and teachers who attended such meetings. In the main, those who attended the INTO meetings were Opposition representatives, including candidates. I was impressed by the quality of the contributions at the meeting I attended which were delivered with passion, outrage and sheer indignation. One would think every party had given a firm commitment to reduce class sizes, yet the same day on national radio the INTO's general secretary, Mr. John Carr, told it like it was. He said that, to date, only the Green Party had given a detailed and specific commitment on reducing class sizes.

At the same meeting the Labour Party leader, Deputy Rabbitte, who likes to describe the Green Party as a fashion trend told those present that the Labour Party would be tabling a motion on class sizes in the Dáil the following week. My heart leapt for joy. At last, I thought we might have a coalition of the willing on class sizes — those willing to put their money where their mouth was and specify exactly what they would do. Alas, however, after hearing the Labour Party introduce its motion last night, my bubble was burst — more of the same criticism of the Government but few firm commitments.

We know the Labour Party is serious about the issue and that its members will not repeat the empty rhetoric of the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government. Good stuff.

What does the Deputy mean?

We were told it would take extra teachers, schools and classrooms and that the revenue and capital resources would have to be increased to pay for them. That is agreed, but the Labour Party did not spell out how many teachers would be provided or how much it would invest in school buildings. The only commitment given was to introduce legislation, which I support, to ensure land could be acquired by compulsory purchase order and to transfer responsibility for school building projects to the National Treasury Management Agency.

And to provide the necessary teachers.

Pardon me if I think this is a fudge.

Can the Labour Party put its head on the block and state how much it would be willing to commit in next year's budget?

Will the Green Party commit itself to such a building programme?

Hang on. I might be a little critical of the Labour Party but at least it is making an effort which is more than I can say for Fine Gael. Its one tangible proposal for education is a €100 million schools excellence fund. The rest is bluff and bluster.

That is not correct.

I admire Deputy Enright's hard neck, like the time a few weeks ago when Fine Gael and its parachute election candidate gate-crashed a school in my constituency to announce its English language support initiatives for overseas students. The camera lights and flashes were so bright that not only did they forget to outline their costings, they also neglected to give the school adequate notice that they were coming in the first place. It made for great television.

All of the parents associations were represented and happy to see us.

The members of the Government are the real baddies because they break their promises but there is definitely something wrong when the two Opposition parties do not make worthwhile promises in the first place. Real promises must be made on this matter. That is why the Green Party has been very specific in its 50 steps to a better education system. We are committed to providing 2,400 new teachers and training them at a cost of €92 million.

Where would the Deputy put them?

As I said, we would also reform the way land for schools is acquired. The primary capitation grant would be doubled at a cost of €74 million and there would be a VAT refund on income earned from donations that would cost €17 million.

The Deputy said it could all be paid for with the amount needed for teachers. That is rubbish.

The national development plan, NDP, investment in computers and information and communications technology, ICT, would be doubled at a cost of €43 million. More National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, psychologists would be provided at a cost of €4.5 million and more education welfare officers at a cost of €18.2 million. Service level agreements with patron bodies would receive funding of €1.5 million. There is a host of other initiatives in our programme which come to €1 billion in total. That is what is needed. Rather than talk around the issues, I call on all parties to give firm, tangible commitments. The time for platitudes is over; it is time to speak clearly on class sizes and other issues.

I call on Deputy Rabbitte to say things are not so. If he can afford to divvy out €1 billion in tax cuts, he should at least outline how much he would spend on education. I might be proven wrong about the Labour Party's commitment on this issue in the next hour and if I am, I will be delighted on behalf of teachers and parents.

The Deputy now presumes to speak for parents and teachers.

A Deputy

The grand rainbow has gone up in smoke.

Like other speakers, I want to address the issue and perhaps my colleague, to whom I listened, could listen to what I have to say.

I commend the Irish National Teachers Organisation, INTO, for the initiative shown in this campaign. I attended an INTO conference some years ago when Deputy Noel Dempsey was the relevant Government Minister and the General Secretary of the union, Mr. John Carr, outlined to him that class size was the major issue. That is still the issue facing the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Hanafin, as it has not yet been addressed.

The issue relates to what is best for children. Smaller class sizes are best for them, although funding is required. As other speakers pointed out, the Government made a commitment to reduce class sizes, although the Minister admits she has not achieved that goal. She claims this is because investments were made in the areas of special needs education and tackling disadvantage but this should not be an either or scenario. We should be able to reduce class sizes, while helping children with special needs. Funding should be set aside with this in mind.

In recent years the Minister introduced multi-annual funding, which is fine within a certain system, but it depends upon the whim of certain Ministers. A specific proportion of gross domestic product, GDP, must be set aside for education. We recommend a figure of 6%. People question where the money would come from for improvements in the education system. This is our answer.

Last year the Education at a Glance report showed that, on average, there were four more pupils in Irish primary schools than in other EU countries. The education policy of Sinn Féin — educate that you may be free — pledged to reduce class sizes to 15 pupils per teacher. I attended the same meeting in the Clarion Hotel and it was overcrowded, which was ironic in the circumstances. Speakers articulated the view that large class sizes were wrong and affecting their children. Parents of children with autism spoke of the difficulties their children faced.

The Government continues to under-invest in primary education, spending a mere 70% of the EU average. It is no wonder that classrooms are overcrowded, as we are spending only 6% of GDP on education, while other countries which are supposed to be poor such as Cuba spend up to 11%. This issue demands commitment, change and what is best for children. Smaller classes are best for them, as they can have a positive effect on discipline in schools. The resources are available. As a child's early years are vitally important, this matter must be addressed. I commend the Labour Party for tabling the motion.

I would like to share time with Deputies Moynihan-Cronin, Gilmore and O'Shea. I thank the Labour Party education spokesperson, Deputy O'Sullivan, for tabling the motion enabling us to have this debate.

We are lucky to live in a rich country which has the resources to provide world-class services for its people but this did not become a rich country by chance. In the relatively short period from 1994 to 1997 Deputy Quinn, as Minister for Finance, laid the foundations for and developed the successful economy that gives the State riches beyond its dreams. As a result, we can afford to provide the very best opportunities for our children and young people. The future well-being and prosperity of a nation are dictated by its investment in the education and cultural development of its youth. The foundation of that investment in our future is the funding and resourcing of primary education for our children. The State recognises this fact, as is evident in free universal access to primary education for all children.

That was the case until this crowd of wasters got their hands on the resources provided by the taxpayer. The Progressive Democrats should not be blamed for this because Fianna Fáil pledged to reduce class sizes to 20 pupils for children under nine years of age. This pledge was made in 1997 and 2002 but on neither occasion was the promise kept. Not only did Fianna Fáil break its pledge to the children of this country but the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Hanafin, also arrogantly announced shortly after her appointment that she had no intention of fulfilling her party's undertaking on class size reduction. Fianna Fáil now has the cheek and breathtaking arrogance to repeat this pledge again. Does it think people are total fools? Does the Minister believe they will swallow the lies for the third time running? I assure her they will not be fooled again. God help the poor, innocent Fianna Fáil candidates in north Kildare.

I want to inform the Minister of the effect of her broken promises and failure to keep her repeated pledges on the children of north Kildare who attend school in the largest classes in Ireland, far exceeding any elsewhere in Europe. Some reach six years of age by the time they get a place in such classes. In Celbridge, Leixlip and Maynooth combined there are only 35 children in classes of less than 20 pupils. This gives the lie to the Taoiseach's suggestion this morning that many children are in such classes. In those three towns there is a total of 4,900 pupils, of whom less than 1% are in classes of less than 20. In north Kildare there are 1,972 children in classes of 20 to 24 pupils, 6,408 in classes of 25 to 29 pupils and 3,854 in classes of 30 pupils and higher. The average class size in north Kildare is 27.1. Ten years after the first Fianna Fáil commitment this is a shocking indictment of its failure.

Despite their best efforts, teachers cannot teach classes of 30 to 35 children. Our children suffer as a result. The effect of this on children, their life prospects and right to develop to their full potential is far reaching and most harmful to them. Such class sizes damage the foundation of education progress and makes it more difficult for children to develop to the second and third stages. The parents of these children, as taxpayers, have given the Minister money to do her duty but she has failed miserably to do so.

I commend Deputy O'Sullivan's motion to the House and thank the INTO for its vigorous campaign and assistance in providing statistics for my contribution.

I commend my colleague, Deputy O'Sullivan, for proposing the motion. The level of frustration among parents arising from the Government's failure to reduce class sizes as promised in the 2002 programme for Government is evident at INTO meetings being held nationwide. There is an understandable sense of anger and dismay among parents that their children continue to be taught in overcrowded classrooms.

As the broken promises of the Government on class sizes have been well rehearsed during the debate, I propose to discuss school buildings and facilities. Improved school buildings go hand in hand with reducing class sizes. Hundreds of primary schools are operating in substandard, overcrowded facilities. Reducing class sizes will require more classrooms in better schools, a development only a change of Government will bring about.

Time and again during my 15 years as a Member of this House, I have raised the problem of school buildings in my constituency which are in dire need of upgrading and investment. Ten years of boom under the Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrats parties have brought few improvements.

I am sorry Deputy Gogarty has left the Chamber. If he wants to know about commitment to education, between 1992 and 1997 five new national schools were built in my constituency of Kerry South, whereas I understand only one school has been built in the constituency in the past ten years.

Only a few weeks ago, during an Adjournment debate, I referred to Brackloon national school in Annascaul, County Kerry, which is bursting at the seams. Class sizes in the school cannot be reduced without a new school building and state-of-the-art facilities, for which people in Annascaul have been waiting for many years. Last week, my party leader, Deputy Rabbitte, visited Blennerville national school with my colleague, Councillor Terry O'Brien, to view the shameful conditions in the school. I hoped the Minister for Education and Science, who was in the constituency on the same day, would also visit the school but she failed to do so.

As I have stated on previous occasions, the sense of frustration I feel in raising school building projects and issues such as class sizes on the floor of the House is matched only by the anger and frustration of school principals and boards of management who contact me about their school. However, there is more than frustration and anger. I sense a feeling of dismay and absolute exasperation among teachers who are among our most treasured public servants. This is a sad and shameful reflection on those charged with governing our country.

Fianna Fáil representatives attending the INTO meetings have been making all sorts of promises, empathising with parents and teachers and pledging their support to the INTO campaign. Tonight, the same Government representatives have an opportunity to put their money where their mouths are. Opposing the Labour Party motion constitutes a two-fingered salute to the many thousands of parents, principals and teachers who have attended the INTO meetings and campaigned for improvements in their schools. Those Government Deputies who have sat ashen-faced at the meetings have an opportunity to live up to the commitments they made at the meetings and vote with the Labour Party on the motion. Parents and teachers are waiting for them in the long grass and they can expect a response on polling day.

The Government has not nearly met the commitment it gave in 2002 to achieve a pupil-teacher ratio of 20:1. In many schools the ratio is still 30:1, for example, almost 3,000 primary school pupils in my county are in classes of more than 30 students.

The big fear is that, given the failure to reduce class sizes to the required levels during a decade of unprecedented economic prosperity, class sizes will never be adequately reduced by this Government. Why, despite overflowing State coffers, are children still being taught in overcrowded classrooms, prefabricated buildings and, in some cases, corridors? The answer is that the Government, following a long decade in office, has failed to prioritise class sizes. That is sufficient reason for replacing the Government with a new Administration prepared to cherish our children and put education and class sizes at the top of the agenda. Again, I commend my colleague, Deputy O'Sullivan, for proposing the motion.

I join in supporting the motion tabled by my colleague, Deputy O'Sullivan. Every day, on the Order of Business, the Taoiseach tells Deputies to listen to the facts and examine the statistics. In no area do we have more statistics and facts available to us than in education. Many of them have been cited during the course of this debate. For example, Deputies heard how many classes have more than 30 pupils and how many children are in the various categories of class size. Pupil-teacher ratios were also discussed.

There seems to be a national fascination with statistics and facts in education. Every year, newspapers tell us how many points are required for every course in every third level college, how many leaving certificate students obtained various point scores and how many schools had children who scored above certain levels. We have even heard talk of the possibility of having league tables featuring school leaving certificate results.

The one area on which we do not appear to have statistics or facts is the number of 12 year olds who left primary school last year with a reading age of 11, ten, nine or eight years. I have been informed about this problem by people working in the system. Nobody in the education system can tell us how our children are being served or how many children are leaving the primary school because they have not been taught to read on time, are unable to catch up with their classmates or have linguistic and numerical difficulties. Primary schools are reluctant to place such information in the public domain because it will reflect on them. The second level schools which take in these pupils are also reluctant to comment in public because they fear it would in some way harm their ability to recruit in the future. For these reasons, we do not have this information. While I am aware that a standardised testing system is due to commence this year, I understand it will only apply in some areas and the information gleaned from it will not be centralised or made publicly available.

In this wonderful country we do not know the extent to which our children our being failed in the primary school system. This is hardly surprising given that one cannot teach every child in a class of 30 children. In a group of 30 four or five year olds each child will have its individual learning capacity and ability. They will all learn in different ways and will need various levels of individual attention. It is not surprising, therefore, that a significant number of the children leaving the system have been failed by the system.

The reason the Labour Party tabled a motion on class sizes and teachers, with the support of parents, embarked on a campaign to reduce class sizes is to secure for children the rights to read and learn and give them the start in life they deserve and their constitutional entitlement to a decent primary education, none of which is possible in large classes. Even if every child in a class of 30 was well behaved, it would be difficult for a teacher to give pupils the attention they require.

The purpose of the motion is to ensure teachers are brought into the system, school buildings are provided and the provision of schools is linked to our physical planning systems so that large housing developments are not built without schools having been planned and provided for from the outset. If the system can anticipate the sewerage capacity required in an area to satisfy building and residential development, it must be able to estimate educational requirements, including the number of school places and the date at which schools will be provided.

I am proud the Labour Party tabled the motion but disappointed at the selfish, self-serving, partisan and grudging speech made by Deputy Gogarty.

I am sick of waffle and bullshit to be quite honest.

I appreciate that as an election approaches, it is always tempting to engage in one-upmanship. Deputy Gogarty spent more time criticising the proposers of the motion than he did criticising those who have been in Government for the past ten years. Whatever service he may have done to his own re-election ambitions and whatever service he may think he has done for his party, he did no service to children, their parents or their teachers.

I thought the Labour Party would be different but I was proven wrong.

Tréaslaím le mo chomhghleacaí, an Teachta O'Sullivan, urlabhraí Pháirtí an Lucht Oibre ar chúrsaí oideachais, as ucht an rún tráthúil tábhachtach seo a chur os comhair na Dála. Is é seo an tríú rún ar an ábhar práinneach seo atá tugtha isteach aici sa Dáil. Foilsíodh rún i 2005 agus i 2006. Mar gheall air sin, ag deireadh na díospóireachta seo, beidh an Teachta O'Sullivan tar éis cinntiú gur caitheadh naoi n-uaire ar cheist na ranganna ró-mhóra le dhá bhliain anuas.

Having taught as a primary school teacher for more than 20 years before becoming an Oireachtas Member, I need no convincing of the scandal of primary school class sizes. The Labour Party motion states that, nationally, 100,000 primary school children are being taught in classes of 30 or more. In County Waterford, which I represent, 2,429 primary school pupils, or 23% of the total, are in classes of between 30 and 34. Another 4,398, or 41%, are in classes of up to 29. Significantly more than half of primary school pupils in County Waterford, therefore, are being taught in overcrowded classrooms.

Some 251 pupils diagnosed with special needs in County Waterford are being taught in large classes. While these pupils receive assistance from a special needs teacher for several hours per week, the main part of their school week is spent with the class teacher in overcrowded class rooms. The figures I have quoted are from an INTO survey undertaken last November which reveals the position for the current school year.

The Government's reneging on its commitment in An Agreed Programme for Government that the average pupil-teacher ratio for children under nine years would be brought below the international best practice guideline of 20:1 is the type of action that brings this House and the profession of politics into disrepute. It sets the worst type of headline for the voters of tomorrow. The decrease in the percentage of GDP spent on education from 5.2% in 1994 to 4.6% in 2006 demonstrates the Government's lack of commitment in this area.

The provision of additional teachers is absolutely essential to reduce the pupil-teacher ratio to 20:1, but it is not the entire solution. I compliment my colleague, Deputy O'Sullivan, on producing the document Schools for the 21st Century. It includes proposals such as giving the National Treasury Management Agency the task of forecasting school accommodation requirements, purchasing school sites where demand for places will be high in future and using compulsory purchase order powers to purchase land at fair prices. The Labour Party has commissioned a leading architectural firm to give expression to our concept of Ireland's primary schools for the 21st century. This is an essential factor in reaching the position we wish to attain.

I attended a meeting in Tramore last Monday night organised by the Irish National Teachers Organisation, INTO, to highlight the issue of class sizes. It was crowded to the doors and some parents were unable to get in. This and other such meetings send a clear message that parents and teachers will no longer tolerate the current situation. They demand effective action. People are angered that the Government did not begin to address its commitment in this regard until half way through its term. This is especially so when we consider how wasteful it has been in so many other ways.

Investment must be concentrated in preschool and primary education. Children lose out to a significant extent during these valuable years if they are taught in overcrowded class rooms where they cannot get the attention they need. All children, not just those with special needs, suffer in these circumstances. Teachers need the time and space to assist individual students, especially those with special gifts.

Overcrowded classrooms mean teachers are unable to teach children according to their individual needs and to assist them in developing to the full of their ability. Society will pay a price for this in the long term. If we do not develop the abilities of our children, we are in a backward situation. We must facilitate the development of children with special abilities. We must also ensure, as Deputy Gilmore observed, that no children emerge from our schools without adequate numeracy and literacy skills.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion. It has been an interesting debate, but I was taken aback by the contribution of Deputy Gogarty.

So were we.

It does not augur well for the prospective rainbow coalition.

I did not condemn the motion.

You did, you fool.

I merely said I had expected more from the Opposition.

I am also intrigued by the contribution of Deputy Stagg, who said Deputy Quinn was responsible for the Celtic tiger. He is possibly the only person in the country to hold that view. I have never heard it expressed before.

The Minister of State's party handed us down an absolute mess.

Deputy Stagg is deluding himself.

As the Minister for Education and Science set out yesterday, major improvements have been made in education under the Government. Some 10,000 extra teachers have been put in place and primary class sizes have been reduced to their lowest level ever. Supports for children from disadvantaged areas and those with special needs have been dramatically improved. Under the largest school building programme in our history, thousands of existing schools have been modernised, while many new ones have been built. We are fully aware of the many needs still to be addressed, but we are proud that we have provided for the most sustained increase in funding and participation in the history of Irish education.

I will respond briefly to some of the points made during the course of this debate on class size, special education and school buildings. The average primary class size has been reduced to 24, and there are 80,000 fewer children in classes of 30 now than there were in 1997. The Government has already committed to putting another 800 primary teachers in place next September. While there is more to be done to reduce class sizes further, the progress made in recent years should be acknowledged.

As the Minister, Deputy Hanafin, explained yesterday, there are now 50,000 primary school children from disadvantaged areas in classes of 15 or 20 at junior level and 20 or 24 at senior level. The number of children benefiting from smaller classes was expanded with the introduction of the delivering equality of opportunity in schools, DEIS, action plan.

The Minister explained last night that increasing teacher numbers is only one factor that impacts on children's achievement. For this reason, smaller classes are just one of the many different types of extra support being provided under DEIS. Other supports include special literacy and numeracy programmes with intensive extra tuition to help pupils with difficulties at an early stage; after-school and holiday time supports, including homework clubs and summer camps; extra funding for school books schemes; and school meals.

The Opposition motion also refers to class sizes at second level. There is now one teacher for every 13 students at second level, down from 1:16 in 1997. Schools are accorded a considerable local discretion in the way they organise matters of subject choice, teacher allocation and class size. This naturally leads to variations in the size of different classes, with some classes being very small where not a lot of students opt for that particular subject or level.

The most recent edition of the OECD report, Education at a Glance, shows that average class size at junior cycle in Ireland, at 19.8, is considerably lower than the OECD average of 23.8. Therefore, while it is up to school principals to decide how to organise classes, it is clear that in the last year for which comparative data are available our second level class sizes compared well with those in other OECD states.

There is no doubt that over decades the record of the State on providing for children with special needs was very poor and that we are still playing catch-up. However, significant advances have been made, improving the lives of many children with special needs and their families. There are now 15,000 adults in our mainstream primary schools working solely with children with special needs, compared with just a fraction of this number a few years ago. The number of special education staff at second level is rising all the time.

Over €820 million is being provided for special education in 2007——

I draw the Ceann Comhairle's attention to the time.

Did the debate start late?

It is running about four minutes late.

The Deputy's time has concluded.

I support the Government amendment and acknowledge the great progress made on dealing with class size over the past few years.

I did not get the opportunity to speak, but I wish to say that I strongly support the motion.

Deputy Howlin has 15 minutes.

I wish to share time with Deputy Rabbitte.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I begin by commending Deputy O'Sullivan on tabling this critical motion. Anybody who has attended the public meetings taking place across the country will be aware that the issue of class size has captured the imaginations of the people. The crowded meetings taking place throughout the country are ample testimony to the importance of the issue and the critical need to resolve it.

Last week a slew of Ministers scattered to the four corners of the globe where they basked in the reflected glory of Ireland 2007 and the Celtic tiger economic success. When asked the root cause of our economic success, the most frequent response is our education system, our investment in our people and the preparation of this generation, the most competitive, literate and numerate we have ever had, to be among the best in the world.

Unfortunately, the acknowledgement that education has been the key to the Celtic tiger success and the announcement that we are a knowledge society and economy is mere lip service, in the context of what we do to maintain education and its vibrancy into the future. My colleagues have given examples of the decline in the percentage of GDP we afford to education. Even in poor times, governments more stressed than the current Government for financial wherewithal always managed to prioritise education.

If education is a critical component of our economic and social well-being, class size is the critical issue. As a primary teacher — now a long time out of the classroom — I know from experience that class size is the most important factor in determining quality education. The pressures on teachers have increased immeasurably since my time in front of a class. In societal terms, it makes abundant sense to reduce the pupil-teacher ratio. In cold economic terms, it makes undeniable sense to invest in the infrastructure of education, both personnel and material.

What does the motion call for? I will repeat its demands for those who are unclear as to the content of the motion or who have not read it in any detail. First, it calls for an agreed timeframe for meeting the Government commitment on class size. We ask no more than that the Government lives up to the promise it reneged on in the past five years. Second, it calls for an understanding that recruitment and deployment of additional teachers is not an end in itself. Unlike those people who only talk about teacher numbers, we talk about the buildings required and the quality of those buildings.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

We do not want teachers teaching in cloakrooms or toilets. Not only do we want adequate numbers of teachers, we want decent buildings, materials and support services, which are the norm in developed countries. Third, we have asked for fulfilment of the settled objective that classes be no bigger than the European norm. Once this is achieved, it should not be resiled from again so we can continue this investment into the future. Fourth, we want a reduction in maximum class size to 25:1 in mainstream classes and 15:1 in schools that suffer chronic disadvantage. Fifth, we ask for additional special needs teachers to implement the terms of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004. Finally, we ask for greater engagement between the Department of Education and Science, the planning authorities and local communities to deliver schools in a timely and appropriate way. My colleague, Deputy O'Shea, pointed out the need for proper planning so that we can envisage the need and deliver on time.

This matter should not divide the House. The will of the people has been expressed by the tens of thousands of people who have turned out at meetings throughout the country. I attended the meeting in Wexford where there was a packed hall of parents and teachers demanding action. They will no longer tolerate lists and statistics. They want their children, in the short period available to them to receive an education, provided with the best education in the world. They know the real situation in schools and cannot nor will not be fooled with statistics. They will not be fobbed off.

This motion should not divide the House. Everybody who has spoken on the motion has paid lip service, at least, to the objectives in every clause of the motion. Let us now determine this will be done. Let the Government side of the House show some contrition and finally and belatedly keep its word to the people.

As the House knows, Opposition Private Members' Business is precious. A limited amount of the Dáil calendar is given over to the Opposition to ventilate issues of public interest. This is the third occasion in the past three years that the Labour Party has sought to address the issue of class size in its Private Members' Business.

I thank my colleague and education spokesperson, Deputy O'Sullivan, for again bringing this issue to the floor of the Dáil.

I thank all the mature speakers who contributed from both sides of the House. It is timely that we should address this issue. Education is a core value for the Labour Party. It is the greatest transmitter of privilege in our society, the method by which children, no matter what their background, can realise their potential and live as full citizens.

Deputy Howlin traced the connection between education and economic progress. He is right to say that if one considers the economic progress over the past decade and a half here the common factor contributing to our being able to take advantage of a conjunction of economic events was the consistent policy of investment in education pursued by successive governments for more than 40 years. If that was important then it is more important today. If we are to maintain the economic progress of the past 15 years or so we must be prepared to invest in education. There is a fatalist view that we will continue to lose jobs in the traditional manufacturing sector and the official conventional wisdom is that there is no way forward but to move up the value chain. If that is true it involves more investment in education, a higher skill level and fewer people left behind.

Sadly, by the time many of our children leave primary education to go to second level they are already lost to the system because they were not able to avail of the education they ought to have received. One of the main reasons for this is class size. A total of 100,000 children are in classes of 30 or more. I give some credit to the Government for the investment in disadvantaged children and those with special needs and to some extent in attending to the requirements of newcomer children. It could not be otherwise giving the boom times in which we live. While acknowledging that, what should we say to the parents of the tens of thousands of children who are not designated as disadvantaged or do not have special needs? Are we to tell them that they should make do in run-down, sometimes decrepit classroom facilities in classes of 30 or more? That is not acceptable.

According to the official figures we can expect an increase of 100,000 primary school children over the next ten years, approximately the equivalent of 400 schools. If one examines the rate of repair of the schools we have, not to mention the construction of new schools, we would not realise that number by the end of the century.

This is not just a question of the recruitment of the few additional teachers necessary but of the provision of suitable classroom accommodation. The question in the commuter belt is whether parents can be assured of getting a primary school place for their child. Last night Deputy O'Sullivan drew attention to the situation in Laytown. I met the parents there recently. They do not know whether they are coming or going. They thought they had a guarantee that a school building would be commenced but it seemed to have been whisked away from them. Now because there is an election coming up they have a renewed promise but they do not know whether they will get a school. That experience is repeated throughout the commuter belt.

It is remarkable that we can exchange boastful comments here about the economy and how the population has grown and so on. There has been a great explosion in revenue to the State but little attention is paid to the implications of that for services such as education and health. It is no surprise if we have grown by 700,000 that we need more hospital beds or more teachers to tackle class size but we seem to be reluctant to acknowledge that. Instead, we clap ourselves on the back for the minimal improvements made. The Minister for Finance on budget day boasts about having €5.1 billion more in revenue than he forecast only 12 months previously.

The Labour Party proposes to take the school building programme from under the aegis of the Department of Education and Science and to have the National Development Finance Agency identify and procure the sites needed for adequate school provision. Whatever excuse there is in terms of current spending, in a country that largely finances its capital programme out of current spending, there is no excuse for our failing to provide adequate, properly designed schools for our population of children.

Last week I visited a school in Blennerville, County Kerry. It has tremendous teachers operating in impossible circumstances. It thought it was at the top of the queue but is slipping back.

I thank my colleague Deputy O'Sullivan for allowing us to bring this issue to the floor of the House and as Deputy Howlin said, it ought not be one on which we divide. Colleagues on the other side of the House speak of the 20:1 ratio as an aspiration but that is not true. It is a definite commitment in the programme for Government. It may be an aspiration in their heads facing into the general election but it was a hard commitment they made and did not honour.

Amendment put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 70; Níl, 58.

  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Ahern, Noel.
  • Andrews, Barry.
  • Ardagh, Seán.
  • Blaney, Niall.
  • Brady, Johnny.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Callanan, Joe.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carey, Pat.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Coughlan, Mary.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Curran, John.
  • Davern, Noel.
  • de Valera, Síle.
  • Dempsey, Tony.
  • Dennehy, John.
  • Devins, Jimmy.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Finneran, Michael.
  • Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
  • Fleming, Seán.
  • Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
  • Glennon, Jim.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Hanafin, Mary.
  • Harney, Mary.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kelly, Peter.
  • Killeen, Tony.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lenihan, Conor.
  • McDaid, James.
  • McEllistrim, Thomas.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Mulcahy, Michael.
  • Nolan, M. J.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • O’Connor, Charlie.
  • O’Dea, Willie.
  • O’Donnell, Liz.
  • O’Donoghue, John.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Flynn, Noel.
  • O’Keeffe, Ned.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • Parlon, Tom.
  • Power, Peter.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Roche, Dick.
  • Sexton, Mae.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • Walsh, Joe.
  • Wilkinson, Ollie.

Níl

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Breen, James.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Connaughton, Paul.
  • Connolly, Paudge.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Cowley, Jerry.
  • Crawford, Seymour.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Cuffe, Ciarán.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien
  • Enright, Olwyn.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Gogarty, Paul.
  • Gregory, Tony.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Higgins, Joe.
  • Higgins, Michael D.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • McEntee, Shane.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Paul.
  • McHugh, Paddy.
  • McManus, Liz.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Morgan, Arthur.
  • Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O’Keeffe, Jim.
  • O’Shea, Brian.
  • O’Sullivan, Jan.
  • Pattison, Seamus.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • Ryan, Seán.
  • Sargent, Trevor.
  • Sherlock, Joe.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Timmins, Billy.
  • Upton, Mary.
  • Wall, Jack.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Kitt and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Stagg and Kehoe.
Amendment declared carried.
Question put: "That the motion, as amended, be agreed to."

As a teller, and given the importance of the issue, and the anxiousness of the Fianna Fáil Members to go through the lobby against our motion to reduce class size, under Standing Order 69 I propose that the vote be taken by other than electronic means.

As Deputy Stagg is a Whip, under Standing Order 69 he is entitled to call a vote through the lobby.

Question again put: "That the motion, as amended, be agreed to."
The Dáil divided: Tá, 71; Níl, 57.

  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Ahern, Noel.
  • Andrews, Barry.
  • Ardagh, Seán.
  • Blaney, Niall.
  • Brady, Johnny.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Browne, John.
  • Callanan, Joe.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carey, Pat.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Coughlan, Mary.
  • Cowen, Brian.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Curran, John.
  • Davern, Noel.
  • de Valera, Síle.
  • Dempsey, Noel.
  • Dennehy, John.
  • Devins, Jimmy.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Finneran, Michael.
  • Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
  • Fleming, Seán.
  • Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
  • Glennon, Jim.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Hanafin, Mary.
  • Harney, Mary.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kelly, Peter.
  • Killeen, Tony.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lenihan, Conor.
  • McDaid, James.
  • McEllistrim, Thomas.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Mulcahy, Michael.
  • Nolan, M. J.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • O’Connor, Charlie.
  • O’Dea, Willie.
  • O’Donnell, Liz.
  • O’Donoghue, John.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Flynn, Noel.
  • O’Keeffe, Ned.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • Parlon, Tom.
  • Power, Peter.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Roche, Dick.
  • Sexton, Mae.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • Walsh, Joe.
  • Wilkinson, Ollie.

Níl

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Breen, James.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Connaughton, Paul.
  • Connolly, Paudge.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Cowley, Jerry.
  • Crawford, Seymour.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Cuffe, Ciarán.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Enright, Olwyn.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Gogarty, Paul.
  • Gregory, Tony.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Higgins, Joe.
  • Higgins, Michael D.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • McEntee, Shane.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Paul.
  • McHugh, Paddy.
  • McManus, Liz.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Morgan, Arthur.
  • Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O’Keeffe, Jim.
  • O’Shea, Brian.
  • O’Sullivan, Jan.
  • Pattison, Seamus.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • Ryan, Seán.
  • Sargent, Trevor.
  • Sherlock, Joe.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Timmins, Billy.
  • Upton, Mary.
  • Wall, Jack.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Kelleher and Kitt; Níl, Deputies Kehoe and Stagg.
Question declared carried.