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.