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.