School Staffing

The issue in front of us relates to a special needs position in St. Catherine's school in the Tenters in the south inner city. St. Catherine's is a Church of Ireland school with 130 pupils with five mainstream classes. It has had a special class for mild general learning disabilities since the 1960s and it is the only Church of Ireland school with such a class up until now. The school has also had part-time resource teaching sanctioned to it for the next academic year of 21.6 hours. The problem is that the number of pupils in the special class has fallen to four. This has been acknowledged and there is no argument about it. Aside from losing one permanent teaching post, those involved are seeking to ensure the resource teacher will be retained on the full number of hours. However, only a given number has been sanctioned. The Department changed the criteria mid-stream by reducing the number from the 24 hours allocated which the school had assumed would be sufficient to provide for a full-time resource teaching job. Now it appears the teacher will lose her job because the number of hours has been reduced by 10% to 21.6 hours, although the number of hours required has increased. This development will be severely detrimental to the children who have been dependent on the provision of learning support. The school has assessed other children and a further assessment is taking place to establish whether additional hours can be sanctioned. The school has lodged an appeal with the Department to seek additional resource teaching hours for another child. Given the school involved, the area in question, one of the most deprived in the city, and the severe disabilities of some of the children who have been dependent on the resource, the hours of the teacher concerned should not be reduced.

The solution suggested by the Department is that the teaching job should be shared among a number of schools with spare capacity, in other words, that there should be a teacher who runs around from school to school. However, given the hours of the teacher in the question, the only logical thing for the Department to do is to make an exception, if required. Let us bear in mind that the assessment is still ongoing. I raise the matter today because the school is due to close next Wednesday and seeks clarity on the teaching hours and posts to be allocated to it in the next school year. It has argued that the teacher involved could lose her job, as she has no panel rights. However, under the Croke Park agreement, she cannot be made redundant. There could be a cost to the Department regardless in paying such a teacher without an allocation.

The teacher in question should be retained on full hours, especially given the school in question and the children involved. The school has been granted five hours teaching time for one child with autism who is due to enter the school in September. The additional five hours should be included which would bring the school to within the figure of 25 hours required. I urge the Minister to accept my appeal and that of the principal and the many parents who contacted my office. The teaching post in question should be confirmed quickly to ensure the school can plan for the new term beginning in September.

I thank the Deputy for providing me with the opportunity to outline the position on the allocation of resource teaching support in schools generally and in respect of the particular school referred to by him. As he will be aware, the Department of Education and Skills provides for a significant level of additional teaching support in schools for pupils with special educational needs. Additional teaching support is provided in primary schools through the general allocation model of teaching support, as well as through the allocation of additional resource teaching hours for children with more complex, low incidence special needs. The total number of whole-time equivalent posts provided this year for resource teaching and learning support posts, including under the general allocation model, is approximately 9,950, representing an increase of 350 on the figure for 2010.

The Deputy may be aware that the National Council for Special Education, through its network of local special educational needs organisers, SENOs, is responsible for processing applications for special educational needs supports. This includes the allocation of resource teaching hours to schools, as well as the establishment of special classes and the discontinuation of such classes where there is no longer a need. I understand that, with regard to the school referred to by the Deputy, the class for pupils with mild general learning disability will not be sanctioned by the National Council for Special Education for the coming school year because the school does not have the minimum number of nine pupils required to retain such a class. I understand there are only four pupils in this class. The children with mild general learning disability enrolled in the class will be able to receive additional teaching support through the teaching resources allocated to the school under the general allocation model.

I understand St. Catherine's national school has an allocation of one full-time teaching post under the general allocation model. If pupils with more complex low incidence special educational needs were enrolled in the special class, the school could apply to the National Council for Special Education for individual resource teaching support for the pupils concerned.

With regard to the allocation of individual resource teaching support, departmental circulars 30/2011 and 37/2011 provide information for schools on the arrangements being put in place for the 2011-2012 school year. For the coming school year, an allocation of 90% of valid identified resource teaching allocations has been made to schools, in the first instance, to provide schools with the majority of their allocation, while also preserving enough capacity to deal with late applications and ensure the Department of Education and Skills remains within employment control framework obligations. In this context, I understand St. Catherine's national school has been allocated 21.6 hours per week individual resource teaching hours to date. Full-time resource teaching and learning support posts may only be allocated at 25 hours per week. Schools have been asked to forward any outstanding applications or additional outstanding materials to support incomplete applications to the National Council for Special Education for its consideration as soon as possible but, in any event, no later than 16 September.

I understand the school in question has submitted one application for additional resource teaching hours to the National Council for Special Education. Subject to this application fulfilling the qualifying criteria, it has the potential to increase the school's resource teaching hours allocation. Having considered all of the outstanding applications received from schools by 16 September and depending on the level of demand, the National Council for Special Education may be in a position to revisit the 90% allocation of resource teaching hours made to date for schools. Therefore, there is potential for the number of resource teaching hours allocated to the school in question to increase to the extent that it may qualify for a full-time post. However, at this stage it is not possible to indicate if that will be the case.