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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 1 Feb 2022

Vol. 1017 No. 2

Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Question No. 60 replied to with Written Answers.

State Examinations

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Question:

61. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Education if she will clarify the arrangements that will be made for the junior certificate 2022 that recognise the disruption that students have faced; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4822/22]

The other element of today's considerations relates to the junior certificate. Junior certificate students feel rather forgotten by the Department. Today's announcement barely made reference to them. The Minister's statement this afternoon referenced that junior cycle exams would run in June as normal. She has already acknowledged that the situation has been anything but normal for leaving certificate students. Surely, it has been nothing like normal for the past few years for third-year students too. In fact, every single year of their school education has been disrupted. What is being done to recognise that disruption?

I am very aware of the disruption experienced by students who are due to take their junior cycle examinations this year. The State Examinations Commission, SEC, with my Department, has been progressing planning for these examinations in consultation with, as I have previously outlined, the advisory group on planning for the State examinations, which has met on a number of occasions to consider this matter. As I previously said, I also met with this group on a bilateral basis over recent weeks.

Following consideration of this matter by the Government, today I announced decisions regarding this year’s leaving certificate and junior cycle examinations. I was happy to confirm that the junior cycle examinations will take place this summer for the first time since 2019 having been cancelled in 2020 and 2021 on foot of public health advice due to the impact of Covid-19. I was strongly of the view that these examinations should proceed this year. This year is the first year that all of the new subject specifications for junior cycle will be assessed by the SEC. A number of adjustments to the assessment arrangements for junior cycle have been published to take account of the impact of Covid and will provide for more teaching time in schools.

As part of the junior cycle, students normally complete a number of classroom-based assessments, CBAs, which have been reduced by 50%. The school also has autonomy in dealing with the CBAs regarding when they will be completed by students, with some exceptions. As CBAs are school-based assessments, schools have been advised that there are flexibilities in the windows for completion of the CBAs in light of particular circumstances within an individual school. The assessment task, which is usually assessed and marked by the SEC, will not be assessed in 2022 in the relevant subjects. Instead, the written examination will account for 100% of the marks, giving further time within the schools. Adjustments have been made to the requirements for practicals and coursework in subjects including, for example, music, home economics, art and technologies. No changes have been made to the other aspects of the examinations as these are already specific and very significant changes to their format. It is a recognition of the importance of running the exam for the first time in three years.

I agree with having the examinations. That was my position any time I was asked but if everything had moved up a division, the approach taken for the leaving certificate would have been an appropriate solution to the junior certificate. It is very disappointing that no further adjustments have been made to the junior certificate papers. Leaving certificate students have understandably been prioritised for teaching substitutes, notwithstanding the absences that still exist, which are very considerable, according to the Irish Second-Level Students Union survey. Junior certificate students were some of the last to return to school buildings. If I recall correctly, they were out until well into April last year. None of the changes take into account the increased levels of absence and the very lengthy school closures. Why have there been no new changes to relieve the pressure on junior certificate students?

By way of observation, I mentioned the contact I received from students, families and some teachers regarding the leaving certificate. It was actually teachers, most of all, who contacted me about the junior certificate. I am quite disappointed on behalf of their students.

I will be clear that 2022 is the first year that all the new subject specifications for junior cycle will be assessed by the SEC. Those specifications provide for a very flexible and wide-realm approach in respect of questions and options being made available to students. A number of significant adjustments have been made. I know from my own experience that the requirement that a number of CBAs take place for a subject is quite a time constraint within the classroom. Those have, therefore, been cut by 50%. The assessment task, another task that is time demanding within the classroom and the experience of what can be provided from a teaching and learning point of view, has been done away with this year. These are very significant and progressive steps forward. Other amendments have been made. For example, adjustments have been made to the requirements for practicals and coursework in particular subjects, such as music, home economics, art and technologies. It is important to recognise that there have been adjustments and changes to provide greater flexibility for junior cycle students.

I am aware of the changes to the CBAs but I do not see the consistency. I am disappointed that the Minister has not gone further in respect of the leaving certificate but, if we are to be consistent and we are acknowledging that the time lost to leaving certificate students was such that it required adjustments to the papers, why is it not the case that the time lost requires changes to be made to the junior certificate papers? Junior certificate students have experienced arguably more disruption due to school closures, amounting to almost four months last year. They are probably getting less priority for substitution this year. There were significant amounts of self-isolation, including among students. Why is the Minister not taking the same approach? Why is she not making changes to the junior certificate papers so those students have additional choice? It is a simple question of consistency. If it is worth it for the leaving certificate, why not for the junior certificate?

It is important to reiterate that there have been changes, amendments and alterations to the paper. The papers have been tailored to meet the needs of the class of 2022. I will again specifically reference, as somebody who has worked in the area, that it is a considerable benefit that the number of CBAs has been reduced by 50%. To address the time issue raised by the Deputy, I know it is also a considerable benefit that the assessment task no longer takes place. The adjustments that have been made to practicals, including those for music, home economics, art and technologies, are of significant benefit.

It is also important to acknowledge that the junior cycle examination papers are completed in a booklet format, with students required to answer all questions. The papers are designed to assess the subject specifications in an integrated way, reflecting the way in which teachers’ expertise is used to plan for delivering the subjects using integrated strands and elements. Any adjustments made to these papers at this stage would make them fundamentally different from expectations and what students are expecting. They would be more likely to disadvantage rather than benefit students, while acknowledging yet again that there have been significant alterations to, and tailoring of, the papers to meet the needs of the class of 2022.

State Examinations

Jennifer Murnane O'Connor

Question:

62. Deputy Jennifer Murnane O'Connor asked the Minister for Education her plans to support a hybrid leaving certificate for 2022; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4664/22]

My question is about the hybrid leaving certificate for 2022 students. The students and parents who contacted me today are so disappointed that the Minister has ruled it out. What are her plans now to reform the leaving certificate?

As already outlined to the House, in recent weeks I attended a meeting with the advisory group on State examinations, which is representative of students, parents, teachers, managerial bodies, the further and higher education sector and the State Examinations Commission. Following on from this meeting, I met with the members of the advisory group on a one-to one or bilateral basis and also had further engagement with each of them thereafter. I listened carefully to what each of these stakeholders had to say and examined each of their points.

Following consideration of this matter by the Government today, I announced the decision to operate an examinations approach for the leaving certificate class of 2022, with significant further adjustments to the examinations and to provide students with a commitment that the overall results of leaving certificate 2022 will not be lower than in 2021. As the Deputy may be aware, it would not have been possible to run accredited grades in the same manner as had been done last year as junior cycle data was unavailable for 25%, or one in four, of our students.

The further extensive changes I have announced to the examination papers over and above those announced in August 2021 mean that candidates have greater choice in the papers, have less questions to answer and still have the same amount of time as in a normal year to complete the examination. For example, as I have previously outlined, in mathematics, where students would traditionally have ten questions to answer, they now have only six. This is in addition to previously announced changes such as the running of the oral examinations and music practical over the first week of the Easter break.

Timeframes for certain assessment elements of the leaving certificate applied examinations have also been pushed out. Schools were also reminded of the flexibilities regarding the dates for completion and authentication of examination coursework. I have also confirmed that junior cycle examinations will take place this summer, which I think is also important. Adjustments to the assessment arrangements for junior cycle were published previously and provide for more teaching time in schools. As I outlined earlier, they include a reduction in the number of classroom-based assessments, the removal of the requirement to complete the assessment tasks and adjustments to the requirements in coursework and practical performance tests.

I believe that the decision will provide the junior cycle and leaving certificate students of 2022 with an opportunity for their learning and attainment at the end of their post-primary education to be assessed and to enable them to progress.

I thank the Minister. I am intensely aware of the interruption experienced by students due to take their leaving certificate examination this year. The level of stress as they awaited certainty about this year's examinations was felt by all of us. I appreciate that the Minister has made great changes to the examinations, but these students have missed an entire year of a two-year programme. I am really worried about students' mental health. It is time we reformed the leaving certificate and the steps to do that must occur now.

I am aware that arrangements have been made in conjunction with the State Examinations Commission to put in place numerous measures to take account of disruptions and challenges caused by the pandemic, including revised dates for coursework or oral examinations, but are provisions being made for students who cannot sit the examinations due to Covid-19 or long Covid?

I reiterate that we are all very conscious of the difficulties of the past two years for the education sector and for wider society, but most specifically in this instance for our students. As I have previously outlined to the House, I have engaged with students, parents, teachers and school management bodies. The were four key points consistently raised by students, including the necessity to have clarity, which we have provided today. We were in a position to do that earlier this year than was achieved last year. The second point was that they would have greater choice in the examination papers. As I have outlined to the Deputy, we have achieved that for them. There is a significantly different examination being experienced by students in 2022 than was experienced by those in 2018 or 2019.

The issue of grade inflation was a key point highlighted by students. Again, I have given the commitment today that the grade inflation of 2021 will be on a par for the class of 2022. On the accredited grades process and the issues around that, we did do work on that. There is an issue around the fact that one in four students do not have the junior cycle data.

I want to ask the Minister about supports. What supports will be offered to students with long-term illnesses that might prevent them from sitting the examination on the assigned date? A student with epilepsy who experiences a medical emergency such as a seizure immediately before or during the examination and is unable to complete that examination, should be given the opportunity to re-sit the examination within the same examination cycle or before such time as the CAO offers issue. Such a provision has been introduced in recent years for students who experience a bereavement during their examinations. Stress and anxiety can be more acute during the leaving certificate examination cycle for a student with long-term illness such as epilepsy, Crohn's disease or cancer. They have the heightened anxiety and worry about being unable to complete their examination. Is their only option to repeat the examination a year later? What supports can the Minister look at for these students? For those in fifth year anxiously watching this space and waiting to hear how the examination will take place next year, what challenges will be there for them?

I, too, want to raise the matter of supports. The Minister will be aware of the committee report of a number of months ago which highlighted the inevitable additional supports that would be required for students after Covid. It highlights the necessity for us to put in place enhanced mental health supports, particularly in our schools. I understand that is occurring at third level, but it is also eminently necessary at second level. The Minister has made a difficult decision under very difficult circumstances so as not to have to bring in measures such as profiling, which clearly was not desired in the committee or in this House.

As stated earlier by my colleague, Deputy Bruton, it is necessary for us to re-evaluate the leaving certificate as it currently stands in terms of continuous examination and ensuring that that terminal examination is not a one-day event.

I thank the Deputies. On Deputy Murnane O'Connor's specific question with regard to the accommodation for students who have a significant illness, a bereavement or are impacted by Covid, it may have escaped the Deputy but I did announce some time ago that there is a contingency second sitting of the examination, which will take place immediately after the first sitting of the examination. This is for exceptional cases such as a medical issue pertaining to a student, a bereavement or an issue pertaining to Covid.

I appreciate the points that have been raised in regard to the need to support the students in all aspects of their lives. Deputies will be aware that earlier this year we launched the Covid learning and support scheme for schools, which is not only a support scheme with additional hours and additional teaching resources for academic learning, but also for well-being initiatives within our schools. On the issue of senior cycle reform, I am enormously committed to senior cycle reform. It is something that we will be progressing. My objective is to ensure that we maximise the potential of all of our students and the assessment of their various skill sets, and provide pathways for them.

School Facilities

Alan Farrell

Question:

63. Deputy Alan Farrell asked the Minister for Education if she will provide an update on efforts to develop facilities at a school (details supplied) in County Dublin to meet growing demand in the years ahead; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4610/22]

This question relates to one of the fastest growing communities in the country, namely, Dublin 15, Swords and Balbriggan and, in particular, the provision of school facilities in Swords.

As the Deputy will no doubt be aware, there has been significant growth in post-primary student numbers in the Swords area in recent years. Across the Swords school planning area, total post-primary enrolments have increased by over 800 pupils since 2011. Enrolments at Fingal Community College have grown by over 300 in that same timeframe and additional accommodation was provided at the school in 2015 and 2016 in order to address the increased pupil numbers.

In the context of further increasing pupil numbers at Fingal Community College the school submitted an application for capital funding under my Department's additional school accommodation scheme. An interim solution to meet the needs of the school was put in place. However, as part of the assessment process for an additional school accommodation application my officials consider not just the existing enrolments at the school, but also anticipated future needs in order to make full and appropriate provision for both current and future students. To anticipate school place requirements, my Department uses a geographical information system, utilising statistical models, child benefit data, school enrolment figures, information on residential development activity, Project Ireland 2040 population and housing targets and other relevant data. The most recent projections of post-primary school place requirements in the Swords school planning area show continued growth in requirements over the coming years.

Having considered the existing accommodation at the school relative to both current and long-term needs in the area, it was determined that there should be significant additional permanent accommodation provision at Fingal Community College. However, the school site is extremely constrained and this presents significant challenges in delivering the required volume of accommodation. In that context, my Department is working to formulate an appropriate long-term plan to meet the needs of the school and deliver the required accommodation in consultation with the school's patron, Dublin and Dún Laoghaire Education and Training Board, ETB.

A number of potential options are being explored in this regard and the Deputy will appreciate that to identify the optimum solution for this school, it is necessary to undertake a full and thorough technical appraisal of these options, which takes some time. Pending the delivery of this long-term solution, the Department will continue to work with Dublin and Dún Laoghaire ETB as school patron to ensure any necessary interim accommodation requirements are met.

I thank the Minister for her comprehensive response. I am pleased to hear the level of detail the Department has gone into in its planning for additional accommodation at the school and a long-term solution. For the benefit of the other Deputies present, when one thinks about a secondary school one thinks about large yards, perhaps a couple of football pitches and things like that. This school has a basketball court and that is it. There are 880 students on site. They have been there since 1985 and, through no fault of anyone, the site was overdeveloped and it is as simple as that.

I welcome the Government's capital plan for 2019 to 2022, which identified 45 schools and left no constituency untouched, or no county at least. Swords has benefited from a brand new 1,000-pupil school, Swords Community College, which is now fully completed and occupied up to fourth year. It is important for us to identify that this site is bang in the middle of the community. It is ideal for schooling but, unfortunately, the school has expanded beyond its boundaries. The outside recreational space for students is bordering on unhealthy.

I appreciate the case that the Deputy makes. I recognise the necessity for the area. The key issue is that the school site is extremely constrained, as the Deputy identified. That is presenting considerable challenges in delivering the required volume of accommodation necessary for the school. It is a tribute to the school that it is growing. The Department is heavily committed to working to formulate an appropriate long-term solution to meet the accommodation needs of the school. We are doing that. I acknowledge the co-operation of the school's patron, Dublin and Dún Laoghaire ETB. A number of different, appropriate options are being explored. The Deputy will appreciate that, for every option, there needs to be a considered evaluation and that is a time constraint. I assure the Deputy that priority is being given to this matter.

I thank the Minister and completely understand her position. To put the matter in context again, in the census that will be completed later this year, Swords is expected to exceed 50,000 residents. Fingal County Council has long projected that by the end of the 2030s the population will be over 100,000 and, therefore, this sort of planning and the level of detail the Minister has outlined is entirely necessary. I commend her and the Department on all the work they are doing.

Other schools have benefited from expansions in recent years. There is also the new school in the form of Swords Community College in the north west of the community. There is a growing demand for diversity in education, particularly as that relates to Gaelcholáistí. There are two Gaelscoileanna in the community but there is no Gaelcholáiste, and that is an issue I will come back to in the future. I thank the Minister for dealing with the question.

I wish to mention something briefly along the lines of what the previous speaker has said.

Is it related to this question?

It is. There is a similar school, Lissycasey National School, in my constituency. I was there on Monday morning with local Councillor P.J. Kelly. Accommodation has been green-lighted but the needs do not stop there. There is a need for a sensory garden and additional parking. I believe the matter is before the Department and I ask the Minister to try to expedite it.

That contribution was not on the same question.

It was linked to the question. It referred to the same issue in a different county.

I thank the Deputies. I appreciate their points and the acknowledgement there is an absolute commitment on the part of the Department to the advancement of the school Deputy Farrell mentioned.

On the point raised by Deputy Crowe, I can confirm the school to which he referred has been approved for a project under the Department's additional accommodation scheme. The project will provide for one mainstream classroom and a two-classroom special educational needs base. I am also pleased to inform the Deputy that the Department approved this project to proceed to construction in May of 2021. The project is currently on site. The school has recently submitted a request for additional funding for the project to provide a sensory garden, hard play and soft play areas and six car parking spaces. I am pleased to inform the Deputy of our agreement in principle to provide the additional funding in question, subject to agreement being reached on the costs associated with the proposal. My officials have written to the school to seek further information and clarification on the cost of these additions, including whether cost-saving measures can be achieved.

That is fantastic. I thank the Minister.

Disadvantaged Status

Pearse Doherty

Question:

64. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Education when the additional schools added to the DEIS programme will be published; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4712/22]

In my own constituency and especially in west Donegal, I regularly engage with principals and boards of management of schools in the DEIS scheme. Despite being an area of deprivation by all accounts and statistics, the 2017 DEIS review excluded some primary and post-primary schools in my area that should not have been excluded. As part of the budget, the Minister announced a 20% increase in the allocation of funding to extend the DEIS programme to further schools with the highest levels of disadvantage, and that is badly needed. In what month will schools know if they are to be added to the DEIS programme? When will that be published?

I appreciate the case the Deputy has made. There are similar cases throughout the country. As I said earlier, budget 2022 has provided for an allocation of €18 million for 2022 and €32 million for 2023 to extend the DEIS programme to further schools with the highest levels of disadvantage. As the Deputy has acknowledged, this package represents an increase of over 20% on the €150 million already allocated by my Department to provide supports for schools in the DEIS programme. The DEIS programme currently supports 884 schools. The additional funding provided in budget 2022 will allow for the extension of the programme to additional schools from September 2022.

This year's package follows an extensive body of work which has been undertaken by the DEIS technical group on the development of a model to identify the concentrated levels of disadvantage of schools. The DEIS identification process under the DEIS plan is based on an objective, statistics-based model to determine which schools merit inclusion in the programme. An extensive body of work has been undertaken by the DEIS technical group to develop the refined DEIS identification. The key data sources are the Department of Education primary online database, the post-primary online databases and Central Statistics Office data from the national census of population as represented in the Pobal HP index for small areas, which is a method of measuring the relative affluence or disadvantage of a particular geographical area.

It is important to note that schools are not required to apply for inclusion in the DEIS programme and that all schools will be considered under the refined model when it is applied. During the process to refine the DEIS identification model, and as is general practice in the Department, my Department has consulted school management, national parent representative bodies and unions on the technical aspects of the refinement of the DEIS identification model. The purpose of this engagement is to ensure, as far as possible, the refined DEIS identification model can provide an objective and independent means of identifying schools serving high concentrations of pupils at risk of educational disadvantage and to ensure there is a full understanding of the refined model and its potential application. There will be further engagement with relevant stakeholders in advance of the implementation of the refined DEIS identification model.

My question is quite simple. When are the schools going to know whether they are in or out of the expanded DEIS programme? That is what principals are asking me. Principals in secondary schools are saying they need to do workforce planning and look at what we are offering schools. They cannot be told in July or August whether they are in a DEIS category or not. I have been raising the issues of Pobalscoil Ghaoth Dobhair, Scoil Rann Na Feirste, Scoil Naisiúnta Gort An Choirce and Scoil Naisiúnta Mhín Teineadh Dé since 2017 because they should never have been left out of the DEIS programme. They are in areas where the deprivation scores are level 10. The schools are rural and isolated in nature. We need to undo the wrong that was done at that time.

Leaving that to one side, my question is quite simple. Perhaps the Minister does not know the answer and if she does not, I ask that she lets me know that is the case. Does the Department know what timeframe and target it is working towards? When will it be able to notify a school that it is now a DEIS school as a result of the 20% expansion?

I thank the Deputy. I want to be clear that the progression, enhancement and expansion of the DEIS model to as many schools as possible has been a chief objective of my Ministry. It is a significant undertaking by the Department of Education to have secured €18 million for 2022 and €32 million for 2023 to advance that objective clearly for the types of schools the Deputy has referenced. Such schools are spread throughout the country. I am conscious of that and I know that. I have clearly said to the Deputy it is my intention that the new DEIS programme, including the schools that will be added to DEIS status, will be operational from September 2022. I am currently working towards that target. I am confident we will reach that target and it will be operational for September 2022.

Of course it is going to be operational in September 2022. We have known that since last year when the budget was allocated for this year. We knew that. When are the schools going to be notified? Is the Minister saying they will be notified on the eve of it becoming operational or are they going to be notified in August or perhaps July, June or April? Does she know when schools are going to be notified? Schools have to plan and they need to know now whether they fall under a DEIS category, which changes the workforce they will be able to look at next year. Schools are planning at this stage, particularly secondary schools for the options that will be available for students.

Does the Department know when that will be published? I am not referring to when it becomes operational; we all know that is happening in September. When will schools be notified that they are either in or out? I appreciate the work. I am glad the Minister has secured that funding. I know there is work to be done but this was agreed in October and it is now February. Are we going to be waiting a number of months? Can the Minister give us perhaps not a date but a month, at least, when schools will be notified of this issue?

Before the Minister comes in, a number of Deputies have indicated. It is difficult for other Members who are waiting if I let everybody in all over again on a question they have not tabled. Deputy O'Connor might be very brief.

I appreciate that, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

There are Deputies waiting who have tabled questions. It is at the discretion of the Chair.

Tuigim, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Go raibh maith agat.

I broadly support some of the points that were made by Deputy Doherty to say this is an enormously important issue. Under the current criteria, it is an enormous problem, particularly in the east Cork area with reference to Youghal. It faces enormous economic hardship but is not being included in DEIS, which is of huge interest to local schools. I have met with many of the local principals. I would appreciate if the Minister would look at broadening the economic criteria in this particular area.

I thank the Minister. It is good that a review is under way and that we have an action plan ahead of us. It is important that schools now are in a position to submit data. I know of several schools in County Clare and throughout the country that have carried out a census and socioeconomic profiles such as Ennis Educate Together National School, St. Joseph's Community College, Kilkee, and Holy Family Senior National School. They have their data but have not gone into the Department. We could move this quicker. I implore the Minister to look at that.

As I mentioned earlier, the funding package that was identified of €18 million for 2022 and €32 million for 2023 is to facilitate this being up and running in our schools in September 2022. Our schools will be given ample time. It is my intention to ensure that schools are informed in such time as to allow them to plan for the coming school year.

In advance of any announcements, the Department will engage further with relevant stakeholders. It is important that the process is clear, open, transparent and easily understood. Coming from this sector myself, I am very aware it is also important that schools need significant time for planning. I assure the Deputy that sufficiently in advance of September 2022, which will be the implementation period-----

-----schools will be informed of their inclusion in the DEIS model. Again, in terms of points that have been raised, it is important to point out that schools are not required to apply for inclusion in the DEIS programme, and that all schools will be considered under the refined model.

State Examinations

Ruairí Ó Murchú

Question:

65. Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú asked the Minister for Education when a decision will be made in relation to the 2022 leaving certificate; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4827/22]

There has already been much talk regarding the 2022 leaving certificate examination. Deputy Ó Laoghaire and others have put on the record where we stand with regard to the fact that the hybrid version is the only viable solution students and their parents wanted to hear about. They are dealing with a huge level of stress. What engagement was there in trying to deliver it?

In recent weeks, I attended a meeting with the advisory group on State examinations, which has representatives of students, parents, teachers, managerial bodies, the further and higher education sector and the State Examinations Commission. As I previously outlined, following on from this meeting, I met with the members of the advisory group on a one-to-one and bilateral basis and had further engagement with each of them thereafter. I listened carefully to what each of these stakeholders had to say and examined each of their points.

Following consideration of this matter by Government today, I announced the decision to operate an examinations approach for leaving certificate in 2022, with significant further adjustments to the examinations, and to provide students with a commitment that the overall results of leaving certificate 2022 will not be lower than in 2021.

As the Deputy may be aware, it would not have been possible to run accredited grades in the same manner as last year because junior cycle data were unavailable for one in four of our students. The further extensive changes I have announced to the examination papers, over and above those announced in August 2021, mean that candidates have greater choice in the papers, fewer questions to answer and still have the same time as in a normal year to complete the examination. Various examples can be given. For the Spanish oral, rather than having five presentations to prepare for in terms of role play, they will only have three. In the sraith pictiúr in Irish, where they would normally have 20 to prepare for, they now have ten. This is, of course, a significant change to the examinations as students would have known them and an accommodation of issues that have been raised by them.

Timeframes for certain assessment elements of the leaving certificate applied examinations have been also pushed out. Schools were also reminded of the flexibilities regarding the dates for completion and authentication of examination course work. Importantly, I also confirmed that junior cycle examinations will take place this summer. Adjustments to the assessment arrangements for junior cycle were published in August 2021 and provide for more teaching time in schools. They include a reduction in the number of CBAs to be completed, the removal of the requirement to complete assessment tasks and adjustments to the requirements in course work and practical performance tests. I believe the decision will provide the junior cycle and leaving certificate students of 2022 with an opportunity for their learning and attainment at the end.

It is not the first time that reply has been read out this evening. The Minister talked about three out of four of the asks having been delivered upon but, as I said earlier, the most important one for an awful lot of students and parents has not been delivered. That has been said, however. I do not expect to get a different answer from anybody else.

Those mitigations the Minister talked about with regard to the examination are necessary considering the difficulties. Deputy Ó Laoghaire and others spoke about the fact that not everybody has the same 24 hours and not everybody had the same school year or two-year period. People have been out due to sickness. Teachers have been out and it has an impact. There are probably students who can put a couple of sample papers in front of them and get six A1s but that is not everybody.

The fear we also have is that the Department is absolutely committed to maintaining the leaving certificate and we are not going to see a sign of reform. Could the Minister give me an answer regarding what the reforms are and the planned timeline?

I must point out to the Deputy that if an answer given the first time is honest, fair and accurate, it will be the same answer I give him the second and, indeed, third and fourth time. If it is a truthful answer first time, it will remain a truthful answer. I have given a truthful answer in this House as regards my engagements, the deliberations concerning leaving certificate 2022 and the junior cycle, engagements I had with the advisory group, parents, students and teachers, the issues that were raised with me by students, in particular, where they asked for clarity and for greater choice in their examinations, which we delivered upon today. I outlined for the Deputy earlier what they were.

Issues of grade inflation were raised by many around the table at the advisory group, which I delivered upon today. Issues regarding accredited grades were raised. I very clearly pointed out to this House in an honest answer the difficulty in that we could not implement accredited grades this year in a similar and fair fashion to how that was implemented last year. For that reason, I maintain the answers I gave the first, second and, indeed, third time

I am repeating the times again. The Deputy has one minute.

I thank the Minister. I have no difficulty that she is repeating the answer. I accept some of it. The bit I do not accept is that it was impossible to come up with a solution in this regard. The other question I put related to the fear that students are being short-changed at this point by not being offered the hybrid model. I accept those other necessary mitigations are occurring. The fear is that the Department is wedded to the leaving certificate as is, however, and that the reform that is necessary, which everyone across this House accepts should happen, will not happen, and that is the reason we are in a situation where the hybrid model is not in place.

We all know a significant number of students have not done the junior certificate. I will be clear. Deputy Danny Healy-Rae spoke earlier about full disclosure. My son is doing the leaving certificate. I would probably be a lot happier if he was a bit more stressed about it, but a large number of kids are stressed and we should be trying to deliver for them. Reform into the future is the only thing that will work.

I want to be clear that the reason the hybrid model or accredited grades aspect is not being implemented this year is that when a teacher provides an estimated mark, he or she does so because he or she knows his or her student.

He or she does not know the student in another class whom the teacher has not taught. It is important that there is comparability between the students in a national examination. To achieve that comparability, as I have outlined earlier, we relied upon the junior cycle data belonging to the class of that year group. One in four of the class of 2022 does not have those data. Therefore, we were not in a position to provide the accredited grades in as fair a manner as was provided to the students last year. That is the honest reason as to what has transpired.

I want to be clear that I am committed to senior cycle reform. I am conscious that we need to find a mechanism that can assess the various talents, abilities and skill sets of our students in the widest possible manner. That needs to be incorporated into senior cycle, as indeed does the maximum potential for students going forward to choose whatever pathway they might wish to choose. I am completely committed to it.

Curaclam Scoile

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

66. D'fhiafraigh Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív den Aire Oideachais cén uair a dhéanfar cinneadh maidir le na curaclaim nua Gaeilge don ardteist; an bhfuil i gceist aici déanamh cinnte go mbeidh sé tarraingteach do mhic léinn le Gaeilge líofa an curaclam is dúslánaí a leanacht; agus an ndéanfaidh sí ráiteas ina thaobh. [4636/22]

Mar is eol don Aire, tá an-bhuairt ar thuismitheoirí le gasúir ag a bhfuil Gaeilge mhaith mar tá scéal ann go mbeidh dhá churaclam Gaeilge ann ach nach mbeidh buntáiste dá laghad ann dóibh siúd a dhéanann an ceann is dúshlánaí. Cén uair a dhéanfar an cinneadh seo? Cén uair a chuirfear deireadh leis an tseafóid seo go mbeadh dhá churaclam ann agus na marcanna céanna as an gceann éasca agus a bheadh as an gceann deacair?

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta. Dúnadh le déanaí comhairliúchán leis an gComhairle Náisiúnta Curaclaim agus Measúnachta, CNCM, ar dhréacht-sonraíochtaí nua do Ghaeilge na hardteistiméireachta. Tá forbairt reatha na ndréacht-sonraíochtaí do Ghaeilge na hardteistiméireachta mar chuid den timthriall leanúnach athbhreithnithe agus athfhorbartha curaclaim.

As the Deputy is aware, the public consultation aspect of his process recently concluded. It deals with the new draft specifications for leaving certificate Irish. The current development of draft specifications for leaving certificate Irish is part of the ongoing cycle of curriculum review and redevelopment. As the Deputy will be aware, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, opened the consultation process. In response to stakeholder concerns and requests, it extended the closing date at the end of November 2021. To support stakeholder participation, the NCCA employed a wide range of consultation tools, including an online survey, bilateral and focus group meetings and written submissions. The NCCA is conducting a detailed analysis of all feedback that is received. It is hoped that an interim consultation report will be presented to the NCCA council in June. A report on early enactment of Irish at junior cycle is also due to be presented to the NCCA council shortly. I look forward to the outcomes of these processes in due course.

Will the Minister confirm to me tonight that in no way could we wind up in a situation whereby there would be two curricula for Irish, with one being much more difficult and challenging than the other; that the marks for both curricula will be the same; and that this would also count for the same for the points for CAO entrance? While I know that is not directly the Minister’s responsibility, presumably there is co-ordination between the Minister and the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science. This would avoid a total farce of a situation whereby there are two curricula that are totally different, with one being harder than the other and there being no advantage to doing the hard curriculum. Who would bother doing it, under those circumstances? Certainly, I would not have encouraged my children to do it when they were doing the leaving certificate, even though Irish was our home language.

I thank the Deputy. I know that he has a particular and passionate interest in this. He have raised it on an ongoing basis with me. With all due respect, it has been raised by the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and indeed by others here. I wish to acknowledge that there has been considerable engagement via the consultation process. For example, the NCCA has received some 740 responses in the online survey, as well as 240 written submissions. In addition, the NCCA hosted 13 focus group meetings in which there were 275 participants. Some eight bilateral meetings were held, and 19 individual interviews were held with teachers. Therefore, there has been significant engagement. That engagement is important because it will inform the ultimate decision that is made. To respect that process, it is important that I allow the analysis of that feedback, as well as the varied views, I have no doubt, that have been offered. We should allow that to be completed.

We have to have a system that will stop all the time-wasting by the ridiculous propositions that are being put forward by bodies charged with making sensible decisions. I, therefore, think that in this case we are in an exceptional circumstance. That is why I am asking the Minister to intervene and put to bed the proposition that there would be two courses, with one harder than the other, but the same marks and credits would be given for both. I cannot believe how much money we spent on all this consultation now, on what seems to me to be one of the most utterly ridiculous propositions I have ever heard. It should have been dismissed outright from the very beginning as a non-starter.

Teastaíonn uaim tacú leis an méid atá á rá ag an Teachta Ó Cuív. Ba cheart dúinn daltaí a mhealladh chun an t-ábhar a thógáil ar an leibhéal is airde gur féidir leo, seachas labhairt faoi T1 agus T2 a bheith ar chomhchéim ó thaobh pointí de. Ba cheart dúinn deireadh a chur leis an ráiméis mar gheall ar T1 agus T2 a bheith ar chomhchéim. Má chaithfimid pointí bónais a thabhairt don chaighdeán níos airde, caithfimid déileáil leis sin láithreach.

I need to say that it is important in every sector, including in the education sector, that the widest realm of people who are involved in the process have an opportunity to put and to record their views and their thoughts. I accept the passionately and sincerely held views that have been articulated by both Deputies here. However, it is important, in the interest of fairness and the interests of the process, that all views and all shades of views would be facilitated in having their voices heard. That is exactly what this consultation process has been about, namely, facilitating similarities of views as well as dissimilarity of views. I have no doubt that there will be competing views expressed here via this process. I accept that the publication of the conclusion of this process needs to be done as a matter of priority. It will be done. However, it is important that the considered views of everybody who engaged - and the Deputies will can see that it has been a huge engagement by people - would be given due consideration.

I would like to let Deputies know that we are approaching the end of the session. We will fit one in more question.

School Accommodation

Joan Collins

Question:

67. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Education the way in which she will address the issue of the lack of autism classes in Dublin 12 (details supplied). [4129/22]

First, I welcome the fact that the autism class in St. Damien's National School was opened recently, after the Minister intervened. I know that the autism community welcomes that. I want to ask the Minister how she will address the issue of the lack of autism classes in Dublin 12. Dublin 12 does not have enough autism classes. I ask the Minister about the position in respect of Drimnagh Castle Primary School and Drimnagh Castle Secondary School, Loreto College Crumlin Road, Holy Spirit Junior Primary School, Greenhills, Marist Primary School and Scoil Úna Naofa.

I thank Deputy Joan Collins for her questions. Before I get into the specifics of Dublin 12, it important when we are talking about special education to acknowledge the amount of significant progress that we have made. For example, since 2011, we have increased special classes by 386% in this country. This year, we have 2,118 special classes in Ireland. We also have 126 special schools.

In Dublin 12 specifically, we have 21 primary special classes, including two early intervention classes. We have six post-primary special classes, four of which are new this year. Obviously, there is ongoing engagement with schools as well. It is always open to a school to seek to open a special class through the National Council for Special Education.

One of the things that I have been doing over this year and last year is making sure that there is a streamlined approach and a targeted approach in relation to the opening of special classes. It is important to me, as the Minister of State with responsibility for special education, that no child goes without a special class. In that regard, it is important to say as well that the majority of schools in Dublin 12 the Deputy references have opened a special class.

Sometimes we trigger the section 37A mechanism to compel a school to open a special class in specific circumstances, but generally most special classes are opened without the need to do that. We would always try to collaborate rather than coerce a school into opening a special class. There are grants available for this purpose. For example, there is €6,500 available to schools for furniture and general equipment if they want to open a special class. This also relates to the inclusive culture we are trying to make sure is progressed when talking about children with additional needs.

I take on board the point that there has been a huge increase. That is very welcome and it was needed from the point of view of autistic children. However, the fact of the matter is that children in Dublin 12 are still leaving the community to go to school and there are still children with no school places. There are two special classes in Scoil Íosagáin but they are full and cannot take any more children. There is a backlog of pupils wanting to get into the autism classes in that school. We have a situation in the Assumption secondary school because the feeder school is Drimnagh primary, which has no autism classes, so these children have nowhere to go. There is a need to look at the schools again and possibly encourage them to open the autism classes because they are badly needed.

We will always endeavour to open a special class in a school where the children live in the locality because we do not want them to travel unless they absolutely have to. It is in the Constitution that education is a right. That is not always possible in the locality but we will endeavour to do that. The National Council for Special Education, NCSE, did an on-site inspection in Drimnagh Castle Primary and in fairness, it has legitimate reasons for not having the classes as it does not actually have the capacity. There is land attached to the school but it is not owned by the patron. The NCSE also tells me that there is sufficient capacity for the current demand. However, the projected demand is a different matter and that is where the NCSE and the Department do a lot of work in anticipating capacity and needs in the future. Holy Spirit Senior Primary School is opening a special class in 2022-23, as is Scoil Úna Naofa. We have also opened Our Lady of Hope, which is a new special school. We opened two special schools this year but that is a new school that opened in Crumlin. It is also important to stress that all new schools built from last year on will automatically provide SEN facilities, which will be critical going into the future.

I have been in contact with the campaign for ASD units in Dublin 12. The Minister of State has also met those parents. They are saying that parents are still coming to them saying their children have had to leave the area and there are no school places in the area. Does the Minister of State know where the boys are to go if there is no feeder into Drimnagh Castle? As I said, Scoil Íosagáin says it is full. There is a backlog of children wanting to get into the autism classes and it has no room for them. That is obviously an issue if it is feeding into that school and there is no access to it. I welcome the fact that the Holy Spirit and Scoil Úna Naofa are opening classes in 2022-23. Drimnagh Castle is quite a big campus area and there is a lot of green space around it. The land outside the castle does not belong to the school but within it there is room and there are green areas.

I appreciate the Deputy's comments. As I said, that land is not owned by the school itself. I understand from the NCSE that the nearby schools will be able to meet the demand for this age cohort. Drimnagh Castle is a senior boys' primary school and I understand there is capacity and that we can meet that demand in the surrounding area. If the Deputy has specific issues she wants to discuss she can talk to me, the NCSE or the Department and I can follow up on that. Most of the special educational needs organisers, SENOs, will be engaging with families and schools to make sure there are no gaps and that no child is left without a place. I am determined, as is the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, to ensure we have sufficient placements for all our children with additional needs throughout the country, not just in Dublin 12. We are endeavouring to do that on a daily basis.

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Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.
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