Priority Questions

Appointments to State Boards

Carol Nolan

Question:

26. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Education and Skills his role in the appointment of the CEO of the Teaching Council. [24780/17]

Given that this has become a contentious issue, what was the Minister's role?

Under the Teaching Council Acts 2001 to 2015, the Teaching Council appoints the director. The legislation requires the council to obtain the consent of the Minister for the procedures the council proposes to apply. In addition, the Ministers for Education and Skills and Public Expenditure and Reform must give their consent to the contractual terms and conditions of the director.

The Teaching Council, in advance of the expiry of the five-year term of office of the director, communicated to my Department in December its intention to reappoint the incumbent director and sought my consent for the procedures it proposed to use to make the appointment. The council later brought to the attention of my Department an issue regarding the contractual arrangements and at one point rescinded its original decision to reappoint the director due to perceived potential contractual difficulties. However, I consented to the procedures and my Department clarified the contractual terms, which provide for a fixed-term contract in the context of the continuation of a secondment arrangement. Following its meeting on 8 May, the council offered a new contract to the director, the terms of which were agreed by my Department with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

The Deputy may wish to note that the reappointment of a chief executive or director of a public body for a second term is consistent with Government policy applying to public bodies generally.

The Minister is aware that the salary of the CEO is believed to be in the region of €120,000. Many newly qualified teachers will find it very difficult to comprehend how such a highly paid role can be automatically renewed without any public competition. Newly qualified teachers are put through a rigorous interview process, so how can this be right? Is it one law for some and another for others?

The Teaching Council has been tasked with the carrying out of important initiatives, such as the implementation of the fitness to teach legislation. It requires the confidence, support and respect of its members. Surely an act like this undermines all of that. The Minister stated that he had given his consent, but does he approve of the automatic reappointment without a public competition?

I should point out that the appointment of the director in 2012 followed a public selection process. This individual was chosen following an open and fair competition process. There was not an automatic reappointment. The board of the Teaching Council decided that it was its preference that this individual would continue to do the work that he was undertaking, and for good reason. The director has undertaken a great deal of reforming work that is in train.

The board's concern related to a legal question as to whether the appointment for a second term would give rise to a contract of indefinite duration, in other words, the individual would become permanent for all time. That issue was required to be resolved. The individual has been appointed for a second term, but that does not contain a commitment to continue his service beyond that term.

It is often the case that when the board of a State body has confidence in a particularly good individual, it will reappoint him or her for fear of losing the individual. That is the situation in this case. The board recommended and we resolved the issue.

The chair of the Teaching Council stood down because he felt that this position should have been open to public competition. Surely to God that is a serious enough issue for the Minister to take into consideration. It is also my understanding that several members of the board wanted the appointment to be open to public competition, yet it was not.

I am not aware of any difficulty in terms of the CEO's performance, but the process that was followed was not fair. It does not seem right that such a process was in place and that someone could be reappointed automatically.

Will the Minister investigate this matter and ensure the position is subject to public competition in future? The chair stepped down and several members of the board expressed concerns about this issue.

I am not privy to the deliberations of the board. It must make up its own mind about any office. The board recommended in December that this individual be reappointed. The concern that was brought to my attention did not relate to the board's wish to have an open competition, but its fear that a legal question would arise whereby an individual who was given a second term could then have an indefinite contract. That was the issue that was sought to be resolved. Following its resolution by my Department using precedent from other circumstances and designing a contract that would protect against that eventuality, the Teaching Council decided in December to proceed with its original decision, namely, to reappoint the director. That was entirely fair and in accordance with proper procedure. It is not a requirement that every time a post comes up, a person in position would be required to enter a fresh competition. This individual was selected by competition in 2012 and the board wished to reappoint him. The issue that needed to be resolved was resolved and the board has confirmed that position.

Apprenticeship Programmes

Thomas Byrne

Question:

25. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will address concerns about the current low rate of creating new apprenticeships and that the targets in the programme for Government will not be met; his views on whether there are significant barriers to creating new apprenticeships; and the steps he will take to address the slow rate of progress. [25041/17]

I apologise to the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for being late. I assumed that I needed to be present at 2.17 p.m., so I was outside.

Graciously accepted.

Tá brón orm. This question goes to the heart of the Minister's apprenticeship strategy and asks if it is just a target or number that has been picked or whether real policy and money are behind it. Apprenticeships are badly needed, so we must open them up more than has been the case to date.

The Deputy has a keen interest in apprenticeships. The programme for Government commits to providing 31,000 apprenticeship places by 2020, and the Action Plan for Education states that we will enrol 50,000 people on apprenticeship and traineeship programmes in the period to 2020. This represents more than a doubling of the 2016 activity.

The Apprenticeship Council is overseeing the expansion of the apprenticeship system into a range of new sectors of the economy. Following its first call for proposals in 2015, the council has been working closely with consortia to develop their proposals into sustainable apprenticeships. Last year, we saw the first of these new programmes with the insurance practitioner apprenticeship, which launched in September, and the industrial electrical engineer apprenticeship, which will get under way in November. Three further new programmes are registering apprentices and will commence in May and June of this year, two in the medical devices area and one in polymer processing. A further ten programmes are expected to get under way later this year in various sectors, including hospitality, financial services and accountancy.

As well as developments in new apprenticeships, registrations in the craft trades are increasing as the employment and economic situation improves. In 2016, there were 3,742 registrations, representing a significant recovery since the crash. The upward trend continues this year, with registrations at the end of April of 1,585, which is almost double the corresponding period in 2014. Registrations in the craft trades are predicted to grow to 5,587 over the period to 2020.

In January, we published the Action Plan to Expand Apprenticeship and Traineeship in Ireland 2016-2020, which sets out a series of detailed actions and annual targets on how the commitments set out in the programme for Government and the Action Plan for Education will be met.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The plan sets out a clear ten-step critical path for the development of an apprenticeship and an overall timeline of 12 to 15 months. One of the key commitments for this year was the issuing of a second call for proposals to refresh the pipeline of proposals already established through the first call. The second call issued earlier this month, and it is now open to industry and education and training providers to submit proposals for new apprenticeship programmes in their sectors. In conjunction with the second call, an information handbook has been produced for consortia that sets out in detail the ten-step critical path for the development of a new apprenticeship and also the key resources available to consortia to support them in the development process. The handbook, along with other supporting material, is available on the new apprenticeship website, www.apprenticeship.ie, which will be a key source of information for apprentices, employers and industry looking at the apprenticeship model as a means of meeting their skill needs.

My Department, its agencies and the Apprenticeship Council are working in close collaboration with the combined aim of delivering these targets. Next month, curricula for five programmes will be considered for validation by Quality and Qualifications Ireland. The Apprenticeship Council continues to work with consortia from the first call on developing their proposals into sustainable apprenticeships. Recently, development funding has been approved for a further four programmes in the areas of retail practice, property services, engineering and ICT. A further ten proposals will shortly submit detailed development plans to the council and, subject to approval, will progress to development. Additional resources have been made available to agencies to support them in the expansion programme.

Arising from the first call, we have five programmes that are operational, 19 programmes that are at various stages of development and a further ten programmes that are about to move to development. Much has been learned in the expansion project and I am confident that we now have a clear process with strong governance to allow for the efficient development and approval of new apprenticeships. This will enable us to develop apprenticeships as an attractive and valued option for school leavers and other learners.

One of the issues that we need to be conscious of is the perception of apprenticeships. They are not yet seen as an alternative to third level for people who might want to do them. Clearly, the new insurance practitioner apprenticeship is an alternative, given that it is a level 8 qualification - a degree, but one done in a different way.

I hope that the Minister of State will support a suggestion of mine. I do not see why he would not and I have referred the suggestion to the Ceann Comhairle. The House of Commons in London has a scheme under which it has developed new apprenticeship programmes, for example, in office administration or even political communications.

I have suggested in a letter to the Ceann Comhairle that the Oireachtas would look at that, and I am grateful to the Ceann Comhairle for referring it to the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. Not only would that help us here in the Oireachtas but it would also change the perception of apprenticeships as it shows it is the sort of education that we in the House would want to have available. It would also send out a wider message to employers. I hope the Minister of State will support this and add his weight to it. I believe it is a good idea. There is already a precedent for this in London and I believe it would definitely open doors for the whole programme, apart from opening doors for people into the Oireachtas.

I thank the Deputy and I would welcome a further meeting with him on that suggestion. I regularly meet companies that are interested in apprenticeships. If we look at the basic apprenticeships we usually would have spoken about, such as for plasterers, bricklayers, carpenters and so on, it is interesting that we are now moving into apprenticeships for industrial electrical engineers, manufacturing technicians, polymer processing manufacturing technicians, engineers up to level 7, OEM technicians, telecoms field technicians, ICT network engineers, HGV drivers and property services apprentices. There is a whole list that runs from commis chef to sous chef, craft butcher, executive chef, accounting technician and so on.

All the time we are looking for ideas and proposals, whether they come from Deputies in the House, whose opinions I value, or from outside bodies that have an interest in creating apprenticeships. The Deputy's proposal is certainly worth considering and I would value a meeting with him, perhaps next week, to discuss it further. If there is merit in it, which there appears to be, having listened to the Deputy, we may very well be able to take it on board.

I would very much welcome that. As I said, the precedent is already there in the House of Commons, so it should be easily transferable. The Oireachtas already has a relationship with DIT, which I believe is being developed separately by the Ceann Comhairle.

I have one query. All the Government's targets for apprenticeships are national targets and they require money. Does the Minister of State believe he will have the money? Can he say that these targets will be met because the funding will be available for them, or is some more radical option needed to try to divert some of the resources from the Higher Education Authority into training and apprenticeships and to move the student bodies around? While I am not proposing that, it is an idea some people have and it is certainly a model of education in other countries in western Europe.

To take the second question, a new funding mechanism is being discussed with employers at present and I will keep the Deputy informed as to how that is progressing. On the first question, there is already a new call out for apprenticeships and perhaps the valuable proposal the Deputy makes will come into that. Given the previous position of apprenticeships, which had reduced in number to approximately 3,670, there has been phenomenal development across the spectrum in the past two to three years. As to whether we will reach the target and whether the money is available, as I said, a call is out. We have seen the value of investing in apprenticeships and the take-up has been phenomenal. There is no reason we would not want that to continue.

Third Level Fees

Thomas Byrne

Question:

27. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Skills if his attention has been drawn to the treatment of pharmacy students in Trinity College, Dublin, UCD and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, RCSI, whose degree has been changed in order that they now have to pay masters degree level fees for their final year tuition and are having to undergo an unpaid placement rather than a paid placement in their final year; if he was consulted regarding this change; his views on whether it should be permissible; and his further views on engaging with the presidents of these institutions to reverse these unfair changes. [25042/17]

This is a question that has arisen in regard to pharmacy students and it is also an issue of concern for the wider system. Degrees have been changed so that the student is not just doing a primary degree to qualify as a pharmacist but, effectively, has to do the final year as a master's degree. While it is laudable that people are as highly qualified as possible, what was previously done as part of a primary degree is now being done as part of a masters degree and there are fees associated with that. The worry is that this is a way of generating extra income for the universities because of the severe crisis in third level funding.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue, which is a perfectly valid one. The education and training of pharmacists to first registration is specified in EU legislation, at Article 44 of Directive 2005/36/EC, and consists of a five-year education and training programme which must include a minimum of six months' practical training under the supervision of a pharmacist. In Ireland, the Pharmacy Act 2007 conferred responsibility on the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland, the pharmacy regulator, with respect to pharmacy education and training. The Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland is an independent statutory body and is responsible for defining and ensuring the standards of education and training for pharmacists qualifying in Ireland. This includes developing standards and policies and carrying out accreditation of pharmacy degree programmes.

The changes in the degree programme structure arise from the recommendations of the pharmacy education and accreditation reviews project, and implementation has been overseen by the National Forum for Pharmacy Education and Accreditation, which includes representatives of the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland, the Department of Health, the Higher Education Authority, community, hospital and industry pharmacists, and patient, student and international expertise.

The Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland rules were signed by the Minister for Health in 2014. These rules underpin the implementation of the new five-year fully integrated masters degree programme in pharmacy, which evolved from significant review of the previous training pathway and international best practice assessment in this area. They also give effect to new accreditation standards that were developed by the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland and place the core competency framework for pharmacists on a statutory footing. In that context, it would not be appropriate for me to intervene in the changes to the pharmacy programmes.

Far be it from me to intervene in any way with pharmacy programmes, but the fact is a pharmacy degree was always five years, or it was when I was at college, and those who were studying it had to stay on longer than other students. The worry is that this and other examples are being used as a back door way of getting more money into the system. It is a severe worry because there is a severe shortage of money in the sector, although there are others who beg to differ and we look forward to watching RTE's "Prime Time Investigates" tomorrow night.

This is certainly a way to get more money into the system and that is one objective. However, is it acceptable to do that? The five-year requirement in the European directive was already being complied with. It is not as if there is an extra year. It was always five years, or it certainly was at Trinity College. Now, however, part of that is a masters year. Is it an unsanctioned fee increase through the back door? That is the question pharmacy students are asking us. It is simply adding to the cost and the debt burden they have and, most worryingly, it may be putting people off going into pharmacy who are from backgrounds where they are turned off by the cost. That is wrong and our education system should not be about that.

As the original reply explained, this was put together by a group which looked at international best practice and decided that the new programme structure should be different. It has set out dispersed shadow placement in year two and a practice-based approach in years three, four and five, rather than a focus on the final year. These are designed to be workplace-based learning experiences overseen by education providers through the mechanism of shared service facilities, the affiliation of pharmacy practice and experiential learning. This is based on an assessment of what is best practice in training and developing qualified pharmacists by those who are best placed to deal with the issue.

When the Deputy raised the question, I was surprised that, because of the limit of four years for free fees for the undergraduate piece, this five-year programme automatically resulted in a masters year. However, it was not put together as an income earning mechanism but was put together in good faith by those who were regulating the sector. I will ask my officials to look at the model whereby this particular type of qualification requires someone in their final year to pay fees. It would obviously raise wider issues in terms of student support and so on. I will ask my officials to examine it in view of the concern the Deputy has raised.

There should be a wide-scale review of professional qualifications. I know there are a small minority of teaching qualifications where one can qualify as part of the primary degree, and the student both studies the subject and does the teacher training at the same time. Most students traditionally did a higher diploma in education, although a masters degree is now required. While it is great that our young professionals are very highly educated, the truth is that this is adding massively to the cost of their education at a time when their wages are likely to be lower than the wages their predecessors could earn when they graduated. It is something we need to be conscious of because we are putting many burdens on the young people of this country and certain sectors are perhaps not willing to share the burden. We need to be careful. This is part of a wider debate on fees, student loans and so on, and we need to watch what burdens we are putting on young people. In my view, we are adding a heavy burden and it is certainly worth looking at again.

I take the Deputy's point. However, we feel we need to have professional regulatory bodies looking at the standards that we all reach - the Teaching Council in the case of education and, obviously, this pharmaceutical body in the case of pharmacists. When we get a recommendation from people in whose competence we place faith, we have to take that seriously. I understand that there is this unintended consequence for people participating, but that is something we need to consider rather than saying that we try to dilute what is thought to be best practice in these areas. We need to ensure that we are up to world practice.

DEIS Status

Mattie McGrath

Question:

28. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Skills the status of the assessment methodology in respect of all schools applying for DEIS status; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24778/17]

I wish to ask the Minister for Education and Skills the status of the assessment methodology relating to all schools applying for DEIS status.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter.

Schools are not required to apply for inclusion in DEIS.

The new DEIS identification process uses centrally-held data available to my Department to independently assess all schools in the country.

The DEIS identification process uses data supplied by schools to my Department's primary and post-primary online databases and Central Statistics Office, CSO, small area of population statistics from the national census of population as represented by the Pobal HP deprivation index. Variables used in the compilation of the HP index include those related to demographic growth, dependency ratios, education levels of parents, single parent rate, overcrowding, social class, occupation and unemployment rates. These data are applied uniformly to all schools in a fair and objective way to identify the relative level of concentrated disadvantage present in each school.

An update of the DEIS identification process will take place later this year using 2016-2017 school data combined with small-area statistics based on the 2016 national census.

A communication for issue to all schools is currently being prepared. This will provide information on the identification model, with details of how the datasets are used to determine a school's level of disadvantage, the importance of data quality to the process and the need for schools to provide detailed and up-to-date school information to my Department.

It is important to note that the fact that a school has not been included in the DEIS programme on this occasion does not preclude its inclusion at a later date, should its level of disadvantage warrant the allocation of additional resources.

Ongoing development work provided for in the DEIS plan 2017 includes consideration of a more tailored system of resource allocation, where levels of disadvantage identified and resources allocated match the identified needs of individual schools.

I do not accept any of that. The Minister spoke about fairness; there is no element of fairness. I called on the Minister to conduct an immediate review of the criteria under which schools are assessed for inclusion in DEIS. I spoke after five schools in Tipperary town along with the Holy Trinity school in Fethard were ruled out. The Minister said that there would be another scheme, but we have waited too long for this scheme to come. The fact that there is no application or appeal process is a farce. There must be some guidelines in that area. We know the benefit. The Minister has named the criteria and the schools in Tipperary town meet all of them. The five schools came together, thinking they were doing the right thing, to make a joint approach not to discriminate one from the others and the whole lot were left out without any explanation.

The Minister's recent announcement is the clearest indication yet that the criteria used to select schools for DEIS status are bordering on useless and the Department of Education and Skills itself has acknowledged this. There is something very serious here. The fact that there is no application process means they are left in limbo. Will we have to wait another eight years for another review? There is no clarity in respect of this matter.

I assure the Deputy that this system was introduced following a careful review. A very detailed analysis of this was done before this system was introduced. The indicators that are being used, demographic growth, dependency ratios, education levels, single parent rate, overcrowding, social class, occupation and unemployment rates, are found to be very closely associated with educational disadvantage, which is why they were chosen. They are also the objective criteria used by the CSO in drawing up the HP deprivation index. This is a selection based on a robust analysis of how to identify schools with high concentrations of disadvantage. They have been applied uniformly in all cases.

I would be the first to acknowledge that many schools did not qualify on this occasion. Only 79 schools qualified for an uplift on this occasion and 30 had their status changed, giving 109 in total. That is out of 4,000 schools whose status we could change on this occasion. It would be my ambition over time to extend this. As I said in the reply, we are now reviewing all the schools using the new census data so that schools that might have seen a deterioration or a greater indication of deprivation will be reviewed later this year. Through that review process we continually look at schools and assess their need for support in this way.

I do not accept that. In Fethard the Holy Trinity national school has been left out. However, in the same town with the same demographics and other indicators the Minister mentioned, the secondary school has it. The feeder school with the young children does not. Therefore, that does not stand up. The five schools in Tipperary town came together. On all the indicators the Minister mentioned, unemployment, social class, single parent rate, Traveller children - you name it - we ticked all the boxes and yet the whole lot of them were totally excluded. I do not want to do down Tipperary town because it has very spirited people and great community activity. However, it has no industry and very few services. Successive Governments have forgotten about it. We clearly made a very passionate case.

How is the Minister saying this will continually be reviewed? How will the five schools in Tipperary town participate in that review? If there is no application process, how can they engage with the Department? Any Department inspector who might come in there to carry out a review would accept that the schools are doing a good job under the circumstances, but they badly need DEIS status. The same applies in Fethard where the secondary school has it and the only primary school in the town does not. Something is clearly rotten with that system. It is not functioning.

I do not accept that at all. The reality is that 2% of schools were selected for DEIS categorisation, meaning that 98% were not selected. Deputies can always point to some school in that 98% that could represent disadvantage and I have no doubt that they do so in good faith. Only 2% of schools were uplifted, but these were selected on the highest level of disadvantage based on the objective criteria I read out earlier. This was not a phoney operation; it was done very objectively-----

It is all flawed.

-----against the criteria we are advised are best associated with education disadvantage.

The process looks at every pupil enrolled in each school. It goes right back to the origin of where they are living. It uses the indicators of disadvantage in those specific small areas to aggregate a picture of the level of concentrated disadvantage in the school. This is absolutely looking at the individual circumstances of each school. Every child is looked at under this review. Therefore, it is a fair and objective system.

Autism Support Services

Róisín Shortall

Question:

29. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Education and Skills his views on the adequacy of the current provision of autism spectrum disorder, ASD, places at both primary and secondary level; the steps he is taking to ensure provision is adequate to meet demand; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25048/17]

Is the provision of special classes for those with ASD adequate in view of the fact that there are 889 ASD special classes, 525 of which are at primary level, but only 237 at post primary? I would be interested in the Minister's views on the adequacy of that provision at secondary level in particular.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter, which is of concern to many Members.

Almost 18,000 students in schools have been diagnosed with autism. My Department invests over €300 million annually in providing additional resources specifically to support students with autism in schools, enabling 63% of students to attend mainstream schools, 26% to attend special classes in mainstream primary and post-primary schools and 11% to attend special schools.

Enrolment in an ASD special class is only considered where it has been demonstrated that a student requires the support of a special class because he or she is unable to learn effectively in a mainstream class for most or all of the school day, even with appropriate supports.

Students enrolling in ASD special classes must have a report from a relevant professional or team of professionals, including, for example, a psychologist, a speech and language therapist or a psychiatrist, stating that the child has autism and has significant learning needs that require the support of a special class setting. The report should also set out the reasons this is the case.

The National Council for Special Education, NCSE, is responsible for establishing special classes to meet the needs of this cohort of students.

The NCSE has informed my Department that, in general, it is satisfied that there are sufficient ASD special class placements to meet demand.

Since 2012 the NCSE has increased the number of ASD special classes by more than 100% from 413 in 2012 to 888 currently.

The NCSE has informed my Department that it intends to establish an additional 162 ASD special classes for the 2017-18 school year which will bring the total number available across the country to 1,050.

I am not sure the Minister replied to the question I asked. I acknowledge that there has been a significant increase in the number of ASD special classes since 2011 but the ratio of primary to secondary has remained fairly constant. We know that when children transfer from primary to secondary school it can be quite a traumatic time as it is a difficult transition for many students to make. In the case of students on the autism spectrum, it is all the harder for them, and if students are moving from a special class in primary school to a mainstream class in secondary school it is hugely challenging. They are moving from a situation where there is a 6:1 ratio at primary level to perhaps 20:1 or greater than that at secondary level. There is a real mismatch between primary and secondary and for that reason will the Minister insist on the provision of additional classes at secondary level so that students can make that transition?

The NCSE is the body that advises me. I do not make the decision as to whether a special class is needed. The figures show that the number of ASD units is growing more rapidly at second level than at primary level, albeit as the Deputy said there are more units at primary level at present. There will be 281 units this coming September at second level. It is the NCSE that advises on the issue. I am told by it that in general it is satisfied that there are sufficient ASD special class placements to meet demand. As the Deputy is aware, the NCSE has published a review of policy in relation to autism generally and it has drawn attention to practice at second level, which needs to be followed. It is the advice of the NCSE that informs the choices that are made each year as to where and when ASD units are opened.

It just does not add up. On the one hand the Minister is saying there is sufficient provision but on the other hand he is saying there will be an 18% increase next year. Either there is sufficient provision or there is not. It is quite clear that there is not at the moment. While SENOs make recommendations, unfortunately, second level schools are not required to open ASD special classes. It is a voluntary arrangement. The Minister must tackle that problem because, for example, in Cork in the past two years every single secondary school was asked if it would consider opening an ASD special class and all bar one refused to do that. There a need to have some kind of system in place that requires second level schools to open special classes. It cannot be left as a voluntary arrangement because it is clear that students are then left with a situation where the provision is not adequate. Will the Minister consider taking a new approach to the issue?

It is very important to say the NCSE has been given the authority, because it is composed of the experts in this field, to decide what is best practice for the pupils involved. It reports that there is a good and improving range of placement options, including appropriate settings both at preschool, primary and second level. The NCSE is looking at the need to evolve each year. As the Deputy correctly said, it has recommended this year that 169 additional special classes would be provided. Relatively speaking, one is seeing stability in the mainstream in that approximately 63% remain in mainstream classes but more children are being accommodated in special classes, which in previous times might have been in special schools. The NCSE is seeing the evolution of a changed education environment and that is to be welcomed but it is for it to advise me not for me to decide that the solution is one thing or another. The NCSE has the experts in the field.

Deputy Shortall raised another issue as to whether the Dáil should consider giving the NCSE additional legislative authority. I am certainly open to considering that and it is an issue other Deputies have raised in the House, but that will have to be discussed at committee because there are issues around compulsion and the model has been based on working with schools. Sometimes schools say they do not have the infrastructure or this or that and the NCSE works with them to resolve those issues. We need to thrash that out at committee and I am happy to do so.