Other Questions

Apprenticeship Data

Joan Burton

Question:

24. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Education and Skills his views on the uptake in the number of apprenticeships by females; if his Department has proposals to address the issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10117/17]

Has the Minister made any progress in making places available for girls and young women to do apprenticeships? I asked him about this last year but, on the ground, very little progress is being made. As international women's day approaches, has he revised his approach to this issue to enable many young women and girls to get an apprenticeship at the end of their secondary schooling so that they can get a good job? Has any headway been made?

Substantial progress is being made because we are now rolling out a whole range of new apprenticeships and we have an ambition to create 40 new apprenticeships in areas to which it will be much easier to attract women. Currently there is a tiny level of participation but 40% of the intake of the latest, the insurance practitioner apprenticeship, were female. We hope to introduce 13 new apprenticeships in the coming year and these will offer significant opportunities for women to get involved. They include areas such as accounting technician, international service specialist, international service associate and commis chef. They go right across a range of sectors, while the traditional craft apprenticeships have not attracted many women to participate.

As part of the expansion of the programme, SOLAS will introduce a new branding and marketing campaign and will focus on attracting women. There are already signs of success and there has been a dramatic turnaround in the example I gave. I share the Deputy's view on this.

The Minister is saying the progress relates to last year and, while everything is being rolled out, nothing has actually been rolled out. Has the Minister had a chance to visit fifth year, sixth year or transition year groups in secondary schools around the country to ask the young women how many of them are interested in apprenticeships? In Austria and Germany it has been shown that, with buy-in from employers, it is quite possible to get women into craft areas traditionally dominated by men. In the previous Government I was involved in widening the range of apprenticeships available to women. At the end of an apprenticeship, someone has the possibility of not only getting a job but also of forming a small business. There is a lot of interest in apprenticeships in rural Ireland but the opportunities, for boys and girls, are extremely limited.

The positive news is that this year there has been an increase of 80% in the number of women in apprenticeships, albeit from a low base. Whenever I meet young women, in schools or elsewhere, I promote apprenticeship as a new stream. I set a realistic objective of 20% of young people being able to access apprenticeships or traineeships, so that we will have a strong and resilient alternative to going into higher education. It is important to win employers over to such a programme and we have a grant to support employers in the traditional trades who take on women. We will promote this grant as we rebrand apprenticeships. There is a growing demand in both traditional apprenticeships and new ones.

We have a worrying dropout rate in colleges, particularly in certain courses in certain areas, where all qualifying applicants are being accepted. Many young people go to college, only to find out that it does not work out for them and that they would have been more successful in an apprenticeship. It sounds like it will take between five and seven years before the numbers increase in any dramatic way and before we begin to be like other countries. Next Wednesday we will celebrate international women's day and it is an enormous pity that this Government gives no priority to women and girls in the area of apprenticeships. We are not just talking about mañana, we are talking about years and years from now.

That is nonsense. We are planning to increase apprenticeships by approximately 5,000 and the first one we have put in place has seen an increase in participation by women of 40%. We will make sure that women will get a fair crack of the whip and we will promote it. We will grant aid women in traditional apprenticeships and we will deliver improvement. The Deputy suggests that there will be no progress but we have committed to 40 new apprenticeships and 13 new traineeships by 2021, in new areas where women can participate outside the higher education institutions. It will be an alternative to those young people who drop out and are not suited to higher education in the first place. The apprenticeships will be across a range of qualifications and some will be as high as level 8. We are trying to make apprenticeship a much more broad-based offering. It is simply wrong to suggest the Government is ignoring this opportunity.

Schools Building Projects

John Curran

Question:

25. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Education and Skills the issues causing a delay for a school (details supplied) to proceed to construction in 2016; the actions that can be taken to ensure this project proceeds to construction in 2017 and that the extension and renovation works are complete by September 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10124/17]

Lucan community college is included in the Department's six-year construction programme. Lucan has seen a significant increase in population in recent years and the school has accommodated that increase with temporary accommodation and other things. The school is over 30 years old and is in need of urgent renovation and new extensions to accommodate the increase in population. It is currently at stage 2A and the target date for the extension and renovations to be completed is September 2018. Can the Minister update us on the construction of the extension and on the renovations?

I agree that there have been a number of delays, through no fault of anyone. The project to provide an extension to Lucan community college commenced design in June 2011. The design team reached completion of stage 1 of architectural planning in April 2013. The stage 1 report suggested that extensive refurbishment works to the existing school would also be required. My Department approved a significantly increased scope of works to incorporate those refurbishment works. The increased scope and value of the project lead to a request for a substantial increase in design team fees.

EU regulations limiting contract increases to 50% required a tender exercise for the appointment of a new design team. The ETB tendered for and appointed a new design team in October 2014. The new design team brought the project through stage 2A, which is the detailed design stage. Following the stage 2A stakeholders' meeting on 30 November 2016, the ETB and its design team were requested to submit a stage 2A addendum to address issues in the detailed design. This addendum was submitted by the ETB on 22 December 2016 and is currently under review. Once this review is complete the project will then progress to complete stage 2B which includes the application for statutory approvals and the preparation of tender documents for contractors.

Any timeframe for the further progression of the project through the tender and construction stages will necessarily be dependent on the timeframe for the ETB and its design team successfully completing stage 2B. That stage involves planning permission, disabled access and fire certificates etc.

I assure the Deputy that once stage 2B is complete my Department will do everything it can to ensure the tender and construction stages are expedited.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I am familiar with the history of this matter. In April 2016, the then Minister indicated it was her intention, and the Department's intention, that at that stage this would go to construction by the end of 2016. That obviously did not happen. The concern is that the board of management, the principal, parents and teachers had been given a target date that these works were likely to be completed by September 2018. The current Minister indicated that the addendum required from the school had been submitted and was now with the Department. In light of the extended period over which this has gone on, it has been torturous for everybody involved. Very little has moved on since April 2016.

I am asking the Minister and the Department to take a proactive role to ensure this project is moved along swiftly. The parents and teachers of this school are due an opening date which should be set out.

As I said in the reply, the Department will do everything it can to move this along, but I cannot make commitments on the time taken to obtain planning permission, disabled access or fire certificates. Various elements can arise in either the planning or construction phase. With the best will in the world, these projects will not always go in a straight line, following an even timeframe. We must wait for that work to be completed by the responsible bodies.

I can assure the Deputy that the Department wants this project completed and will do everything it can to support that end.

I am not going to disagree with the Minister. I appreciate the fact that the planning process and such details take their own time. My specific concern, however, is that the project has been at stage 2A for a protracted period. I understand everything that was requested has been supplied. As the Minister said, the addendum was submitted to the Department and has been there for a period of time. They cannot go to stage 2B until the Minister moves, so the ball is in the Minister's and the Department's court.

I fully understand what the Minister said about the planning process, but we cannot even get to that stage until the Department moves. The Minister has received the addendum, he said so on the record of the House, but we need him to move so that this project can at least get from stage 2A to 2B, which is the detailed planning stage. That will give the school's teaching staff and students an opportunity for this project to be completed within a reasonable time in light of its long and extended history to date.

I understand that process normally takes about 13 weeks. I am sure the Department will be striving to ensure that this review is completed within that timescale and that the next stage can be triggered.

School Enrolments

Clare Daly

Question:

26. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans to deal with the immediate crisis in primary school places in the Swords area. [10114/17]

My question concerns the Minister's plans to deal with the immediate crisis in primary school places in the Swords area. I do not use the term "crisis" lightly. The Minister will know that there are already 107 children on the waiting list for Holy Family national school in Swords. When they corresponded with the Minister they were told to apply to St. Cronan's national school. When they went there, however, they were told there were no places. This situation needs emergency action because children will be starting primary school at six years of age if this matter is not addressed immediately.

Yes, I can understand the Deputy's concern. The Department has assessed the situation and according to its estimate there are 750 infant places in the area, which should be enough to meet demand. As the Deputy says, however, at this point some schools are over-subscribed and others believe they will be under-subscribed when they have the full returns by 1 March. That is the date by which the returns will become clearer.

In recent years there have been additional streams of junior infants in Holywell Educate Together and Scoil Náisiúnta Cholmcille boys and girls. The Department's view is that there are enough places, but my officials are closely monitoring the situation in Swords. We cannot guarantee that everyone will get the school they would prefer, which is a feature of the planning process. New schools or new school places are only provided where existing places are insufficient to meet the numbers. The Department is paying close attention to this matter. Enrolment figures will become clearer as and from today.

I think it is fair to say that the information the Minister has is probably incorrect. His departmental officials wrote to parents and told them that currently there were places in St. Cronan's national school. When the parents applied, however, they were told they were outside the catchment area and that there were already 45 children on the waiting list in that area.

The Minister mentioned Holywell Educate Together school, which already has lengthy waiting lists. The Minister tells us that the final numbers will be known by the end of this month. If it becomes apparent at that stage, as I believe it will, that there are insufficient places to accommodate the children, what special measures is the Minister prepared to invoke?

I hear what he is saying about children not getting a place in the school of their choice. However, it is a real problem when we have 27 children who, if they are not accommodated this September, will be almost six when they start school. Half of those children have siblings in Holy Family National School. It is not practical for families to have to bring siblings to separate schools. Is the Minister considering putting an extra class in there, or extra class sizes to accommodate at least those children who will be starting school at six years of age if the places do not come through in September?

Deputy Louise O'Reilly has a similar question, No. 39, so perhaps the Minister can combine them. I will then allow a final supplementary question from Deputy Clare Daly.

I raised this matter with the Minister two weeks ago. The problem for these parents is very real. It is not good enough for the Minister to say that he or his officials believe that somehow the capacity exists, when it does not. These parents are ringing the schools every day and asking for places because they are absolutely desperate. We need to know what measures the Minister is going to put in place.

Clearly there is an issue. There are 107 kids who do not have a school to go to. This year in Holy Family national school three of the six classes will be taken up by children who were on the waiting list from last year. The crèches are already full, so people cannot put their children back there. Given the traffic in Swords, it is not feasible to have siblings in separate schools. We need to hear from the Minister what he is going to do for these parents. They are absolutely desperate at this stage and cannot wait any longer.

The Department's point, which is a fair one, is that until one has acceptances the position is unclear. I take Deputy Daly's point that people may be on a list who are within the admissions policy, while someone else cannot join or is in an inferior position. However, if those children at the higher position do not accept the places, they will then become available. That is why we will not really have clarity until the acceptances start to come through. That is because people will be in a lower category until those acceptances are clear. In addition, some children are on waiting lists for more than one school.

My Department is alert to the concerns of parents in this area. It is happening in other areas also and is a feature that occurs at this time when there is natural anxiety about getting into preferred schools or any school that is local and easily accessible.

I can assure the Deputies that the Department will continue to monitor this matter closely. I hope the information will become clearer when acceptances start to come through. The Department's case, that the 760 places are adequate to meet the needs, will also become clearer.

Can the Minister give a timeframe for that? If he is saying it is the end of March, then let us make it the end of March, but deliver on it because it is causing enormous disquiet. I know a young woman in my area whose daughter will be almost six if she does not get a place this year. That young woman was ready to go back to work. She has no child care placement for her child this year and therefore will be unable to return to work due to this situation.

Other people who already have children in Holy Family national school are not even guaranteed a place in a different part of Swords. Even if they were, however, the logistics of manoeuvring that would be difficult.

We are dealing with people who have been linked to those schools intergenerationally. There is a crisis. The figures, which the parents have done with the schools, would show that it is not going to come good in the end. In the event that it does not, and the Minister's information is not accurate, is he prepared to sanction, for example, a seventh class in Holy Family, which would alleviate some of the pressure for the older children? Is he prepared to increase the pupil-teacher ratio to, for example, 30 to get us over this glitch? What other immediate solutions can be found for this crisis? Does the Minister have a date for when we could get some of those decisions?

The Department will have to examine all the options at that point to see how best to respond to the needs in the area. I cannot give an indication at this stage as to what the response could be. It is not that the Department needs to be told, but I will convey the anxiety of the Deputies, which I am sure reflects the anxiety of parents for their children, and I will see if we can address this. As I said, the information is only becoming clear now. It will become clearer over the coming weeks and the Department will then be in a position to work with schools, which would obviously have to accommodate any adaptation offered.

Does the Minister have a date for that?

I do not have a date. Some schools have set an offer date of 1 March but not every school would necessarily apply that date, so I do not have information as to whether we will have adequate data at that point.

Will the Minister come back to us on that?

Will the Minister come back to us with a date?

I will seek to come back to all the Deputies in the area, to be fair to everyone who is not here, to see if we can respond to that.

Question No. 27 replied to with Written Answers.

Disadvantaged Status

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

28. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Education and Skills the criteria used to allocate DEIS 1 and DEIS 2 status respectively; his views on whether the current criteria may not have been helpful to schools in Dublin Bay North and other constituencies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10331/17]

I know the Minister replied to questions on DEIS earlier but there are a number of concerns in our constituency, in particular in respect of St. David's boys national school in Artane and St. Joseph's in Fairview. There is much confusion around the criteria. I heard the Leas-Cheann Comhairle raise questions about the index used to establish what areas are eligible for DEIS and which would be DEIS 1 and DEIS 2. Will the Minister address that now if possible?

I am sure the Deputy heard the responses to the other questions. We have identified 79 schools and brought them in for the first time. These were the most disadvantaged schools that were completely outside DEIS. A further 30 schools which were within it at urban band two were identified and uplifted to urban band one. The Deputy will acknowledge that three of those schools are in his own area. One of those at post-primary is also in the Deputy's area. Four of the schools are in the constituency. That is probably better than average.

In terms of the way this is done, we have tried to move away from the old system, where data was randomly collected by principals. They looked at things like medical cards and random information was collected. Some schools did not apply at all. Some schools had very bad data and were left out. We are sourcing incontrovertible data from the CSO. We are using the children enrolled in the school to track back to the profile of the small areas from which they come. These would be areas of approximately 50 houses, typically a street. That is the way it is done. It is being applied evenly.

I recognise that it has to be refined but it is a very good first stab at something objective. We are letting 79 through, and uplifting 30, and we will look at this process again. This model has the advantage that we can track a school and changes in its demographic and social need profile. That allows us to try to be responsive to schools whose profile is changing.

I thank the Minister, but there still seems to be glaring inconsistencies. I mentioned two of the schools in our constituency, St. Joseph's and St. David's. In the case of St. Joseph's, there would be children coming from the adjoining areas of Dublin Central where clearly the model, or the index, would seem to indicate that school should be eligible for DEIS 1. Likewise, in the case of St. David's, where the adjoining school is a DEIS school, it seems to have been excluded. There does seem to be inconsistency. I know the Minister launched a programme in Darndale, in our constituency. There is a long tradition, as he will know, of major programmes being launched in that particular parish going back over 20 years. It was welcome, obviously, that Ardscoil La Salle, Scoil Chaitríona and so on were included, but there seems to be some major inconsistencies.

Is the Minister still hindered by the lack of funding? Although he announced an additional €5 million, looking back to the 2015 figure, it has still not been equalled. We still seem to have less money being spent on DEIS than was spent in 2015.

To reassure the Deputy, it is not the catchment of the school. It is the individual children and from where they are drawn. A school could be in one catchment area but drawing its children from a different one. That will be picked up. It looks at the individual child and sources back to the street on which the child lives. That is the model used. It is being applied fairly. There is no question of unfair treatment. A school can seek a review. It picked up, as I said, three schools in our area, and 30 nationwide, to be uplifted. They were at the highest level of disadvantage and they were not being recognised in that category.

In terms of resources, €15 million in a full year is going into this. It is worth recalling also that I am putting €54 million into upgrading resource teaching, with 900 extra teachers. They will be going to schools where there is the highest level of learning need. We are not just approaching this through the DEIS model, but also through the resource teaching model. The objective that I am setting is to get to the child with the greatest need through both models. I am also trying to pilot new approaches. In the case of schools like the one in Darndale, which we visited and which is doing really interesting things, clusters have been built for the improved teaching of children. That sort of cluster building will be encouraged and good practice will be shared. We are trying to do much broader things than just listing the school number.

I welcome that. Clearly we have seen additional resources directed at the lowest socioeconomic areas in terms of income and resources. We have had some benefits with people staying in second level and then going on to third level, but there are some areas where third level access is still very poor because the children do not get a good enough start.

Is the Minister going to continue with the Haase-Pratschke index of deprivation? He said he might be reviewing its use down to September. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle raised issues in respect of County Donegal. Other Deputies also raised issues as did I in respect of my area but is it possible, therefore, that the Minister would be able to add to the list during the summer? I believe we are up to some 830 or so schools at the moment nationwide. Anomalies can be picked up on, such as in the case of St. David's boys' national school and the boys' school in Fairview. They should definitely be included because the current criteria have unfairly omitted them.

I wish to acknowledge that there has been very good improvement. The progression rate in disadvantaged schools at second level was 68% and there was a 32% drop out rate. That has gone down to 17%. We want to bring that down to 10%, which is our objective under this plan. On the issue of the level of inclusion, at the moment about 19% of pupils in total are in the various disadvantaged area programmes. What we need to do over the long term is to make sure that resources in this area have an impact. We need to refine the model. That does not mean we should abandon that index approach but perhaps we will add new elements to it if that is deemed necessary.

I do not think anyone could doubt that the 79 schools, which are at the highest level of disadvantage on this measure, were entitled to be brought in as a first step. We will look at subsequent steps and we will try to refine and improve the interventions within the school as well as designations. We will try to achieve a more dynamic model. Hopefully, we will schools progressing out of DEIS status as well as schools coming in.

Questions Nos. 29 and 30 replied to with Written Answers.

Junior Cycle Reform

Bríd Smith

Question:

32. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Education and Skills his views on whether the relegation of history as a distinct subject at junior cycle level will aid the success of his action plan for education; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10460/17]

I would like to ask the Minister about the relegation of history as a distinct subject in the junior certificate cycle, and if he thinks it will help his action plan in education. The relegation of history is not being warmly welcomed by historians or teachers. There is much doubt about what he is attempting to do.

I would like the Minister to comment on his plans and children's futures in terms of giving them an advantage by learning history through different means.

This will be a significant improvement. There is already a 90% take-up of history at junior cycle level. The current curriculum is massively overcrowded and terribly text based. It is about memory retention for an exam, rather than what Deputy Bríd Smith or I would regard as the sort of skill and experience of history we ought to be encouraging. Inspectors have shown that many children doing exam papers do not exhibit the sort of skill level one would hope history would provide. The new curriculum will encourage students to use alternative sources for finding out about history and to develop local projects. For example, they could examine the development of TB in Dublin. It will try to give them critical skills such as appraising what history was about in terms of what happened at a particular time. That is a fitting approach to take.

I agree that some people have expressed concern that we would see a drop off in the take-up but I am confident that is not the case. As I said, the uptake is currently 90%, which is higher than compulsory Irish. It is only compulsory in 52% of schools. There is a major welcome for the subject. It is number five in the subject rankings and ten subjects will be chosen. There will be a stand-alone 200 hours for history and on every front, this will be an improvement. It will encourage continuity in terms of how history is treated in primary school and how it will be dealt with at senior cycle. I am very positive about the new curriculum that will evolve.

I would like to take issue with what the Minister has just said. Britain is reinstating history as a separate subject and one that is mandatory because it has learned from its recent history that it is not serving the purpose it set out to serve. Somebody famously said those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it. If one takes that statement as having any meaning, it might actually be to the detriment of children currently in schools.

Diarmaid Ferriter, a noted historian, stated:

History and geography are no longer to be compulsory subjects; instead, history is alluded to under a statement of learning, to the effect that a student would value “local, national and international heritage, understand the importance of the relationship between past and current events” ... [and] by means of an optional “short course” or “learning experience” could [fulfil] a range of other subjects, including Chinese or religious education.

There is definitely a problem with having a loaded curriculum that is not engaging young people in self-activity and self-discovery because that is the joy of learning. It strikes me that the Minister is throwing the baby out with the bath water, rather than treating history with the centrality it deserves in our lives in order that young people and all of us can learn from our collective past.

I do not agree with the Deputy that this should be about compulsion. At present, 90% of students study history at junior cycle and it is not a good curriculum or the sort of curriculum one would want to see taught. We are making history a stand-alone subject, but with history and geography together. It will be a much better curriculum.

What the Deputy read out is what every students should have in terms of their appreciation of history. History will be one of ten subjects available to be chosen. It is currently fifth in terms of subject ratings and has a 90% take-up rate. Other subjects are trailing in its wake, right down to that in 18th place, which has a take-up rate of just 19%. I do not think there is any fear for history in terms of the interest of young people in it. If we develop a curriculum that engages them in a much more exciting way and sparks a flame and love for history, we will have done something much better than try to tell students that something is compulsory.

I do not think it was compulsory. Rather, it was mandatory.

Some 52% of schools have such a requirement.

That is not the whole story. There is a trend in the modern world to downgrade arts subjects, which is true in colleges. Education is being geared at third level, something which is probably seeping down to second level, towards providing industry with the sort of workers that it needs rather than developing the intellectual capacity of human beings regardless of their age or level of understanding of the world around them.

This goes to the heart of the worries the ASTI has about the junior cycle curriculum. Its members are being asked to accept what is being shoved down their throats by the Lansdowne Road agreement, even though as a group of workers they rejected it. They are now being threatened with redundancy for taking a stance in defence of education, among other things, because they do not believe that they should correct their students' papers. They also have issues with things like the downgrading of history and the arts in general. On the one hand, the response is to say we are relaxing the rules around the teaching of history but on the other, we are taking a big stick, beating the teachers and possibly making them redundant if they do not agree with the policy.

Any fair assessment of the junior cycle would show that it is doing exactly the opposite of what the Deputy is describing. It is trying to broaden the range of capacity that is encouraged within our schools. The junior cycle achievement will examine projects and short courses that have been completed. It will cover a broader range of things than a two-hour exam at the end of the cycle could ever test. Concentrating on a two-hour exam has excessively narrowed our examination system and has resulted in the sort of notes and textbook approach to history. Having a wider approach allows a broader range of competencies to be developed, to which the Deputy referred.

The Deputy is wrong in her assessment of the junior cycle. It is working well in TUI schools, where there is great excitement among pupils and teachers about what it is bringing to schools. That will be shown to be the case. The thinking behind the new curriculum has been developed over a long period by people who are much more knowledgeable than I am. I am convinced that it is the right direction in which to go.

Teachers do not want to-----

Before the Deputy leaves the Chamber, I wish to clarify that teachers do not have to assess their pupils under the revised arrangements.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio

Bernard Durkan

Question:

33. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Skills the extent to which he and his Department continue to address the issue of class sizes and temporary school structures throughout County Kildare and nationwide in respect of primary and post-primary schools; the extent to which he expects class sizes and pupil-teacher ratios to improve, arising from the capital programme while at the same time meeting ongoing demographic challenges; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10417/17]

My question relates to the extent to which the Minister and his Department can deal with the overcrowding, class sizes and pupil-teacher ratios, while at the same time meeting the challenges of ongoing demographic factors in Kildare and throughout the country.

As the Deputy will be aware, my Department consistently monitors demographics to identify where additional school places will be required. The six-year programme has building projects for these areas, including Kildare, where 29 major capital projects are being progressed in addition to more than 50 smaller-scale projects that have been approved for devolved funding under my Department’s additional accommodation scheme. My Department has provided me with the details of these projects which I am making available to the Deputy.

Over the lifetime of my Department's capital programme, it is also my intention to replace all purchased temporary accommodation with permanent accommodation where the need is established. To enable this development, my Department will carry out an assessment of the number of prefabs being used in schools to deliver the curriculum. This will also determine whether individual prefabs need to be replaced in the context of the long-term accommodation needs of each individual school. When completed, this assessment will quantify the number of prefabs to be replaced.

Budget 2016 provided for some 2,260 additional teaching posts in our primary and post-primary schools for this year and 2,400 will be provided for next year. These posts will provide an improvement in the pupil and staff ratio at primary level. They will improve leadership and guidance services will be restored.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply. I wish to know the extent to which he expects to be in a position to accommodate the needs of pupils with special needs in schools during the course of the period in question and to what extent he expects to see an improvement in the pupil-teacher ratio in line with the reply he has provided.

The number of children in ASD classes has increased by 100% in the past five years. We have increased the number from 500 to over 1,000. We have increased the number of resource teachers who are focused on the needs of children with learning difficulties and special needs by 41%. There is a significant investment in this area. This year we are introducing a new model for the allocation of resource teaching, which will be fairer, will give schools more autonomy and will not require very expensive diagnostic tests to be provided.

I am confident we will see steady improvement, although it is obviously conditional on the economy continuing to perform and resources becoming available.

Special Educational Needs Service Provision

Martin Heydon

Question:

34. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Education and Skills the status of the provision of autism spectrum disorder, ASD, units at both primary and post-primary level in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10452/17]

My question relates to the status of the provision of ASD units at both primary and post-primary level in County Kildare, in particular in my constituency of Kildare South. As the Minister will be aware, the provision of ASD units is of crucial benefit for parents of children on the autism spectrum or with special needs of some type whose place is in mainstream schools, but we have a deficit in some areas. My particular concern is the deficit as children head into second level education because we have far more units at primary level than we do at secondary level.

Deputy Heydon will be aware that the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, is responsible for organising and planning provision for children with special educational needs, including the establishment of special classes in mainstream primary and post-primary schools. Special classes offer a supportive learning environment to students with ASD who are unable to access the curriculum in a mainstream class, even with support, for most or all of their school day. Special classes are for students who have a recommendation for a special class placement in their professional reports.

The NCSE continues to engage with schools in opening special classes where there is an identified need for special class provision.

Progress in developing the network of special classes has been significant and there are currently 1,153 special classes available, of which 889 are ASD special classes. As I noted to Deputy Durkan, this represents an increase of more than 100% since 2011.

With regard to Kildare in particular, there are 942 students with ASD attending schools in the county. Of these, 520 students attend mainstream schools and are accessing in-school supports including resource teachers and SNA support in the mainstream class. A total of 322 students are attending 59 ASD special classes, including six early intervention classes, 41 primary ASD classes and 12 post-primary ASD classes. A further 100 students with ASD are placed in four special schools. The number of ASD classes has increased in the area by 24% since the 2013-2014 school year.

My Department's building unit has advised that special needs units are currently under construction at three schools in County Kildare. In addition, major building projects for a number of schools in Kildare are included in the Department's six-year construction plan and special needs units will be included in these developments.

The NCSE has indicated that it is currently satisfied there will be sufficient ASD special class placements available to meet demand in the region for the forthcoming school year.

I thank the Minister for his response. There are a few different elements to the question. We have a number of special schools in our area where the pupils start at the four years of age and continue there all the way through to the age of 18 years. When someone is in an ASD unit in a different primary school and looking to access that special school at the age of 12 years or 13 years, there seems to be a deficiency in the number of spaces. This issue has been raised directly with me by parents with children who have not been able to acquire spaces in those schools. I welcome what the Minister said about increased provision in the future and I presume that the proposed extensions of Cross & Passion College in Kilcullen, Patrician Secondary School in Newbridge and Athy Community College will see increased provision for those with special educational needs and for ASD units. However, it is still the sense on the ground in Kildare South that we have children in ASD units in primary school but the corresponding spaces may not be there at secondary level. This is a cause of huge concern for parents.

There is a long list of schools on the construction programme that will have special needs units, including the schools in Kilcullen and Athy. I will provide the list to the Deputy. I will bring the point he makes regarding 12 year olds and 13 year olds accessing special schools to the attention of the NCSE to see if it is a particular pinch point, if one likes, for parents. We have dramatically increased the resources in this area and are trying to ensure we accommodate children in the best environment for them to progress, which is why there is the mix I described. I will alert the NCSE to the particular issue Deputy Heydon raised.

On the broader point, will the Minister outline the process? Does a school need to offer to take an ASD unit or can the NCSE and the Department of Education and Skills go to the school and say that it is necessary? Where does the ultimate decision lie? To refer specifically to the points I raised earlier, there is a sense that there is a deficiency at secondary level in the greater Newbridge area and I ask the Minister to raise that issue specifically with the NCSE.

This issue has been raised across the House. We are taking a power in the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill to designate a school to take a child with special educational needs but we are not taking a power, if one likes, to require a school to provide an ASD unit. At least, we are not doing that legislatively. The reason we have not done it legislatively to date is that we have not had a difficulty in getting schools to take it up. As I stated, we have more than doubled the number of schools with ASD classes and we invest to match a school's willingness to provide such a unit. To date we have not experienced the need for a compulsion in that area. I know that many Deputies feel there should be and we will listen to those arguments. However, I think there is also a feeling that this should be done in partnership and that compelling a school to do something like this is not the ideal way to go. As the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill progresses, we will need to provide evidence to Deputies to reassure them on this point. I know many Deputies, including Deputy Thomas Byrne, are concerned about the issue.

Schools Building Projects Status

Brian Stanley

Question:

31. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Education and Skills the timeframe for the construction of the new boys' and girls' primary school in Monasterevin. [10327/17]

I ask the Minister to deal with Question No. 31, which has a very short answer. We have only three minutes remaining, so I will allow one supplementary question but no introduction.

What is the question about?

It is about a school in Monasterevin.

The building project for the Monasterevin primary school project is included on my Department's current six-year construction programme. The project is listed therein to commence construction in 2017.

The project was authorised to commence stage 2(b) of architectural planning on 30 June 2016. This stage includes the applications for planning permission, a fire certificate and a disability access certificate and the preparation of tender documents. The design team is currently working on the applications for these statutory approvals.

When all the relevant statutory approvals have been obtained the design team will submit the stage 2(b) report to my Department for review and when that review is complete the Department will contact the board of management with regard to the further progression of the project to tender and construction stages.

I welcome the Minister's reply to the question. From the point of view of the school and the local community, there cannot be any delays after this goes to planning permission. Monasterevin is in dire need of a new primary school. The accommodation at St. Peter's school and at the girls' St. Evin's school is chronic. I was in St. Evin's school and it is impossible to heat. It has a felt roof with chipboard under it. I have a garden shed at home that is built to nearly a better standard. The school is in a 50 year old building. We cannot have any more delays with this project. Monasterevin has suffered years of neglect. I welcome the fact that St. Paul's secondary school is proceeding apace, but the school following the amalgamation of St. Peter's school and St. Evin's school is listed to go to construction this year. We want to ensure that this happens. Will the Minister raise it with his officials to ensure that it is made a real priority? It is hard to understand the situation because there have been decades of false promises and delays.

There have been some delays in the planning process which I would say are beyond the control of the Department or the school. There were some delays and traffic management issues that had to be overcome but the council no doubt feels it has to deal with these planning issues.

Feedback from the council last month was positive and it appears that things are proceeding apace at this stage. I understand a planning application will be lodged within weeks.

I understand most of the outstanding issues have been resolved. I hope, therefore, it will be possible to get builders on site and have the works commence this year.

Securing planning permission and fire and disability access certificates is not within the control of the Department. These matters will have to be addressed before a stage 2B submission is made and the Department must be satisfied with the detailed submission at that point.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.