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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 16 Nov 2016

Vol. 929 No. 1

Other Questions

Special Educational Needs Staff

Bernard Durkan


27. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Skills the extent to which he remains satisfied regarding the ability of his Department to meet the full requirements in respect of special needs teachers and special needs assistants, SNAs, at primary and second levels throughout the country, the steps being taken to address emerging needs in the area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35183/16]

I have tabled this question to assess the number of special needs teachers and assistants who are required and to try to ensure adequate provision is made in sufficient time to meet the projected requirements as well.

I share the Deputy's belief that this is an important area. I am glad to say it is a growing area because the Department has been paying increasing attention to it in recent years. Funding for special education provision in 2016 will amount to €1.5 billion, which is equivalent to over 17% of the gross overall current allocation for education and training. There has been an increase of 10% in spending in the past two years. This funding provides for a range of supports and services, including additional learning and resource teaching support, access to the support of SNAs, special transport arrangements, building adaptations, enhanced capitation in special schools and special classes, specialised equipment, additional teacher training and the services of the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS. Some 12,900 SNAs are available for allocation to the end of 2016. This represents an increase of 23% on the number in 2011. There are more than 12,400 learning support and resource teacher posts in mainstream primary and post-primary schools at present.

  The National Council for Special Education has allocated 7,430 resource teacher posts to schools for the 2016-17 school year. This represents an increase of 41% in the number of resource teachers who have been allocated since the 2011-12 school year. In excess of 5,000 learning support posts are allocated to schools under what is called the general allocation model and the learning support allocations for post-primary schools.  Approximately 150 new special classes will be opened for the 2016-17 school year. This means there will be more than 1,150 special classes in place compared with 548 special classes in 2011. The rapid growth in this area is reflected in our budget provision. It was announced as part of last month's budget that I am providing for well in excess of 1,000 additional staff, between SNAs and resource teachers, for next year. I also announced that following development and piloting over recent years, a new model for the allocation of teaching resources for children with special educational needs will be implemented from September 2017.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply. To what extent has he addressed the full requirement for SNAs and special needs teachers, as deemed by the various school authorities and parents' representative bodies? To what extent does he envisage that there will be a marriage between special schools and mainstream schools to ensure adequate provision is made in respect of each?

This is quite a controversial and complicated area. As the Deputy probably knows, the National Council for Special Education criticised the heavy reliance on expensive assessments in the previous model for allocating resource teachers. It argued that children from disadvantaged backgrounds or disadvantaged schools were less likely to be able to afford to access such assessments and that this was denying access to children. The new model seeks to move away from the heavy reliance on assessments and to make more allocations on the basis of the education profile and need of the school in question. The move we are making is designed to better meet the needs of students and to ensure the whole school has a responsibility for accommodating children with special needs. Obviously, we leave it to the parents of such children to choose between mainstream and special education. As I said in my initial reply, the number of special classes within mainstream schools has increased significantly to accommodate parents who want a foot in both approaches.

The provision of school transport for children with special needs is inadequate as a result of cutbacks that were imposed over the years for various reasons. I will not go into that now. Does the Minister envisage that school transport services for children who attend special needs classes in mainstream schools or attend special schools, depending on their educational requirements, can be augmented?

We provide €175 million in support of school transport services each year. The Department makes a genuine effort to prioritise children with special educational needs. Their needs are treated as a priority within that pot of money. We are trying to make sure children with special needs can access the schools that most meet their needs. I think the school transport service is designed to meet that policy objective. If the Deputy knows of cases in which he feels there are shortcomings, the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, might be of assistance in dealing with them.

I will be glad to mention them.

I am sure the Deputy will.

Teacher Recruitment

Paul Murphy


28. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he envisages difficulties in recruiting extra teachers, as outlined in the budget speech made by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, in view of the inferior terms and conditions for new teachers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30837/16]

In last month's budget, the Government set out its plans to recruit an additional 2,400 teachers. How on earth does the Minister expect to recruit teachers given that new teachers are beginning on a lower payscale? How does he think new entrants can be attracted into a two-tier system in which unequal pay for equal work is enshrined?

I thank the Deputy for his question. We have recruited 2,260 teachers so far this year. We have not yet encountered difficulty in recruiting teachers. There can be occasional recruitment difficulties in particular subject areas. We continue to see a high level of interest in pursuing a career in education through the CAO system. The points requirement for entry into initial teacher education courses is at the upper end. It is important that we are continuing to attract very talented people to teaching. I think this has been one of the strengths of our system. We recognise the importance of being able to attract quality new entrants across the public service, particularly in important professional areas like education. I believe there is no more important area in which we can invest.

As the Deputy knows, during the financial crisis there was a need to enact a number of measures to reduce public expenditure and stabilise the country's public finances. The pay of new entrants to the public service, including teachers, has been reduced since 2011. Considerable steps have been taken to reduce that gap since 2011 under the Haddington Road and Lansdowne Road agreements. As a result of the successful conclusion in September of the negotiations I entered into with the TUI and the INTO under the most recent agreement, the decision to withdraw the qualification allowance has been reversed. As I have outlined previously, significant increases have been sanctioned for people who entered teaching last year and this year. This is worth €4,300 for someone who entered teaching this year. In the case of someone who entered teaching last year, the increase is worth €6,700, bringing his or her salary to €36,700. That is a very significant improvement.

The Minister has said that there is "no more important area in which we can invest" than education, but his policy of fighting to maintain pay inequality at the core of this country's teaching profession is a funny way of showing it. Even with the TUI agreement, new teachers who are coming in are suffering a significant pay gap. Some of them are paid €6,000 or €7,000 less than the people beside whom they work and who do the same job. Even those with the so-called deal will be down more than €100,000 over the period of their careers.

They are also often in situations of having precarious, low-hour contracts, not full-time contracts, and are in very difficult circumstances. The most fundamental question for those considering going into teaching is whether the Government is committed to establishing pay equality or whether it wants pay inequality and a two-tier pay system indefinitely into the future.

First, I should explain that the way in which teachers are paid includes an increment, so a teacher with ten years' experience could be on €45,000 to €50,000 compared to a teacher who was recruited in 2015, who would be on €37,700. Built into the structure, people are not paid the same and it depends on the period in which the person was recruited.

What we have done in the negotiations is that three quarters of the lifetime gap that was imposed in that stringent period has been closed by the combination of measures we have put in place, both under Haddington Road and in the recent negotiations I have had with the TUI and INTO. We have also addressed the issue the Deputy raised in regard to precarious positions and we have sought to make it easier for young teachers to get permanency.

The issue of where we go from here is one for the wider public service. We have to enter negotiations for a successor to this agreement and, no doubt, the issue of new entrant pay will be on the table not just for teachers, but for all public servants. It is in that context that we will look at the steps beyond what we have already agreed.

The Government would like to get away from the core issue, which is pay equality. I do not think it can because that is central, but it would like to. For example, the question of increments is fine. Nobody has a problem with the idea that someone who has ten years' experience should be paid more than someone with five years' experience - that is not what we are talking about. However, some people with five years' experience are getting a fair bit more than other people with five years' experience or with ten years' experience, and so on all the way up.

I was on a television show recently with the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, who said he was in favour of pay equality across the public sector, including for teachers, at some unspecified point in the future. Since then, other Government Ministers have expressly not given even that commitment. The fear we have is that this is part of the Government's plan into the future for the public sector, and teachers in particular. Deputy Bruton is the Minister for Education and Skills. Does he want to see a situation where teachers get equal pay for equal work, based on experience, or where pay inequality continues?

The approach we have taken is to sit down with all of the trade unions, particularly those within the Lansdowne Road agreement, and to work on the issues their members present. Just as under Lansdowne Road, the issue of new entrant pay was presented, and I believe we have responded very fairly to it and, as I said, we have met three quarters of the gap. I have no doubt that, when the next process starts, new entrant pay will be again on the table. It will not be just for teachers, but for the whole public service. We will again sit down and negotiate with people as to how that can be integrated with other demands that will be coming from other unions and with the other pressures we have to meet from the available money.

One of the elements of what we have done is that, further up the scale, we have integrated the scales so that, at a certain point, teachers will be on the same scale. That has been one of the elements of the work we have already done in closing this gap.

Schools Building Projects Status

Charlie McConalogue


29. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Education and Skills the status of a new building for a school (details supplied); when construction will commence and be completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34884/16]

I ask the Minister for an update on the status of a new school and, in particular, the purchase of a site for a three-school campus in Buncrana, County Donegal, to facilitate Crana College secondary school, Gaelscoil Bhun Cranncha primary school and Coláiste Chineál Eoghain, which is a Gaelscoil secondary school.

As the Deputy is aware, the project in respect of the education campus in Buncrana was announced as part of the six-year capital programme last year. Officials in the Department have been liaising with officials in Donegal County Council under the memorandum of understanding for the acquisition of school sites with regard to the procurement of a suitable site for the campus.  A significant number of potential site options were comprehensively technically assessed by officials from my Department in liaison with officials from the local authority.

The Deputy will appreciate the importance of a thorough appraisal of site options in order to ensure the achievement of value for money. In this case, the complexity of the issues associated with the development of the site options under consideration, combined with competing demands on my Department's resources, resulted in a lengthier time for site appraisal than would generally have been the case.

Following on from the site assessment exercise, a preferred site option was identified and officials from Donegal County Council, on behalf of my Department, have engaged with the landowner in question with a view to its acquisition.  These negotiations have not yielded a positive result to date but are currently ongoing. At the request of my Department, council officials have also engaged with the relevant landowners in respect of a second suitable site and this may provide an alternative option, if agreement can be reached on a purchase price.

Due to the commercial sensitivities attaching to site acquisitions generally, it is not possible to provide any further information at this time regarding the negotiation process or the site options. Once a suitable site has been acquired, my Department will be in a position to progress the project concerned into the architectural planning process.

I thank the Minister for his response. I raise the issue with him to try to ensure top priority is given by his Department to securing and purchasing a site so the other stages of the three-school campus project can proceed. Of the three schools, Gaelscoil Bhun Cranncha has been very successful since it was established in the early 2000s but it has been operating from the premises of a local youth club. While it is operating very well there, it does not have a purpose-built school building and those involved have been very frustrated by the length of time it has taken to proceed with a new building. Likewise, Crana College secondary school is at capacity on its current site and is long past the stage where it needs to move to a larger building. Coláiste Chineál Eoghain also needs this new site.

Will the Minister indicate what the timeline is likely to be for site negotiations to be completed? Will he give an assurance that, once the site is acquired, it will immediately proceed to the planning and architectural stage?

I cannot give a definite timeline. We have to work through these issues of both site acquisition and the technical assessments, which are complex. If I gave a commitment, I could not guarantee it would be honoured because we have to work with other parties and satisfy everyone that the site is suitable to achieve what we are all trying to achieve. I can assure the Deputy that I will convey to my officials the urgency with which he treats this. I can see from the frustration there has been and the build-up of need that this is a high priority. I can also assure the Deputy that, once the site is settled, we will certainly proceed to support the schools through the planning process and the various architectural requirements.

The urgency with which this is addressed is crucial because of the need of the three schools involved and also because the way it has been handled up to now by the Department leaves a lot to be desired. If we go back three years, a site had been identified at that stage but the Department then restarted the clock, went back to basics and restarted the whole process of identifying a site. It changed its agreement as to how sites should be identified from one of working with local education and training boards, which in this instance was Donegal ETB, to asking county councils to carry out that work instead. Given that a new agreement was signed by the Department, it restarted the process entirely. This means we are now only as far forward as we were three years ago with regard to identifying a preferred site and trying to ensure that site is purchased. It is crucial there is no further delay in this regard. I ask the Minister to live up to his commitment to do his utmost to ensure this process is concluded.

With regard to the capital programme, when will the money be brought forward to build this campus? The period from 2019-21 is indicated in the capital plan.

Will the Minister ensure in his review of the capital plan that he will reconsider bringing that funding forward to ensure the three-school campus can be built as soon as possible?

I am sorry to learn of the difficulties that arose in the selection of a site. I have no doubt that the county council has a broader footprint within the county and is used to dealing with site acquisition for other purposes. I am sure that is a better arrangement for the Department. I recognise the urgency the Deputy cites.

We have a capital programme that is adequate to our needs but it is high demand. We have to deliver 20,000 extra places every year. There is pressure on the capital budget. As the projects come through, however, we are meeting them and we have the resources to meet the flow of projects that we are working through. I am confident that when we get a site and get through the planning process, we will be able to fund the flow of projects as they come.

School Curriculum

Maureen O'Sullivan


30. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Education and Skills his views on whether subjects such as social, personal and health education, SPHE, have a role to play, with particular reference to mindfulness in view of recent reports of an increase in substance abuse among students; and the current programmes in schools to deal specifically with substance abuse. [35185/16]

My question relates to programmes such as SPHE, mindfulness and well-being and their role in considering substance misuse and abuse in second level schools.

Social, personal and health education, SPHE, is particularly important in educating our young people about a range of issues, including substance misuse, at both primary and post-primary levels. SPHE has a specific module on the use and misuse of a range of substances in which the issue is dealt with in a sensitive manner in the context of a spiral and developmental age-appropriate curriculum.

Relevant topics in SPHE include student decision-making skills and safety and protection. Students learn how to exercise judgement, weigh up different possibilities, examine the steps and choices that guide them towards considered decision-making, begin to understand their own rights and the rights of others, and explore decision-making. In respect of safety, students’ ability to assess the consequences of risky behaviour is developed. Students explore the reasons people smoke, drink alcohol, and misuse any kind of substances or take drugs that have no medical use.

Teaching and learning in SPHE should be informed by a school policy and by other related policies, for example, a substance use policy which is in place in the majority of schools. Such policies should be implemented consistently and communicated to the whole school community.

The professional development service for teachers, PDST, provides support for schools with all aspects of the implementation of the SPHE curriculum, including substance misuse issues. My Department's inspectorate, including dedicated SPHE inspectors at post-primary level, visit SPHE lessons and provide support and advice to teachers and schools.

SPHE is currently mandatory in all primary schools and in junior cycle. It will also form part of the new mandatory well-being area of learning for the new junior cycle. Schools are also encouraged to deliver the SPHE programme in senior cycle.

In respect of mindfulness and the role it can play as part of the SPHE curriculum, it is a skill which has an evidence base for successful use in promoting mental well-being among adults. It has been shown by a growing number of studies to have beneficial effects on mental health, physical health, stress reduction and emotional well-being. Research on the effects of mindfulness on young people is not yet as extensive as work with adults but it is growing.

The Minister has given me the theory of what is supposed to be going on but the recent official report has shown the massive increase in substance misuse and abuse among teenagers, especially boys. So much is landed on schools, whatever the social issue, the idea seems to be that the schools will deal with it. The SPHE does depend on the will of the school no matter what the theory is. Sometimes that is the one class period that is quickest to go when there are other demands on the school timetable. It also very much depends on the teachers and on the skills of a particular teacher and some of them are doing brilliant work. There are teachers who feel this should not be part of their work programme and others who feel they do not have the skills to deliver it. This is a hit or miss programme. We are not getting at the target group. This is being taught in a class of between 20 and 30 people, which is not very suitable.

Would the Minister consider another model? The schools involved with community organisations and projects run these programmes.

I agree and am open to new thinking. We are doing an audit of all that is done in the well-being and mental health area within the Department. That includes not just the SPHE and the new well-being programme but also the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, the restoration of guidance counsellors and so on. We are very keen to see whether we can use the resources in a more strategic way. I would be happy to see the development of partnerships with providers who could develop and deliver programmes in a better way. We do need to provide some way of establishing that the standard to which those outsiders deliver programmes is consistent with the expectations of our inspectorate and so on. That might need some thought. School leaders do have discretion but perhaps we could support leaders in programming this work and identifying useful partners in the community that could make them more effective.

There has been a real change in thinking. I started teaching in the 1970s when the idea was to give young people all the facts and that will turn them off everything. The school I worked in was one of the pilot schools for the "On my own two feet" scheme. It then moved away from the facts and went into self-esteem and assertiveness, but we need both and to have a much more holistic approach. This is a question of healthy living, not just ideas around substance abuse and misuse.

I chair the prevention and education sub-group in the north inner city. We ran four youth conventions and about 400 fifth year and transition year students from the north inner city attended. At the round-table discussions, facilitated by their leaders from the various youth projects, they confirmed what I said about it being hit or miss. We are having a round-table discussion with people who are very involved in prevention and education and I hope to meet the Minister after that meeting because this is not getting the attention it needs and we are building up problems.

The Taoiseach has established a north inner city task force and is committed to action in this area, and in that context I met several people in the educational sphere in the north inner city and we exchanged views. We would like to develop some pilot initiatives in the education sphere to support those schools in addressing some of the wider issues. That work is continuing. We hope as part of the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools, DEIS, review to take on pilots, and the north inner city would be a good area to see new thinking applied. I would welcome the Deputy’s ideas.

Question No. 31 replied to with Written Answers.

School Accommodation Provision

Thomas Byrne


32. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he is satisfied with school provision in County Meath, particularly in expanding towns such as Ashbourne. [35027/16]

This is an issue I have raised with the Minister before. I am not convinced the Department has a handle on the need for school provision in County Meath, especially in the growing areas. I mentioned Ashbourne in the question but it arises throughout the county. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.

I know this is an issue of concern to the Deputy and I am keen to respond as best I can. In identifying the requirement for new school provision and for additional school places, my Department uses a geographical information system to identify the areas under increased demographic pressure nationwide. The system uses data from the Central Statistics Office, Ordnance Survey Ireland, the Department of Social Protection and information from my Department's databases. With this information, my Department carries out nationwide demographic analyses and so on and we have 13 new schools.

On the school planning areas in County Meath, my Department's demographic analyses show that these areas are experiencing some demographic growth. However, the level of growth and the rate of year-on-year increase are not to such an extent that would currently warrant the provision of additional new schools. My Department is keeping these school planning areas under review to take account of updated child benefit data, updated enrolment data and the impact of capacity increases in these and adjacent school planning areas.

The Deputy will be aware two new primary schools opened in 2011 and 2012 and two new post-primary schools opened in 2013 and 2014 in County Meath. A number of building projects for County Meath are included in my Department's six-year plan, announced in November 2015. In Ashbourne, my Department has recently completed new 16-classroom schools for Gaelscoil na Mí and Ashbourne Educate Together national school and also phase 1 of the project for De Lacy College, which provides for 450 places, with the remainder of the planned 1,000-pupil school to be included in phase 2 which is currently in early architectural planning. The current status of all projects, including those in Meath, may be viewed on my Department's website.

Projects on six-year plan in County Meath


Roll Number

School Name & Address

School Type



Mercy Convent NS, Navan




Scoil Náisiunta Úi Gramhna




SN Cros Bán, Whitecross, Julianstown




SN Na Trionoide Naofa, Lios Muilinn




St. Ultan's Special School, Navan

Special School



St Mary's Special School, Johnstown, Navan

Special School



St. Peter's College, Dunboyne

Post Primary



St. Fintina's VS, Longwood

Post Primary



Beaufort CC, Navan

Post Primary



Ratoath CC, Jamestown

Post Primary



Phase 2 of Johnstown Campus/ Col na Mí & St Mary's SS.

Post Primary



St Paul's NS, Abbeylands, Navan




Kildalkey Central NS




Scoil An Spioraid Naoimh, Laytown




Dunboyne Junior NS




Dunboyne Senior NS




Gaelscoil Tulach na nÓg, Dunboyne




St. Peter's COI NS, Dunboyne




Gaelscoil an Bhradáin Feasa, Mill Road




Ard Rí Community NS




Gaelscoil na Mí, c/o Donaghmore Ashbourne GAA (linked to 20396Q)




Ashbourne ET (linked to 20382F)




St Joseph's Mercy Secondary School, Navan

Post Primary



Eureka Secondary School, Kells

Post Primary



Franciscan College, Gormanston

Post Primary



Scoil Mhuire, Trim

Post Primary



O'Carolan College, Nobber

Post Primary



ETB Dunboyne College of Further Education

Post Primary



Ashbourne Community School

Post Primary



Boyne Community School, Trim

Post Primary



De Lacy College Ashbourne

Post Primary



De Lacy College, Ashbourne

Post Primary

I will happily explain the reality on the ground to the Minister. I had constituents this week who told me that their family had moved from Wicklow to Ashbourne. There are a lot of people moving to Ashbourne. The child needs to go into senior infants. He was offered junior infants in Gaelscoil na Mí, though he should be in senior infants. He was also offered junior infants in Garristown, a village in another county. That is not good enough and that child is not the only example. During the summer, there was a seven-year old child with a Slovakian mother and a Polish father who was told that he had to go to Gaelscoil na Mí, even though the family already had language difficulties. Gaelscoil na Mí is an excellent school and I am a huge fan of Gaelscoileanna, but they are not for everybody. What is happening at the moment is outrageous. A councillor from the Deputy's own party told me the other night that he got two kids from Ashbourne into Ratoath College for second level education. This is happening all the time and the local education welfare officer tells us this. What is needed urgently in Ashbourne is a new stream at primary level, preferably in the English language. It has to happen. There are houses being built there and nowhere for children to go to school from what we are hearing. We must also look at the area around Duleek and Drogheda as well where I believe the Department should be planning aggressively in terms of second level provision, because the capacity that is available in Drogheda and Navan will slowly become unavailable to large parts of County Meath if the issue is not dealt with.

I understand the Deputy is going to sit down with the senior official dealing with this area. I am very happy that will take place. The Department has to work on the basis of catchments and identify whether there are available places within that catchment that are within reasonable reach of pupils. That is the approach that has been taken. There does not seem to be an overall capacity shortage within these catchments according to the assessment done by the Department. That does not mean that an individual pupil will always get the school they want. I am happy to facilitate a meeting with the Deputy and to work through some of those examples to see the origin of the problems that are arising. I have to admit that even in my area, one finds people who cannot get the school they want and there is frustration at that, even in a well-planned area. The school people want will not always be facilitated by this approach in every place. However, we have demands in every part of the country. We need to accommodate 20,000 additional pupils every year. To make sure that we can meet that, we have to have a sort of systematic approach that applies uniformly. Maybe we can discuss it further.

I can tell the Minister straight that if he moves to Ashbourne today, there is a good likelihood there will be no place for his child at school. That is not acceptable but it is the reality that we are finding on the ground. We are finding that Irish citizen children are being told to go back a year by officials from Tusla and the Department, or go back a year in another village in another county. That is not acceptable. I have to say I totally reject the Department's contention that there is no capacity issue in County Meath. There is a major capacity issue today in County Meath and we have to get to grips with it. This child is entitled to go to school and to senior infants. The Constitution guarantees that. The Minister, his Department, Tusla and whoever else are responsible have to ensure that. I found it quite shocking that Tusla is separately responsible for arranging school places. They somehow have to talk to the Department, which is not providing the places. That joined-up process has to happen as well. It is one thing that I have noticed is completely absent. There are children there who cannot exercise their constitutional rights to go to school. That right must surely be to a local school and not having to travel distances past numerous other schools.

There are 15 projects in architectural planning in Meath. They go right across Navan, Dunboyne, Julianstown, Laytown, Ashbourne, Trim, Nobber and more beyond that. There is a very substantial flow of projects that are already committed to, which are meeting the planned expansion of the catchment. I am happy to facilitate sitting down with the Deputy to see if there are particular problems and why they are arising. As I said in my reply, we have just completed 16 classrooms in Gaelscoil na Mí and Ashbourne Educate Together. Therefore, there has been investment there and there is a flow of future investment coming. Let us sit down with the officials involved and see where exactly this problem is arising and whether it can be resolved within the system. We have to apply a uniform system to be fair to all parts of the country.

Back to Education Allowance

Carol Nolan


33. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Education and Skills when the lone parent barriers to education report will be published. [34876/16]

I ask again about the report on the barriers to education for lone parents. My understanding was that this report was meant to be published at the end of August. I ask the Minister when it is going to be published.

The programme for Government contains a commitment to commission an independent examination to identify the supports and barriers to accessing higher education for lone parents and to examine measures to increase participation. In line with this commitment, my Department engaged a multidisciplinary team in NUI Maynooth to undertake the independent review. The review is being overseen by a steering committee comprising officials from my Department and from the Department of Social Protection and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, as well as the Higher Education Authority.

The review is examining existing data and describing the supports that are currently available for lone parents, with a view to identifying the specific challenges faced by lone parents in accessing higher education. The intention is to identify measures and best practice that will address those challenges in the future. The review is currently being finalised. It is a complex policy area that involves three Government Departments. Given the complexity of the issues involved, it is expected that the review will be completed before the end of the year.

However, the review was sufficiently progressed to inform policy decisions by the relevant Departments in budget 2017. In that context, I secured additional funding to support more lone parents to participate in higher education. This new funding will be used to respond to the recommendations contained in the review. This is as part of the additional €36.5 million funding for higher education that my Department received.

The additional funding I received for lone parents in budget 2017 will be complemented by measures announced by my colleague, the Minister for Social Protection, to assist lone parents to return to education. These measures include the reintroduction of the €500 annual cost of education allowance for parents, including lone parents. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs is also introducing a programme of affordable child care which will be of significant help to lone parents who are using child care and accessing higher education.

I thank the Minister for his response but I dread to hear the word review, because it seems to me to be a stalling tactic used to kick the can down the road. I would prefer to hear a date for that report. The Minister says the review will be completed at the end of this year, but I ask for a specific date for that report. Parents in lone-parent families are struggling. An EU standards of living report published in 2014 clearly showed that 59% of lone parent families struggle and experience material deprivation. This is an issue that we need to tackle head on and we need that report published, not just the review completed. The report must be published because we cannot have families struggling to get by on a daily basis in 2016.

As I said, the report will be published before the end of the year. I understand that there are serious data weaknesses in actually gathering information in relation to lone parents. That has been one thing that hampered it. This has not been kicked down the road in the sense that we have made concrete decisions already. Not only did my Department allocate extra money, but the Minister for Social Protection allocated €500 cash to support lone parents particularly in the back-to-education provision. In addition, the provision for child care represents an investment of up to €8,000 per year for people on low income. Again, that is accessible to lone parents who want to participate in education. There are concrete actions being implemented that I hope will meet a lot of the needs to bring forward more lone parents to participate in third level.

Again, I emphasise the importance of this issue. We need to tackle it. It is vital to ensure successful outcomes for lone parents and their children, many of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds. They are disadvantaged because society has made them disadvantaged through cuts to social welfare and everything else. We need a greater level of support. We need a greater commitment. We do not need mention of reviews and reports all of the time; we need more action. The Action Plan for Education is silent on this very issue. I very much hope the upcoming report will make some significant recommendations and that it will ensure that appropriate actions on this issue take place.

The Deputy is demanding action and I am outlining that actions have been taken. They have been taken and will be implemented this year. They are of significant value. That €500 cash for someone participating in back to education is a real benefit and it allows people to get access to resources, books and so on to allow them to participate more fully. The programme of child care support is now something that has been instated as a permanent feature. It is quality child care that goes right up to the age of 15 for the child in question.

That is a real change in policy that will sustain, in particular, lone parents who are on low incomes. The Department of Education and Skills is setting aside scholarship opportunities that will encourage the participation of lone parents who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. We have a solid programme of action but that is not to say we cannot do more. We can do more and we will welcome the report and seek to build it into future budgeting.

Teachers' Remuneration

Richard Boyd Barrett


34. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will commit to equal pay for all teachers regardless of the date they started working in view of recent school closures due to industrial action; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35194/16]

Discrimination in employment is illegal. There was a long struggle, going way back to the 1830s in the United States and right up to the 1970s in this country, for equality in employment and to make it unacceptable to discriminate against any category of person. In recent weeks, however, teachers angrily protested and took strike action because the Minister refused to commit to the basic principle of equal pay for equal work. It is very simple, will he commit to that principle?

We dealt with a similar question just a short time ago from Deputy Paul Murphy. I explained to him that-----

I heard the Minister.

-----the way in which teachers are employed involves increments so that they are not paid equal amounts. It depends on their experience. One teacher could earn up to €60,000. However, a person recruited last year will under the deal I negotiated see an increase of €6,700 in their pay to €37,700 in January 2018. As Deputy Boyd Barrett is aware, during the crash there were changes in public service pay and to the pay of new entrants. We have used the opportunities presented by the talks relating to the Haddington Road and Lansdowne Road agreements to negotiate changes. Under those negotiations, I have restored three quarters of the lifetime earnings for new entrants who were affected by the change. I have no doubt that the issue of pay for new entrants will again be on the agenda in the context of a successor agreement. We will sit down with unions across the public sector, not just with one union whose members are outside the Lansdowne Road agreement. We must address the issue in a way that is fair to all trade unions and to all those who were impacted upon by the changes to pay for new entrants. That is the approach we will take and it is the approach that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, has outlined.

It is not very helpful to engage in a disingenuous response to a straightforward question about increments. We all know that there are increments. There have always been increments in the public sector and people move up the pay scale. The issue is that there are two different pay scales. In fact, there are three different pay scales for people who have exactly the same training and experience. The Minister should not try to blur the issue with an untruth. The question is why teachers with the same experience and, possibly, who are the same age as their counterparts are on a different pay scale. Teachers earn different amounts for doing the same job, working in the same schools and teaching the same classes. Some teachers get between €6,000 and €8,000 less for doing the same job. That is just straightforward discrimination. Over their lifetimes, the difference could be as much as €200,000 - the cost of a house. How can the Minister stand over that discrimination? Will he commit to end the discrimination and inequality for teachers?

As I explained to the Deputy, during the recession restrictions were imposed on the pay of new entrants. That applied right across the public service. It is not a matter solely for teachers. That is an issue that has been tabled within the context of the Lansdowne Road agreement. We sat down with the teaching unions that signed up to that agreement, namely, the Teachers Union of Ireland, TUI, and the Irish National Teachers' Organisation, INTO, and negotiated on the basis of their agenda. As a result of those negotiations, we have closed the gap to effectively three quarters of the lifetime earnings. The scales have now been merged at certain points so that they are identical for particular parts of the career. I have no doubt that pay for new entrants will be an issue in the next pay round and we will again sit down with all of the trade unions and seek to negotiate the issues - along with other demands they might have - in the context of a successor agreement. We are now negotiating with the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland, ASTI, in the Teachers Conciliation Council to seek to resolve that and many other issues that have been raised.

I say to Deputy Boyd Barrett, although he might not like to hear it, that we must strike a balance. For example, carers did not get an increase for eight years but this year we were able to give them an increase. We must balance the resources we have available with the different demands, rightful demands for pay restoration but also rightful demands for investment in health, housing and homelessness, for which the Deputy will also articulate a need.

The Minister should not give the money argument. There would be money available if some vulture funds and super-profitable corporations were made to pay their taxes. The issue at stake is discrimination. The Minister referred to negotiation. What is there to negotiate in terms of ending inequality? There is nothing to negotiate. It is fair enough for one to negotiate pay increases and other measures but why is the Minister using inequality as a bargaining chip in respect of teachers or other groups of public sector workers? It is fundamentally unfair. The Minister does not get the point. He should not be using it as a bargaining chip for future negotiation. He should acknowledge that it is pay apartheid. It should be illegal. Any other category of discrimination such as against women, LGBT people or racial minorities is illegal, yet the Minister has managed to impose arbitrary discrimination in employment - which is illegal for every other category - on the basis of whether one happened to come into a profession before or after 2010 or 2011. Is the Minister going to end the apartheid?

It is worth pointing out to the Deputy that differences in pay for new entrants to those who are already working in the area for a considerable period are not unheard of in other parts of the economy and it is not confined to the public service - would that it were. The reality is that there have been big changes in the way people are paid in the private sector and one of those features has been lower entry rates for graduates. I am sure Deputy Boyd Barrett speaks to graduates and is aware that the typical entry rate for graduates is quite low and competitive at present. I recognise that in the recession difficult decisions were taken, including a reduction in the pay for new entrants. That was seen as a way of being able to bring some people in, albeit at lower pay. We recognise that it is an irritant for members of the public service but we sat down and negotiated with those members - people who have committed to the Lansdowne Road agreement - and we have restored substantial amounts of that money. I recognise that the issue will be on the agenda for a successor agreement and we will continue to negotiate with public servants who have taken a lot of cuts and experienced difficulties in order to manage the issue. We must have regard to the broader context in the sense that we have other responsibilities to meet as well.

School Accommodation

Joan Burton


35. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Education and Skills the proposals he is reviewing, in conjunction with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, to realise the programme for Government commitment to have schools available for child care services outside school hours; if community groups and private providers will be allowed tender for access to those facilities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34874/16]

Will the Minister provide an update on the proposals relating to granting access to schools after-school hours to child care providers, including community groups, in order that they might offer after-school care? Will they be allowed to apply for access to after-school facilities in schools? The Minister is aware that many schools are closed by the middle to late afternoon and for parents looking for child care, it would be an obvious use of resources to grant access to providers.

This issue is addressed in the programme for Government. My Department is working closely with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to consider how to facilitate schools that wish to make their facilities available as part of the range of options for parents where demand exists.

In general, school authorities have a considerable degree of autonomy in respect of how their premises are managed and utilised at local level. The use of school facilities must be approved by a school authority. In 2005, my Department issued a circular to trustees, boards of management and principals of primary and voluntary secondary schools to encourage trustees and boards of management to make their facilities available where possible for community, education and recreation purposes. The circular recognises that the decision ultimately lies with the relevant board or trustees and that the first priority at all times should be the interests of the school, its teachers and pupils.

In facilitating such extra provision there are a number of issues that need to be considered in respect of such arrangements. These include property, governance, procurement, insurance and liability and are being considered as part of a review within my Department of the requirements to be established around the use of school premises and property for preschool and after-school services and the preparation of guidelines regarding same.

In that regard, a cross-departmental group established under the Government is meeting regularly to assess the following: capacity and demand for services; children's views on after-school care; an appropriate quality and standards framework; the development of criteria for the capital scheme to be funded by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs under budget 2016; estimated existing use of school buildings; collaborative models with existing community and private service providers; and potential funding incentives for provision of services.

I expect to receive the report of this review group within a matter of weeks and will consider in detail the proposals and recommendations therein in conjunction with my colleague, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone. Furthermore, I engaged in round table discussions with management bodies before the summer on how to facilitate the wider use of school buildings for the community in order to get input from those working on the ground.

Will the Minister tell us who is carrying out this review? Are there any civil servants left in either of the Departments who are not working full-time on reviews? It is the comment we have heard most from the Minister since he became a Minister in that everything seems to be subject to review. In this respect, as the Minister probably knows, quite a few schools in Dublin and around the country run after school services in their school. These are popular with parents. They are using a valuable publicly provided resource. Given the fact that the standard of building in schools throughout the country is now very high, it is appalling to see these shut at certain times, such as during holidays and mid-term breaks, when they could be utilised by families, parents and children in the community. Will the Minister tell us what he has in mind? He said the review, like many of the other reviews, will be available in a couple of weeks but does he intend to take any action on this matter?

I am surprised at the Deputy giving out about evidence-based policy making when she did that also when she was in her Department. She set up a review before she made policy decisions and committed public money. That is the way I approach this issue, and it is the right way to approach it. We have very senior officials working on it, including the Assistant Secretary from the Department of Youth and Children Affairs, Bernie McNally, and my own Assistant Secretary, Gary Ó Donnchadha. This is a purposeful review looking at the level of demand, the potential and the barriers that need to be overcome in terms of meeting concerns about governance and basic issues like key holding, who will take responsibility for closing up, insurance and so on. These are practical issues and we have to work through those with the schools, which ultimately will make their premises available. We can only facilitate that. We are taking the correct approach and in accordance with the programme for Government we will implement changes in this area to facilitate more schools making their properties available. I agree it is a good use of an asset created by the public to make it more widely available, but I find it surprising that the Deputy would consider it a waste of time to consult those who are at the coalface seeking to make this happen.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.