Report on Examination of School Costs, School Facilities and Teaching Principals: Motion [Private Members]

I move:

That Dáil Éireann shall take note of the Report of the Joint Committee on Education and Skills entitled ‘Report on Committee’s examination of School Costs, School Facilities and Teaching Principals’, copies of which were laid before Dáil Éireann on 4th

July, 2019.

I am very pleased to be here today to speak about the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Skills examining school facilities, including the lack thereof in some cases, and the workload of teaching principals. We engaged with 20 different stakeholder groups and have made 25 recommendations. If even a few of them were implemented, it would bring about a significant improvement in everyday life in schools.

In the course of our considerations, the committee focused on four key areas. This debate took place over the summer of last year when we held our inaugural summer school. The first item we looked at was the school building programme. We examined whether the existing programme delivered sufficient school places to facilitate children attending local schools. I think the previous Topical Issue really illustrated how important that is. We also examined the potential costs resulting from children not obtaining a place in their local school. As we consistently see, this often happens, particularly around Dublin and commuter belt areas. The headline in today's edition of the Irish Independent read "Commuter belt buckles as new homebuyers forced further out". The article dealt with challenges we face with regard to transportation and schools. I certainly see that in Newbridge and south Kildare where we do not have enough school places for children who are starting primary and secondary school. Several recurring themes were raised by the witnesses, including the potential health and safety effects on staff and students due to overcrowding as well as the lack of facilities in some schools. I know the Minister visited St. Paul's secondary school in Monasterevin. Thankfully, that school is at least on the final track but when students in Coláiste Iosagáin in Portarlington come out of a classroom, they can only turn left. They cannot turn right because the corridors are so overcrowded due to school overcrowding. The committee was told that additional resources are needed to address infrastructural deficits regarding the capacity of buildings to integrate new ICT as well as special educational needs demands on school buildings in terms of access and accommodation.

In fact, the committee agreed at its meeting today that, as part of its work programme in early 2020, it will look at the area of special education, special schools and the demands on them and their buildings.

The groups from which the committee heard called for the additional accommodation scheme to be expanded to include extra office space for deputy principals and principals, as well as more general purpose dining areas, etc. That was something the committee was keen to include in its recommendations because we must support teaching and ancillary staff within their schools. The need for additional accommodation comes from varying demands but mainly from increased enrolment and the need for new classrooms for pupils with autism spectrum disorder. Those new classrooms are particularly required at second level because only 25% of the facilities needed have been provided nationwide.

Of particular note was the importance of making provision for facilities for practical subjects such as physical education, PE, halls. The committee was amazed to learn that only about 50% of schools have adequate PE facilities. Even in schools that have such facilities, parents raised the money needed in 72% of those cases. The parents of pupils in Rathanagan boys' national school, which is close to me, got together to successfully fundraise for an all-weather pitch. We are leaving many of those sorts of things to parents and school communities and that is putting an awful lot of pressure on them.

We also need science laboratories, home economics kitchens, woodwork and engineering rooms, etc., because it is not possible to teach those subjects in standard classrooms.

The committee acknowledges that the Department of Education and Skills has invested €4.9 billion in school buildings over the past ten years and has earmarked a further €8.4 billion for the next ten years. This money will facilitate a focus on the refurbishment of the existing school stock with particular strands set aside for vital PE halls, laboratories and prefab replacement.

During the economic downturn ten years ago, the Department of Education and Skills introduced a moratorium on recruitment of caretaking, cleaning and secretarial supports, particularly in community and comprehensive schools. Despite the recovery in the economy, this moratorium remains in place and poses significant challenges for school management in maintaining school buildings and sites, which is important. One of the key recommendations in this report is the removal of the moratorium on recruitment of support staff.

The committee was very surprised to hear that there is currently no inventory of school facilities and we are recommending that this be carried out by the Department of Education and Skills at the earliest possible date.

The second topic to which I will refer is access to, and provision of, open and green spaces. The committee had good engagement with its stakeholders on the provision of new spaces and the protection of existing open green spaces for the use of students. It is concerning that the prefabs that are coming into many schools as temporary accommodation are being placed on existing green spaces and we do not want that to continue. With the prevalence of obesity in children on the rise and awareness that being outdoors helps improve mental and physical health, it is necessary for children to have adequate space to exercise and partake in sporting activities. The committee recommends to the Department that it liaise with other Departments and State agencies to ensure that land around schools is protected to provide sufficient green space for students and ensure scope for future expansion as necessary, and that the plans for all new school builds include adequate provision of appropriate green or open spaces.

I turn now to the workload of teaching principals and safeguarding their mental health and well-being. The committee wanted to raise awareness of the pressures faced by the leaders of our schools and to give them a platform to raise these concerns.

The committee learned that more than half of primary school principals teach full time in addition to the full administrative duties of a principal which may negatively impact on the children in their care. A principal is in charge of leadership, has to manage teaching and ancillary staff, deal with issues arising with parents and be responsible to the board of management, on top of doing a day's teaching, in many cases in a classroom situation where two or three classes are taken together. That is really difficult and incredibly challenging.

The committee sat and listened to how this is impacting teaching principals. We heard from principals who have stepped back from their positions and that, in turn, leads to other issues because their time spent as a principal is not recognised and they have to go back to the end of the staff queue in a school.

The committee strongly recommends that teaching principals have the appropriate supports to allocate adequate time to undertake their leadership and management responsibilities. The only staff that are taken into account when calculating leadership and management days are mainstream teachers. Other staff members, such as learning support teachers, resource teachers, special class teachers, special needs assistants, ancillary staff and bus escorts, in addition to nurses and occupational therapists who are often allocated to special schools, are not taken into account for the calculation of these days. That is not good enough. We heard from one principal, Ms Angela Dunne from Tipperary, who is responsible for 24 people in her working environment and is still a teaching principal.

Principals must fulfil their teaching obligations, manage a full workload of administrative duties and fulfil the duties involved in managing staff. The committee recommends that the Department amends its categorisation to ensure that all members of staff are counted for leadership purposes.

On top of this burden, the committee wishes to highlight that as it stands, and as I mentioned already, if teaching principals want to step back from their leadership position, they are being forced to revert to the most junior position on staff. Having an appropriate step-down facility in place would also create career opportunities for others, rather than locking people into a position they may not want, or be able to do, anymore. This will not only impact their lives and stress levels but will also affect the ethos and environment of the school. The committee strongly believes that this practice should be reviewed to account for the dedication and experience that the teacher has given to the school.

The committee believes that every teaching principal should be given one day a week for school administration. The committee also recommends that schools are clustered together in groups of five so that permanent staff can be employed and one day a week is given to teaching principals. In the case of special education schools, we recommend that principals are solely designated as administrative principals.

The fourth topic with which the committee dealt related to school costs. We considered back-to-school costs, voluntary contributions, capitation grants and disadvantaged groups in seeking to examine the phenomenon of ever-increasing school costs. We did this piece just before the September school year started and it is appropriate that we are discussing this now, just before Christmas, another time when parents and families are under increasing financial stress. This part of the engagement put a spotlight on the variety of added costs associated with what purports to be a free education.

The committee examines this topic every year, as have previous committees. We recognise the financial burdens placed on parents and schools and, year after year, the committee, as its predecessors did, urges the Department to make significant changes to tackle this issue. We heard that one third of families will end up in debt to meet the back-to-school costs incurred in August and September. One quarter of families will resort to illegal money lending and that is a difficult place for any family to be. The cost of books remains the most expensive item despite many schools offering book rental schemes but it is important to say that such schemes are very expensive to start.

One of the recommendations we made was that funding for the scheme nationally be increased by €20 million. That would allow 200 schools to start a book rental scheme.

Why do parents go to moneylenders? It is because they believe approval processes in banks or credit unions would be difficult or they have no other option because they have a bad credit history. One of the recommendations we made was that the Department of Education and Skills engage with the Department of Finance to deal with this issue.

Another financial burden that has crept in is the issue of voluntary contributions, which are sometimes not all that voluntary. The committee heard that approximately three quarters of parents are asked to pay a voluntary contribution each year to help school finances. Of the parents who paid it, just over half indicated they felt under pressure to do so. We are not blaming the schools because they have to survive. They have to open the doors and turn on the lights. This finding was made despite reassurances by the Department that the contribution is a voluntary payment and there should be no pressure on parents to pay. The survey results show that is not the reality on the ground. These statistics suggest that the current level of capitation grant, which is 14% less than it was nine years ago, is not sufficient to negate the need for additional financial contributions by parents and guardians. This type of payment places particular pressure on disadvantaged groups such as lone parents and asylum seekers. It can also be a source of great embarrassment for the child and parents who cannot afford to pay. The committee recommends in the strongest terms that the Department carry out an independent assessment of the adequacy of the capitation rates and incrementally increase funding to schools to ensure that all children have access to a high-quality, free and inclusive primary and secondary education.

I sincerely hope the Minister will take on board the recommendations contained in the report and work with the committee to improve our education system. This is a cross-party report which received unanimous support in the committee.

Ar dtús, gabhaim buíochas leis na Teachtaí agus na Seanadóirí ar an gComhchoiste um Oideachas agus Scileanna agus go háirithe an cathaoirleach, an Teachta Fiona O'Loughlin, don obair a bhaineann leis an "Tuarascáil ar Iniúchadh an Choiste ar Chostais Scoile, Áiseanna Scoile agus Príomhoidí atá ag Teagasc". Gabhaim buíochas freisin leis an 20 páirtí leasmhar a chur ionchur ríthábhachtach ar fáil don phróiseas seo. Is léiriú é seo ar an luach gur féidir le coiste Oireachtais a sholáthar nuair a bhíonn sé gafa go cuiditheach le gach páirtí leasmhar chun eolas agus tuairimí éagsúla a shainscagadh. Is cinnte go gcuideoidh obair an choiste eolas a sholáthar agus cur le treo polasaí agus straitéise na hearnála oideachais.

The report is wide-ranging, spanning a number of different areas, including the school building programme, the retention of green spaces, the workload of teaching principals and back to school costs. I am glad to note that much progress has been made on these matters since the public hearings held by the joint committee in late August 2018. By way of context, I will set out first a broad picture of the capital investment under the school building programme. The school building programme, as Deputy O'Loughlin pointed out, is an integral part of the Government's Project Ireland 2040 vision. Under Project Ireland 2040, the education sector will receive approximately €12 billion over the period 2018 to 2027. This includes some €8.8 billion for the schools sector and €2.2 billion for higher education infrastructure. In 2018 and 2019 alone, my Department has invested more than €1.1 billion capital investment into the school building programme. We continue to make progress to increase the infrastructural capacity in the schools sector nationally in order to meet demographic and other demands over the short to medium term.

The roll-out of Project Ireland 2040 in the school sector has involved overall construction activity during 2018 and 2019 of 466 projects, which are expected to deliver more than 40,000 permanent additional and replacement school places and replace almost 600 prefabricated buildings. The pipeline of projects for delivery under the school building programme involves 367 large-scale projects and approximately 800 projects for delivery under the Department's additional accommodation scheme. These projects are working their way through advanced stages of architectural design, planning permission and tendering processes and will be delivered as part of the €8.8 billion investment under the national development plan.

The current status of school projects being delivered is listed on a county-by-county basis on my Department's website and is updated regularly as the projects go through the various stages. In addition, my Department's design team procedures require monthly progress reports to be provided to school authorities to keep them updated on the status of their projects. My Department also regularly updates the Joint Committee on Education and Skills in respect of the programme for establishment of new schools.

I will now deal with some of the key recommendations under each of the four themes of the report, starting with the recommendations relating to the school building programme. The report makes reference to ensuring that "provisions necessary for good planning are put in place to ensure that adequate school facilities are provided to meet added demands on school places when developments are taking place". By way of forward planning, my Department carries out nationwide demographic exercises to determine where additional school accommodation is needed at primary and post-primary level. Requirements for school places can be met in a number of ways, including by utilising existing capacity, adding capacity to existing schools or by new school provision. The challenge for the Department is to identify where needs will arise and the most efficient and effective way of providing for same. To conduct the demographic exercises, the Department uses a geographical information system to divide the country into 314 school planning areas. Data from a range of sources, including child benefit data from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and the Department's school enrolment databases, allow the Department to map where children are living or attending school. This information provides a degree of certainty in projecting demand in an area in future years and identifying demographic trends in relatively small areas.

New residential developments also have the potential to significantly alter demand and timing of demand in an area. For this reason, the Department also takes into account planned housing development to help identify where pressure for school places across the country will arise. However, this process is not an exact science given the many variables involved with the construction and occupation of new housing developments. The pace of completion of such development can be subject to change depending on local circumstances as well as at a macro-economic level.

The Department continually reviews its approach to forward planning with the aim of ensuring, as best as possible, that school accommodation needs are provided in tandem with residential provision. Since April 2018, when the Government announced plans for 42 new schools from 2019 to 2022, the Department has implemented a number of measures aimed at strengthening the demographic analysis process. The first involves enhancing our engagement with local authorities. Local authorities now provide more detailed information to the Department on planned residential development than had been available previously. The second involves additional engagement by my Department with patron bodies relating to their local knowledge on school place requirements. In that regard, I acknowledge the leadership shown by many people in the Dublin 15 area over the past year in identifying new school provision for special education, in particular the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, and his team in that area.

The third measure involves putting a system in place to enable a national inventory of school capacity to be captured through the existing annual enrolment returns by individual schools to the Department in the primary online database and the post-primary online database. This year, schools have been requested to provide information in respect of overall demand for school places and available capacity within their schools. This is the first year of this initiative and the approach taken will provide an effective and efficient mechanism for enhancing our up-to-date knowledge on capacity across more than 3,000 primary schools and more than 750 post-primary schools.

Ceann eile de na moltaí tábhachtacha a tháinig ón gcoiste seo ná go gcuirfí soiléireacht bhreise ar fáil do scoileanna maidir le híocaíocht an deontais do mhionoibreacha. Tá mo Roinn tar éis dul i ngleic leis an gceist seo cheana féin. Faoi Thionscadal Éireann 2040, tugadh soiléireacht do scoileanna go n-íocfar deontas na mionoibreacha i Nollaig nó Eanáir den scoilbhliain. Tuigim go rímhaith an tábhacht a bhaineann le deontas na mionoibreacha do bhunscoileanna.

I am conscious that primary schools are waiting on minor works funding. The Deputies will receive this information but I want to assure them that the commitment given a number of weeks ago that the minor works funding will be paid in the first fortnight in December will be met.

Several relevant points arise relating to the recommendations on the retention of green spaces. The policy emphasis in the Project Ireland 2040 national planning framework is for compact growth and delivery of more housing and infrastructure within the existing built-up areas of cities, towns and villages on infill and brownfield sites. Given this policy emphasis and the cost of sites in urban areas, it is important that demographic pressures can be managed in a manner that fully utilises the capacity of school sites. This may involve extensions to existing schools or, where technically feasible on larger sites, the creation of a campus development that facilitates more than one school on a site. A campus development can also create opportunities for sporting or other facilities to be shared between schools.

The Department's design guidance on the provision of green spaces as part of school building projects is not prescriptive in terms of area for green spaces but indicates that, where space permits, grass kick-about practice areas can be provided. The Department's design guidance makes provision for the inclusion of hard play areas. The logic underpinning this approach is to provide a play and sport facility for ongoing and intensive use by schools on a continual basis throughout the year.

On the wider point of the retention of open or green spaces for use by schools, there are a number of matters to note. The zoning criteria applied and the type of development permitted within a certain zoning are matters for the relevant local authority. Local authorities are required to consider the potential need for school provision in the context of any proposed residential development. Where new developments are proposed, provision is generally made at development or local area plan stage for schools as part of the consultation process with my Department. My Department is included among the prescribed bodies to which local authorities are statutorily obliged to send draft development plans, local area plans or proposed variations to development plans for comment or observations. In it observations my Department will highlight, as appropriate, school requirements as informed by its demographic projections and knowledge of existing school capacity in areas.

Recommendations on the workload of teaching principals is an important area that I continue to raise publicly. In the recent budget we looked at easing the pressure. This was not my preferred place as the Minister for Education and Skills but obviously it was in the context of a no-deal Brexit. Since my appointment as Minister, I have met several teaching principals and I appreciate the pressures they face.

The Irish education system has certain characteristics that have influenced the evolution of the principal's role. The distribution of the population necessitates a relatively large number of small primary schools. While management and administration duties of principals in smaller schools are smaller in scale than those of larger schools, they must be undertaken in addition to full-time teaching duties. Earlier in the year, I hosted a symposium on small schools. This gave me an opportunity to restate the Government's commitment to small schools and to open dialogue with all the key stakeholders. The purpose of this work by the Department is to develop a policy proposal to help support and strengthen small primary schools throughout the country. The work now under way on small schools seeks to build on this in a sustainable way. I will continue to engage with the main partners through the primary education forum and my Department's small schools steering group to develop a new policy of supports for small schools.

Each school with a teaching principal receives an allocation of days, known as principal release days, to allow the principal time to undertake administrative duties. My Department pays for a substitute to be employed by the school to facilitate the administrative functions of the teaching principal. Budget 2020 is the third successive budget to provide for an increase in the number of principal release days. One additional release day will be allocated to each school with a teaching principal with effect from 1 September 2020. This will bring the number of release days to 19, 25 and 31, depending on the size of school. This is an increase from 14, 18 and 22 days, respectively, since 2015. In addition, a further four additional release days are allocated to schools with special classes. There are arrangements in place for schools to cluster principal release days into a full-time post. This will assist teaching principals to work more effectively and plan their release days for the benefit of the school. To assist the principal, each school has a middle management structure consisting of a deputy principal, and one or two assistant principals, depending on the size of the school. These were formerly special duties posts. Flexibility in identifying and prioritising the evolving leadership and engagement needs of the school and in assigning and reassigning post-holders to specific roles and responsibilities to meet the evolving needs of a school is an essential feature of this school leadership model.

The committee made recommendations on back to school costs. I will focus on three areas, namely, capitation funding, the voice of the parent and the student parent charter, and voluntary contributions.

I fully recognise the need to improve capitation funding for schools. The Action Plan for Education includes a commitment to restore capitation over a three-year period as resources permit. Budget 2020 provided for a further 2.5% on top of last year's 5% increase in standard capitation funding for primary and post-primary schools. This increase will apply from the start of the 2020-21 school year. In addition to the increase in standard capitation, the enhanced rates of capitation payable in respect of students with special educational needs will be increased by 7.5% from the start of the 2020-21 school year. This is to match the total increase in standard capitation rates of 7.5% provided in 2019 and 2020. The combined increases provided in 2019 and 2020 means approximately 40% restoration will be achieved. The special class grant payable at post-primary level for students with mild or moderate learning difficulties in special classes will be increased from €191 to €205 from the start of the 2020-21 school year.

The Department published Circular 32/17, which details the measures to be adopted by schools to reduce school uniform and other costs. This circular provides parents with a strong voice in ensuring costs are always kept to a minimum. Schools also need to be more accountable to parents generally and we need greater levels of communication, engagement and transparency in how schools serve their communities. There are great examples of this transparency and good engagement and communication.

Many of our schools wish to put the area of voluntary contributions on a legislative footing. In this regard, full transparency on the use of any voluntary contributions is vital for parents. Under the Education (Student and Parent Charter) Bill 2019, which recently completed Committee Stage in the Seanad, every school will be required to provide information to parents how any voluntary contributions are used. This legislation will require every school to consult parents and students and publish and operate a student and parent charter. Each school will draw up the charter following a set of national guidelines. The policy of voluntary contributions is a policy of long standing and may be sought from parents provided it is clear to parents that there is no compulsion to pay and that a child's place in the school or continued enrolment is not dependent on a willingness to make a contribution.

Mar fhocal scor, gabhaim buíochas arís leis an gcoiste agus le gach páirtí leasmhar de bharr an ábhair ríthábhachtach sa tuarascáil seo. Deimhním don Teach go bhfuil mo Roinn tar éis díriú go cúramach ar na nithe atá sa tuarascáil seo agus go ndéanfar dul chun cinn ar na ceisteanna atá ardaithe ann. Gabhaim buíochas leis na Teachtaí as ucht ceisteanna tábhachtacha a ardú, agus as ucht a bhfreagracht don tuarascáil seo. Beidh mé ag súil le tuilleadh plé a dhéanamh ar na ceisteanna sin. Gabhaim mo bhuíochas agus m’aitheantas do bhaill an choiste faoi choinne na díograise agus an tsárobair a rinneadar thar chúpla bliain. B’fhéidir go ndéanfaidh siad cúpla moladh eile anocht fosta.

Deputies should note that if they stick to the speaking time limit of nine minutes, we will get to everyone before the conclusion.

Nílim chun an t-am ar fad a úsáid ach tá mo chomhghleacaithe nua ag iarraidh labhairt freisin, mar sin roinnfidh mé mo chuid ama leosan.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an tuarascáil seo. Rinne an coiste oideachais a lán oibre maidir leis. Chualamar ó a lán daoine agus bhí díospóireachtaí maithe againn sa choiste. Tá súil agam go gcuirfidh an Rialtas agus an Aire moltaí na tuarascála i bhfeidhm go luath mar go bhfuil sé an-tábhachtach don chóras oideachais go dtéann an Roinn i ngleic leis na moltaí sin. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Uasal Alan Guidon, iar-chléireach an choiste, as ucht an obair ar fad a rinne sé fad is a bhí sé mar chléireach ann. I thank Alan Guidon, the former clerk to the Joint Committee on Education and Skills, who is here in the Chamber. I thank him for all his help not only with this report but throughout our sittings. I also thank all those who appeared before the committee.

I am delighted that my two colleagues who were elected last week, Deputies Malcom Byrne and Pádraig O'Sullivan, are here because they both have a background in education. It is great that Fianna Fáil, the republican party but also the party of education, has these two new Deputies going forward.

Notwithstanding the general success the Irish education system recorded in the PISA results earlier this week, it faces major challenges, none more so than in the school building area. In the tender published by the Department this week the Minister proposes to build between 20 and 30 new schools, although we do not know the exact number. All the schools listed are in the greater Dublin area.

They are all badly needed. While they are needed, the Minister, in the tender, stated that they may happen and that they may comprise temporary or permanent accommodation. The difficulty he faces is that there are not 20 to 30 schools around the country crying out for accommodation. There are approximately 1,000 that we know of on the lists. This is a significant issue for him and no plan has been put in place to get these schools built all around the country.

The schools building programme is related to the issue of places. Deputy Malcolm Byrne, my colleague, raised the issue of Gorey and Wexford, which I had done on his behalf before he was elected. Now the Deputy can paddle his own canoe - I am delighted to be able to say that. Of course, I will continue fighting with the Deputy in respect of Gorey. The situation in Gorey is mirrored in Skerries, Malahide, Wicklow, Kildare, and particularly, in my own constituency, Meath East, where there is a severe shortage of places now in the Dunshaughlin area. Despite the Minister announcing a new school in the Drogheda-east Meath area, there is a shortage of places there as well. The lack of demographic planning is worrying. Given a series of new primary schools has opened in these areas, it is worrying that the relevant provision for second level has not been put in place.

This may well be one of the last set-piece education debates before the general election. There will be questions to the Minister on one or two occasions prior to that and perhaps a Private Members' debate as well. It is important to reflect on what we have achieved over the past number of years. I am delighted to have been my party's spokesperson when it insisted on a reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio in schools to the lowest level in history, and we must make further progress on that. I am also delighted that the guidance counsellor service was restored at second level. That was crucially important, but further progress has to be made.

Fianna Fáil insisted on new legislative provisions for special classes but they need to be acted on. They need to be used not as a primary tool but rather as a tool where one cannot get schools to co-operate. We must ask schools to co-operate to provide special classes voluntarily and then if we have to, and only if we have to, use legislative sanctions.

The issue of green spaces has been mentioned. My colleague, Deputy Casey, tells me that the green space is on the roof of one school in his constituency. In my constituency, there is a campus at Ashbourne. I am losing track of the number of schools that the Government has built in the town - I think it is four at this point - over the past number of years. They were badly needed. I refer to Gaelscoil na Mí; Ashbourne Educate Together, which is a fantastic school and pupils of which I had in Leinster House yesterday; the new Ashbourne community national school, the principals of which we had to bring up to the Department to make that case. For a long time, the officials had been denying there was an issue; and, of course, Coláiste De Lacy. There is a real lack of green space there. The Department has land. When the Department is putting schools together in a campus format, it will have to provide for green space so that we can have primary schools and secondary schools competing at the highest levels in sports and that we can adhere to the important national objectives relating to children moving and running around.

There has been some progress on capitation rates over the past number of years, but not enough. That will feature prominently in the general election. I fully expect to be under considerable pressure, rightly, from teachers' unions and the education sector on capitation because it is only when we can get capitation back up to the appropriate levels, that we can tell parents it will be all right, regular contributions will not be needed, and they can have their raffle at Christmas or whenever, but they will not need to make up for the essential running costs of schools such as paying for toilet roll.

I will not take up too much time because there are two Deputies here, who are new as well. Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan has not spoken yet and he will need a lot of time.

Táim buíoch den choiste. Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach, Teachta O'Loughlin, as an obair thréan a dhéanann sí ar an gcoiste sin. Táim an-sásta go bhfuil seachtar nó ochtar Teachtaí ó mo pháirtí féin, a bhfuil an-spéis acu san oideachas, anseo. Ní fheictear an spéis sin ó gach páirtí ar an gcoiste. Is trua é sin toisc gurb é an t-oideachas ceann de na rudaí is tábhachtaí sa tír seo. Caithfimid seans a thabhairt do gach duine éirí sa saol leis an bpoitéinseal atá acu. Sin an fáth go bhfuil spéis faoi leith ag páirtí Fhianna Fáil san oideachas.

I commend Deputy O'Loughlin and the joint committee on this report and the recommendations therein. We in Fianna Fáil are calling for the enactment of the recommendations.

The ongoing failure to adequately fund the day-to-day running of our schools is having a real and lasting impact on pupils, staff and parents. It is undermining the long-established tradition of free education and must be urgently addressed.

While broad in scope, the committee report attempts to tackle two prime issues - the need to provide additional supports to schools to deliver education and the cost to parents of providing an education. The report addresses, through better planning and staffing, additional supports to maintain and expand green spaces, supports for staff in small schools and back-to-school costs. The issues related to costs for parents should be given priority but they are not.

Some progress has been made on capitation rates but they have not returned to 2010 levels. Work has not been carried out on an independent assessment of the suitability of current rates and no large-scale action has been taken on the issue of school uniforms.

The joint committee is asking a number of questions of this Government and this House - whether the schools building programme delivers sufficient school places to facilitate children attending local schools; whether there is access to and provision of open and green spaces; what the impact is of the workload of teaching principals in our schools; and, of course, the need to address the ever-increasing school costs.

We have consistently raised concerns about the urgency, accuracy and focus of the schools building programme. The committee is putting forward real and meaningful solutions to the problems with the programme.

The moratorium on recruitment of support staff in community and comprehensive schools must be fully lifted. Consideration should be given to the appointment of a fully-funded administrative assistant or other appropriate management body support for school building projects above a certain size.

The additional accommodation scheme should be expanded to make provision for additional accommodation for more deputy principals and principals. Clarity should be provided to schools in respect of the payment of the minor works grant. An inventory of school accommodation should be undertaken.

The Department's schools buildings programme should take into account the provision of special classes for students with autism and other special needs and make the provisions necessary for good planning to ensure that adequate school facilities are provided to meet the added demands on school places where developments are taking place.

Through the Fianna Fáil Party, I have lobbied in the lead-up to the past two budgets on the issue of the workload of teaching principals in the schools. This is a significant problem and it must be addressed. If the Government values rural areas, it will have to ensure that it values the smaller schools with teaching principals that are predominantly, although not entirely, in rural areas. We believe that reform is needed in this area.

Particular consideration should be given to expanding the number of release days to 36, regardless of the school size. Principals should have the appropriate supports to allocate adequate time to undertake their leadership and management responsibilities. Whether it is a one or two-teacher school, or a seven or eight-teacher school, the volume of paperwork and documentation that these principals have to deal with now is immense. In my county of Tipperary, the number of working principals who have stepped down from their roles is significant and if we do not make progress in this area, it will be difficult to get teachers to fill these positions.

Principals of all special schools must be automatically designated as administrative principals. Deputy O'Loughlin referred earlier to a principal in my own county, Ms Angela Dunne, who has 24 staff under her care and is still treated as a principal in a four-teacher school. The workload that principals, such as Ms Dunne, have is immense. We will not have people to fill those roles if this issue is not addressed.

These autism classrooms have really developed in the past couple of years and are giving children with autism a great chance of equality in the education system. It would be beyond comprehension if a failure of this nature meant we could not give these principals the proper supports they need to be able to do their job correctly.

In respect of the summer works programme, I want to highlight a specific anomaly that came across my desk lately. A school that applied for essential funding in 2016 to carry out necessary health and safety work for traffic and parking on the school property is still waiting for support. We now have the announcement of the summer works programme for 2020. Even though this school was assured it would get funding under the 2016 programme, it has not happened. School principals are now telling me that the emphasis this year is on energy saving investment on windows and doors, which is important, but surely not to the detriment of health and safety issues in schools. I would urge the Minister to take these points on board and ask that he investigate this case if I send him the details. I am sure this is not the only case of schools that had work done under the 2016 programme and have not received support.

The treatment of school secretaries is also an issue that needs to be addressed. They fulfil an important role in the day-to-day work of the school and act as an important support to school principals and staff. Currently their pay and conditions are unacceptable and their status must be regularised. They must receive payment as all school staff do when the children are on holiday and must also have pension rights. In many cases, like the principal and senior staff, the secretary will work on days when the children are not in school. I am calling on the Minister to honour the contributions of our school secretaries and respect the role they play in our education system.

I heard the Minister referring to small schools, the symposium that was held in June of this year, and the ongoing review of smaller schools and the role they play, especially in rural areas. I ask the Minister that there be no reduction in the number of teachers in these small schools while the review he is undertaking is under way. I have had schools contact me because they were worried about a fall in numbers, perhaps of only one or two pupils in the case of two-teachers schools. To drop to one teacher would be a severe blow to their area and locality. While the review is under way I ask that there be no change in the number of teachers in those small schools. They play a vital role in rural areas. A school is a vital cog in the whole rural community. If a two-teacher schools is reduced to one teacher, it makes its position virtually untenable.

Is mór an onóir dom seans a fháil a bheith páirteach sa díospóireacht seo anocht. Gabhaim buíochas leis an gcoiste agus le Teachta O'Loughlin as ucht an obair atá déanta acu. Gabhaim buíochas lena lán daoine eile freisin. I wish to thank many people, like the voluntary church bodies, the voluntary boards of management, the voluntary parents' committees and the voluntary labour that is done in many schools, not to mention special needs assistants, school secretaries, caretakers and the teachers and principals who run our schools. The late Paddy Crosbie used to say, "The school around the corner's still the same." The school around the corner cannot be the same. As somebody who spent 35 years as a primary teacher and 23 or 24 of them as principal, I am acutely aware that the change has not happened in the way or at the pace it should.

Any CEO of any complex organisation is the person chiefly responsible for the smooth running of that organisation. His or her responsibilities include things common to all businesses of any size in making sure everything runs smoothly. To give just three examples, in any organisation the staff must be kept motivated and kept up to date with professional development, financial backers must be assured their money is being spent wisely and the board of directors must have evidence that all professional, legal and other requirements are being met. School principals are no more or no less than the CEO of complex organisations of varying sizes. Every school principal works under the requirements I have just listed and the many others that every CEO is acutely aware of, as indeed they should be. However, schools are different from other businesses, because of two stakeholders that do not exist in many other organisations, namely, the children who attend the school and their parents.

Most of us have used the line "they are all different" when talking about our own children, because it is true. Every single child sitting in front of a teacher, often in classes of more than 30 as the Minister knows, has his or her own complex needs. They are complex little beings. They have different abilities, different home circumstances, different hopes, different fears, different aspirations and different levels of self-esteem. Indeed many of them live in different little worlds. The teacher's primary job is, of course, to lead them in their understanding of literacy, maths, languages, science and all the other areas of the curriculum, but there is so much more to it than that. Children have to be developed as part of our society. School is where they learn to interact with others, where they learn concepts like taking turns, decision making and considering the needs of others as well as themselves. School is where children develop as people. It is where we all made our first friends, and possibly our first experience with those who were not so friendly. It is where we had many of our first successful endeavours, and maybe some that were not so successful. Our experience in school played a large part in making us the people we are. One of the most important factors in that experience were the teachers we met along the way.

Teaching is a very complex profession. A teacher is primarily responsible for all the aspects of children's development that I have just mentioned. It is also a very unpredictable job. Every day, sometimes every minute of the day, is completely different. Teachers literally do not know what is going to happen next, so they have to be able to deal with whatever comes at them. Let us now consider teaching principals. To all intents and purposes, they are doing two jobs at the same time. They have all the requirements and responsibilities of teaching a class and helping the children they teach to become the best they can be. Simultaneously, they must fulfil their CEO role, making sure that the administration of the school runs effectively and efficiently. It is like asking someone to manage a garage while spending their day under the bonnet. If the Minister thinks I exaggerate, he might consider this. In any given hour in any school in Ireland a teaching principal has to deal with situations such as a phone call from a parent whose child is upset; possibly a phone call from Tusla; a child who has a sudden and unexplained headache; a child who wants to know the Irish for climate change; a grandmother dropping off a lunch; a toilet that will not flush or indeed a toilet that will not stop flushing; the large dog that is running around the yard; a man selling posters or a lady looking to sell computer software. Most importantly of all, the same teaching principal has a class or classes that are his or her primary responsibility and should not be deprived of that teacher's complete attention for one minute.

I am calling for the urgent enactment of the recommendations of the education committee; adequate funding for the day-to-day running of our schools; and additional supports to maintain and expand green spaces thereby providing every child with adequate access to PE; and that the Department must liaise with other Departments and State agencies to secure land around schools for that type of use. We need more supports for staff in small schools and supports for parents in respect of back to school costs. The notion of free education is a myth and must be addressed. Capitation must return to 2010 levels. Any analysis of any small school will show that when the insurance, heating, lighting and oil are paid for the parents have to pay for the rest. The funding for the school building programme needs to be increased. In my area I am trying to help three schools which have been refused funding under the summer works programme. One school has asbestos, another has a front door that will neither open nor close on occasions and cannot even be locked. It needs those funds and I call on the Minister to address that immediately.

Proper forward planning for access to schools is dear to my heart particularly for children with disabilities. We know that in many instances, oftentimes from birth, that if proper planning is done for the child who is going to attend that local school the facilities will be in place long before they go there. I have spoken already about the workload of the teachers and the primary school principals particularly. Pay equality issues need to be resolved and the unhappiness and feeling of inequality in lower paid teachers in conjunction with the stress felt by principals in leadership roles means that the system is being squeezed to the detriment of the children and everyone in the school community.

I have read reports from the National Principals Forum and the Irish Primary Principals' Network, IPPN, and there are serious complaints about the lack of engagement on the part of the Department when support is sought. The rate of dissemination of circulars and initiatives is far too fast. The response received to queries is normally a standard response, failing to address the unique query posed. The quality of leadership in schools impacts directly on the quality of education the pupils receive. School principals must have their issues addressed and the funding issues must be addressed immediately. The undervaluing of primary education must not be allowed continue as this will impact on the overall education system with a consequent high cost to the Exchequer. How has the Minister helped our teaching principals to cope with these workloads? He has reduced the hours in which they have access to a secretary and a caretaker. He has smothered them with initiatives and directives, ignored their stories of work overload and burn-out, and their call to be given just a little more time away from teaching duties so that they can cope, to the benefit of both themselves and their classes. The Department needs to pay serious heed to this report.

I congratulate all the members of the committee and in particular Deputy O'Loughlin for chairing it. It is an extremely deep report. It excited me because cross-party support shows that something can be achieved. We have similar examples with the Sláintecare and the future of mental healthcare reports.

We have been listening to queries about school buildings programmes in our offices over recent years, not months. As the new Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan and the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, are aware, there have been ongoing issues in Carrigtwohill in my constituency. The difficulty of school campuses seems to be replicated around the country. When a committee of all parties and none comes together and can thrash this out and come up with doable and credible recommendations surely it is a blueprint and a plan. These should be followed. I welcome the fact that the school buildings programme is taking into account provision for special classes for students with autism and other special needs. There seems to be huge demand for that. I recently met with Educate Together in Midleton and it too is looking for an additional secondary school and an autism spectrum disorder, ASD, unit. It is a question of moving things forward. Education is the key to opening any door. We have a fabulous education system. If we can give children the best that they are entitled to that is one of the strongest stepping stones in life. Everybody who has spoken tonight seems to be very passionate and honest about it. I always have been honest about it because we in this House have an opportunity to do things right.

Barnardo's did a survey some time ago and calculated that it would cost an additional €130 million to deliver free primary education to all children. In the context of the large budgets we deal with here that does not seem to be a lot. It would take immense stress off schools, parents and teachers. The question of voluntary contributions, school raffles and so on were mentioned but if the stress was taken off the parents, the principals and the teachers, they would have less to worry about if the education was provided free at the point of entry. People would then be willing to give a few bob and that is how the school can guarantee getting green areas for PE and so on. That has a positive effect. Barnardo's said that an additional €126 million was needed for the secondary schools. These are not unrealisable sums of money to do the right thing and make education free as it has never been.

I am in this Chamber with many teachers but the Minister of State sitting across from me, Deputy Stanton, taught me in school many years ago. I may not be that young but I am certainly younger than Deputy Stanton. He can remember much more about the school than I can. Maybe some days I did not want to be there.

People have said that principals of special schools should automatically designated administrative principals. That would be an invaluable support and would have a positive effect. In respect of capitation rates and funding for schools, if the Government was willing to take on what is in the education committee's report and the Barnardo's report it could eventually have inclusive free primary and secondary schools. The effect of that would be less stress on families and the community and on the system. When people appreciate something that works they buy into it and will give it more support. That model should be seriously considered.

Another recommendation of the report is generic uniforms. That is putting unbelievable stress on families, leading to them going to moneylenders, borrowing from anybody. It has reached the stage where parents are taking the badges off old clothes and sewing them onto generic clothes. That puts stress on the children going to school.

If children do not have the up-to-date uniform and so on, they will be victimised, which is very unfair.

In response to a recent parliamentary question, the Minister for Education and Skills said:

[The capital programme] also provides for devolved funding for additional classrooms, if required, for schools where an immediate enrolment need has been identified or where an additional teacher has been appointed. Details of schools listed on this programme can be found on my Department's website.

Many speakers in this debate have spoken about parents panicking and I see it in my office every day. They are panicking because they have no clue where their children will go next year. It is not just an issue for secondary school, but also for primary school. I wrote to all school principals in east Cork recently and the replies I have received so far are very worrying. I am not sure how the Department calculates its figures and I do not want to cause problems for the schools in question but there are 160 children on one waiting list and 128 on another. Parents are phoning me and emailing me about this constantly. At 5 p.m. this evening I received an email from the parent of a child who has moved from No. 90 to No. 60 on the waiting list, wanting to know what can be done. This is causing such stress for people. The Minister has said that where an immediate enrolment need has been identified, contact should be made with the Department. Is it possible for elected representatives to contact the Department on behalf of school principals? This is also putting school principals under severe stress. They are dealing with families every day who are phoning or calling to the schools and asking if their child can be guaranteed a school place next year.

The report is extremely inclusive and provides a wonderful blueprint for the future but I worry about our ability to drive it on. My biggest fear is that it will sit on a shelf like many other reports produced in this House. Another important issue is the abolition of salary gaps for new teachers. I would urge those working in the education sector as well as parents and community groups involved in educational projects to read this report and in particular, its final recommendations. In that way they will educate themselves about what we are trying to do in this House. We are trying to improve education in this country. The report has received cross-party support. I assure the Department that Members on this side of the House will do our best to drive this forward and make the necessary improvements.

Gabhaim buíochas do na daoine thíos i gCorcaigh a vótáil dom an tseachtain seo chaite. I thank the Acting Chairman for the opportunity to speak this evening on this report. This is my first time speaking in Dáil Éireann and I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this discussion. Until recently I was a secondary school teacher in Coláiste an Chraoibhín in Fermoy, a school in which Deputy Stanton also taught many moons ago. In that context, I would like to think I have first hand knowledge of many of the challenges that face secondary school principals and teachers today. At the outset I must state that we have an excellent education system in this country and I was glad to be a part of it for over 14 years working with Cork Education and Training Board. However, there are a number of challenges ahead, of which the school building programme is just one. I note that one of the recommendations in this report is for the appointment of a fully-funded administrative assistant for building in schools. My own experience tells me that this is a prerequisite to ensure the proper management of large-scale projects and to alleviate the burden placed on already overworked school boards of management. The lack of such a person in my former school in Fermoy meant that the school principal took on many of the duties and much of the stress that came with running a school on what was effectively a building site for over five years. I do not think that such a situation can continue. It is placing undue pressure on the boards of management of the schools affected.

It is also important to highlight the ongoing difficulties, as referenced by Deputy Buckley, with the project in Carrigtwohill. This is one of the largest educational campuses being built in the country and if ever there was a case to be made for the appointment of an administrative assistant, this is the project to make it. While I am loathe to say that boards of management are ill-equipped to deal with many of the difficulties arising from building projects, they do need advice and help from planning consultants or administrative assistants which should provided to them by the Department. The campus in Carrigtwohill has been beset by many difficulties with land ownership and delays in obtaining planning permission. All the while, the school has been operating out of a commercial premises. This situation cannot be allowed to continue.

Recommendation No. 8 in the report calls for the provisions necessary for good planning to be put in place to ensure that adequate facilities are provided to meet added demand for school places. I am concerned at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government's response to the effect that the zoning of land is the responsibility of local authorities and not its responsibility nor that of the Department of Education and Skills. I was a county councillor for six years and I fully understand that it is the responsibility of local authorities to zone land. However, the Department must take a much more proactive stance in advising local authorities when there is a requirement for land to be zoned. There should be engagement by all Departments during the development plan process at local authority level. My experience as a councillor was that local authorities only drove zoning for educational purposes after an intervention by the Department of Education and Skills. In my own area of Glanmire there are two secondary schools, Glanmire Community College and Coláiste an Phiarsaigh, both of which are bursting at the seams. Both of them have long waiting lists and are turning away students every year but the local authority has not sanctioned additional land for a third secondary school in the locality. The Department must actively advise local authorities of its envisaged requirements rather than taking a reactive stance, which seems to be par for the course. This laissez-faire policy is not working and I would urge the Minister to consult with local authorities to the best of his ability.

Unfortunately, up to now I have spent much of my time talking about planning permission and bricks and mortar when we all know that the key to quality education is what happens within the four walls of the classroom. We need to look seriously at how we fund our schools, particularly in terms of capitation rates. These rates have not recovered sufficiently and stood at €296 per student in 2018. This constitutes an 11% decrease since 2010. I urge the Minister to undertake an assessment of the adequacy of the current capitation rate. Too many schools are now reliant on fundraising or voluntary contributions to keep the lights on. We need to look seriously at the funding of our schools and at capitation rates as a whole. The current system is undermining the long established tradition of free education and must be tackled urgently. I serve on three boards of management at present, at one primary school and two secondary schools. Every year when we go through the audited accounts we see that heating, lighting, electricity, insurance and other bills are going up. Schools are struggling to keep up with this price inflation.

I would also like to reference the workload of teaching principals. If this Government really values smaller schools then it needs to introduce drastic reforms in this area. Consideration must be given to expanding the number of release days for teaching principals to ensure that they can adequately administer the affairs the school while also leading teaching and learning and supporting their boards of management. Finally, reference must be made to the plight of the estimated 850 children with special needs across the country who are receiving home tuition this year because space could not be found for them in a local school. All new schools and new buildings for existing schools should be built with facilities to accommodate children with special needs. It is not acceptable that some of our most vulnerable children are treated this way. In the area where I live there is no capacity to meet the demand for ASD facilities in our schools. Two years ago Glanmire Community College opened up two ASD units.

It was the first school in the locality to do so. There is already pressure on the school in that regard and it has agreed to open a third unit next September. It is already oversubscribed. Four or five such units could be filled in the locality. The capacity in the area does not meet demand.

Every year, Deputies face the challenge of getting a space in a local school for children with special needs. Many are turned away and end up travelling for up to an hour, often by taxi, to access their right to an education, while many others receive home tuition. Education should be at the heart of every community. People should have the opportunity to be educated in their community. It is incumbent on the Government to implement the recommendations of the report. I commend Deputy O'Loughlin and the committee on producing it.

Cuirim fáilte freisin roimh an tuarascáil an-tábhachtach seo. Many points noted in the report have been well made by Deputies. The fact that there is cross-party consensus on the matter speaks to the importance of education for the Irish body politic and for achieving social and economic goals for the country.

My colleague, Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan, referred to planning. A key element of catering for the increase in population of 1 million by 2040 will involve the provision of education and training at primary and post-primary levels, as well as the increasingly important process of lifelong learning. We need to look at imaginative ways to use our schools and training centres to provide learning opportunities within the community. I worry that the planning unit of the Department is not sufficiently equipped to meet the projections in respect of school numbers or the type of education we will need in the coming decades.

That brings me to the issue of IT equipment in schools, which was raised in submissions by the ASTI. The union pointed in particular to a 2016 ESRI report on the infrastructural deficit in that regard. I am worried that not all schools are sufficiently equipped with information and communication technology. Given the technological revolution we will face through the next decade which will involve challenges such as automation and artificial intelligence, we need to ensure that learners and teachers in our schools are sufficiently equipped with resources so as to be able to face them. I wish to see a clear set of plans, building on the report, in respect of how schools and teachers will be equipped to deal with those challenges.

An issue which has not been addressed is that of physical education, PE. A submission by the Joint Managerial Body noted that only 50% of schools have full-sized PE halls and some 72% of those halls are fully or partly funded by the school. All Deputies are aware of the challenges of childhood obesity, the importance of engaging people in sport and that it has been shown that those who are physically active enjoy a better learning environment. A strategy is needed in that regard. The report notes that the Department stated in 2018 that there would be an audit of sports facilities in schools within a two-year period. It is now late 2019. What is the status of that commitment?

Several Deputies referred to the workload of teaching principals. Some 57% of primary principals have the dual responsibility of managing the school and teaching full time. The challenges in small schools have been outlined. There are issues arising from a lack of middle management in larger primary schools. Since the time of the moratorium, those issues have not been addressed, which is a further source of pressure on teaching principals.

Along with several other Deputies, I note the cross-party consensus on the issue. Politics is about providing solutions and the report contains several very effective recommendations. I am very happy with the work of the Chairman of the committee, Deputy O'Loughlin, and how she conducts her business. While there surely are several easy wins to be had from the report, it also highlights some of the challenges in the system.

I formally congratulate my two new colleagues from Fianna Fáil on their by-election wins. It is great to come into Leinster House for the first time. I wish them well with their careers. Should I have said "their long careers"? I am sure they will, at least, be productive.

I note the presence of a former student of mine, Deputy Buckley. I do not know where I went wrong. It goes to show how time flies. Like the Acting Chairman, Deputy Breathnach, my career in education dates back a long time; to the 1960s in my case. There is no comparison between the situations then and now.

Deputy Malcolm Byrne referred to technology. The first computer I saw in a school was an Apple II. It had a green screen and one cursor and made beeping noises. We have come a long way and technology is moving very quickly. One sometimes wonders what impact it is having on our children, particularly when one hears principals talking about special lockers for mobile phones such that they are not used in classrooms, their not being permitted in school, the apps available on them and the significant amounts of time which students spend on them. Technology is welcome but we must be mindful of its dangers.

Deputies Buckley and Pádraig O'Sullivan referred to the situation in Carrigtwohill. I too am frustrated by the rate of progress there. It is the biggest single project ever undertaken by the Department of Education and Skills, with a total spend of approximately €38 million to provide on one campus two primary schools and a secondary school. The latter will cater for 1,000 students. The project is ready to go and funding for it has always been available, but it has been beset by problems relating to the purchase of land, obtaining planning permission and so on. It is being driven on as quickly as possible. The delay has led to frustrations.

Deputy Buckley referred to various waiting lists. In many parts of the country, parents enrol their child in more than one school and sometimes as many as three or four different schools. That is a source of frustration for principals because as the year goes on, the lists get shorter, which makes planning very difficult. We may need to come up with a system for admission to secondary schools which operates along the lines of the Central Applications Office college admission process. That is being done in Limerick, where it works quite well. It may be a measure which should be implemented where there are difficulties in respect of school waiting lists. There were very long waiting lists in my area at the start of last year but by August the waiting lists had diminished such that almost every student was catered for. It causes frustration for parents and worry for students if the child is number 90 or 100 on a waiting list. There was reference to a child moving from 90th to 60th on a waiting list. The list keeps moving as the year progresses. Last August, a woman whose child was enrolled in two schools contacted me, wondering to which school she should send the child. She was holding up a place for another child. Parents enrolling their children in more than one school is a problem. They may be worried that their child will not get a place. Major building works have been completed in approximately 15 schools in my area in recent years, including extensions and new schools.

That is happening across the country, thankfully.

I thank all the Deputies for their contributions to the debate. The combination of the committee's work and this debate will help inform policy on these important matters. I spent five years on the justice committee and it produced many reports. The reports feed into policy. Committees have a major role to play in this regard. What has struck me, however, since I left the committee and undertook my current role is that it might be useful sometimes if committees would cost the proposals they put forward, that is, how much the proposals would cost the taxpayer. We can have wish lists, but it is important to go through them to see how many millions or tens of millions of euro they are going to cost. I am not sure if that has been done here. I have not seen it, but perhaps it has been. All of us should take on that responsibility if we are making proposals.

Much progress has been made on the matters outlined today since the public hearings held by the committee in late August 2018. This is evident in the many initiatives the Minister for Education and Skills has taken since his appointment. The symposium on small schools gave an opportunity to restate the Government's commitment to small schools and to open a dialogue with all the key stakeholders. The improvement of capitation funding for schools will apply from the start of the 2020-21 school year. The combined increases in standard capitation funding for primary and post-primary schools given in the budgets for 2019 and 2020 means restoration of approximately 40% will be achieved. There is support for principals through the commitment to revise the number of available posts of responsibility to take account of retirements during the school year in order to maintain the current level of posts of responsibility and to increase the number of principal release days. The increased number of release days is important, especially for schools with a teaching principal. Budget 2020 is the third successive budget to provide for an increase in the number of principal release days.

Under the current Action Plan for Education there is a commitment to increase the financial support for book rental schemes for schools in order to reduce or eliminate school book costs for parents. When I was teaching many moons ago we started a book rental scheme and it was very successful. Schools must also continue to take a pragmatic role and do everything possible to keep costs down for parents. Schools can do many things to keep costs down, such as with regard to the generic jumper with the fancy crest. This stuff is not needed for education or for schools. Under Project Ireland 2040 the Government is investing €8.8 billion in the school education sector between 2018 and 2027. This will enable the Department to make good progress in delivering on the significant number of projects in the pipeline and increase the infrastructure capacity in the school sector, while ensuring that the schools being built are being future proofed and taking advantage of new technologies as they come on stream.

Deputy Malcolm Byrne spoke about PE in schools. I agree wholeheartedly on the importance of physical education. Part of my role at present is developing a youth justice strategy. I believe it is extremely important that young people are involved in sport, and very often they can learn a new sport in schools. It is also important that we do not just close down schools at 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. The facilities, sports halls, gymnasia and sports fields should be available to the wider community as much as possible outside school hours. Other clubs and organisations should be able to use those facilities as well. That is happening in many areas, but we must start to maximise the use of our resources and facilities across the country, especially when the taxpayer is funding them.

I thank the Chairman of the committee for the great work she has done in this report. It is important to shine a light in this area. The report is very good and it will certainly inform policy and debate into the future. I thank the Chairman and the members for the time they put into this and for taking it so seriously.

I wish to record my delight at having two more colleagues on this side of the House. The fact that Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan chose to make his maiden speech about the importance of education is significant. Deputy Malcolm Byrne also spent a long time working in the education sector and we might say he made his second maiden speech on education. They will be two valued colleagues not just in the Fianna Fáil Party but in terms of their experience in the education sector. That experience will be directed to the improvement of education policy in the country and not just on this side of the House. We hope and expect that their influence and interest will lead to positive results.

I will pick up on a few points, and all the points were very well made by the Members. As I mentioned, the report covered a number of key issues in the education sector. We have put practical suggestions in the report and a number of these came from the stakeholders. I thank the 20 stakeholders who came to meet with the committee for a very good engagement on this issue.

In terms of the points the Minister made earlier, he referred to communication. It certainly is better. About two years ago we had the opportunity to look at many areas where there were new builds, but there was a very difficult system of communication. I acknowledge that it is better. In particular, the recommendation we made about having a dedicated person liaising with each school regarding a new build or a sizeable extension and somebody working on behalf of the school is crucial.

I also welcome the initiative on common enrolment policies. I could never understand why that was not done. In Newbridge, the 11 primary schools in the parish had this system, and it also certainly worked in terms of ensuring greater integration. I am glad there is a national initiative in that regard.

Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan spoke about the need for more engagement with local authorities.

That engagement right across the board is very important. When I was a councillor, we dealt two successive times, seven years apart, with one plan in regard to a particular area, Athgarvan. Within the local area, a piece of land was zoned for educational purposes, even though everybody knew the person who owned the land was never going to sell and repeatedly said he was never going sell the land for education purposes. Despite telling the planners and those involved, they said this was the best place for a school and they kept it zoned and would not look anywhere else. That makes no sense and shows no joined-up thinking whatsoever. The practical experience of being involved in the school community is important.

The whole area of AST classes is very important. At present, particularly for those who are leaving primary school and need to go into a mainstream secondary school, we only have 25% of what we need. In all of our constituencies, we all know of the huge frustration from parents who, since their child was born, have been fighting to get early intervention and get a place within the school. To then discover, eight years later, when there is a natural progression, that there is no place at second level is an appalling indictment of the education system.

We have an increasing population, of that there is no doubt. Despite what the Minister of State said about the Department looking at figures on forward planning, I do not think they are captured appropriately. We made this point in Tullamore, when we went to meet the Department in regard to forward planning, and some of the areas we highlighted were not in the original list of 42 new schools that the Minister of State mentioned. More schools have had to be added since, given that what the committee was bringing to bear proved to be correct.

The Minister of State mentioned the whole notion of facilities being used outside of school hours, and I could not agree more. I could never understand why school facilities would be locked at 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. I know insurance has been an issue in many cases but I believe that, in any new build, there has to be a situation where general purpose rooms and PE rooms have an independent door that can be accessed from outside and which the community can use. In Two Mile House, just outside Kilcullen, the school had no PE facilities but it now has a site, donated by the parish, and is starting, together with the community, to try to get the LEADER funding for a hall which will service the community as well as the school, which is the way to go.

I thank the Minister of State and thank all involved for their positive and proactive engagement. I want to offer final thanks to the secretariat and a particular mention to our now former Clerk, Alan Guidon, who this week has gone on to another role in the Oireachtas. Alan's help, support, experience and wisdom have been invaluable over the past two years to me, as Chair, and to the committee as a whole. We wish him well in his new appointment.

I note the Minister of State has taken on board some of the recommendations and we look forward to him taking on board the rest of the recommendations we have made.

Question put and agreed to.
The Dáil adjourned at 7.53 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 10 December 2019.