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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 1 Feb 2018

Vol. 964 No. 6

Other Questions

Schools Building Projects Status

Maureen O'Sullivan


6. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Education and Skills the status of the completion of a school (details supplied); when he expects works will be completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4885/18]

This is a follow-up question to a question I put down in October on plans for a new school building and a realistic timeframe for the completion of that building.

The school referred to by the Deputy is an all-Irish national school serving the heart of Dublin city which is currently located in rented accommodation in Parnell Square. Current enrolment stands at 202 pupils with a current staffing of one principal plus eight mainstream teaching posts and three special education support teachers. The site for the school is quite restricted and is bounded by Dominick Street Lower to the front, Dominick Place to the rear and No. 20 Dominick Street to the north which is a protected structure.

The original design brief for this project was for an eight-classroom primary school and a team to design this project was appointed by open competition in December 2012. However, due to increasing enrolments, the brief increased to a 16-classroom school. The project has been designed up to stage 2A - developed design - as an eight-classroom primary school by this design team with a design indication option of how a 16-classroom school could be fitted into this restrictive site. In April of last year, the services of this design team were terminated by mutual agreement and it became necessary to commence the tender process to appoint a new design team to complete fully a stage 2A, developed-design report for the 16-classroom school. This process is nearing completion, letters of intent have issued to each of the disciplines and once final documentation checks are completed in full, my Department will be in further contact with the school authorities to advise them as to the next steps in the process. The progression of this project through architectural planning and into construction will be dealt with as part of my Department's schools building programme 2016 to 2021.

I attended with others a public AGM of the parents in October which led to my first question to the Minister at that time. The Minister set out those details then. I acknowledge the work the school and the Department have done. The patron, trustees, board of management, parents' council and teachers have done a great deal of extra work to progress the project since the decision was taken to double the size of the school. As to the design, will there be enough open space for the children given the restricted site? Are we clear on that given the importance of an open playing space for children? Can the Minister provide a realistic timeframe going forward? That is what I really want to get today. The school has been in temporary accommodation for 14 years. Does the Minister have any idea of when the tendering process will be completed and the next stage will commence?

On timing, the letters of intent issued to the apparently successful tenders on 12 December 2017, which is a relatively recent date. It is not possible for me to forecast when various stages will complete. As the Deputy said, this started as a plan for an eight-teacher school, but that changed. Changes of that nature are beyond my capacity to predict and it would be very hazardous for me to suggest a completion date. The Department will work with the school and the design team. As to the open space, I have no information. I presume the design team has worked with the school to ensure its needs are met, but I do not have information on the detailed brief that has been drawn up.

I cannot but be struck in the constituency I represent, by the speed and urgency with which third-level student accommodation is going up while here we have a school which has been in temporary accommodation for 14 years. The Department provides a grant towards that temporary accommodation for the school every year and one must think about what that money could be used to achieve if the school moved to a permanent site. I ask the Minister to ensure this stays on the agenda and for real progress for teachers and pupils in 2018. As it stands, they are in unsuitable accommodation which is unfair to the staff and the children and is costing the Department money.

This will be dealt with as speedily as possible within my Department. It is, of course, necessary to use temporary accommodation at times. In an ideal world we would not be doing it, but schools grow at different paces and one has to be flexible. Temporary accommodation is a necessary way to deliver a consistent programme over time, but I take the Deputy's point and hopefully we can make good progress on the project.

Schools Site Acquisitions

Alan Farrell


7. Deputy Alan Farrell asked the Minister for Education and Skills the status of the provision of sites for buildings for non-denominational schools in south Fingal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4655/18]

My question relates primarily to the provision of school sites in the southern part of Fingal where there was a designation for a primary and secondary non-denominational school as far back as four years ago. Unfortunately, the primary school is operating in a temporary location while the secondary school which was supposed to open last September has no site at all, let alone a temporary one. On behalf of my constituency, I ask for information as to where we are in this process.

My Department has been seeking to acquire suitable permanent sites in the area for some time. In accordance with the memorandum of understanding, my Department continues to work with officials in Fingal County Council to identify and acquire school sites and this process is ongoing. A new site has recently been procured in Mooretown, Swords, and a building project is planned which will provide permanent accommodation for Swords Community College in due course. I am not in a position to provide further details at this time in respect of the schools in Malahide-Portmarnock due to the commercial sensitivities associated with land acquisitions generally. I can, however, assure the Deputy that the provision of sites for schools is a priority for the Department. My Department is in communication with the respective patron bodies in respect of interim accommodation arrangements pending delivery of permanent accommodation.

The Educate Together national school for Malahide-Portmarnock is currently operating 4.5 km from both communities. While that might not seem too far if one is outside Dublin, it is a very significant distance in an urban environment, in particular given traffic on the Malahide Road. It is also accommodated in an unsuitable facility which is in effect a former third-level agricultural college. We are expending considerable moneys to facilitate the school there. The difficulty is that there is considerable demand for that particular school which is growing at a significant rate. However, it is growing in the wrong community and it is not serving the community for which it was designated.

The secondary school has a school principal but no school building. It was supposed to open last year. While I appreciate the sensitivities around land acquisition, the Mooretown site was identified by myself and other councillors over a decade ago, but we are no further along the road of identifying a site that can be acquired in the Malahide-Portmarnock community area. I appreciate that the Department has particular budgetary constraints but if we designate an area for a non-denominational school, we have to back it up with the purchase of a site. I cannot understand how we are no further along three years later with the secondary school delayed and no site for the primary school.

I understand the Deputy's difficulty with this. The Malahide-Portmarnock Educate Together primary school has six classes accommodated in the Teagasc building in Kinsealy.

There was an evaluation of sites but they ultimately proved unviable. A potential permanent site has been identified and is being progressed in respect of the secondary school. In both cases the Department must work with others to bring the project ashore. That is what is being done. It is working with Fingal and the interests concerned to try to meet this demand. It is a difficult area, and this is something we are finding in the city area where potential sites are scarce and difficult to come by but the Department is actively working on the procurement of sites for the two schools.

I do not want to seem as though I am being very critical. I commend the work and the commitment that is there but according to the Central Statistics Office, CSO, we have significant growth in the two communities and the demand for schooling places is now critical in Malahide and Portmarnock, especially at second level. There is a commitment to deliver a new school for Portmarnock by way of a new school building for Portmarnock community school but that commitment must be delivered on now. We identified Malahide-Portmarnock as requiring a non-denominational school. The Department of Education and Skills did that identification. That process began in 2012 and now, in 2018, we still do not have a site. I welcome the fact that the school is operational. We have a significant difficulty with secondary education. I want to float an idea-----

I will do so very quickly. We have two Educate Together schools designated for the general community. Should they not share a site? Were we to co-locate both schools, it would save taxpayers a considerable sum and would offer great opportunities for the Educate Together patron body to get a foothold in the Portmarnock and Malahide area where there is great demand.

The Department works with the patron body and keeps it informed of everything it seeks to do in these areas. I understand that separate sites are identified for these two schools that are being progressed and I shudder to suggest that we should scrap the progress that has been made and come up with another approach. I fear that would delay the project. I do not have the detailed knowledge of the issues being negotiated for the very reason that they are commercially sensitive and are being negotiated with the individuals. My knowledge is that two sites are being progressed and the Department is working in good faith to bring those to conclusion. I will not suggest that we pull back on what is in progress unless the patron body makes a clear case to the Department that it would improve delivery. I appreciate the Deputy's suggestion but I am not going to endorse it.

It is not the first time I have raised it.

Teacher Secondment

Maureen O'Sullivan


8. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Education and Skills the aims of his directive to curtail career breaks due to a shortage of teachers; his views on whether this is an appropriate step to tackle the shortage; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4884/18]

My question relates to the need for a directive to schools regarding career breaks due to the shortage of substitute teachers to fill in for those who are on career break.

In the past two years I have successfully hired 5,000 extra teachers. We are hiring more teachers than at any other time in the State's history. As the Deputy has indicated, issues have arisen. The provisions of the career break scheme are set out in chapter eight, Terms and Conditions of Employment for Registered Teachers in Recognised Primary and Post Primary Schools, which is published on my Department’s website. A career break is period of special leave and the main objectives of this scheme is for employers, wherever possible, to facilitate applicants in the areas of personal development, voluntary service overseas, to accompany a spouse or partner on a diplomatic or military posting, for education, public representation, child care or dependent care, and self-employment.

In response to reported difficulties by schools with regard to recruiting substitute teachers, my Department issued notification on 26 January that it was suspending the restrictions regarding substitution limits for those on a career break for the current school year. Prior to this decision the limits were 90 days in primary schools and 300 hours in post-primary schools. The notification also reminded employers that “in considering applications for career breaks, the welfare and educational needs of the pupils shall take precedence over all other considerations and accordingly, must take account of the availability of appropriate qualified replacement teachers". I understand from representations received that suspending the restrictions as outlined will provide immediate assistance to some schools finding it difficult to recruit qualified substitute teachers.

I thank the Minister for that very clear statement. I have spoken to him about this on foot of my experience as chair of a board of management and it is a situation which other schools are also facing. Boards are in a difficult position. They want to be flexible with teachers who come to the board seeking a career break but it has been extremely difficult. Today is the deadline for applications for this year. I know that there will be boards which will dread that first meeting in February where these decisions will have to be made. What the Minister has said here is very clear. Time will tell if suspending those restrictions will have the effect that the Minister says it will have. There are so many demands on boards of management, which are voluntary. This directive and the Minister's input could be very helpful in resolving the inordinate number of career break requests that some schools are getting.

The context of the career break scheme is clear. Its purposes are set out in the answer I just gave. The scheme is not for purposes such as switching career. The obligation is on the board of management to decide on the matter. I am happy to leave the arrangement where it is, namely, with the decision made at local level, but the boards must bear in mind the needs of the children and the boards' capacity to replace the teacher.

On the wider issue of the problem regarding substitution, people on career break can be part of a solution. There are also significant number, in fact a majority, of teachers who are retiring under the age of 60 years. If they remain registered, they can provide substitution hours. Student teachers in their final year of study can be considered for substitution. We are looking at all sources of supply. I have established a teaching supply group to monitor other possible actions.

The difficulty in schools, particularly primary schools, has been driven by pay inequality, which the Minister says he is addressing, as well as the cost of housing and accommodation, especially in Dublin. That has also been driving the request for career breaks.

On the Teaching Council and registration, I know of teachers who retired under the age of 60 years whose registration with the Teaching Council lapsed, or in some cases they may not have thought they would return to the classroom. The Teaching Council could be encouraged to speed up the process, particularly in the cases of teachers who have been registered in the past but let it lapse because they did not think they would come back to teaching but now there is a need for them to return.

I assure the Deputy that the Teaching Council will be involved in this group. The difficulty with the question of career break is that if someone has a permanent post and they leave, it can only be filled with a temporary post, which is less attractive for the school and the teacher. Career breaks need to be thought out by the school for that reason.

I acknowledge there are pressures in housing and so on, but we are trying to manage this. The difficulty arises in part because we are recruiting such a high number of posts. We are recruiting 5,000 teachers in two years, which is a significant rate of recruitment. It might have been the case that there were more teachers who were interested in part-time posts who now have access to full-time posts. That also changes the environment. There are several issues that must be monitored. I am also making changes in initial education to try to improve the supply.

School Transport Eligibility

Brendan Smith


9. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans to improve the criteria for school transport eligibility commencing for the 2018-19 school year in view of the difficulties that have arisen in recent years, particularly for some families in the more rural and isolated areas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4886/18]

Through parliamentary questions and in a Topical Issue debate, I have raised the problems that have arisen due to the change in the criteria for school transport, especially since 2014.

There have been instances in which younger children who were about to start secondary school were not able to avail of the transport services their older siblings had availed of. This has created serious difficulties for many families. This is a particular issue in more remote parts of rural Ireland. I would like further consideration to be given to the overall transport scheme. An effort should be made to ameliorate the criteria to ensure families do not encounter additional costs and difficulties in gaining the easiest possible access to their local post-primary school centres.

The Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, on whose behalf I am answering this question, has been very open with Deputies. He has met Deputies who have suggestions and concerns. I suppose I need to outline the position. It is a significant operation. It is managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department. Some 115,000 children, including almost 12,000 children with special educational needs, are transported in 4,500 vehicles to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country each day. These vehicles cover approximately 100 million km each year. This service was provided at a total cost of almost €190 million in 2017. The purpose of the Department's school transport scheme is, having regard to available resources, to support the transport to and from school of children who reside remote from their nearest school. Children are generally eligible for school transport if they satisfy the distance criteria and are attending their nearest school. I think the relevant distance at primary level is 3.2 km and at secondary level is 4.8 km. It is important to note that all eligible children are accommodated under the terms of the scheme.

Arising from commitments in the programme for Government, a review of the concessionary charges and rules element of the school transport scheme has been undertaken. The review, which was published in December 2016, made recommendations on the charges and the rules elements of the concessionary school transport scheme. The recommended course of action in respect of the charges for concessionary school transport was to continue with the current policy of imposing charges in respect of those in receipt of concessionary places. The Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, agreed with this recommendation on the basis that those applying for concessionary transport are making a conscious decision to do so, understand that they are not eligible for school transport and understand the implications of this choice at the time of application. The report also recommended that the number of concessionary places should be reduced in line with the rules introduced in 2012 on a phased basis. Previous plans to advance this option were put on hold, pending the completion of the review. After considering the review and discussing the matter with the cross-party working group which was established to feed into the review, the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, decided there should be no planned programme of downsizing in the coming years, other than in line with normal operational decisions under the current scheme. The terms of the school transport scheme are applied equitably on a national basis.

I thank the Minister for his reply. The Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, has been very forthcoming and receptive to meetings with all of us. He indicated in response to a Topical Issue I raised in this Chamber that a small amount of additional money would enable him to provide a better service to many people. The Minister has quite rightly pointed out that significant resources are invested in the school transport scheme, which is particularly important in rural Ireland. We can talk about introducing various schemes with the aim of regenerating rural Ireland, but if we do not have a satisfactory school transport scheme there will be a substantial deficit in rural Ireland. Everyone who has the privilege of representing a rural constituency - my colleagues, Deputies Niall Collins and Eugene Murphy, represent constituencies that are much like my constituency - knows that many families decide to set up homes in rural parishes on the basis of access to schools and availability of transport to primary and secondary schools. I appreciate that there will always be difficulties in any overall general scheme that is based on boundaries. There needs to be some flexibility in decision-making at local level. As we all know, changes in the old catchment areas that were assigned to schools that closed in the past can mean that rural communities fall into different towns or villages. In cases in which older siblings went to certain post-primary centres, flexibility is needed to ensure younger siblings are not denied the transport services that were available to other family members. If those services are not available, it will impose an additional cost burden on families.

Every Minister of State and every Deputy has grappled with this difficulty. If we want the rules to apply nationally on an equitable and fair basis, we need to ensure they apply in every community. The rules cannot differ from one community to another. The Deputy is looking for a different rule to apply in his area because of its special circumstances. The problem is that a scheme cannot be run on that basis. We have rules and criteria relating to the distance from the school and the question of whether it is the nearest school. Children have been accommodated in circumstances in which there were places on local buses. They were always accommodated on the basis that it was not being done as of right. The Deputy is suggesting that we should create a right for such children. That would be an entirely new rule and it would have to be applied everywhere. Many better brains than my brain have tried to grapple with what the Deputy is saying, but they have not been able to move away from the sort of rules-based approach that guarantees equity to every community.

I am not suggesting the Minister set out to do so, but he has not accurately represented what I said. I said that additional costs should not be imposed on a family that has had a traditional pattern of attendance at a post-primary centre in the event that the level of school transport service that was made available to older siblings in that family is denied to a younger sibling who is about to enter secondary school. In recent years, the use of Google maps when people have been applying for school transport online has resulted in distances being measured using roads that are not capable of carrying motor cars or school transport buses. It is that context that I am talking about local flexibility and local knowledge. I fully appreciate that a scheme cannot be designed to suit every family. We should have flexibility. Past patterns of attendance should be taken into account. That washes out of the system anyway as the years go on. By and large, all the difficulties being encountered by specific families, with which all of us have dealt, will be ironed out within a few years. I remind the Minister that many of the costs associated with the concessionary transport scheme are being met by families that are under financial pressure.

I understand that Deputy Durkan wants to make a brief comment.

I can empathise with Deputy Smith's dilemma. I ask the Minister to consider the point that a little modern imagination should be used when the rules are being defined at local level. It has been shown that it is possible for this to be done without breaching the national rules. As Deputy Smith has said, a precise measurement can sometimes be achieved by satellite but, depending on the circumstances, this is sometimes not possible. I would like this to be looked at along the lines mentioned by Deputy Smith. Such an approach would be beneficial in reaching a solution that removes much of the angst in a local area without any breaching of rules.

If there is a mysterious solution that can work within the rules without changing the rules, while nonetheless achieving a different outcome, I am sure it is a wonderful scheme.

I do not know what it is.

The Minister needs to give a commitment and put it to the test.

The basic problem is that we have €190 million to spend at a time when the number of concessionary pupils is growing substantially. It has doubled to 27,000 in the last four years. The core number of eligible pupils who always get their transport delivered is 77,000. As I understand it, the problem that has arisen is that some people who have been receiving concessionary transport feel that they and their siblings should have an entitlement on the basis that a pattern has been established. That is where problems arise. I can understand exactly what the Deputies are saying. I have not seen a solution that involves allocating the existing budget of €190 million in a different way that is seen to be fair to all communities and treats all communities in an equitable way. The Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, has grappled with this difficulty, as others did before him. I do not have a solution I can offer to the Deputies. The Minister of State is always open to considering suggestions and evaluating them with the officials concerned.

We have to grapple with the question of modern information over modern technology.

Local knowledge is important. It might be better than any Internet.

Tá an Teachta as láthair le haghaidh Ceist Uimh. 10 ag an am seo, so we will move on to Question No. 11.

Question No. 10 replied to with Written Answers.

School Curriculum

Ruth Coppinger


11. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans to implement the recommendation of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution regarding the provision of factual sex education independent of school ethos; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4899/18]

I want to ask the Minister about his plans to implement the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution's recommendation that sex education should be provided in "a factual manner that is independent of school ethos". Is the sex education programme in schools being reviewed?

Does the Minister have any idea of how many schools are teaching sex education and how many are not?

The report of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution included an ancillary recommendation that a thorough review of sexual health and relationships education be carried out. The Department of Health has established an intra-departmental group, chaired by the chief medical officer, to address the ancillary recommendations of the joint committee. Officials from my Department and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs will engage with the Department of Health on this ancillary recommendation.

Access to sexual health and relationships education is an important right for students. Schools have a responsibility to provide for it, in consultation with parents, having regard to the ethos of the school. However, it is important to note that the ethos of the school must not preclude learners from acquiring the knowledge set out in the curriculum. Social, personal and health education, SPHE, which includes relationships and sexuality education, RSE, is a mandatory curriculum subject in all primary schools and the junior cycle. RSE is required at all levels, from primary through to senior cycle. My Department has set out the content of each of the programmes in the SPHE and RSE syllabuses and guidelines.

It is envisaged that the SPHE curriculum at primary level will undergo a review by the NCCA as part of the ongoing review of the curriculum. A review of the curriculum at senior cycle is also under way and the SPHE programme at that level will be considered. The reviews will include the views of all of the education partners, recent research outcomes, societal and cultural changes, and existing policies and teaching materials. SPHE and RSE form integral parts of the new well-being area of learning at junior cycle.

The joint committee asked for a review, for time to be provided in the school curriculum and for suitably qualified individuals to teach it so as not to have the history or geography teacher going in embarrassed to a room full of teenagers. My key concern is about impartiality and the provision of factual information. The religious ethos of the majority of schools is preventing young people from receiving vital information that will allow them to make choices in life. There seem to be more laws to protect the rights of the institution over those of the young person. I sent a question to the Minister on 18 January on RSE being delivered by Accord, a Catholic organisation that does not, for example, deal with same-sex couples in marriage counselling services, despite the outcome of a massive referendum. Its representatives are going into hundreds of schools, including ETB schools which do not have a Catholic ethos; therefore, young people who are LGBT are not receiving what should be reflected in their lives.

On the issue of supporting teachers to provide this education, the Professional Development Service for Teachers, PDST, provides training to ensure schools and teachers can deliver it. In 2017 it provided contextualised school-based supports for 3,084 primary and 2,100 post-primary teachers. There is investment by the Department to make sure the teachers who deliver the programme have the skills to do so. That was just one year of the programme's activities. As I emphasised in my initial reply, there are no options in the delivery of the programme. Schools cannot opt out of certain parts of the sexuality education programme being delivered.

With regard to the use of outside organisations, there are very clear guidelines from the Department which are included in circulars to primary and post-primary schools. They state that where an outside speaker is engaged by a school, he or she should be engaged in the context of delivering a planned and comprehensive programme in the school, that he and or she should not be brought in to replace the school programme but to enhance it, that it is the responsibility of the school to ensure outside speakers are aware of the school policy and that the full content of the curriculum is delivered. It is not envisaged that outside providers will deliver the core curriculum in this area, although they can be a supplement to it.

There is outsourcing. In 2016 Accord delivered courses in 53 secondary schools and all 347 Catholic primary schools in Dublin. ETB schools also avail of its services. In response to a related question I sent to the Minister yesterday, he stated he would review the funding of the Meitheal and Ember programmes because even though they were not in the area of RSE, they were related to student self-esteem and development. The programmes have been receiving an endowment from the State, even though they are denominational and only deal with young people who are Catholic. We also find that boys' schools do not provide sex education as much as girls' schools. Girls are meant to be the gatekeepers when it comes to sexuality. There is an ethos which is based on waiting until the time is right; it is not an all-encompassing view of sexuality but tends to be about watching out for this and not doing it. There is a clear link between quality sex education and lower levels of crisis pregnancies. Surely that is something in which there should be an interest in developing.

The committee drew attention to a number of concerns on the points the Deputy has made. It expressed concerns about the period during which the programme was delivered and the fact that it could be delivered as part of religious education. As the Department has made clear, schools do not have the option of not delivering the full curriculum. The Deputy and the committee are right - we need to have a look at the programme and that is what the committee will do. It made the comment that many teachers were not comfortable teaching RSE and that, therefore, it was left to a minority of teachers or outsourced to an agency. Clearly, this needs to be looked at. As I stated, agencies cannot be used to provide the entire programme. While agencies can deliver part of it, the school must have a comprehensive programme to deliver it. Of course, the inspectorate will have to be satisfied that that is the case. These are important points, points the group will examine and that we will take seriously. I wanted to give the Deputy the background to the existing policies and what supports were available for schools to ensure the programme was delivered properly.

Four Members have been waiting for their questions to be answered. If everyone co-operates, we will create a record by having them answered. I, therefore, ask Deputies to keep their introductions as brief as possible.

Schools Building Projects

Pat the Cope Gallagher


12. Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans for sanctioning a new school (details supplied); the timeframe for the delivery of this project; if his attention has been drawn to the need for this new school building owing to the overcrowding and health and safety issues at the school which is located in a church car park; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4662/18]

This question relates to St. Mary's national school in Stranorlar. I had hoped another question I had tabled, No. 39, would be grouped with it. It refers to other schools such as Scoil na gCeithre Maistrí in Donegal town; Scoil Adhamhnain in Luinnaigh, my alma matter and that of two former Deputies, the late Clement Coughlan and the late Cathal Coughlan, and Raphoe national school, as well as a long list of second level schools, including Abbey vocational school in Donegal town and St. Eunan's in Letterkenny. I will probably receive the other information later. In the meantime I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply on the long-awaited tender process for St. Mary's national school in Stranorlar.

The major building project for the school referred to by the Deputy is at an advanced stage of architectural planning, stage 2b, which includes the application for statutory approvals and the preparation of tender documents. All statutory approvals have been secured. The stage 2b submission has been reviewed by the Department and comments were issued to the school and its design team in December 2017. The Department has requested confirmation from the design team that it will carry out one final review of all of its tender documentation to ensure compliance with departmental requirements. The design team has been requested to submit written confirmation from each design team member, including the project supervisor design process, PSDP, that it has completed the review and is satisfied that the tender documents are complete, correct and in compliance with departmental requirements and the amended building control regulations on tender documentation. On receipt of the requested confirmations, the Department will revert to the school on the further progression of the project.

The Deputy is aware of the funding pressures on the capital programme and the need to focus limited funding on the provision of additional school places to cater for demographic demands. The Department is reviewing its programme for capital expenditure in 2018 and into 2019. Building projects, including St. Mary's national school, will be considered in that context. Officials from the Department will shortly be in contact with the school about a timeframe for progression of the project.

I will highlight in the Minister's response the mention of a review that is necessary and the ongoing communication between the design team and the Department. That is not good enough and I must make a political charge. It appears, in the case of this and many other schools, that there is deliberate procrastination at all stages.

The Minister refers to funding and capital expenditure. Bringing the project to a stage at which the Minister can go to tender with it will not cost anything. The school has 447 pupils, of whom 157, or 35%, are permanently based in prefabs. They will have passed through the system before we receive the necessary approval. There is running water in only four classrooms. The main building was built in 1958 and extended later. The planning period for the new school had expired and we had to seek a further duration of five years. I am worried because we can do this only once. Therefore, I implore the Minister to issue a political directive to the Department to move on the project as quickly as possible to allow it to go tender later this year.

The Department attempts to be fair to every school and community and that always needs to be done. However, it needs to be satisfied that the tender process is robust and that has been done. It then has to be satisfied, as it releases projects to tender, that it is in accordance with the funding available. It has to plan and manage the process as best as possible. I agree that it would be best to give schools a roadmap to show how this occurs. The Department is trying to improve in that area in order that schools understand the road ahead. I acknowledge the difficulty highlighted by the Deputy and will talk to the officials to see if communication with the school can be improved.

We are very grateful that the Minister agreed to meet a deputation from St. Mary's national school, just as he did in the case of Scoil Adhamhnain, Luinnaigh and Scoil na gCeithre Maistrí in Donegal town. I will deal with these projects on another day, but I implore the Minister to ask the officials to move quickly. The letter from the Department, dated 21 December, should be dealt with without delay. I realise the Minister is responsible for the country and that Deputies represent counties, but there were school projects further down the list that have been built and the children are in state-of-the-art classrooms. Does the Department look at all projects in the same way?

Unfortunately, the lists are purely indicative. The progress of different school projects depends on the local environment. While a list is made in good faith, it cannot be held as an absolute indicator of what will emerge. I understand what the Deputy is saying. It is right to give schools a better understanding of the roadmap and I am working with the officials to try to achieve this.

Irish Language

Aindrias Moynihan


13. D'fhiafraigh Deputy Aindrias Moynihan den Aire Oideachais agus Scileanna cén dul chun cinn atá déanta chun a chinntiú go mbeidh dóthain múinteoirí le Gaeilge ar fáil chun na hábhair scoile éagsúla a mhúineadh; agus an ndéanfaidh sé ráiteas ina thaobh. [2913/18]

One of the aims of the Department's policy on Gaeltacht education in the period 2017 to 2022 is to increase the supply of newly qualified teachers with the competence to deliver high quality Irish medium education in schools, particularly in Gaeltacht school settings. The policy also seeks to improve the quality of teaching through Irish to ensure existing teachers' Irish language proficiency and pedagogical knowledge, skills and competence will be enhanced to a level that will equip them to deliver high quality Irish medium education. In that context, the Department has been working with the Office of Government Procurement, OGP, to develop a request for tenders for the design and delivery of two new Irish medium teacher education programmes, comprising a full-time four-year Irish medium initial teacher education B.Ed. primary teaching programme and a part-time two-year Irish medium M.Ed. postgraduate blended learning programme. It is expected that the successful tenderers will be announced in the coming weeks. The M.Ed. programme which will provide up to 30 places annually is due to commence from September 2018, while the B.Ed programme, also with up to 30 places annually, is due to commence from September 2019.

Also in implementing the policy, the Department made arrangements for the secondment from September 2017 of two additional teaching posts to the Máistir Gairmiúil san Oideachas, MGO, programme at the National University of Ireland, Galway, NUIG, which is an Irish medium post-primary ITE programme. This initiative will allow for an increase in the supply of Irish medium post-primary teachers through a range of measures, including the upskilling of student teachers, outreach, online and blended learning opportunities in the second year of the programme.

I will shortly announce the establishment of a teacher supply steering group to consider teacher supply issues at primary and post-primary level, including the provision of adequate numbers of teachers in key subject areas such as Irish.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire. Tá an-bhrú ar na scoileanna Gaeltachta agus, gan dabht, ar Ghaelscoileanna timpeall na tíre chun teacht ar mhúinteoirí sna hábhair éagsúla. Go rialta bíonn orthu post a fhógairt trí huaire sula bhfaigheann siad aon iarrthóir. Tuigim go bhfuil an cúrsa sin á ullmhú ag an Aire, ach caithfidh sé a aithint go bhfuil an t-éileamh ann le fada agus go bhfuil an gá ann anois chun na múinteoirí sin a bheith ar fáil dóibh. Luaigh an tAire an cúrsa nua atá á thabhairt chun cinn aige ach tá slua mór daltaí thart ar rang a trí sna bunscoileanna a bheidh istigh sa mheánscoil sula mbeidh na múinteoirí sin ar fáil. Tá gá ann cheana féin. An bhfuil an tAire tar éis féachaint ar an liúntas a bhí ann i gcomhar na múinteoirí a bhí ag múineadh sa Ghaeltacht nó ag múineadh trí Ghaolainn? Caithfidh sé féachaint ar shlí éigin chun na múinteoirí atá ann a mhealladh isteach sna scoileanna seo. Faoi láthair tá go leor múinteoirí ag fágáil na tíre agus ag dul go Dubai agus áiteanna eile. Caithfidh an tAire féachaint ar an liúntas sin agus dul chun cinn a dhéanamh leis. An bhfuil aon rud déanta maidir leis sin?

There is pressure on teachers, particularly Irish language teachers. We have acknowledged this by the development of the programmes I have outlined which will deliver places as rapidly as possible. Also, under the teacher supply initiative, we are considering the possibility of introducing upskilling conversion programmes for persons with the necessary skills. The Department is open to considering any suggestion for initiatives through the teacher supply group from Deputies or stakeholders as to how we could seek to resolve the issue of tightness through other initiatives.

An bhfuil an tAire ag féachaint ar an liúntas seo a bhí ar fáil i gcomhar múinteoirí Gaeltachta agus múinteoirí a bhí ag múineadh trí Ghaolainn? Ba chóir go mbeadh, mar chuirfeadh sé go mór le cúrsaí más féidir é a chur ar fáil arís chun daoine a mhealladh isteach. Faoi láthair, tá daoine ag fágáil na tíre agus ag múineadh in áiteanna eile thar lear toisc gur féidir leo breis airgid a dhéanamh. Seo uirlis amháin atá ar fáil. Chabhródh an continuing professional development, CPD, ach tá a fhios againn go bhfuil an brú seo ann le fada. Caithfidh iarracht phráinneach a bheith déanta chun múinteoirí a choimeád i gcomhar na hábhair éagsúla.

I was the first to introduce a Gaeltacht policy for schools in the Gaeltacht area. We are being very innovative in trying to provide support for schools which commit to following an immersion model of education. We are considering innovation, not only in providing extra teaching resource support through professional development but also e-hubs to ensure that where quality teaching is available, it can be distributed to other schools which can avail of specialist teaching through a cluster. We are trying to be innovative in this area but also to ensure we protect the equality of the language which had been under pressure. We are introducing this policy because we recognise there is pressure on the quality of teaching the language.

This debate will go on. Deputies Bernard J. Durkan and John Lahart have been waiting for a long time. With the agreement of the House, I will ask the Minister to give brief answers to their questions and allow them to ask one supplementary question each. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Teacher Recruitment

Bernard Durkan


14. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he is satisfied that his plans to ensure the retention of an adequate number of teachers in primary and second level schools are sufficient to address the issues as outlined by the teacher unions; if he continues to have discussions in that regard with stakeholders; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4888/18]

We are recruiting teachers at a faster rate than ever in the history of the State. A stable number of graduates are coming out of the colleges. We have a steady level of supply. However, there are issues that need to be addressed such as substitution and subject areas. I think the Deputy was present when I outlined the initiatives we were taking to address these issues. I am establishing a teacher supply steering group to develop a strategy to meet these pressures.

The Minister might comment on the INTO's submission in its efforts to assist in that context.

Schools Site Acquisitions

John Lahart


15. Deputy John Lahart asked the Minister for Education and Skills the status of his Department's search for a site for the proposed post-primary educate together school serving the Firhouse area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4649/18]

My Department is working closely with South Dublin County Council under the memorandum of understanding on school site acquisitions to acquire a permanent site for a post-primary school serving the Firhouse-Oldbawn school planning area. The school will be under the patronage of Educate Together. A suitable site has been identified and officials are working to advance the acquisition process. Due to the commercial sensitivities that attach to site acquisitions generally, I am not in a position to give specific details on the proposed site at this time. The school patron will be informed of the location as soon as it is possible to do so.

I have been asking the Minister this question for a number of months and he has continually cited commercial sensitivity, but he has also cited the fact that his Department is working with South Dublin County Council on securing a suitable site for the 1,000 pupil Firhouse Educate Together post-primary school. I take it from this that the land he says the Department is seeking to purchase is public land. There is considerable anxiety in the area, given the rigmarole that the Department went through regarding the existing Educate Together primary school and Gaelscoil. Will the Minister confirm that the Department is seeking to purchase public land, when will that happen and will the temporary Educate Together post-primary school be located, as is rumoured locally, in the existing primary school building, which is new, until permanent accommodation is sought?

Unfortunately, the Department is always in a difficult situation when trying to negotiate a deal. We just encountered the same issue in north County Dublin. The Deputy must trust the Department that it works with local authorities on a best-endeavour basis to get the best possible outcome for the schools. I will not gainsay it by giving information that I have been told is commercially sensitive and should not be released. I have to have faith in my officials. This is what they have advised me to do. I will stand by the reply, but I understand the Deputy's frustration.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.