Estimates for Public Services 2016: Vote 26 – Department of Education and Skills

I welcome the Minister for Education and Skills and his officials. Apologies have been received from the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills, Deputy Halligan, who contacted me last night to say that he cannot attend for personal reasons. Members are aware of the ongoing effort by the Houses of the Oireachtas to improve the engagement of Government Departments and public bodies with the committees in terms of how voted expenditure is dealt with. In that context, it has been agreed to hold a mid-year review process of the Department's Estimate - Vote 26 - as well as a consideration of the 2017 expenditure proposals. Briefing documents for today's meeting have been circulated to members.

The purpose of today's meeting with the Minister is to discuss improvements that may be desirable in respect of the performance information included in that Estimate, a mid-year review of the position regarding outputs and expenditure relating to the 2016 Estimate for the Department of Education and Skills and a briefing relating to the emerging position so as to permit the committee to participate in the 2017 Estimates discussions in advance of the allocations being finalised.

I propose that the Vote be examined on a selected programme basis. Members will be called upon to ask questions on the subhead under the relevant programme. Programme A, subhead A6, the special needs assistants scheme, and programme D, subhead D3, capital services - building, equipment and furnishing of primary and post-primary schools - have been chosen for examination. These programmes have been chosen as they contain information that will be useful in illustrating the link between expenditure and performance.

The first part of the meeting will focus on questions relating to programme A, subhead A6, and programme D, subhead D3, relating to departmental performance measures, what it has done to improve these measures and what needs to be done and the mid-year review of the position regarding outputs and expenditure. Following the examination of these programmes, members may wish to address questions to the Minister on administrative subheads, appropriations-in-aid and questions relating to the Vote as a whole. Is that agreed?

I think the meeting should be open to the range of Estimates relating to the Department. I would certainly like to discuss them in as much depth as possible, including the issues raised by the Chairman.

That is fine. I agree. Informally, we had a brief conversation prior to the meeting. I think the committee should have more say in terms of choosing the two particular items that we look at in detail. That is something we will certainly look for in the future.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I invite the Minister to begin.

I am at the committee's disposal. Can I make a few general comments before we go into detail?

Yes, of course.

This is my first opportunity to meet the committee and I look forward to a very positive relationship with it. Our mutual job is to champion education across the general view of the public as well as within the Houses of the Oireachtas. Education has a very strong case to make.

As members are aware, we produced the first action plan for education.

It is an attempt to meet what the Chairman outlined regarding having a clearer focus on outcomes and outputs that are of relevance to the committee and the public but also to introduce the concept of a major central vision, namely to be the best education service in Europe within a decade, built around five key goals with objectives, outcomes and actions under each.

I am convinced education is central to the twin objectives of Government to provide a sustainable path to full employment and to use our economic strength to deliver a fairer society. I have come from the enterprise brief and the key issue for all companies nowadays is access to talent to innovate, to be entrepreneurial, to work in teams and to communicate. That is where our long-term sustainable path to full employment lies and education is at the heart of that. Education is again the only sector where one can genuinely on a permanent basis break down cycles of disadvantage to deliver a fair society. Recently, the chief executive officer of the Peter McVerry Trust addressed my party's think-in and he talked about the challenges of homelessness. The issue he put as No. 1 on the board for a ten-year homelessness strategy was ending school drop-outs. Education is intimately linked to many of the issues central to our concerns.

We have a job to demonstrate to the Oireachtas and the wider public the central importance of what we do. Equally, it is important that the debate on education should not focus exclusively on inputs but should also focus on how children are doing and how well we are progressing. The action plan has a clear focus on how well children are progressing and how well we are succeeding in bringing them out of disadvantage and giving them opportunities; how well schools are preforming in terms of leadership, methodology of teaching, and their capacity to help children with mental health or resilience issues; and how well broader bridges are being built into the community, without which education can never succeed. It is very much an intimate relationship between all the groups, including parents, enterprise, which provides outlets, and the many voluntary, community and public service organisations. Producing a plan of this nature, which we intend to have renewed annually in order that the actions are not only subject to a timeline for this year and we are accountable for them, but that at the end of each year, there will be an opportunity to review with others and to say what is working and what is not and what needs to be changed. That will create a dynamic of reform that will be helpful.

I am fortunate to head up a Department with immense experience, which runs a tight ship in terms of many of the indicators, but even the best run system can have the ambition to do better and that is clearly what we are doing. There are tangible targets, which will be of interest to members such as bringing the retention rates in DEIS schools up to the same level as ordinary schools. That will involve reducing the drop-out rate from approximately 19% to 10%. It would be a significant improvement as we develop this plan.

The Department's budget is €8.1 billion for current expenditure and €600 million for capital expenditure. A huge feature of current expenditure is the 80% devoted to pay. We employ 101,000 whole-time equivalents and we reach more than 1.5 million learners in some dimension or other. We are, therefore, an employment intensive operation and we depend on the quality, drive and leadership of that group.

The committee asked about pressures. There clearly are pressures on our budget, including demand and the need to improve services. Specific pressures this year include the number of retirements, which will cost approximately €50 million, and the need to provide funding for 860 SNAs who took up posts last month. There are always continuing pressures on the capital budget in respect of building and responding to demographic pressures. There has been a substantial increase in the budget for special educational needs over the past 15 years. The total allocation now is €1.5 billion and substantial investment has been made in resource teachers and SNAs and this is designed to focus on the needs of children with special educational needs. The allocation of resources is based on models of assessment as well as general learning allocations and I am happy to discuss that.

Schools investment is the big driver of capital expenditure. There has been a substantial increase in the number of pupils attending both primary and secondary school. This year, the new builds are anticipated to provide 20,000 additional schools at both levels. At any given time, there are 66 major projects under construction and approximately 50 will be completed this year. It is a supply chain moving along all the time with different gateways in the approval process ranging from schools being put on the list to being released to tender and going to construction.

Looking to the future, given the backdrop of €600 million being available across all Departments for discretionary spending in the upcoming budget, the pressure to meet all their needs is difficult. That is true in my area as well. A demographic uplift is built into the no policy change provision of our Estimate and, therefore, €103 million has been set aside to meet the increasing pupils numbers at first and second level but that only refers to PTR and capitation. The Lansdowne Road agreement will add €130 million to our budget, which is provided for.

Is that included in the €600 million?

No, that is included as part of the no policy change expenditure. The remaining money is for service improvements and meeting expected needs. Many needs are expected to emerge and they do not always get included in the no policy change allocation. For example, in respect of special educational needs, it is only in June that we have an estimate of what the demand will be for the coming year and, therefore, it is not built into an automatic provision. I have to make provision for that in the Estimates process.

It is a complicated, interesting sector and I am looking forward to working with the committee. I have a great deal of expertise withe me.

I thank the Minister. While the Department has noble aspirations, they cannot be implemented without significant investment.

The Minister referred to DEIS schools. There have not been any new DEIS schools in recent years. We must prioritise opening up that scheme to provide access to good quality education and opportunities to more children.

I now invite members to ask questions on the Minister's opening statement, the departmental performance measures and the mid-year review of the position regarding outputs and expenditure in the various programmes and in capital services.

How long do we have to speak?

Three to four minutes initially. We will take two or three sets of questions and refer back to the Minister.

I welcome the Minister and thank him and his officials for attending. The Minister is correct that this committee will try to champion all things educational. We must also hold the Minister and his officials to account, which is why he is here today.

I wish to raise a number of specific issues, although we could go on all day discussing the Estimates. On the question of demographics, is the Minister satisfied that the Department has a handle on the cost of demographic changes and the services that will be required because of those changes? I am not convinced that the Department is planning far enough ahead in terms of demographics or that, in the context of the Estimates, costs could not arise unexpectedly in certain areas because secondary schools, in particular, were not planned early enough. The Department got away lightly recently when, for example, the Franciscan College Gormanston went into the free sector a few years earlier than the Department believed was necessary. In fact, it was necessary when it happened. I have seen that happen before and I worry about it in the context of future expenditure.

How well funded is the new action plan? How dependent is the plan on funding for full implementation? What does the Minister mean by the best education services in Europe? What is his metric? Is it the service that is best funded, the one with the best PISA scores or the best pupil-teacher ratio? What does the Minister feel are the metrics upon which this should be judged?

Industrial relations is obviously a major issue and there is a massive increase in the Estimates for in-service teacher training. I understand that this relates to various curriculum changes at junior certificate level as well as to other issues. However, one major teacher's union is not taking part at all. What effort is the Department making to ensure that the money is spent efficiently on training as many teachers as possible for the new courses? While it is not directly related to the Estimates, I ask the Minister to comment on students being penalised by 10% in the junior certificate on foot of the ongoing industrial relations issue, particularly those in ASTI schools. The Department is spending all of this money on teacher training but ASTI members are not officially taking part the reform programme and their students are going to lose out. Given the amount of money being spent, I presume it would just be a case of putting more people into those training centres.

An issue arose last year and I ask the Minister to clarify the position in respect of it. The issue in question is referred to in the departmental notes and relates to tax settlements between the Department and the Revenue Commissioners and between the State Examinations Commission and the Revenue Commissioners, which are quite unprecedented. The notes do not specify what, if any, element of these settlements represent penalties and interest. The sums were substantial, with the State Examinations Commission settlement amounting to €10 million or €11 million and the Department's to just over €1 million. That is a great deal of money. Obviously, the tax was always due and had to be paid. I would not dispute that. However, I would be very disappointed if I learned that much of it was penalties and interest. I ask the Minister to clarify the position in respect of that issue.

On the question of the €100 million in so-called "smoothing" under the Stability and Growth Pact on the capital side, the Minister has said that it must come in by way of a Supplementary Estimate later in the year. I understood that there would not be any more Supplementary Estimates from any Department at this stage of the year but I am sure the Minister will explain to me how that is possible. Has that €100 million been spent already or has the Minister yet to announce on what it will be spent?

It appears that an extraordinary amount of money was spent by the Department on legal fees. The total is projected to be more than €6 million this year. I know that expenditure on legal fees was in the range of €5 million last year and the year before, although it was projected to be much less. How many lawyers are employed in the Department? I ask this in the context of what seem to be extraordinarily high legal costs.

Will I be able to come back in later to ask some questions about next year's budget?

Yes. We are taking questions on different sections.

Will I be able to come back in again later?

Yes. Deputy Catherine Martin is next.

Am I correct in understanding that we are now dealing with programme A and the SNAs?

On the question of SNAs, how do we know that the demand is being met? The graph on page 6 of the summary document shows an 11% to 45% variability in increase. Why can we not forecast more accurately? What data are we missing? The target figure, for example, for SNAs in 2015 was 11,330 but the number of SNAs reached by December of 2015 was 12,036. What is the Department basing its targets on? Are the targets needs based? It is quite clear that the demands on the service are continuing to outpace the resources available. I ask the Minister to take steps to address the continuing uncertainty about the allocation of SNAs and, in particular, the timeline for the publication of allocations in advance of the next school year. This is a perennial problem which makes life very difficult for school principals, SNAs, students and parents.

Also under programme A, I wish to refer to the output indicator for the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS. The indicator holds that a NEPS psychologist is to be assigned to all ordinary national and second-level schools. The indicator does not tell us how we are doing in that regard. Are we meeting demand? What are the waiting lists like? Is every child who needs access to the service getting it within a certain timeframe? If demand jumps, how do we make sure we have sufficient supply?

In his previous role as Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, the Minister advocated for the private sector to have access to the right skills-----

Access to what, sorry?

I am referring to access to the right skills in order to achieve the best outcomes. I ask him to be as proactive in education and to have the vision and commitment to do something similar here to ensure that our children have access to the required amount of trained psychologists and counsellors so that their well being is looked after.

I am very disappointed to see no reference whatsoever to resilience in the Estimates. I have spoken to the Minister about this in person. We need to ensure that our children have a toolbox of skills to cope at times of crisis. A rounded education is of paramount importance for our children. I am aware that some secondary schools are doing excellent work in this regard - involving Headstrong, Jigsaw and so forth - where vulnerable teenagers are targeted and their psychological needs addressed. Unfortunately, however, such programmes are sporadic. They must be further developed and designed by experts. We must also consider making such programmes available in primary schools. A more uniform approach is needed in this area. We must move away from a situation where resilience is squeezed into the school day through the efforts of particular teachers who have possibly taken time out and paid for training in this area towards a whole-school approach.

I ask the Minister to consider reversing the decision made in the 2012 budget to remove the ex-quota guidance allocation in second level schools. Cuts to such services reduce that crucial, easy access for teenagers when they are in trouble. That decision had a very unequal impact because many schools were able, through parental contributions, to pay for private counsellors. It was the DEIS schools and the disadvantaged students who were crying out for help who had their only trained counsellors taken away. I ask the Minister to consider that as key to the well-being of our children.

I note that the provision of additional resource teachers is not included - it is on page 18. Yet there is a reference to a new model which would cost €24 million in 2017, with a full year cost of €72 million. Why is this vital resource not included?

At the end of his presentation, the Minister mentioned the €130 million relating to the Lansdowne Road agreement. Is that the money needed to uphold the recent agreement with two of the teacher unions? Is there potential provision if agreement is reached with ASTI? Regarding addressing the inequality for newly qualified teachers, is there provision for reimbursement for loss of earnings for NQTs who have been on reduced pay scale for the past four or five years given that it will have a substantial impact on their pension entitlements?

As there was considerable detail in those questions, I will ask the Minister to respond after which I will call Senator Ruane and Deputy Jim Daly.

There are two analytical papers dealing with the prediction of demographics, which are based, obviously, on objective population numbers. The Department has approximately 300 different planning areas, on which projections of emerging needs are made. Obviously, at second level we are informed by the flow through in those areas of children in existing schools and the pattern they have adopted of the schools they go to and where pressures may emerge.

The Deputy is right; there is always capacity to improve here. One of the features is the small-area data now available from the census, which is certainly enhancing our capacity to plan. That is particularly true when we come to areas such as special educational need that Deputy Catherine Martin raised. Both of those publications are available on the Irish Government Economic and Evaluation Service website. I know the Deputy has had examples and I am sure Mr. Tom Plunkett and his colleagues would be happy to look at particular examples if she feels there are issues.

There will always be a problem that people might want to go to a particular school but there is capacity in another school. The Department is under pressure to ensure that there are seats for every pupil at a time of growing numbers. It is necessary to use planning areas and look at the overall capacity versus the demand within that area rather than looking at a school that is showing very rapidly rising enrolments and another that is suffering falling enrolments. One cannot plan while ignoring the capacity elsewhere in the system. In this area, the Department's system on the capital side has improved steadily over the years. The constraint is cash and not planning. The Department has brought many projects to a state of readiness so that if money is available it will always be used.

The action plan is clearly a statement of strategy specifically for the next three years, but also with a longer-term vision going out ten years. Obviously, it will be dependent on annual budgeting; that is the reality in terms of input. The committee is today examining our spend of €8.7 billion between current and capital expenditure. There is an important element of ensuring that the impact of that is maximised in the various headings, such as special education and disadvantage. While there is always an important focus on the incremental change possible in any one year, it is just as important to ensure the €8.7 billion we spend is spent to the maximum effect as it is to compete for the what is only €600 million available for the coming year. The action plan looks to deliver more effectively within existing programmes. Many of the actions are about how we improve.

In terms of judging the best education system, we have set out five separate goals each of which has target outcomes to pursue. Those would be the types of targets in which we would be looking to see improvement. There are international ratings, some of which are very narrow in their interpretation. However, we would, for example, be looking at improvements in literacy and numeracy, and science would be a key element.

We are looking at our capacity to meet skills gaps as they emerge. We are looking at progression of young people from disadvantaged areas or disadvantaged groups through to higher education. We are looking at how quickly we deliver an apprenticeship and traineeship model that would compete with the models in some of the countries that are really strong in this area. I am convinced that we need a strong and well respected apprenticeship and trainee sector which was devastated in the crash and needs to be not only rebuilt in the narrow frame that it operated, which was the traditional skills, but also made a route for progression in many other areas of services and goods. There is a comprehensive list.

On the industrial relations issue, the Deputy is right in saying that the ASTI has not participated in the roll-out of the new junior certificate English syllabus which is coming to its final examination for that cohort of children in June. That is extremely unfortunate. I have met representatives of the ASTI and my officials continue to meet them. We are very keen for the ASTI to come on board and that students would not be put at risk in respect of the 10% of marks.

Can the Minister guarantee that students will not lose 10% of marks?

No, I cannot guarantee that. It depends on the schools completing certain projects that have to be done. I can say absolutely clearly to the committee that where this is being done the response by pupils and teachers is extremely positive. I went to Adamstown and saw the new curriculum in science, business and coding being rolled out for the first time in schools there. There was a significant impact on the pupils, and the excitement, interest and engagement were profound. This is a policy we should implement and I will continue to work with the ASTI to-----

Irrespective of the rights and wrongs of the ASTI dispute - there are arguments on both sides - the children have done nothing and should not be punished with a 10% reduction in their junior certificate marks. The Minister is standing over that and saying he will not change it.

No, I have not. I have asked the ASTI to give a derogation in respect of English, so that its teachers in English-----

What about science and business studies?

They will not come to be tested for three years.

They are already starting-----

The 10% is in respect of the final portion. Obviously, the curriculum has been set. It is unfortunate that some schools are not participating to the full in the curriculum. The Deputy spoke about how marks would be allocated. In future 90% of the marks in the junior certificate will be based on a State Examinations Commission assessment of papers. There will be 10% for the students' own submission in their experience under some of the modules of the course. It is a student-created commentary that is examined by the SEC.

The final part will be a certificate of achievement that provides for pupils a whole range of achievements they had over the three years. These are assessed within the school.

Normally in industrial relations the people who strike lose out. In this case the children will be punished. The Minister cannot stand over children being punished for an industrial relations dispute between the Department of Education and Skills and the ASTI.

The position is-----

I remind Deputy Byrne that everything should come through the Chair.

Excuse me, Chairman.

I will not let him interject again.

We have put in place a junior certificate process. It is public policy and is being rolled out in all schools. One of the unions has decided not to engage, which is very unfortunate. We are continuing to engage with that union.

In respect of the Deputy's specific concern, we have invited the ASTI to consider lifting its blocking of the English element in particular so that students coming to their exams in June will not be handicapped. The terms of assessment of this curriculum were set many years ago. It was agreed with all the unions at that time and it is established public policy.

On the issue of tax settlements, there was one on travel and subsistence payments. No penalties were involved; there was tax and interest. An exemption was granted for these payments for 2016 in the Finance Act so the practice is one that is provided for in the Finance Act. The remainder was in respect of home tutors who were paid directly through our payroll. No penalties were effected. All home tutors are now paid on our payroll and are fully tax compliant.

The €100 million in respect of capital was allocated. The smoothing refers to the way in which the EU rules treat capital so that if one spends €100 million in new capital, the financial space absorbed by it is only €25 million in year one. It is an incentive within the EU rules for capital spending. A provision was made to take advantage of that which allowed €100 million extra for us. I understand it will have to be provided and we are in discussion with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. It can be met by savings elsewhere in capital budgets.

I will get the committee a note on the legal fees; I do not have it to hand. On Deputy Catherine Martin's point about special needs assistants, the provision of both special needs assistants and resource teachers is somewhat different in that it depends on the profile of the intake of pupils in a particular year. The assessment is done through the local special education needs organiser, SENO, working with the school. Some of those allocations are based on very specific assessments submitted for individual pupils against which a provision of either an SNA or resource teaching hours has to be made. There cannot be an accurate prediction of that ahead of the children presenting, having the assessments and the assessments being presented. Some of them will be appealed and will go back to the National Council for Special Education. The fact that there are 860 extra SNAs provided this year does not reflect some major breakdown in estimation or failure to meet demand. This is a demand-led scheme where provision follows the demand. It is much like some of the demand-led schemes that exist in other Departments. That creates an issue in terms of budgeting because it does not come in automatically as a demographic in our scenario of no policy change. We have to assess the need in the course of the year and make provision for it. We anticipate what it will be and make a provision for it but the actual accurate provision is only made ahead of the September allocation.

I take the Deputy's point about timelines for schools to know what their allocation will be. There is now work on a revised programme for allocating resource teachers, which seeks to respond to the work done by Eamon Stack of the NCSE and have a model that is not so dependent on assessments being submitted. The committee probably knows that in disadvantaged areas kids might find it much harder to get assessment than in other areas. The system tends to favour those who have the psychological assessment submitted. The move to the new model would have less reliance on those types of assessments and would have a more whole-school approach but would also guarantee that no child loses out. It has been piloted in 47 areas. As the Deputy rightly said, what is under consideration now is the possibility of mainstreaming that which will be more costly in the initial years but will provide a better model for it.

I understand the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, does not deal with every child's demand. The process in NEPS is to seek to support schools and it will only come in for individual children where a particular requirement has been identified. It seeks to allocate protected time to the DEIS schools where it anticipates the need is greatest. It is widely recognised that it is an area in which we need to invest more. There is commitment in the programme for Government to increase the provision by 25%. The same can be said of counselling where we have a commitment to increase provision. There is an allocation this year and there is also a commitment in the confidence and supply agreement to increase counselling. This is an area that it has been recognised has had an adverse impact and we are looking to work towards its restoration over the coming years.

On that issue, Minister-----

The Deputy should address her questions through the Chairman.

May I ask a question?

If those hours are restored to the counsellors, would it be for the school to decide where those hours go? Could they go elsewhere and not into counselling?

This is the issue of whether they should be ex quota. The allocation this year, which came into effect on 1 September, is not ex quota so the principal has some discretion in deciding on the allocation. The issue that has to be decided going forward is whether we should move to restore an ex quota provision. There are arguments on both sides of that which the Deputy has probably heard. A decision would have to be reached on that. Some would argue that counselling is a whole-school activity and should not be confined to one individual but one could say that counsellors are professionally trained and counselling should be delivered by people who have that training and it should be protected ex quota. That issue is there. I absolutely agree with the Deputy that we need to invest more in resilience. Our commitment in NEPS and counselling in the programme for Government is very much building on that. While there may be no reference in the documentation, one will see that in the education action plan we have very much centred on that. There is work going on in my Department auditing what we are already doing and looking at how we can have a better impact. Apart from the allocation of extra resources, we are rolling out the well-being programme at junior certificate level which is a 400-hour programme. It has been very well designed. The exemplars the Deputy describes are really good. In many ways all these solutions cannot be designed in Marlborough Street and it will depend on exemplars of good practice. We depend very much on community engagement in programmes like this for them to be successful. They are to be welcomed and hopefully built upon. This morning I launched a first-aid kit to help coaches in clubs or teachers in schools to recognise the early signs of mental health stress in players or pupils and to be able to respond appropriately. It cannot just be a narrow education issue. That has been recognised by the Minister of State, Deputy Helen McEntee, with her very broad-based youth mental health task force.

The Lansdowne Road provision is for €130 million. That is just the general pay agreement and we will have to make provision for the more recent agreement. There is no provision for reimbursement of past losses.

I have a note on the legal services. The Department has two barristers on secondment from the Attorney General's office and one solicitor from the Chief State Solicitor's office.

The unit in which they work provides advice on a range of issues across the Department. There is in-house capability.

The question was whether the €6 million could be used better.

Through the Chair, Deputy Byrne.

Legal fees relate to cases which require the assistance of counsel as they go through the court system because when cases are brought to court we do not have the in-house capacity to contest them. Decisions have to be made as to whether cases are to be defended and these are made on the best legal advice, sometimes including that of the Attorney General. The move to bring services from the mainstream Attorney General and the Chief State Solicitor to the Department is designed to manage cases more cost-effectively.

As regards the Lansdowne Road agreement, the €130 million does not include the two teacher unions so there is no provision if the ASTI comes on board.

That provision was made in mid-year. The agreement which concluded two weeks ago will come to be paid in 2017 and will need to be provided for in the 2017 provision. The Lansdowne Road agreement did not anticipate the settlement which has been negotiated subsequently. We will honour that agreement, however.

Does the Minister have any intention of addressing the pension impacts on NQTs? For the past four years they have been doing the same work.

My understanding is that the provision allows the merger of the two pay scales. In the Haddington Road agreement there was a provision to ensure the pay scales merged as people went up, in order to minimise the impact on pensions. This agreement contains provisions that bring about further convergence of pay scales to minimise the impact on pensions.

I notice there is an all-male panel but I am sure there are some female experts in the Department. I spent a lot of time reading the documents and there should be an easier way for them to reported. Instead of putting all the budgets into one and trying to figure out where all the expenditure goes, Departments should break the expenditure up into second level and third level separately.

I am looking for clarification on certain matters. Is the €610 million current expenditure and €250 million capital expenditure all available for new projects or is it simply precommitted? I was delighted there were so many references to disadvantage in the action plan and in the report but, in the Estimates, there is a gaping hole where third level should be. I understand that responding to demographic pressures at second level is vital but if we are not ready at third level, what are we preparing children for? Are we really looking to progress young people to third level education without adequate education at the other end? The bulk of the capital spend is on primary and secondary level and there is zero vision for third level in relation to capital.

It is extremely important for some provisions to be made in the 2017 Estimates on the basis that we will be assessing the Cassells report. If we were to make any recommendations I do not see any provisions in these Estimates whereby they could be implemented.

There is no provision for capital spend in the Estimates and, with the fear that SFI will consume the PRTLI and the fact that infrastructure is heavily funded in the case of the latter, has the Department looked at the relationship between SFI and the PRTLI with a view to protecting the current functions of the PRTLI, given the fact that the PRTLI focuses heavily on the arts and SFI does not? What chance does third level stand if there are no provisions in the Department's Estimates and SFI drags funding from the PRTLI but does not expend moneys on infrastructure? If we want to attract FDI, especially in the wake of Brexit with the possibility that we will see academics and Horizon 2020 research funding move here, where will we put them? Where will the laboratories be? There is no indication of funding for spaces for that purpose. We are lucky that, in the wake of Brexit, we will be the only English-speaking country in the EU. What provisions has the Department made for an influx of academics and research into this country?

On pages 68 and 69 on the mid-year expenditure review it mentions the position at the end of June 2016 and states that the international strategy 2016-2020 will be presented to Government shortly and published thereafter. I have sat on college boards in the past year but I have never heard of this strategy. Are the universities participating in this? When will it be published and who are its stakeholders?

There has been a lot of talk about improving literacy and numeracy. I have said this a million times but I will say it again. Dyscalculia is the equivalent of dyslexia in relation to mathematics. Resources are available to schools when a child is diagnosed with dyscalculia but the Department and schools seem very slow to respond and recognise this in comparison to cases of dyslexia. Numeracy can be a big barrier to progression to third level so can the Department fund assessments for dyscalculia with a view to making the resources available to affected people? In this was to happen we would improve the rates of people from poorer backgrounds going to third level education and positively affect the study of science. The Department is interested in developing STEM subjects but we will not reach any of the targets if we do not realise that dyscalculia is just as prominent as dyslexia.

On page 5 of the report on the special needs assistance scheme it refers to CSO demographic projections but also to those of the Department. Are both bodies doing separate projections on demographics? Why would that be the case? Why can we not just focus on the CSO, given that it is the experienced body doing this work? If the Department is carrying out its own research-----

Can the Senator conclude soon?

-----are resources being allocated for this? If another body is doing such work, maybe the money could be better spent elsewhere. I have loads of questions.

The Senator can come back in later. The last point is very interesting and I understand there are three separate sets of data - those of the CSO, those of the preliminary census and those of the Department. It is a bit of a quagmire when it comes to deciding which we should be using.

I welcome the Minister and his officials.

I have to go at 10.30 a.m. because I am on the Dáil Business Committee. I would appreciate if I could get the answers before that.

The Minister will respond directly after Deputy Daly.

I will be very brief. I support what Deputy Catherine Martin said about the special needs assistant, SNA, allocation. It is a valid point and I appreciate the Minister's response. There is more to it than the Department having to wait until the schools complete their enrolment to know what allocation is needed. Typically, the only enrolment that changes is in junior infants. It can change in other classes but usually the other seven classes will remain more or less unchanged. There is an issue for children. If we are to go to a child-centred model of education there is an issue for children because many teachers who have been in a school for a while are moved unnecessarily because the allocation does not happen until October. There are too many changes in the teachers teaching students things like gross and fine motor skills. Children build up a rapport with the teacher who has a programme and prepares an individual education plan, IEP. There is then an unnecessary changeover of personnel and another teacher has to come in, follow a previous teacher's IEP and build up a new relationship with and understanding of the child. It is having an impact on the children's learning and welfare. In this day and age the Department should have the wherewithal to overcome that difficulty and find the means of allocating the resources for children with special learning needs before October. I feel very strongly about that. I wrote to the Minister and the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, this year to make a plea on behalf of a parent for a student who was going to be affected by this very issue and I was told there was no facility or flexibility, which I deeply regret. We have to have a more child-centred attitude. In this day and age we should have the wherewithal to make that allocation. Perhaps a supplementary allocation could be made afterwards but allocations should be done earlier in the year.

The second issue is something I have raised with the Minister by way of parliamentary question. It concerns the teachers' unions and the pay awards happening at the moment. If teachers choose not to be members of a union, it is their right and entitlement for which they should be respected and they should not be punished for it. In the secondary school sector, unless teachers are members of the TUI they cannot avail of certain conditions even if they are willing to sign up to the new procedures and arrangements. They cannot avail of the improved conditions unless they are members of the union. That is the Department forcing teachers to become members of a union by stealth. I find it perplexing. I would like to hear the Minister's comments on it and to see what can be done. I do not support punishing a teacher for not being a member of a union.

Deputy Thomas Byrne talked about legal fees in the Department. I received a reply to a parliamentary question from the Minister recently which outlined the legal fees expended by the universities in the last number of years defending cases involving staff. In the past 12 months, the amount the third level sector has spent defending cases involving its staff has trebled. This is a sector that is starved of finance and is highly vulnerable in that regard yet it is spending millions of euro on legal fees. What are the Minister's thoughts on the fact that in one year, the sector has trebled the amount of money it has spent on legal fees involving its own staff? What is the Department thinking? Does it have any appetite to further investigate the underlying reasons for the number of cases emerging in the courts involving staff at third level? Has the trend been noticed by the Department?

The Ombudsman for Children launched his report yesterday in which he referred to the Department's overly hands-off approach and a recalibration of responsibility from the Department back to schools. The Minister is aware it is a tune I have been singing for a long time now. I welcome the Ombudsman for Children's conclusion, which is what I have been saying for several years now. Will the Minister comment on how he or the Department would approach that recalibration of responsibility as referred to by the ombudsman yesterday?

I will hand back to the Minister now.

I will address Senator Ruane's point first. I would welcome any suggestions to make the Estimates easier to understand. I have spent most of my life on the Senator's side of the table and I fully appreciate her point. We have been trying to make it better. What goes into the REV, the Estimates book, is something that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform does right across the whole system. We would be very anxious to work with the Senator to have better presentation and more meaningful output indicators or whatever is needed. Our action plan for education will give a set of outcomes that we are tracking. On the data requirement, one does not get all the data one would like on outcomes the way one does with inputs because they are not so well established. We can report on inputs very accurately every quarter. With regard to how the money is allocated, there is what is called no policy change. That involves some decisions taken by Government that had a funding element and are in place. Such decisions would be in the no policy change allocation. If one looks at the Estimates one will see the €500 million allocated in June to health is carried into the 2017 Estimates. There is also the issue of demographics, which is carried in. The €610 million is predominantly for new initiatives but not exclusively because there are some elements such as the negotiation of changes in the Lansdowne Road agreement that are not provided for in those. There are some policy elements, as we were just discussing, around resource teaching and SNAs and because they are demand-led they are not provided in the same way. It is a mixture of momentum that is already clear and new initiatives. It is not all new initiatives in simple terms.

The extent of the difference between first and second level and third level surprised me coming in. In first and second level there are pupil-teacher ratios, PTRs, demographics and capital programmes but that is not true of higher education. The Cassells report has underlined that the model used in recent years, where State provision was reduced at third level to protect primary and secondary level, is not a sustainable way to go on. While initially they were able to expand numbers and take in new students, the system is now creaking and we need to look to the future. That is where Cassells has come in. I look forward to coming back to the committee.

While there is a short-term need and we must fight for resources for higher education as best we can in the Estimates process, the Cassells report is looking at a longer perspective and is going right out 15 years. It throws up the issue of how we have a sustainable funding model for the sector. While I will be fighting for resources for third level, in addition to many other important areas which the Deputy also dealt with, the issue with the Cassells report is whether we can agree some sort of a long-term funding model that would be sustainable. He has thrown up the issue of whether we should be looking beyond the Exchequer, where education has to compete with health, housing and all the others, and whether there should be some other sources of funding. Members have different views on it so I will not go into those today. As my Department does not have primary responsibility for Science Foundation Ireland, SFI, or the programme for research in third level institutions, PRTLI, I cannot fully answer for the extent to which PRTLI versus SFI influences the mix of provision.

There are programmes specifically aimed at attracting new academics to locate in Ireland. Our Department is involved in the roll-out of Innovation 2020, which is one of the areas where potential initiatives could be competing for funding.

As for the international education strategy, there are about 33,000 students in higher education and approximately 100,000 are doing teaching English as a foreign language, TEFL, courses.

The ambition is to further grow those areas. Both have been significant growth areas in recent years, and Enterprise Ireland, EI, is a key player in that. I will go on a trade mission to China next month promoting Ireland as a location and virtually all the institutes of education will be on that mission. This is very much an integrated area of activity. EI is the front marketing element. It has created a common brand to promote it and it is looking to better quality controls, particularly in the English language area, for the future. There are many stakeholders involved and we can provide more information on that.

I have taken the Senator's point on dyscalculia. I understand it is recognised as an area of difficulty. It is described in the jargon as high incidence rather than low incidence, but in that respect it is in the same category as dyslexia. I will certainly ask the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, whether that is an element the system is not adequately addressing. I understand that being a high-incidence phenomenon, it is provided for in what the NCSE calls the learning support, which is a 20% uplift of teacher numbers in each school. It is from that 20% that, generally, needs of that nature are to be addressed rather than the individual assessment that drives the allocation of a special needs assistant, SNA, to a pupil or whatever.

It is not recognised as being the same as dyslexia because if it was, provisions would be made for it in the leaving certificate in the same way.

There are no provisions made in the leaving certificate for someone with dyscalculia, therefore, there are no reduced points, even with a diagnosis from the Dyslexia Association of Ireland. Until reservations are made for people at leaving certificate level, it always will be seen as a lesser disability.

I will ask for a response on that for the Senator from both the NCSE and the State Examinations Commission. Efforts are being made to reform that area. There has been criticism that accommodations at junior certificate level are often harder to get at leaving certificate level, which throws children into disarray, so to speak. I will revert to the Senator on that.

On the difference between the projections, in simple terms, the Department has data on enrolments in the school. It has a quality data set. The CSO, in looking at the entire population and the number of children aged between zero and 15 years, does not have those forensic data. Our data are different also in that we can identify a school whose children may not come from the immediate catchment; some of them may be coming from quite a distance. We have data, and using CSO data also, we can identify where they are coming from. They are different data sets, and ours shed light that is helpful to planning. We do not just rely on the CSO data.

I take Deputy Jim Daly's point. In simple terms, I presume what happens is that the need for SNAs and resource teachers is a comparison between the junior infants coming in and the sixth class who are leaving. What causes the increased demand for these allocations is based on the difference between the profile of those two classes. One does not have a final view until one has received those data. One could make a stab at it and say we expect 80% of the need of the junior infants to be similar to senior infants but I do not know whether that is a credible approach. I am aware, however, that there is a new resource allocation model, which is designed to give greater certainty because it will be based on a wider and more predictable range of indicators. The new model will ensure certainty in resource teacher allocations in future and will not be so dependent on the annual assessment-driven process. That is one of the merits of it, and it would give-----

When is that coming in? What is the position on that? I know it was being piloted.

It has been piloted. The pilot is being evaluated. We then have to take a decision on foot of that pilot in terms of when to go ahead with it.

When does the Minister expect that to be concluded?

There is no decision on it. It has funding implications. We also would like to meet the committee to get an input into that. With any change of this nature there will be concerns about whether there will be losers as a result of it. The NCSE has designed it to make sure there will not be losers and that we could win support for it but we have to make sure we are ready to deliver. Much good work has been done. It has been well received in the pilot schools, so we are keen to push on.

On the other issue the Deputy raised, it is based on collective agreements. There is no obligation on an individual to join a union but it is normal practice in the public service that the decision of the trade union recognised as having representative rights for a particular grade or sector will determine the position for all relevant staff in that grade or sector. This is not unique in the teaching area. That is established custom and practice, and changing that would have far-reaching impacts across all industrial relations. Notwithstanding a dispute now, which is putting a spotlight on it, that is practice and it cannot be changed based on just one individual case.

I will ask to have a look at the cases in dispute, and the flow of legal cases. I do not have that level of assessment available to me as to what is driving cases and whether there are better ways of resolving them. On the Deputy's final point about the comments of the Ombudsman for Children, which I have noted, debate in the Dáil on the Deputy's own Bill has triggered the production of legislation I hope to bring before the committee on the parents and students charter. The relationship of such a charter to the ombudsman and how one would ensure compliance with the charter and with recommendations from the ombudsman will be the subject of discussion on that legislation. We hope to bring forward legislation at the same time the Deputy's legislation is being considered by the committee in order that we can examine this issue in the whole. We see the need for legislative changes to accommodate both the Deputy's comments and those of the ombudsman.

If I may ask a brief supplementary question with regard to the teacher who is not a member of the TUI or the ASTI by choice, the ASTI members are being left behind. That teacher is doing the same work as the TUI members working alongside him in the school, and he is happy to sign up to the extra hours, and whatever is involved in that. The response in the parliamentary question I got previously stated it is normal practice but normal practice is not always best practice.

I do not believe there is an alternative practice. Even in this dispute, if there is a ruling that there is a withdrawal from working the Croke Park agreement hours, which are designed to have provision where all teachers are available to meet with parents and avoid disruption to the schedule, that objective cannot be delivered if all teachers are not participating. In effect, we cannot deliver the gains intended by these agreements if the main representative union is not co-operating with the model being offered.

We cannot deliver, de facto, the gains that were negotiated so it is impossible to derive the benefits of the agreement within that school. It is not practical to run general events using the Croke Park hours if 80% do not turn up. That is the difficulty. It is not something caught in the annals of time. It has very practical implications for our ability to use a collective agreement to deliver improvements for the children and parents in the school. There is an underlying reason for it.

I absolutely share Deputy Jim Daly's view on that because there are very dedicated committed teachers working in difficult situations who are struggling with the pay parity issue. Many teachers are affected by this and feel they are being penalised. I also feel they are being penalised.

We will agree our work programme later but on 27 October we hope to have representatives from the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, before us to discuss the pilot project to which reference has been made.

I welcome students and staff from Tallaght Institute of Technology who have come in for part of this session.

The Department sanctioned 860 new SNA posts in June. Have these SNAs been recruited? Has the €7 milllion in expenditure been accounted for in 2016? Will there be an impact on the allocation in budget 2017? What is the target for SNA numbers in 2017 and what will be the costs associated with providing these SNAs?

I was heavily involved on the boards of management of two secondary schools in my county and the position regarding guidance counsellors was a major issue. In the Government's action plan for education, much reference is made to the well-being of students. I welcome that fact. We must acknowledge that their well-being is paramount and that mental health problems exist. Guidance counsellors have a significant role in terms of students' well-being. Since 2012, there has been a 53% cut in one-to-one counselling. I am passing on the concerns of teachers with whom I have been in contact who feel that the posts should be made ex quota because if we are to truly implement an effective well-being programme, guidance counsellors will have a role to play. It is wrong that they should be in competition with other subject areas. Will the Minister consider appointing ex quota guidance counsellors?

Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire go dtí an cruinniú seo inniu. Over 80% of the current allocation for the Department goes towards pay and superannuation, which highlights the challenges the Minister faces and the choices he must make in the context of those challenges. The Minister mentioned the apprenticeship programme, which needs special attention. It is important to the future of our economy that we have a working apprenticeship programme in place. Is the Minister satisfied that we have sufficient funds and infrastructure to tackle this matter and reach the targets he has set?

I note that 50 large-scale projects will be substantially completed by the end of the year. Is the Minister happy with the timescale involved in delivering these projects? It is a bugbear of some schools that the process takes so long from the moment it is accepted that a facility is required to the provision of that facility.

School transport is a big problem and is causing difficulties throughout the country. I understand the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, is reviewing that matter. Are the problems associated with it due to lack of finance or what is the cause?

Since 2008, funding for third level education has been reduced by 85% while numbers have increased by 25%. The Minister mentioned the Cassells report, has he reached a conclusion on its recommendations? If so, can he share it with us? If not, will he advise the committee on his own recommendations in that regard?

That is the $1 million question.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. Tá sé go maith go bhfuilimid ag pléigh na ceisteanna fíor-thabhachtacha seo. Níor airigh mé aon rud luaite maidir le cúrsaí Gaeilge ná oideachas trí mheán na Gaeilge faraor. B'fhéidir go mbeadh muid in ann cúpla ceist a chur faoi sin.

I share the concerns about the SNAs, the backlog and the lack of access to assessments. Principals are being put in the awkward situation of having to choose which children to have assessed because of the system in place. I welcome what the Minister says about piloting the new scheme and the methodology relating thereto. I hope it will be a big improvement.

Language is very important. I get a sense, from the language he used, that the Minister has brought from his previous Department a mindset that uses terms such as "access to talent", "education being at the heart", "preparing people for the workforce", "inputs" and "outputs" as opposed to referring to students. I am concerned about that type of language. I know it is important to prepare people for the workforce but an educational system needs to prepare well-rounded citizens. I would be concerned if the focus is primarily to push people into a points system to do certain courses in college in order to get certain degrees and then obtain certain types of jobs the end. From my experience of working in several third level institutions, people choose the wrong courses because of that system. They are then not prepared for the jobs for which they should be prepared. I am concerned about preparing people for life, with social and personal development skills at second level. I echo what Deputy Nolan said about guidance counsellors. Teachers at second level all tell me they feel that if we are trying to prepare people vocationally, the students involved need much more guidance on their career and subject choices to prepare them for work. Those who need extra support, whether from the perspective of maturity or life skills, need to be dealt with at second level in a better manner if possible.

The mental health of and stress for staff in schools have not been mentioned. With high numbers in classrooms and the increased administrative burden on principals, they and staff come under a great deal of pressure. Would the Minister comment on that?

He said there will be a fair number of retirements this year. Will all of those people be replaced? The Department unfortunately does not have a great record in recruiting people with Irish. Apart from the teachers under the Department's remit, only 2% or 3% of the staff in the Department have a competency in the Irish language. What steps are being taken to ensure that in the new recruitment process a certain quota will have that competency? There is a knock-on effect on people through the system who are entitled to an education through Gaeilge trying to deal with the Department where previously there was a high standard and competency.

I acknowledge the Department has a policy on Gaeilge and the Gaeltacht and huge efforts have been made by certain individuals but the numbers have dipped substantially.

Yesterday, the Coalition for Publicly Funded Higher Education briefed us and representatives from Tallaght IT are before the committee. I was told the moneys available to ITs this year for materials for practicals, etc., is so small that they have to cut back on doing practicals in certain vocational courses. These are vital in preparing people who are going straight into the workplace. They are unable to get the practical experience that was provided in previous years because of the lack of materials available to do the courses and that needs to be examined.

The ESRI figures for 2015 show that 23% of parents would choose to send their children to a Gaelscoil if it was available, yet Gaelscoileanna comprise only 6.7% of schools. According to one school of thought, Gaelscoileanna are being impeded by the system the Department has for the allocation of moneys for capital projects. Will the Minister address that? A Gaelscoil could be an Educate Together or a catholic school. Patronage is not necessarily an issue but there is huge demand for Gaelscoileanna, given 23% of parents would like one to be built in their area, but capital funding is not being provided to meet that.

We have had a brief debate but we are waiting with bated breath for the Minister's reply to Senator Gallagher's question on the third level issue. The third level sector is competing within the education budget, which, in turn, is competing with those of all other Departments. According to the most recent OECD survey, average spending on education between 2008 and 2013 increased by 8% among its members but it is reduced by 7% in Ireland. I wish the Minister well with his negotiations. We have to fight harder to secure more resources for education at all levels.

It is difficult to measure educational outcomes because of the variation from school to school, region to region and in disadvantaged areas. For example, schools may have put more of an emphasis on developing transversal skills. We need to take on board the different types of outcomes to develop the well rounded individuals we want in our society.

Reference was made earlier to an emphasis on CoderDojo, science and maths but it is also hugely important to develop the humanities and the entire arts sphere. In the context of demographics, Deputy Byrne mentioned how lucky Gormanstown College was to evolve and enter the free education sector. We face a similar scenario in south Kildare and I welcome the engagement we have had with the Minister regarding the provision of a second level school. The data show there is a need. It is unfortunate that the Department is including a fee paying private school in the data. Parents feel that is not correct. The Minister mentioned that Mr. Plunkett is the expert on this and I would welcome the opportunity to take it up with him afterwards.

There is significant uncertainty in the projected special education figures. Surely there should be more collaboration with the HSE and the Department of Health. We are getting better figures and more information at an earlier stage in respect of children diagnosed with an intellectual or other disability. Surely there should be some correlation in the data before children enter primary school. We seem to be chasing a response to demand at that point in time. Perhaps the Minister will explain the differences in the student to SNA ratio in different sectors. For example, what are the targets for ratios in mainstream classes, special classes in mainstream schools, special schools, etc.? There should be a greater emphasis on providing figures that are broken down by region given the complexity of the demographic changes nationwide. Does the Minister have plans in the pipeline for 2017 that would allow for regional comparisons?

Will the Minister provide information to the committee about the delivery of new school places in 2016 and their timelines? Have there been significant delays?

I will begin with Deputy Nolan's questions. I have every reason to believe all the posts have been taken up and the cost will be met from the 2016 budget. There will be a knock-on impact next year. Approximately one third of the provision was made for this year and, therefore, the allocation will be trebled for 2017.

I take her point about guidance counsellors. I recognise their role and the Deputy's preference for an ex quota approach. That not been decided and I will take the committee's views on that into account.

I agree with Senator Gallagher that apprenticeships are hugely important. Our long-term ambition is to have 13,000 traineeships and apprenticeships over the next five years. There are currently 5,500, so it is an ambitious roll-out. It is not only the number of traditional apprenticeships that will increase. There is a recovery in this regard but the ambition is to increase the type of apprenticeship available from 27 to 100. Three quarters of them will relate to entirely new areas. We launched the first of them in Sligo for insurance and it is a level 8 apprenticeship. We are driving that but it requires employer groups and trainers to sign up, and to meet QQI standards. There is significant supply chain work to get one across the line. This programme has funding implications and I will seek to fund it over the medium term. It is substantially funded out of the national training fund. I am confident we will drive this forward as rapidly as possible and meet the funding needs.

I acknowledge that schools perceive that the time taken from the beginning of the building process to its conclusion is too long but a number of initiatives have been developed to improve that. RAPID is a design and build programme, which delivers urgent projects. An accelerated architectural planning and tendering programme, ADAPT, has also been introduced to implement projects more quickly.

There is a need, and we have used public private partnership, PPP, packages. We are trying to reduce a delivery chain of 36-42 months to 18 months in respect of some of those ADAPT and RAPID projects. This is a significant shortening. There is also a budgetary constraint. Our Department does not underspend capital. We have a supply chain that is sufficiently primed and invests every ha'penny that we get. The Department has perfected that. It is solid.

As to school transport, the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, is not present, but a review is under way. My understanding is that eligible students have automatic rights and comprise the bulk of those who are accommodated on school transport but that over the years, the number of so-called concessionary users has grown from a small number to a significant one. The eligible students are the ones whose needs are guaranteed under the scheme. When their numbers change, it can have a knock-on impact for concessionary users, who are effectively filling out unoccupied spaces. This is the root of the problem. There are issues with distances from schools and so on, but it is a national scheme and the same rules must apply in every county or it would be seen as unfair. The review is trying to streamline the process to avoid letting people down where possible. There are individual problems, but the process has worked reasonably well overall.

There has not been an 85% reduction in funding for higher education. Is that the number that the Senator stated? It is not accurate and a figure of 33% might be closer. The figures are in the Cassells report. Some of the reduction was made up by increasing student contributions. Overall, one may say that the pot is static to declining somewhat while the ratio per student has reduced sharply because student numbers have increased substantially.

I do not have a predisposition towards how best to tackle this issue. It is right that we sit down with committee members as practising politicians to tease out the proposed options. One can produce arguments against any of the Cassells report's proposals, but we do not have the option of doing nothing. Everyone present agrees that many of our country's ambitions are tied up with having a strong system of higher education that meets high standards and so on. We will need to make some decisions in that regard. Mr. Peter Cassells is making the case that, if it is solely down to the taxpayer to fund higher education, our aim will be difficult to realise in competition with all other sources of funding. Do we embark on considering other sources of funding and, if so, what can people expect in return for contributing more? The system of funding will need to be more transparent and we as politicians will need to design a longer-term strategy. It is a question of us sitting down and trying to determine what progress can be made in that regard.

Senator Ó Clochartaigh referred to special needs assistants, SNAs. The issue of access to assessment is a clear flaw. The merit of the new pilot model is that it reduces reliance on that assessment and is fairer to schools with a disadvantaged profile in their allocations. It is fairer on two counts, in that it does not require assessments to be made for which schools might not have the resources and it recognises the more complex needs that their pupils generally have. The model will allocate in a way that is more favourable to children in disadvantaged areas.

I reject the Senator's idea that I have an economic, narrow mindset coming to the education portfolio. I carried this brief before when I wrote extensively on behalf of the party and predecessors of this committee on issues such as early school leaving, disadvantage and literacy. I am attuned to needs in terms of mental resilience and the broader perspectives that people need from their education system. I do not accept, however, that one cannot look to outcomes. Regarding such issues as resilience, one would want to see schools participating in programmes, be they voluntary or within the curriculum, and signing up to the delivery of professional teacher improvements that can allow these programmes to be delivered successfully. One would want to find in surveys students seeing the value of the impact of the programmes in which they are participating. To talk about the importance of outcomes is not to belittle the goals that we set. One can have broad goals and still want to see that they are being delivered effectively. I take the Chairman's point that it is sometimes difficult to identify the outcomes. There is a danger that only what is measured is delivered. We are conscious of this and have at several points in the action plan for education identified the need to evolve better ways of evaluating the impact of programmes. Impacts still matter. As was rightly stated, if we are concerned about how children fare, we must focus on impacts, outcomes and pathways and not just on inputs, ratios and so on. What I hope I bring to the table is a long career in evidence-based policy making. I look for the evidence, the impact, the reviews and the expectations of robust evaluations being built into programmes. Everyone with whom I deal expects this and most have signed up to this sort of approach to any policy that I ask the Oireachtas on behalf of the taxpayers to fund.

I accept the Senator's point that there is considerable pressure on principals and teachers. One of the major themes of the action plan for education is how to help schools to improve their capacities. There will be a major focus on strengthening the leadership of schools and examining the quality of continuous professional development, the capacity for peer review and mainstreaming successful initiatives and the provision of a space where more innovation can happen in schools. I am keen to ensure that we do this. A school that has ambitions must sometimes be able to draw on external resources to realise them. As we develop national schemes, we must make them accessible and meaningful to the leaders in schools who are trying to make changes.

I am surprised by the Senator's assertion that only 2% to 3% of teachers have competence in Irish.

To clarify, I was referring to staff outside teaching staff. Departmental staff, as such.

I am sorry. A separate panel for competence in Irish is being established by the Public Appointments Service, PAS. My Department will recruit from that panel to meet these needs. We are also developing a policy for teaching Irish in the Gaeltacht, where a separate set of issues is emerging.

Sometimes the quality of the language levels within the Gaeltacht are under some pressure.

I take the point about the Gaelscoileanna in the competitions for selection in those areas. We must take a fresh look at how the competitions are put in place. We also hope some of the transfers of patronage will go to Gaelscoileanna to reflect the need. This matter is receiving attention. We are examining the issue of patronage and trying to improve choice for parents. It is a very important theme on which we will have to work attentively, but it is not easy.

The Chairman referred to the third level sector competing with other parts of the education system. It is not accurate to say that. We are making a strong case - I have always made the case - that we must see third level education as a big part of our ambitions. It is important to refer to its economic impact to win the argument, but that is not to suggest it is solely an economic impact. There is also an obligation on us as a committee to try to devise a longer term funding path for the sector. I dealt with the point made about outcomes being hard to measure. I agree, but we should try to find ways to at least be able to evaluate the impact of initiatives we are taking and that are, I hope, having a good result.

I will not get into the issue we discussed. We have had useful meetings on the issue of the emergence of second level schools, how the demographic model works in the Department and which schools are counted and which are not. Perhaps I might take up the Chairman's offer to discuss it with officials. Obviously, we wish to accommodate to the best extent possible, but we must use a model that is fair to all and applied everywhere.

I was also asked, in respect of SNAs, if there could be better liaison with the HSE and its developmental tests. An element of the new model is that this become a bigger part of it. I hope, with the roll-out of the preschool model for children with special needs - I believe it is called AIM, access and inclusion model - there will be a better handle on the junior infant input.

On how SNAs are allocated, there is a matrix which I believe dates back to the 1990s by which SNAs are allocated according to different needs. It can be made available to the Chairman. There is also a detailed explanation of the SNA allocation in special schools and how SNAs are allocated in respect of special classes. The number of special classes has exploded in recent years and there is a SNA allocation. Then there is the SNA allocation to pupils within mainstream classes. Perhaps I might send the committee a note on the matter, rather than go through it now. There is a model in place, but behind it there is also an older evaluation with a matrix setting out a rough evaluation of need relative to diagnostic categories. That is available, too.

We had agreed that we would discuss a number of subheads consecutively, but I will take them together and members can indicate if they have questions. Subhead A, second and early years education is first. Then there is skills development, higher education, a matter we have dealt with to a large extent, capital services, a matter we have also dealt with to a large extent, and appropriations-in-aid. I ask members to be brief as I will only allow a maximum of two minutes each.

We have gone through a great deal of what is happening this year, but what will happen next year is very important. Guidance counselling was mentioned. I am a little disappointed by the Minister's statement that the decision on ex quota teachers has still to be made. He will recall not only from my meetings with him on the issue but also from the confidence and supply agreement Fianna Fáil has with the Government that the restoration of guidance counselling is a key priority, with everything else. Certainly, it is a condition of the way the minority Government operates. Fianna Fáil must see significant progress towards that commitment which was explicitly stated by the Minister being made.

The same applies to postgraduate grants. There is a reference in the note to the fact that the financial cost of will be €17 million next year and €53 million in a full year. Again, there is mention of the fact that a sum of €5 million would get us off to a start, but we do not expect everything we seek to be achieved in the first budget. We know that cannot happen, but there must be substantial and visible progress. However, I do not see how a sum of €5 million would make that work. It is very low, unless the Minister can say it is €5 million in 2017 only. I visited Alltech Bioscience Centre in my constituency. It is a very progressive company in which practically everybody working in science has a postgraduate degree or studying for one. Companies such as Alltech Bioscience Centre fund some of their staff, but we cannot depend on the private sector alone to fund postgraduate students. Everybody must have the opportunity to undertake postgraduate studies, not only for his or her and society's benefit but also to attract investment to the country to create jobs, which is so important.

Third level funding is absolutely critical. We will discuss the Cassells report in the next few months. I spoke yesterday to somebody who was a member of the expert group and vociferously opposed to the provision of student loans and had campaigned against them publicly. There are, therefore, various views, even in the group. There also will be various views here on the issue. However, everybody, even Peter Cassells, would say that even if one wanted to provide student loans - not everybody does - the measure could not be implemented this year, next year or the year after. There is, therefore, an immediate funding need for those years and so forth. It has been outlined for over 15 years. There must be an injection of €100 million this year into the system to pay for teachers. The Minister has clarified that even if it were granted, it would not go towards the cost of meeting the Lansdowne Road agreement commitments. Perhaps he might confirm that if there were extra funding for the university system, the Lansdowne Road agreement commitments are already covered. This is important.

I mentioned something to the Taoiseach yesterday and he was not surprised. Perhaps he should not be surprised, but we wish to see action. A college professor contacted me this week. He has 470 students in a room that accommodates 450. That is commonplace, but it is not sustainable. Our university rankings have gone down mainly because of the funding crisis. That leads to reputational issues which bring us back down the ranks again. It is a vicious circle, but if we managed to increase funding, we could turn it in to a virtuous circle. Our universities could look to Asia to try to attract students who pay substantial fees that help to fund the system. They will not be interested in our universities when their rankings are going down. Regardless of whether we like the rankings - they are not a perfect measure - many students, the consumers of education, take account of them. It is essential that the Minister get the ball rolling by having the money injected into the system in order other money will follow, particularly from abroad.

I have a quick question on capital. On page 11 it appears that the capital building programme has exceeded its budget, yet on page 79 it is stated the target is to build 50 schools this year, but only 14 have been completed at the end of September. Is there a budget to complete the other 36? There are many references to significant pressure on the capital budget, but in the programme for Government there is an intention to introduce physical education, PE, to the leaving certificate programme. Will there be a budget provision to review second level schools? I am aware of a school in my constituency that opened in 1980 but which still does not have a PE hall. Where is the equal access in that instance? How can it and other schools provide for PE classes? It is a case of putting the cart before the horse. The Minister must check that the schools have PE halls and proper PE facilities before the introduction of PE to the leaving certificate programme.

With regard to higher-level education, it is indicated on page 13 that universities and institutes of technology required the earlier payment of grants in 2016. Why was this? Why are the universities and institutes of technology underwater already? As Deputy Thomas Byrne said, third level cannot wait for us to debate the Cassells report. There is now a crisis and the chickens have well and truly come home to roost. How will the Government address this in the upcoming budget? Funding is needed now.

I noticed there is no budget to make progress on the junior cycle policy reforms. That is quite astounding. This is the major reform that is happening in second-level schools. The policy reform is actively happening so it is a problem if there is no budget to progress it. There is no budget for certain forthcoming initiatives, such as the Gaeltacht strategy. Will the budgets for these initiatives be found?

I completely agree with my colleagues on the third-level sector and the immediate need for interim funding while we review the Cassells report, especially in light of the figures which suggest that there has been an increase of approximately 10% in the past two to three academic years. This figure is set to continue to grow.

On the issue of access to education and the piece that appears to be missing with regard to the transition from second to third level - and in light of the HEA seeking performance indicators from universities on their funding to meet certain requirements concerning access - will the Department begin funding access to education? I do not understand - in the context of the current arrangements - how performance indicators can be set for funding. The Trinity College access programme is probably the most successful such programme in the country. It receives absolutely no Government funding. Will the Department invest to start measuring the indicators?

I want the Minister to outline some of his plans for third level funding. The sector is in absolute chaos, as we know. This was reiterated by many today. It is a matter we really need to think about, and we cannot afford to wait. We certainly cannot wait until we decide what option to choose, be it State funding, loans or otherwise. I sincerely hope the loan option is not chosen. We need to address this and we need to know what the Minister's plans are.

On a separate matter, can the Department confirm whether there will be an allocation for the minor works grant in 2017?

On third level funding, there is an issue to be addressed immediately. We cannot wait for the fallout from the Cassells report before addressing all the issues. I referred earlier to the materials required in institutes of technology for the teaching of practical subjects. I am told by those who are teaching practical subjects in institutes of technology that there are insufficient funds and that this is causing chaos. I am also told about the overcrowding. Deputy Thomas Byrne alluded to this. Students must sit on steps in lecture halls, etc. I was told yesterday that there are ten administration jobs to go in GMIT, Castlebar, for example, and that there are staff there who believe the campus is in jeopardy. These are immediate issues. We cannot wait couple of years to address them. What are the plans to address some of them in the coming year?

With regard to recruitment, the gender equality issue across the third-level sector is considerable. Many people have been trying to keep quiet, particularly the higher management of universities. This matter needs to be addressed in any recruitment processes that are being put in place.

I wish to mention the point mentioned by Deputy Catherine Martin. Does the Minister have figures on any rural schools that do not have physical education rooms or multifunctional rooms? There is a legacy in this regard affecting very many small rural schools. So many of them do not have a multifunctional room in which physical education, etc., may be taught. This applies at both primary and secondary levels. Are there statistics available on this? What are the plans to address the circumstances I describe, particularly in rural areas?

An apparently small issue - it is actually quite big - has been brought to my attention. It concerns students in second year who do a lot of outreach work with local groups, such as disability groups. There is a considerable backlog in the issuing of Garda clearance for those over 16 years of age. As part of transition year work, for example, students may be assisting in a local voluntary organisation. After the age of 16, they must wait for Garda clearance. Apparently, there is a huge backlog. Clearance can take a number of months while the students are in the middle-----

To be fair, that is not really relevant to the Estimates. It is more of a policy issue.

The Minister might want to answer anyway.

He might. The Minister can see that the crisis over third-level funding engages this committee significantly. I assure him that when we enter private session we will be agreeing a work programme in this regard. There is to be a very substantive piece on consultation with all the relevant stakeholders in respect of the Cassells report. As has been mentioned by my colleagues, we are facing an immediate crisis while we are considering all the implications of the report.

Let me return to the area of special education. The ASD units are doing a terrific job. I believe they represent the way forward in special education. An issue arises for teachers, particularly at primary level, who have not had the necessary training they believe they need to teach in the best possible way. There really is a need for investment in developing the skills of teachers in this area.

The preschool sector must now deal with four different departments, namely, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, the Department of Education and Skills, Tusla and Pobal. They are inspected by four different groups. This is very difficult for them. The capitation rate is low. The take-up on the second year is not really working out. The staff are paid for only 38 weeks out of 52. The staff themselves can opt for social welfare during the summer months but the operators cannot do that. The preschool sector is dealing with a crisis. I am interested in hearing the Minister's comments on that.

Could the Minister highlight what he believes to be the key successes and weaknesses in the performances concerning 2017? Does he foresee any policy changes with significant financial implications that could affect the 2017 Estimates?

I assure Deputy Thomas Byrne that fulfilment of the commitments in A Confidence and Supply Arrangement for a Fine Gael-led Government is, of course, a priority. However, it is not a question of doing so in year one. That said, I take the Deputy's point. We are committed to restoring guidance counselling. We are obviously committed to making changes in certain areas - such as the postgraduate area - across the range of agreements.

Having listened to all the contributors, I believe the difficulty is that we nearly spent the full €600 million on education. That is a problem that we have to factor in. Higher education is obviously on the minds of people, as are SNAs and special needs. Both programmes in this regard cost €1.5 billion. The need to increase the numbers is obvious but, looking just at 2017, the share we may get from the allocation of €600 million will not resolve these issues in the long term. It can and will result in important work, I hope, but there is a wider issue as to how we approach the findings of the Cassells report. I obviously accept Deputy Thomas Byrne's point that there are different views on the report. It takes a number of years to roll out a student loan programme. Therefore, having such a programme does not obviate the need to do things in the short term.

There is no doubt that a long-term direction in terms of a funding model would provide confidence around revenue, investment strategies and capacity. As members will be aware, capital investment by the State can in some cases be only a small part of the total capital spend in the higher education area because of its capacity to raise funds and use income flows on which it can depend to ramp up and leverage investment. A framework is important. This is not all about what are we going to do in 2017 to address the crisis in this area. We do need a framework because these institutions plan over a longer period and can leverage other funds if we move in that direction. My goal would be to provide some medium-term certainty in this area. The committee will have a big role to play in that regard.

In regard to Deputy Catherine Martin's question about completions, 16 new schools and 12 large-scale extensions have been completed, which brings the total number of completions to 28. There is an expectation that up to 50 projects will be completed. The Deputy is correct that funding of physical education, PE, halls has been extremely constrained because of the pressure of population growth and that this has restricted the capacity of the available capital to go into other areas. The roll-out of PE to the leaving certificate will take some time to implement. I take the Deputy's point, which brings us back to deciding the priorities of the capital spend. Accommodating pupils' need has had to be the priority. The early payment reflects issues such as immediate needs in terms of repairs, maintenance and so on. There is no doubt but that capital budgets in the third level area are inadequate. In the context of the mid-term review, which is coming up next year, we will be making a strong case for attention in this area. It is not true that there is no budget for junior cycle reform. Some €17 million has been allocated to such reform this year, an increase of €8 million on the previous year. This allocation is not specific to one subhead but is distributed across a number of areas, such as continuous professional development and so on.

I agree with Senator Ruane that access to third level for the disadvantaged is important. My Department recently issued a call inviting participation. It is not true to say that there is no funding for this. The block grant allocation is designed to reward colleges that bring forward access. In other words, built into the third-level block grant allocation is an expectation that the colleges will use the weighting they get to develop programmes that can realise such access. The Department does not design all of the access programmes and tell the colleges to roll them out. The colleges are independent institutions. They develop programmes but in the block grant allocations they are given weightings for certain achievements. I agree with the Senator that we need to sharpen those weightings. We also need to see more opportunities for competitive expectation from the colleges to step up and be innovative and maybe find ways of sharing cost or rewarding results in that area. As the Senator will probably know the Higher Education Authority is reviewing the current model. It is a highly complex which I do not always understand.

On the Minister's point regarding the need to sharpen the weighting for funding in terms of access and so on, I believe we first need to overhaul access from second level to third level in terms of how the Department divides up the colleges versus the schools. Currently, the colleges have no say in this regard, as the links were set years ago by the Department and have never been reviewed. For example, the link college for Killinarden Community School is UCD. For a child who comes from an educationally disadvantaged background in Tallaght, UCD is very far away. There is a need for a review of the linkage between schools and colleges with a view to changing them up a little. The two best performing schools in Tallaght are linked with the Trinity access programme, TAP. This means that we are missing the boat in terms of access by most of the disadvantaged schools within disadvantaged areas.

That is a fair point. I will seek a response for the Senator on the issue. I was not aware of the restrictions to which the Senator refers.

Deputy Nolan asked about future plans in the context of the budget. The budget has not yet been agreed, although if I knew the answer to the Deputy's question I would probably not be able to tell her. The same is true of the multifunctional rooms in that in an ideal world we would be funding those on a greater basis. On Garda vetting, I accept it is a problem area and work in that regard is ongoing.

I asked if there are statistics available on the number of rural schools, for example, that do not have multifunctional rooms and how, if money should become available, they would be rolled out.

There are no ready statistics on temporary accommodation. The programme in that regard is still under consideration. It is a case of prioritising programmes that can be implemented. I take the Senator's point about the need for more training in special education at primary level. There is huge emphasis on continuous professional development, including in the area of special needs education. I am sorry I do not have the statistics in that regard available to me just now. We are developing the inclusion support service within the NCSE. This will be a centre of excellence to support schools in respect of special educational need and will improve access.

In regard to the preschool area, it is unfair to describe this as a crisis area. It is an area identified as being hugely under-provided for. Implementation of the second year extension is proving challenging. Our piece is around inspection of the Aistear curriculum. Inspections are focused on the educational element of that curriculum, which I think has been welcomed. As I understand it, a couple of hundred evaluations have been done already, with more to be done. We are doing our piece. This is an area in which we need to increase provision, improve standards, extend access to continued professional training and reward those in the sector with the type of higher skills that are important to its development. For example, the access and inclusion model, AIM, provides for a top-up payment to a school that has a co-ordinator with experience and training in special education co-ordination. AIM also allows schools to access equipment grants or adaptation grants to equip preschools to accommodate children with special needs. We are developing a programme through which the system is developing in parts. There are a number of bodies involved that are working closely on the issue. I understand there is a pretty good working relationship between those involved. We know what we are doing and we are respected for the skill of our inspectors. There is no point taking the inspectors out of an education and supervision model and putting them into something else when they have developed a good curriculum and are implementing it. I take the Senator's point that this is an area we need to keep a very close eye on to ensure we are getting quality. It is an area that is evolving.

I was asked about successes and failures. There have, in my view, been many successes, including the action plan for education.

A huge effort was made in my Department to bring the action plan for education together. We have multiple strategies but to bring them into one concerted programme that pulls them together, to corral our actions for 2016, 2017 and 2018, and allow a committee like this one to have a better view of what it is we are doing on all these fronts, is really important. That was done within the targeted time, albeit we had to wait for a Government to meet to get it out there. The plan is in draft form and we look forward to the committee's input, if changes are to be made.

The appointment of SNAs was an important milestone in the course of the last period. We had the introduction of the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill, our discussions in the Dáil on the future of how admissions should evolve, Deputy Jim Daly's Bill and the Labour Party's Bill. That all shows a minority Government does not necessarily mean one cannot implement change. In fact, at times it can accelerate the pace of change if there is a degree of consensus at political level. In some ways there has been a shift in influence from stakeholders within education to political stakeholders now. I hope that is a good thing to see emerge and that we can make decisions around important issues for the future of education. I do not know of any failures but I am sure some member of the committee will point them out to me.

Perhaps we take for granted the successes that happen every year. I mean the completion of the leaving certificate and the junior certificate that is run without significant incidents even though 60,000 pupils sit papers each year. Everyone perceives it as a fair, objective and well-delivered outcome, and it is done year in and year out. A lot of what works well in my Department has taken a lot of work to make sure it happens. Perhaps we are used to this situation. Perhaps we do not take the opportunity to step back and say how valuable the work is. If I had been told this information earlier, I might have better prepared.

On a point of clarification, the Minister mentioned that the action plan is in draft from and he would welcome an input by the committee. I understood that the plan had been published and was in final form.

We published it but it is a draft plan so we will accept commentary.

A number of Deputies made submissions in advance that we took into account. We have brought the plan to Government to publish in draft form so that the committee can give it consideration. Other groups that are interested can make a contribution. The methodology is that we will publish early in 2017 a programme for 2017 so there is an opportunity for us to adapt what we do in 2017 to priorities that are alerted to us in the course of this period.

I thank the Minister for his clarification. We need to add consideration of the action plan to our work programme later.

To clarify, I made a point about preschools and understanding the important role played by the Department. I tried to acknowledge the frustrations preschool operators have voiced about having to deal with four different Departments. They feel under-appreciated and under-resourced.

I know all about them because I have two of them in my family.

Deputy Cannon has indicated a wish to comment.

I have a question on the capital programme. Between 2011 and 2015 there was a significant budgetary allocation for prefab replacement that ultimately proved to be very successful because there was a definitive budget and a significant momentum behind the programme in the building unit. Does the Department intend to continue with the programme until we reach 100% replacement? As far as I can recall, we are at approximately 38% or 39% in terms of prefab replacement nationally. These are buildings that simply are not economically viable when one assesses what they cost to rent and a number of them are in very poor condition and have far outlived their useful life. Is there still a definitive budgetary allocation for prefab replacement? Will the momentum behind the scheme continue?

As the Deputy has said, the percentage of prefabs has continued to drop from 1,700 down to under 1,000 now and there are many sanctioned. The programme is continuing and money is allocated to it each year. The spend on rent was €19 million, which is a significant amount. I shall send a note on the scheme to the Deputy.

I thank the Minister and his officials for their input today. We appreciate his frankness and openness to discussion. We appreciate the level of commitment he and his officials have shown in improving the level of detail and the quality and type of information he has given to us as a committee as part of the Estimates process. It is a good opportunity to allow us as members, as well as members of the public, to see the detail in the background in terms of the Estimates. We, as a committee, look forward to continuing to work with the Minister and his Department. We will have a close working relationship over the coming months. We shall go into private session shortly. We have quite a substantive work programme to agree and priority will be given to the Cassells report. I thank the Minister and his officials for their time.

As Deputy Thomas Byrne will remind the committee, Mr. Peter Cassells is a brother of Mr. Joe Cassells, a well known Meath footballer. The surname is pronounced differently by people from Meath.

Mr. Joe Cassells is an uncle of our colleague, Deputy Cassells.

Do not forget Deputy Shane Cassells.

The joint committee went into private session at 11.27 a.m. and adjourned at 12 noon until 9 a.m. on Thursday, 13 October 2016.