Priority Questions.

School Staffing.

Brian Hayes

Question:

100 Deputy Brian Hayes asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of primary schools that will lose a teacher or teachers from September 2009 in view of his recent announcement on the increase in the staffing schedule; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38359/08]

As I made clear during the lengthy debate in the House last week, the 2009 budget required difficult choices to be made across all areas of public expenditure. These decisions were made to control public expenditure and to ensure sustainability in the long run. In this respect education while protected to a much greater extent than most other areas of public expenditure could not be totally spared. Prudent management of the Government finances is vital at this time of global economic uncertainty when tax revenue has fallen so significantly and when world economic conditions are so serious. Even with the budget measures in place there will still be a significantly increased borrowing requirement in 2009.

When the country was able to afford it we reduced the basis on which primary teachers are allocated to schools from being based on an average number of pupils per teacher of 35 pupils down to the current level of 27 pupils. The change to a new average of 28 pupils per teacher must be viewed in that context. It means primary schools will be staffed exactly as they were during the 2006-07 school year during which they operated well.

Since 1997 primary teacher numbers have increased by approximately 10,000, with approximately 7,000 of these teachers entering the system in the past six years alone. The continuation of this level of annual increase of the order of 1,000 primary teachers each year was just not sustainable for 2009 in the current economic climate. Although it reverses some of the progress that we have made in recent years I had no option but to curtail the annual increase in teacher numbers. While I appreciate this will impact on class sizes the reality is that it will not impact on every school and rather the change will impact on the total number of teachers in some 10% to 15% of primary schools.

Regarding the number of teaching posts involved in this change, I have already said the net overall position is a reduction of approximately 200 posts from the primary teacher payroll next September compared with this September across all the staffing measures involving primary schools.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

This is calculated on the basis of a removal of up to 1,100 posts of which some 400 to 500 posts are expected to be due to the staffing schedule change specifically. This will be offset by the creation of 900 posts that will be required to meet increasing enrolments and as resource teachers for special needs. The estimated impact of the staffing schedule change is calculated on the same basis under which estimates of the cost of improving the staffing schedule were calculated in the past.

In terms of the position in respect of any one school for September 2009, schools are currently returning data to my Department on their enrolment as of 30 September last. My Department has commenced processing this data although not all schools have yet made their returns. The allocation process including notification to schools will commence early in the new year. The allocation process includes appellate mechanisms under which schools can appeal against the allocation due to them under the staffing schedules. The final allocation to a school is also a function of the operation of the redeployment panels which provide for the retention of a teacher in an existing school if a new post is not available within the agreed terms of the scheme. The allocation process for language support teachers is an annual one and existing provision is not rolled over automatically. Schools will be applying afresh in the spring and early summer of 2009 for the 2009-10 school year, based on their assessment of the prospective needs of existing pupils and any new pupils they are enrolling.

It will be necessary in the more testing economic climate ahead for us to continue to target and prioritise our resources to maximum effect for everyone. While teacher numbers are important numerous influential reports have highlighted that teacher quality is the single most important factor far and above anything else in improving educational outcomes for children. Ensuring high-quality teaching and learning is a challenge and dealing with factors that inhibit it represent a challenge for the Government, the Department, school management and the teacher unions.

I am confident that as the global economy improves it will be possible to build again on the significant achievements of recent years and do so in a manner consistent with the overall prudent management of the economy.

Would the Minister accept that if there had been no cutbacks in the budget, from next September we would have 1,000 more teachers in primary school education?

I thank the Minister. The question merely required a "Yes" or "No" answer.

The Minister is standing and is still answering.

I am sure the Deputy would love me to give a full reply.

I will call the Deputy again later.

Of course there would be an additional 1,000 teachers. However, given that we have increasing demographics we estimate that 1,100 teachers will be taken out and that 900 will come in as a result of demographics and other factors.

In my question I asked the Minister how many schools would be affected by this change. He maintains that it will be somewhere between 10% and 15%, which on my reckoning is approximately 340 to 400 schools. Am I right in suggesting that?

There are approximately 3,300 schools.

Effectively the Minister is saying that 400 schools will lose a teacher from next September. In his reply the Minister referred to the staffing schedule that existed in 2006-07. Would he not accept that since that time an additional 35,000 children have entered primary schools? We will have 500 fewer language support teachers within the system. For 28,000 children English is not their primary language. Can I put it to him that his comparison with 2006-07 is not fair and accurate given the situation that exists in primary education now?

Given the overall budget and financial situation, I had a choice of taking a 3% cut across the board. If we had taken that choice, we would have taken out 2,500 teachers. Instead, reverting one year to the 2006-07 level would have the least impact. In terms of language support teachers, for example, we were conscious to leave ourselves an opportunity to retain the option of supporting the schools experiencing a major influx of pupils.

I will allow Deputy Brian Hayes a brief supplementary question.

I appreciate this useful opportunity, as it is the first time that the Minister has effectively admitted to the House that there will be 1,000 fewer national school teachers from September 2009.

The Deputy should have listened to my speech last week.

I did not talk over the Minister's reply.

It is clear that the programme for Government's commitment to reducing the staffing schedule from 27:1 to 24:1 in the first three years will not come about, given the increase to 28:1. Will the Minister admit that there is no possibility of the commitment being honoured during the Government's lifetime?

Will the Minister publish each school's enrolment figures, which were given to his Department on 30 September? If he cannot do so soon, at what point will he be able to publish them? Each school would be able to see where it stands in respect of the savage cutbacks.

As the Deputy knows, the programme for Government was based on a 4.4% annual increase. Given that it appears there will be a reduction in 2009, circumstances have changed. When we examined the figures in July, the tax take was to have decreased by €3.5 billion. When we re-examined them at the end of September, the tax deficit was going to be €6.5 billion. In July, the Government did not touch any front-line teaching or special needs assistant, SNA, posts, but we took a 3% cut across the board.

The Deputy knows well that 80% of all funding in education comprises payments to teachers, SNAs, their pensions, etc. There was no room for manoeuvre. In those circumstances, we took the least disruptive option.

Then the aim will not be reached. The programme for Government's commitment is gone.

It is up for the Man Booker Prize.

No. We were not keen on rowing back on the pupil-teacher ratio commitment. I have made it clear that I want to restore the ratio when economic circumstances allow. It is my intention that, as the economy grows, we will re-examine the situation.

Capitation Grants.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

101 Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for Education and Science if his attention has been drawn to the discrepancies between the ability of primary school communities in middle income areas and disadvantaged areas to raise funds voluntarily in order to ensure that the basic running costs of schools are met; his views on whether regardless of the socio-economic profiles of primary schools, adequate funding has not been provided through the capitation grant for primary schools across the country and that the recent failure to increase the capitation grant in budget 2009 from €178 to €356 per pupil is further evidence of this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38025/08]

The Government's continued prioritisation of education during the past 11 years is evident from our investment in 2009 of €9.6 billion, more than treble what it was in 1997. The increase of €302 million in the education budget for 2009 is a real achievement in the current economic climate. Education is one of only three Departments to have increased funding in 2009.

Regarding day-to-day funding of schools, I have prioritised funding for primary schools. The education budget for 2009 has provided for improvements to the overall level of day-to-day funding for primary schools, which will see funding increase from €167 million in 2008 to almost €190 million in 2009. This builds on the progress made in recent years, which has seen the primary school capitation grant increase from €81.26 per pupil in 2000 to its current rate of €200. This represents an increase of 146% in the standard rate of capitation grant since 2000. The primary capitation grant has been increased by more than €21 to bring the rate to €200 per pupil and the ancillary services grant for primary schools will also be improved by €3.50 to €155 per pupil.

Taken together, these increases mean that primary schools eligible for the full ancillary services grant will get €355 per pupil, almost €25 extra, in this school year to cover their day-to-day running costs, with a primary school of 300 pupils getting an additional €7,475. In 2000, a primary school with 300 pupils was in receipt of less than €40,000 to meet its day-to-day running costs. Under the new rates, that same school will receive €106,500, excluding the salary of teachers and special needs assistants, which are paid by the Department.

Furthermore, enhanced rates of capitation funding are paid in respect of children with special educational needs who attend special schools or special classes attached to mainstream schools. The current rates range from €512 to €986 per pupil, an increase of 59% from the 2006 rate.

My Department recognises the additional funding pressures that arise in schools serving disadvantaged areas. A significant number of schools, approximately one fifth of all primary schools and almost one third of second level schools, are within the Department's Delivering Equality of Opportunities in School, DEIS, programme for disadvantaged schools and get additional funding accordingly.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

While making difficult decisions for the 2009 Estimates, particularly in the current financial climate, my main focus was to target resources on the schools most in need and to retain resources in the schools targeted under the DEIS initiative. This approach is in line with the broad thrust of the recommendations of the Comptroller and Auditor General. Those DEIS schools that benefit from a reduced pupil-teacher ratio will not be affected by the general increase in the ratio and all DEIS schools will maintain access to the home-school community liaison, HSCL, scheme, the school completion programme, SCP, additional capitation funding based on level of disadvantage and funding arising from the book grant scheme.

This year, approximately €800 million will be spent by the Department on tackling educational disadvantage at all levels from preschool to further and higher education. This represents an increase of nearly €70 million on the comparable 2007 figure and is testament to the Government's determination to prioritise social inclusion and ensure that children and young people get the supports they need to do well at school.

We are committed to investing in education, but we must invest at a level consistent with what we can afford and what is sustainable at the moment given economic circumstances. I am confident that, as the global economy improves, it will be possible to build again on the significant achievements of recent years and to do so in a manner consistent with overall prudent management of the economy.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Unfortunately, he did not get to the nub of the issue. Were the Minister to run a course in his Department for curt replies or to provide Deputies with a code for the various paragraphs regurgitated at every Question Time, a rain forest might be spared. However, that is another matter and my time is tight.

The Leas-Cheann Comhairle is very strict.

My explanation will be in "injury time" so that it will not affect Question Time. Each Priority Question has six minutes, two of which are for the Minister's initial reply. Given that I allowed him three minutes, he has used more than half of the time available for this question.

My question is simple. As the Minister knows from his constituency work if not his Department, there are middle income areas in his extensive constituency where raising additional money to cover basic funding is not a problem. There are voluntary contributions at the tax efficient level of €250, which is the norm. They are not mandatory, but one receives contribution rates of up to 80%. In another part of the Minister's constituency, this does not occur. The board of management or, primarily, the principal must look for funding. The historical increase in funding does not cover operating costs because increases in the rate of inflation are less than increases in the rates of education inflation and operation.

Previously, patrons of primary schools, some 93% of which are run by the Catholic church, contributed towards the deficit in operational costs. According to my research, this is no longer the case. The burden falls on principals and parents, not necessarily on the parish, although there is an urban-rural divide. In this regard, does the Minister not have any questions as to the continued right of governance proclaimed by patrons?

I made it clear in the House that I was unsatisfied with the level of capitation, particularly at primary level. In spite of our financial difficulties, the Government believed it appropriate to increase the capitation grant level. In excess of 80% of school patrons, particularly those of primary schools, are with the Catholic church.

I have been given no indication of the churches and parishes not making contributions. In certain schools, voluntary contributions can be made by parents. I often wonder whether this is a bad thing. Social capital is rising out of our new, emerging society in the sense that it brings people together and creates communities. Schools can mirror communities. A bond between parents and the community is outstanding for the school.

We must be careful to ensure that no one is forced into making a voluntary contribution or that it is structured in such a way as to make people feel excluded or embarrassed if they are unable to contribute. However, all of our experiences in this regard have been positive.

The Minister will consolidate social disadvantage if he goes down this road. What is provided in DEIS I and DEIS II does not compensate for a middle income area consolidating its school. From a principal's point of view, there are serious management problems associated with the running of schools in terms of how the Department pays the capitation grant and during what period of the education year it is paid. If the Minister receives from the primary education providers a request to meet with them to discuss how the Department can improve its act in terms of cashflow and other supports, will he do so and will he deal constructively with them?

A final reply from the Minister.

I have no difficulty meeting them and I have already met privately with them. I have indicated my willingness to meet with all of the education partners. I want to co-operate and work with them to the best possible extent.

I met last week with the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland, ASTI, and following requests for a meeting from the Irish National Teachers' Organisation, INTO, and the Teachers Union of Ireland, TUI, I will also meet with them.

I am speaking about management people.

I have also received a request for a meeting from the joint management boards and I hope to meet with them some time next week.

School Transport.

Frank Feighan

Question:

102 Deputy Frank Feighan asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the increased cost of school transport proposed to take effect in 2009. [38360/08]

The school transport scheme, operated by Bus Éireann on behalf of my Department, is primarily a rural-based scheme which facilitates the transportation of more than 134,000 children to primary and post-primary schools each day.

The Deputy will be aware that the school transport system is a significant operation involving approximately 42 million journeys of more than 82 million km on 6,000 routes every school year. The 2008 allocation for school transport was €175.2 million and this has been increased by 12% to €196 million in 2009, an indication, given the difficult fiscal conditions, of the Government's commitment to maintaining the scheme. The allocation to school transport services has increased almost threefold since 1997.

Despite the escalating cost of the service, charges for school transport had not been increased from 1998 until the third term in the 2007-08 school year. A further increase was necessary at the beginning of the 2008-09 school year. The budget 2009 increase applies from the beginning of the 2009-10 school year. In the overall context and in order to minimise the overall effects, these increases have been confined to the 55,000 eligible post-primary children availing of concessionary transport. Charges will continue to be waived in respect of post-primary children whose families are in possession of a valid medical card, or to a further 19,000 children. Eligible children attending primary schools and children with special needs, approximately 54,000 children, will continue to travel free of charge. A maximum family rate will also be applied. The total contribution from parents will continue to represent only 7% of the overall allocation for school transport in 2009.

This scheme aims to provide comfortable and safe transport for children travelling to and from school. Measures to ensure the highest standards in this regard include the phasing out of the three for two seating arrangement on primary and post-primary services, providing all children with a seat; the addition of a considerable number of vehicles to address capacity shortfalls arising from the decision to provide each child with an individual seat and the equipping of all school buses in the scheme with seat belts; and inspection by Bus Éireann, using an independent agency, to satisfy itself that all buses entering the school transport scheme are fitted with seat belts which meet the standard agreed with the Department of Transport. In addition, Bus Éireann has put in place a random vehicle inspection process conducted by a leading independent external expert in this field.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply although I am dissatisfied with it. At the commencement of this year, the cost of school transport for junior cycle students was €99. This increased to €138 at Easter, to €168 in July and to €300 under the budget, an increase of 203% in less than seven months.

Will the Minister reverse these charges? If not, will he state that there will be no further increases in charges during the lifetime of this Government? I believe this charge is anti-family and anti-rural. Young students in the Minister's constituency have available to them public transport to take them to school. This charge is a huge burden on families in rural areas. Will the Minister say if further increases are proposed or if he will reduce the cost?

School transport charges are escalating all the time owing to expanding numbers and the growing diversity of schools, and in order to meet the transport needs of special needs children. The allocation for school transport has increased from €51.1 million in 1998 to €175.2 million in 2008, a 340% increase. Major improvements, some of which I referred to earlier, have been made to the scheme since 2001. All of these improvements cost money.

Obviously, as we have only recently dealt with the Estimates for 2009, I am not in a position to say what will be the case in the future. However, as I stated earlier, school transport charges had not been increased for ten years. I take this opportunity to inform the House that my officials are currently examining, in conjunction with Bus Éireann, potential options in regard to the payment of the maximum family charge of €600. For example, the financial implications of spreading a portion of the payment for this specific group of parents into 2010 will be of central importance. I assure the Deputy that parents will be given ample notice of any options agreed in this regard.

Issues have arisen in regard to the fuel rebate scheme. The Government made many promises in regard to the replacement of this scheme but no replacement mechanism has, as yet, been put in place. Public transport operators are concerned they may not be able to fulfil their duties over the year owing to them not having received the fuel rebate as promised on numerous occasions.

A final reply from the Minister of State.

Unfortunately, it was not possible, in the current fiscal climate, to make additional funding available in respect of an increase in contractors' rates for the 2008-2009 school year. As announced in the budget, the increase provided allows for payment of a compensatory allowance to private contractors who may avail of the fuel rebate scheme until the end of the month. My officials are currently in discussions with Bus Éireann in this regard.

The three contractors' groups, the Private Association of Motor Bus Owners, Coach Tourism and Transport Council of Ireland and the Federation of Transport Operators, have been fully apprised of the position. We hope to finalise discussions in this regard during the coming weeks.

Schools Building Projects.

Brian Hayes

Question:

103 Deputy Brian Hayes asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the level of capital spending available within his Department in 2009 for the schools building and modernisation programme. [38361/08]

The National Development Plan 2007-2013 provides for almost €4.5 billion for the school building programme. The allocation for school building in 2009 is €581 million. This represents a significant investment in the school building and modernisation programme.

The Deputy will appreciate that the climate within which the 2009 budget has been framed is different from that of recent years. The Government has been faced with difficult choices across all areas of public spending. This level of funding for the building programme, at a time of great pressure on public finances, is significant.

This investment will build on the achievements of the previous National Development Plan 2000-2006, when an aggregate total of more than €2.6 billion was invested in upgrading the existing school infrastructure and providing new school accommodation at first and second level. This programme which delivered more than 7,800 building projects also provided for investment in site purchases, the annual minor works grant to all primary schools, the asbestos and radon remediation programmes, science and technology initiatives, emergency works and grants for the purchase of furniture and equipment.

Innovations in the delivery of school buildings such as the development of generic repeat designs and the use of the design and build model ensure that new school buildings are delivered in the fastest timeframe possible. My Department also adopted a policy of devolving much greater authority to local school management boards to manage and deliver smaller building projects, thus freeing up my Department to concentrate on the larger scale projects. This has facilitated the completion of 3,000 projects, costing more than €300 million, under the summer works scheme and more than 700 projects under the small schools and permanent accommodation schemes.

Value for money is a key criterion in the implementation of the school building programme and competitive tendering, in line with public procurement procedures, ensures that this is achieved. As I have indicated publicly, the current decline in activity in the construction industry provides an opportunity for my Department to continue to pursue value for money in the procurement and construction of school buildings.

The allocation for 2009 will allow my Department to complete 26 major projects and commence construction on another 62 major projects. It will permit completion of 100 smaller projects on-site and allow another 80 projects previously approved to progress to completion as well as funding the other elements of the programme, such as the annual minor works grant, site purchases, emergency works etc. It is also my intention to have a summer works scheme in 2009. Provision has also been made in the capital allocation for the continuation of my Department's public private partnership programme.

The spin from the Minister and his Department since the announcement of the budget is that the capital expenditure in terms of the school building and modernisation programme has dramatically improved in 2009. Will the Minister confirm that the funding allocation for 2009, at €581 million, is less than the €586 million in 2008?

That is something we have not heard to date, despite the spin from the Department.

It has been publicised.

We have not heard it from the Minister.

Will the Minister tell the House how many of the announcements made in the latter part of this year relating to school buildings will see funding provided in the 2009 Estimate? The vast majority of the projects recently announced have not yet started construction but how many will be funded by next year's expenditure?

I cannot provide the figure off the top of my head and I do not have the figures with me. I can get them for the Deputy.

I do not want figures off the top of one's head, I would like them from the brief.

I guarantee that some of the projects, as such, went back out for tendering because I wanted to get better value for money. Some of the projects will be paid from the 2008 figure. The Deputy will be delighted to hear I am getting back tenders that are 15% and 20% less than they were when previously tendered. I insisted re-tendering take place in order for us to get value for money for the projects on hand.

If the Deputy read my speech last week he knows I clearly indicated we are €5 million short on last year's figure. I will get much more value and deliver more projects on the basis of the competitive tenders we will get during the course of 2009. I am satisfied that will happen.

When will the Minister revert to an initiative taken by a former Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Noel Dempsey? He had a very accountable and transparent initiative where schools knew exactly where they stood on the list. That initiative was put to one side by the Minister's immediate predecessor, Deputy Mary Hanafin, and it has not yet been reinstated. When will schools know exactly where they stand on this list rather than having to wait for the wink and nod which comes from the local Fianna Fáil Deputy and which eventually comes through the Minister? When will schools be told the truth as to when it is likely their projects will be advanced, as against the Tammany Hall politics played by the Minister and his party over the past number of years?

Tammany Hall politics have not been played by us.

It is Tammy Wynette.

If the Deputy went to the trouble of looking at exactly what happens within the Department, he would have been assured and seen evidence that every project gets a band rating, going from band 1 to band 5. Band 1 means a project is a priority.

I want to be clear on this. We have a website that is being updated at the moment and I have instructed my officials that when the website is up and running properly, all of the data on schools and their band rating should be put on the website. I hope the website will be in place properly before the end of the year, and that the data which the Deputy requires and is anxious to receive will be on it.

I will allow another brief supplementary but I am due to call the next question.

With regard to the great new initiative regarding value for money, will the Minister accept that with the 14 schools currently on his tender list — they have planning permission and tenders and are ready to go when the Minister gives the go-ahead — some €4.6 million has been spent on design fees? Does the Minister regard that as value for money when €4.6 million has been spent by those 14 schools without one block, building or extension going up? Is that value for money?

This begs the question as to whether Deputy Brian Hayes considers there should not be any project teams or designs made.

I am looking for value for money.

We now have the new design.

Many of these designers have sent bills but have not yet been paid.

I am on record as stating I am not happy to pay architectural firms 13.5% of the total cost of a building.

They were never getting that figure.

They were never getting that.

I know Deputy Quinn is a member of that profession. I have evidence some people were charging 13.5%.

I am talking about design teams.

We must move on to——

The generic design is now in place, which will make the process much cheaper, faster and competitive. We are going to move on that issue.

I am referring to design. Has the Minister seen the letter?

I am looking for greater value for money.

The letter would be on his desk.

I am calling Question No. 104 in the name of Deputy John O'Mahony.

School Staffing.

John O'Mahony

Question:

104 Deputy John O’Mahony asked the Minister for Education and Science the impact of the budget 2009 provisions on the participation of primary and post-primary schools in organised sports competitions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38362/08]

Notwithstanding the increase of €302 million in the education budget for 2009, in making the announcement of the budget measures for education, I stressed that tough choices had to be made in meeting the needs of the education sector in these difficult times. The resources available to the Department have meant that these choices have been very challenging and the decision made to suspend the substitution cover for school business in second-level schools was a difficult one. The provision of substitute cover for school business at second level was only introduced in 2003. The supervision and substitution scheme was also introduced at that time.

Substitution cover for official school business such as absences of teachers when schools are participating in sports competitions relates to second level schools only. I emphasise that accordingly, there is no change to the position in primary schools for participation in sports competitions. The supervision and substitution scheme will continue to operate without any changes and teachers who agree to participate will continue to receive an annual payment of €1,789 in addition to their normal salary. Some cover for official school business is available to second-level schools within this scheme.

I am aware that from January, the changes regarding substitution will present particular challenges for school managers but I considered that suspending part of the improvements made in 2003 to the substitution scheme was preferable to impacting more significantly on teacher numbers. Prior to 2003, schools managed without any of this provision and this did not impede on their capacity to participate, for example, in football and other sports competitions.

I fully accept this was possible through flexibility and goodwill by all. As we manage through this difficult period I am asking teachers in all schools to co-operate fully with school managers in coping with this change in the interest of the students. I am also requesting the school managerial bodies to ensure that the supervision and substitution scheme is operated with maximum effectiveness in all schools.

The Minister comes from a county where the players are well able to stand up for themselves. The children of this country, particularly those at second level whom the Minister spoke about who are involved in sport, depend on the teachers and parents. They came in their thousands to the outside of the Dáil last week. These children depend on the Minister and us as Deputies to stand up for them regarding the provision of sports activities outside the school.

The Minister is in the educational system but I am not sure he is fully aware of how vital these sports are, particularly with team games where people learn how to win and lose, along with discipline. I do not expect the Minister to agree with those on this side of the House when we say the budget was botched but we should look at it a bit more positively in the sense that given the inequity shown against the elderly and the disabled, there was some good sense in rowing back on the schemes or changing them.

The Minister referred to reduced tender prices. I presume that will mean fewer millions of euro spent on prefabs. I appeal to the Minister, as a former teacher, to look at this issue particularly with regard to the provision of sporting competitions. Sport makes school bearable for children and in view of this will the Minister reconsider the matter? Unless this matter is revisited, teams will be pulling out of sporting activities.

The important point to make is that I share with Deputy O'Mahony an interest in sport. I participated myself and neither I nor other members of the Government wished to take this decision. Unfortunately, it is worth considering what has happened since 2003.

In the 2007-08 school year, the Department paid for 2.05 million hours, or 362,000 days, of substitution cover in primary schools at a cost of €65 million. The projected cost of substitution in 2008-09 is €85 million. In the post-primary sector, the estimated level of substitution cover provided, based on the assumption that the level of usage by vocational education committees will be 56%, is 1.683 million hours, or 382,000 days. This cost €64 million and the projected costs for 2008-09 are €67 million. The level of substitution hours paid in 2007-08 to teachers and casuals in VECs, at €37 per hour, was 1.023 million hours. Moreover, 1.14 million hours were paid for primary schools, costing €56 million. In addition, the cost in the current financial year of expenditure on the supervision substitute scheme is €56 million for primary and €35 million for the secondary community. Moreover, there were 34,000 single day absences for uncertified sick leave.

That is not the question. That is not what I am talking about.

There are 31,000 primary teachers. My point is that the cost has risen from approximately €20 million when it was first introduced to an unbelievable figure of €150 million at present.

There are 50% more teachers.

This is not sustainable and it is very difficult to continue with that level of funding. I ask for support and co-operation.

This does not address the question.

The Deputy may ask a brief supplementary question.

I ask that the question of promoting sport in secondary school should be considered separately to help to provide it. As for primary schools, the Minister stated they were not affected. The reason is the teachers take out their teams in the evenings. It pertains to teachers' goodwill.

That is right.

I suggest the Minister has broken the teachers' goodwill in this regard. I visited a school yesterday in which its voluntary system for supervision when teachers are absent at sports will be taken away, unless a little goodwill is shown on the Minister's part. I again appeal to him in this regard.

With due respect to Deputy O'Mahony, I am aware of the voluntarism associated with sport over the years. Having been involved myself, I have seen the amount of time that people put in, as well as the commitment of school teachers throughout this period. The last thing I wish to take away is their goodwill. My point is certain provisions now must be taken on the basis we cannot afford to continue to pay in 2009 the present level of supports. It was a choice either of this or of taking out teachers. I believe that having as many teachers as possible in the classroom is paramount. I ask teachers' unions, managements and everyone involved, given the times we face, to get out of this fiscal mess——

If the Minister shows goodwill, so will the teachers.

We will move on to other questions.

I seek their goodwill and support.

That concludes Priority Questions.