Other Questions

Schools Building Projects Status

Jonathan O'Brien

Question:

6. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Minister for Education and Skills the number of schools which will remain in prefabricated accommodation outside of her Department's five-year plan; if she will provide an update on her Department's site acquisition processes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [37921/14]

The question relates to the progress and the delays with the five-year plan for the school building programme.

My Department's overriding objective is to ensure that every child has access to a physical school place and that our school system is in a position to cope with increasing pupil numbers. To ensure this is achieved, the delivery of major school projects to meet significant demographic demands nationally will be the main focus for capital investment in schools in the coming years. However, even despite the enormous financial challenges which have been faced in recent years, two iterations of the prefab replacement scheme were funded by my predecessor. Under the prefab replacement initiative 2012 and 2013, approval was given to 217 schools - 209 primary and eight post-primary - to replace 614 prefab units with permanent accommodation. In excess of €56 million has been allocated to these initiatives. Information in regard to the number of schools which will still have purchased prefabs at the end of the five-year capital programme is not readily available.

Where the need for a school site is identified, in general the Department requests the assistance of the local authority under a memorandum of understanding whereby the local authority acts on behalf of the Department. Sites have also been acquired by direct negotiation with landowners, through the education and training boards or, occasionally, working with OPW. The focus is always on due diligence in regard to technical assessment and conveyancing, achieving the best value for money for the Exchequer, while also having regard to the timeframe for delivery of the school.

I will be the first to acknowledge there has been increased funding in this area and that we are seeing a number of new schools coming on stream, although obviously, not at a quick enough pace to address the under-funding of capital projects down through the years.

On the issue of long-term planning, which I touched on in committee while the Minister was present, I do not believe the five-year plan is adequate as it is too short term. When we are planning for demographic change, we can tell what the population trends and the needs will be ten years down the line. I raised the possibility of not just developing a five-year plan but of looking at five, ten, 15 and 20-year plans for capital projects in education.

At the committee, the Minister, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, said the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government was due to bring forward some proposals around the planning process. As she is aware, one of the biggest issues for school building programmes is the planning aspect and the delays in that. Can the Minister give us a further update on that?

On the planning issue, the Minister, Deputy Kelly, proposed the general scheme of a planning Bill, some elements of which address some of the problems in terms of speeding up the process.

I have not seen that.

He also announced that he is going to review An Bord Pleanála on the basis that it has not been reviewed since it was established.

With regard to the five-year plan, as the Deputy knows, that comes to an end at the end of next year and I have already started to look at how we might move towards the next five-year plan. I intend to work on that early next year in particular so we are in a position to announce it at some point during 2015 in time to ensure that schools can then move forward with all of the planning and preplanning they have to do.

With regard to planning, it is helpful that there is a memorandum of understanding with the local authorities because it means they can engage in a proactive way to identify appropriate sites that are properly designated for educational purposes. By and large, that is a positive move. We are all aware of situations where, for one reason or another, an education project is held up and does not proceed as quickly as we would like. Wherever we can iron out those issues, we should do so, although without changing the quite correct approach to planning that we have in terms of the right to appeal.

In her response, the Minister might touch on the possibility of extending the five-year plans and looking at even longer-term planning for school capital projects.

I cannot let this issue go without touching on the whole area of the workers involved in building schools. The Minister is well aware, as I am sure every Deputy is, of the ongoing issue in regard to the dispute at Kishoge Community College. It is unacceptable that the Department of Education and Skills would in effect wash its hands of this issue-----

Sorry, this is Question Time.

Yes, and I am going to ask the question. It is unacceptable it would wash its hands of this issue by stating that the contract which the Department takes out is with the main contractors and it has no responsibility over the subcontractors which are employed by that main contractor.

The Department should have a responsibility to ensure every worker working on a school building project is being paid adequate rates, is unionised and the proper terms and conditions are in place. Any other response from the Department is washing its hands of the issue.

With regard to the longer-term plan, one issue is changes of government. In the past, new governments of whatever hue came in when previous governments had promised things but not provided funding. We do not want to go back to those days. Whatever plans are in place, we want to make sure funding is in place to go with them.

With regard to the sites, I will meet the Minister of State, Deputy Gerald Nash, today to discuss the work of his Department in respect of registered employment agreements and a number of general issues arising in this context. I cannot comment on the specific situation of one particular site. I am anxious to see what can be done.

Does the Minister agree it is unacceptable?

I want to see what can be done. New legislation in the area is promised and we all agree that we want to see it on the Statute Book as soon as possible.

Special Educational Needs Service Provision

Clare Daly

Question:

7. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Education and Skills if she will fully implement all articles of the EPSEN Act 2004 without further delay. [37929/14]

The EPSEN Act was supposed to provide for the education of children with special needs and referred also to further and adult education. That has not happened and we do not have an inclusive or needs-based education system for special needs. Against the backdrop of the report of the outgoing Ombudsman for Children criticising the Government and referring to the large number of complaints the office handled because of the lack of resources, poor decision-making should not be justified on economic grounds. What are the plans of the Minister to fully implement all articles of the Act?

A significant number of sections of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act, EPSEN, have been commenced, principally those establishing the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, and those promoting an inclusive approach to the education of children with special educational needs. In light of the very difficult economic situation and the significant costs involved in fully implementing the EPSEN Act, the previous Government deferred the full implementation of the EPSEN Act. While awaiting the full implementation of the EPSEN Act, the NCSE has made a number of recommendations aimed at developing a better or more effective alternative to the current resource allocation model, which aims to move the system towards ultimate implementation of the EPSEN Act. It is intended to bring into effect many of the good ideas contained in the EPSEN Act, on a non-statutory basis initially, through policy developments across a range of areas, in conjunction with NCSE policy advice.

The Act is ten years old and the reality for families and children with special needs is that they are going backwards. The National Council for Special Education was supposed to provide for resources and meet the requirements of children with special educational needs but, in reality, it has been used to implement the cap on SNA posts in 2010 rather than the original aims of the Act. It has had a devastating impact on the children involved. For the current school year, 2014-15, some 40% of the applications for SNAs made by schools were rejected and 20% of applications for resource teachers were refused. These decisions on economic grounds are eroding the education of children with special needs. The Act was supposed to ensure these children's needs were met in an inclusive environment. Does the Minister accept that many children capable of mainstream education are finding themselves put into special schools or special units because the resources are not being made available to meet their needs? They are being left behind and the next generation of schoolchildren are being lined up in the same way unless the Act is fully implemented.

The policy direction is moving towards the full implementation of the Act but finance is an issue. We had a tight financial situation and the National Council for Special Education suggested an additional investment over a period of years, up to €235 million per year across the education and health sectors, would be required to implement the Act. My Department believes the sum is a good deal more than that. We are moving gradually towards it. If we had more funding, we would move faster.

There has been a large increase in the number of resource teachers and SNAs in recent years. The NCSE is proposing new ways of allocating that are up for discussion and it would allocate resources in line with the level of need rather than by disability category. It would get rid of the medical model and ensure the resources are in the schools before the child comes in so that parents do not have to pay for expensive assessments.

That will be cold comfort to the parents involved. A right to an education is a fundamental human right for all children to achieve to the best of their ability. If a few corporations paid the effective rate of corporation tax, not to mind increasing it, we would have extra resources. Rather than trying to reduce the tax rate for the top earners, if we collected a bit more we would have plenty of resources.

Parents are being excluded. Non-cost measures in the Act, such as the involvement of parents in the education and decision-making for their children, is not being implemented. Parents are not being involved and SENOs are making decisions without meeting parents and taking on board their viewpoints. There is supposed to be an independent appeals mechanism in the Act but no right to appeal is in place. Presumably, these measures would not be costly. Does the Minister agree we waste millions of euro every year in legal actions that parents are forced to take in order to achieve through litigation their legal rights in the area? Would we not be far better off, rather than enriching the legal profession, guaranteeing the rights at source?

Thankfully, the economy is recovering and we are in a position to have more money to spend on these areas. I am in favour of ensuring we focus on social, as well as economic, recovery. With regard to parental involvement, schools are encouraged to use individual education plans. In that context, discussion with parents should be part of it. The information we have is that more schools use some form of individual planning for children with special needs. If there is an appeal system, I am not sure that it would cost no money. It will involve further diagnosis and assessment and further professional opinions. There is a cost to an appeal system.

Schools Site Acquisitions

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

8. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Education and Skills the progress on the provision of funds for the purchase of a site by her Department in Buncrana, County Donegal, for the new three school Crana College campus; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [37961/14]

This seeks an update on the progress on the provision of funds by the Department for the purchase of a site in Buncrana, County Donegal, for a new three school Crana College campus. This involved the purchase of the site for the development of the site for the Crana College campus, a secondary school, the Irish secondary school Coláiste Chineál Eoghain, and Buncrana Gaelscoil.

Officials in my Department have been in contact with officials from Donegal education and training board, ETB, about identifying and securing a suitable site in the Buncrana area for a campus development. A number of potential sites were previously considered over the past number of years but were deemed unsuitable for various reasons. The Deputy is more aware of the reasons than I. A potential site has been identified by the ETB. A technical assessment of the site has been carried out and this is currently under consideration. The Department is liaising with the local authority and the ETB with a view to securing a site as soon as possible to facilitate the progression of the project. Once a suitable site has been acquired, the Department will be in a position to progress the project concerned into the architectural planning process.

I thank the Minister for the update. I emphasise the importance of ensuring the purchase of the site moves along. In order to develop the campus and ensure progress, the first step is to secure the site.

Three schools will be housed in the new site when it is completed. Buncrana Gaelscoil was established in 1999 and now houses 183 students, with the kind co-operation of Buncrana Youth Club, in the youth club. This is not an ideal premises but great work is done under the circumstances. The Gaelscoil, Chineál Eoghain, is housed in a renovated mill. Crana College is in a tight site with 11 prefabs that cannot be transferred into permanent accommodation because of a lack of room.

It has over 500 students. It is crucial that we see progress in regard to the purchase of the site. Perhaps when the Minister reverts to me in a further response she might indicate within what sort of timeline she hopes her Department may be able to make a decision on the proposed site and, it is to be hoped, see the project move on.

As I said to Deputy O'Brien, engagement with the local authority usually takes place in terms of identifying sites and local knowledge can often be helpful in that regard. The ETB would also have local knowledge. According to my note, given the complexities involved it is not possible to provide a definite timeframe for the completion of the acquisition. My officials will endeavour to bring the process to a conclusion as soon as possible. I appreciate a number of schools are to be accommodated on the site and people living locally are anxious to see the project progress.

I can inform the Minister that the ETB and the schools involved have worked very closely with the local authority to assess previous sites and this site. I am hopeful there would be no delay in the Department's engagement with the local authority because of the amount of joined-up work which has already taken place in Buncrana between the schools, the ETB and the relevant authorities. I thank the Minister for the update. An architect from the Department visited the three schools and the proposed site last May. I ask the Minister for an update on whether the architect's report following that visit has now been completed and provided to the property management section. I thank the Minister for agreeing to keep a close eye on this project and ensure it is progressed as quickly as possible. It is crucial for the educational needs of Buncrana and will provide proper facilities for the three schools concerned.

I will inquire about the architect's report from the visit in May. I am not aware of what has happened with the report, but I will revert to the Deputy.

School Staffing

Ruth Coppinger

Question:

9. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Minister for Education and Skills if she will replace three lost posts in a school (details supplied) in Dublin 15, due to the difficulties in the provision of education in this disadvantaged area; the loss of posts include an assistant principal post and other vital duties such as organising of a care team for students, library, discipline, social, bereavement, IT and a range of subject coordination. [37872/14]

My question asks the Minister whether she will replace three lost posts in a school in Dublin 15 located in an extremely disadvantaged area. It relates to St. Philips senior national school. It is a carbon copy of every other school in the country which have lost serious posts of responsibility. In this case it includes the loss of an assistant principal post, the organisation of a care team for students, library, discipline and a whole range of vital posts without which the school cannot function.

The staffing in the school referred to by the Deputy has reduced from 22 teachers to 20 teachers. This was due to a reduction in the overall enrolments in the school and a reduction in the number of eligible pupils in the school for English language support. A teacher in the school who had an assistant principal allowance retired. While this teacher was replaced for the purposes of teaching duties, the school did not qualify under the Department's alleviation arrangements to have an assistant principal allowance assigned to another teacher. These alleviation arrangements at primary level are limited and are targeted at schools that have lost at least three assistant principal posts. It is important to recognise that this school as a DEIS band 1 school continues to receive enhanced staffing and grants from my Department. In the current school year the ratio of pupils to teachers is about 15:1 in DEIS band 1 schools.

The last Government began the gutting of education, but now it looks like this Government seems to be continuing it. Class sizes have increased and there are fewer teachers, but the loss of posts of responsibility is under-reported and has a serious impact. Schools are about more than just chalk-and-talk. They cannot function unless there are teachers assigned to carry out events, pastoral care, organise IT, young scientists, the library and social and bereavement follow up. This case involves the loss of a teacher to organise a care team, something which is vital for students in a disadvantaged working class area. I ask the Minister to breach the moratorium in place for vital posts in this case and stop the continuous gutting of education. The Government keeps telling us we are in recovery. Why is the Minister continuing to make schools and children suffer as a result of the loss of serious posts of responsibility?

We are not gutting education. In fact, we have managed, despite the growing demographics, to maintain pupil-teacher ratios. I have discussed the general issue of the loss of these posts with a number of education partners. It is a concern which we want to address. I appreciate that the school to which the Deputy refers is in a very disadvantaged area and is DEIS band 1, but it has a principal and deputy principal post. It also has one assistant principal post and six special duty posts in the current school year. Due to the retirement of a teacher in the school, the number of assistant principal posts reduced from two in 2013 to one in 2014. I acknowledge it has lost one post. It has a number of other similar posts.

I am aware of the difficulties within which DEIS band 1 schools operate. There is a system which allows posts to be retained in certain situations. Unfortunately this school does not fit into that category. It has an extra post which DEIS band 1 schools retain. The various partners in education I have met in recent months have made me aware of the fact there are issues around management and middle management posts in primary and post primary schools, and I want to address that as soon as I can.

My information is that the school has a deputy principal, an assistant principal and four, rather than six, posts. Perhaps the Minister could check the details with her officials. People would have expected a lot more from a Labour Party Minister for Education and Skills, in particular when the economy is supposed to be improving. It would be expected to restore the lost posts in schools, something which is having a detrimental impact on education. Is it now a conscious policy to have work on the cheap in schools? As was referred to earlier, building workers and bricklayers are on strike at Kishogue Community College in Lucan. They object to the rates of pay and the practice of the black economy------

Deputy, stick to the question.

It is very relevant. It is a serious loss of revenue to the State. It has been ongoing for about two years-----

-----and the Labour Party Minister is standing over it. Is there a conscious policy of a race to the bottom which is encouraged by the Government? Would it not get revenue in by charging big developers and building owners like Rhatigan the proper-----

Deputy, do not start naming people here in the Chamber.

They should be checked to make sure they pay their taxes. Maybe then we would have enough money for education.

Deputy, resume your seat. You are over time. You know perfectly well that you do not name people in the Chamber.

It is very relevant to the point I am trying to make.

It is very relevant to the Standing Orders of this House.

I absolutely reject what the Deputy just said about Labour Party policy. She knows we restored the minimum wage as soon as we got into government. She knows we are working on the REA legislation and we believe in decent wages for work. That is Labour Party policy. We have also had to live in a very real and difficult world for the past few years. The Deputy is lucky as she does not have to worry about things like that because she can be against everything. We had to make responsible decisions in government which were extremely difficult. In the area of education my predecessor worked really hard and managed to protect the core elements of the education budget. I do not take any criticism from the Deputy in that regard. I have already said I will meet the Minister of State, Deputy Nash, today with regard to REAs. I will not comment on individual cases.

Will the Minister ask how this employer can undercut every other developer?

We will address the issues as quickly as we can.

Bricklayers are working for €10.

I am not standing over anything the Deputy is alleging.

Through the Chair please, Deputy Coppinger. You do not shout across the Chamber; you speak thorough the Chair.

On schools in deprived areas, principal Liam Turner, of St. John of God school in The Faythe, Wexford-----

Do not go into individual cases.

-----contacted me about the fact that in the censuses of 2006 and 2011 The Faythe was the most deprived area in Wexford. He points out there has been no review of the DEIS scheme for nine years. In fact, things have fallen behind because there has not been a review of the DEIS system.

The Deputy should table a question about it.

A review is necessary as soon as possible.

Deputy, you have tabled a question and I am anxious that when Deputies come into the Chamber that we try to reach the question. If you go over time on other questions we will never get to yours. That is why I cut you off. I am not trying to be rude or unco-operative.

We are undertaking a DEIS review. It has not been reviewed since 2006. The evidence would suggest DEIS is working well in terms of the outcomes for children in those schools.

However, certain schools are in while others are not. It is time for a review, given that DEIS has been in place since 2006. We will carry out that review during the next year.

As Deputy Bannon is not present, Question No. 10 cannot be taken.

Question No. 10 replied to with Written Answers.

School Curriculum

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

11. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Education and Skills if she will provide an update on her discussions on junior cycle reform with the teacher unions; her views on the fact that 10% of English teachers had not undertaken training on the new curriculum in advance of the introduction of English in schools last month. [37960/14]

My question asks the Minister to provide an update on her discussions on junior cycle reform with the teacher unions and to give her opinion on the fact that 10% of English teachers had not undertaken training on the new curriculum in advance of her decision to proceed with its introduction last month.

Since entering office, I have met parents, teachers, school management and student representatives to discuss junior cycle reform. At my invitation, the teacher unions have outlined to me their concerns about aspects of the proposed reforms. In doing so, the unions underlined teacher support for the reforms that will lead to better quality teaching and learning experiences and, thence, outcomes for students. I am considering the concerns raised by teacher representatives and what different forms of engagement might be considered to facilitate an overall agreement. I look forward to meeting the teacher unions again later this month to progress these discussions further. As the Deputy will appreciate, out of respect for the process I do not intend that this engagement should be pre-empted in a public setting, as the ASTI only made a decision yesterday.

As the Deputy pointed out, just under 90% of English teachers have attended the first day of continuing professional development, CPD. A further 172 English teachers have attended elective workshops in their own time. By any standard, this is a high level of take-up and is among the highest rate of attendance at Department-provided CPD.

This has turned into a sorry saga, one that could have been avoided had it been handled differently by the Minister's predecessor or had she taken a more hands-on approach after taking up the reins. The former Minister, Deputy Quinn, took a bullish and single-minded approach to reform but if reform is to be delivered appropriately, it is important that it be undertaken in partnership with education providers. Deputy Quinn decided to move away from the recommendations of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, on how the junior certificate should be assessed. This is one of the main concerns expressed about the reform by many in education, including teachers and parents.

The current Minister had an opportunity to address this issue much sooner. We should not be in a situation where the unions' industrial action has been extended. The Minister stated that she had met the unions once since entering office. How does she plan to engage with them and what structure will she put in place before Christmas to try to ensure an acceptable way forward, one that will deliver a good reform of the junior cycle for students, is agreed?

I met all of the partners. The other partners should have equal respect, those being, the parents, school management representatives and students, whose group I also met. As soon as I could following my appointment, I wrote to the unions and met the ASTI and TUI together on this issue. I have also met each of the unions separately on general issues. At our joint meeting, we agreed to meet again. That will probably be later this month or early next month, although I hope the former. We are seeking diary dates. At the time, I stated that I would respect the ASTI's process, which has only just been completed. The ASTI has made its decision, as is its right. We agreed that we would not seek to meet during that process, but we can now arrange diary dates as soon as possible to discuss how we might move the process forward.

I thank the Minister. She also replied to my question on the issue of the take-up of professional development in advance of the introduction of the new curriculum. She indicated that she believed 90% was a high rate. However, in advance of the introduction of a new school curriculum, all teachers who will teach it should take up and complete professional development and training on it. A figure of 90% is not acceptable.

The Minister had the option to delay the introduction of the reform of the English junior cycle curriculum until next year, although there would have been the same completion date. The Minister could have used that time to get a grip on this issue and get everyone going in the same direction. It is unfortunate that she decided to plough ahead. It is incumbent on her to ensure that everyone can be brought together to achieve a result. It is important that a different approach be taken during the coming months than the one we have seen to date.

In making the decision to move forward, I must take the interests of all partners into account, not just the teachers'. It was my view that we needed to commence in September as intended because this has been planned for a long time.

Regarding the rate of CPD uptake, we cannot force teachers, although the Deputy can correct me if I am wrong. Almost 90% of English teachers have attended the first day and approximately 2,300 science teachers from more than 500 schools have registered for science CPD, which is the next subject to be introduced in 2015. We will encourage more teachers to engage in the process. A CPD team recently recruited 15 additional staff and is working to ensure that professional development is available to teachers.

Third Level Funding

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

12. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Education and Skills her views on the fall in rankings of Irish universities in the recent Times Higher Education university rankings; her plans to proceed with a further 1% reduction in capitation payments to third level institutions in the upcoming budget; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [37963/14]

Deputy McConalogue should buy a national lottery ticket.

My question asks the Minister for her views on the fall by Irish universities in the Times Higher Education, THE, university rankings. It also asks about her plans to proceed with a further 1% reduction in capitation payments to third level institutions in the upcoming budget in light of this fall.

The Deputy will probably be aware that there is substantial debate around the reliability of the various commercial global rankings and their capacity to capture the quality of higher education institutions. All international league tables vary greatly in how they rank universities and none captures the level of performance information that we are now tracking for the first time. The first ever performance report on the higher education system was published this year. Despite the challenges faced by third level colleges, it showed that the system was performing well. Having established a baseline performance, we will now be able to track whether the system gets better or worse on an annual basis. Overall, it is important to note that every university in Ireland ranks in the top 600 universities across each of the league tables, putting all of our universities in the top 5% of universities across the world.

Regarding the 1% reduction, this is already part of the budgetary figure for 2015 that was published in 2014. The Deputy will appreciate that in line with normal practice, we are unable this week to comment on issues relating to the budgetary process, although we might be able to discuss it more next week. I have been clear, however, in that we are seeking to secure funding to meet the significant demographic growth in our education system and not to reverse previous budgetary measures.

I thank the Minister of State. I wish him well and congratulate him on his appointment. This is his first Question Time, although we have met at a committee.

League tables and rankings are not an exact science, but the consistent message coming out is that our colleges have been sliding down a number of the rankings. Last week, Trinity College, Dublin, fell out of the THE's top 100 and UCD fell out of its top 200. This has implications for the standing of our education in international eyes and for attracting investment. It also has implications for the quality of education provided to students. This is no surprise given the consistent reduction in funding for the third level sector in the past number of years. The Government has continually put off making a decision on how to ensure adequate funding so as to prevent a further slide in the rankings. The CEO of the Higher Education Authority, Mr. Tom Boland, suggested that the Government's planned €250 increase in the student registration fee should this year be left with the institutions to which it is paid.

Can the Minister of State revert to me with a reply as to whether the Government will agree to do that?

I again thank Deputy McConalogue for his comments at the outset. To work back through his questions, I naturally cannot answer his last question, as the Government is in the middle of a budgetary process for the next week or two and consequently, I cannot go into that at present. To clarify the positions and rankings of the universities, the QS World University Rankings show that seven universities in Ireland feature in the top 200. That is the top 1% out of 15,000 universities across the world and one should put this into perspective. As for the Times Higher Education rankings, Trinity College has lost ground slightly and has dropped from 129th to 138th place. UCD has slipped considerably from 161st to 220th place but NUIG has greatly improved its position. I note NUI Maynooth also has dropped slightly, while UCC has remained within the top 300. On being prone to exaggeration, the Deputy is correct that there are different league tables, all of which are assessed slightly differently. Overall, however, one should bear in mind that one is talking about the top 1% out of 15,000 universities.

The Deputy is correct to state that funding has been cut. I will not explain to him why that has happened, as I believe he is aware how we got here. While there have been cuts in funding in recent years, the Government will attempt to close that gap as things improve. The Deputy also referred to the Government delaying the decision. As he is aware, the expert working group on this area, chaired by Peter Cassells, is currently preparing the report on the future of funding policy for higher education. That group is due to make its internal report to the Government and to the Department by the end of 2014. It also will produce its public report early in 2015.

Thank you. I will let the Minister of State back in.

This will detail and will consider different ways to fund higher education in a sustainable way in the future and will involve industry, as well as Departments.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy English, and acknowledge there are many fine universities in the State. I do not wish to suggest in any way that they are not so. However, the amount of funding provided to them is crucial to them being able to maintain the standards they have built up over many years. There has been significant pressure on them, which has been reflected in a number of slides in the rankings recently, particularly by UCD and Trinity College, which while marginal, definitely constitute a reduction. There is no doubt but that this reduction goes back to funding levels. Over the past three years, the Government has introduced each year an increase of €250 in the student registration fee. Despite increasing this charge to students, that money has not been left within the system, as the amount of money being given to the third level system has been reduced at the same time. This cannot continue without leading to a reduction in the quality at third level. I again emphasise that the Government intends to proceed with a further €250 increase.

Thank you Deputy, we are over time.

At the very minimum, will the Government agree to leave that within the system, in order that universities are allowed to try to maintain the standards they built up so well over many years?

Again, I cannot go into details of the budget this week as the Government is in the middle of negotiations on it. To clarify, however, the amount allocated last year through the Higher Education Authority for this area was €939 million, while in 2013 it was just over €1 billion. While I acknowledge there undoubtedly has been a slight reduction in this regard, the Deputy might understand this if I point it out the reason. When the present Government came into office three years ago, it was €20 billion short of the sum it needed to run the country. One should be clear on this point, as this shortfall of €20 billion was not of the Government's doing but was the position it inherited. It has been obliged to try to make sure that in the meantime, while the country recovers, it spends the money it has as best it can. Moreover, the Government has targeted it as best it can towards education and in most areas, it has protected the funding to education. To be clear, however, the Deputy has quoted tables and has stated the universities are slipping down while still trying to state they are doing well. They are doing extremely well, compared with the 15,000 universities against which they are competing throughout the world. The Government's own reports and evaluations suggest that in general, industry sources - an important viewpoint - are very satisfied with what is coming through the education system and the universities. Their graduates are employment-ready and are succeeding very well as graduates in employment. This also is how one judges the success of an education system within a recovering economy in which one also is trying to build an enterprise-driven economy.

The Deputy is not present for Question No. 13.

Question No. 13 replied to with Written Answers.

Schools Review

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

14. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Education and Skills when the value for money report on small schools will be published; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [37959/14]

This is to ask the Minister when the value for money report on small schools will be published.

As I indicated earlier, I am reviewing the value for money report for small schools along with my Government colleagues. I intend to publish the report as soon as those considerations have been finalised.

I thank the Minister and acknowledge we discussed this matter briefly previously. This report rested on the desk of the Minister's predecessor for more than 18 months but I am now hearing the same story from the Minister as I heard from him during those 18 months, namely, the Minister intends to consider it but she is not setting a deadline regarding its publication. Meanwhile, the number of one-teacher schools has been increased fourfold by the Minister. Moreover, the pressure on the finances of those schools has put many of them in a position in which they are not sustainable, despite all the Minister's talk about sustainability. I ask the Minister one final time for a clear answer. Can she at least tell Members that this report will be published by Christmas? I believe it is not good enough to hear the same story for more than two years, which is that the Minister is considering the report.

First, I do wish to consider the report carefully. It is an issue of great concern to Members of this House and to people in many parts of the country. I have started to read it but I can tell the Deputy I have not yet finished reading it. As stated previously, I have also begun to discuss it with some of the partners in education and with some Government colleagues. While I intend to publish it, I do not wish to give the Deputy a deadline because I wish to make sure the Government has enough time to consider the recommendations and make its own decisions thereon. The Government may not agree with them - I do not know - but it must make its own decisions and must ensure that these decisions are sustainable. I acknowledge the Deputy has stated that I have used that word earlier but we genuinely need sustainable schools that are able to operate appropriately for their local communities.

After 18 months of this report being on the Department's desk, the fact that the current Minister is merely in the process of reading it demonstrates this is an issue about which the Government has no real intention of having an honest debate or of publishing, in order that everyone can address it. I reiterate that a key feature of the Government has been the pressure it has mounted on four, three and two-teacher schools, as well as the number of one-teacher schools it has created as a result. Members hear nothing from the Minister about the issue of educational quality in these schools as a result of the measures the Government has been taking. Instead, the Minister talks about sustainability, as she goes about making schools unsustainable. I urge the Minister to publish the report and to have no more of the same old story to which Members have been listening for almost two years and to which it appears they also will be listening for the next 18 months until the next general election. An honest debate is needed in this regard. The Government must front up and the Minister should publish the report in order that a real debate can be held to ensure the education of children and how that is done will be put at the centre of this Dáil.

The Government does wish to put children at the centre and that is precisely what all its members wish to do. However, I intend to read this report in its entirety very carefully. I do not intend to rely on any official to tell me what it contains but wish to ascertain this for myself. It is quite complex and contains a great deal of detail. While I believe it deserves that level of respect, I give Deputy McConalogue an undertaking that I will not allow this to drag on indefinitely. I believe it is necessary to have a proper debate on it and to have that as soon as possible.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.