School Facilities and Costs: Discussion

I ask members and witnesses to turn off their mobile phones or switch them to flight mode because they interfere with the sound system and make it difficult for the parliamentary reporters to report on our meetings. Television coverage and web streaming also would be adversely affected. I thank all the witnesses for their attendance today.

We as a committee felt it was very important to meet during the Dáil recess and have a two-day summer school session on important issues affecting the education of students within the education system.

Today is a big day for many starting in school, both primary and secondary. I have five nieces and nephews starting in junior infants today. It is a big day in our house getting all the photographs. The committee is very conscious, as I know the witnesses are, of everything we need to put in place to ensure that these students, along with their parents, the teachers and the school community, have a positive experience throughout their school life.

During this session the committee wants to address some of the very obvious gaps in funding, the workload for teaching principals in particular, and the provision of school buildings that are adequate for the students. There is obviously a very high level of interest in the topics the committee will discuss over the course of our hearings in these two days. To run our meeting as efficiently as possible, we will be quite strict on time. I thank the witnesses for their written submissions. We will stick to three minutes for the oral submissions. I would appreciate it if they could adhere to that. We could have chosen many stakeholders for all the topics but it was necessary to select some stakeholders for our proceedings today.

This is the first session and we will examine whether the school building programme delivers sufficient school places to facilitate children attending local schools and the potential costs resulting from such places not being available. In addition to costs, the witnesses might also comment on the potential health and safety effects on staff and students due to overcrowding and lack of facilities in some schools.

The committee would welcome views on the provision of new or the protection of existing open green spaces for the use of students. We need to ensure that green space is given appropriate consideration by the relevant authorities. We need to consider any cost implications of such facilities not being available.

The committee met in private session beforehand to deal with housekeeping matters and correspondence. While it is not a topic we can go into now, some members again raised issues about school transport. At an in-depth meeting last year, the Minister and departmental officials assured us that there would be no issues for those going back to school this September. We are hearing from our constituents about issues both within Dublin and outside Dublin. While the Department has assured parents that their children have places on buses, Bus Éireann has not assured parents that their children have places. At this point that issue remains up in the air.

Children with special needs are also having issues in accessing transport, particularly to schools that are not their local schools and where they need a travelling companion. The committee feels that is not good enough. While we cannot address the situation in total here, at our first meeting when the Dáil comes back after recess, we will invite the Minister and departmental officials to appear before the committee and to have stakeholder hearings on that.

On behalf of the committee, I welcome once again Mr. John Irwin, general secretary of the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools. Ms Karen Jordan, who is the principal of St. Catherine's national school, Donore Avenue, Dublin 8, and Ms Lisa Ryan, who is from Our Lady's Grove Concerned Parents Group, are also welcome. Mr. John Curtis, general secretary of the Joint Managerial Body, JMB, is welcome once again. It is good to see Mr. Seamus Mulconry, general secretary of the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association, again. I welcome again Ms Deirdre O'Connor, assistant general secretary of the Irish National Teachers Organisation, INTO. It is good to see Ms Moira Leydon, assistant general secretary of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland, ASTI, once again. Mr. David Duffy, education and research officer of the Teachers Union of Ireland, TUI, is also welcome back to the committee. We also have with us Mr. Paul Hogan, who is the senior adviser for the forward planning section of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. It is very welcome to have someone representing the Department with us. This is Mr. Hogan's first time before the committee, I think, but it may not be his only time. We also have Mr. Hubert Loftus from the Department of Education and Skills with us. It is good to see Mr. Loftus again, and I thank him once again for the hospitality he showed committee members when we visited the Department's office in Tullamore on his invitation the last time he was before the committee. It was a very useful meeting for those of us who attended it and we certainly appreciated it.

The format of this part of the meeting is that I will invite the witnesses to make brief opening statements - as I mentioned, a maximum of three minutes - which will be followed by engagement with the members of the committee.

Before we begin, I draw the witnesses' attention to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the Chairman to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

I also advise the witnesses that the opening statements they have made available to the committee will be published on the committee website after this meeting.

I remind members of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I invite Mr. John Irwin, general secretary of the ACCS, to make his opening statement. The stage is his.

Mr. John Irwin

The Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools, ACCS, is the management body representing 96 post-primary community and comprehensive schools nationally. It is from this that we draw our experience in speaking to the committee. The ACCS's vision is to lead and support boards of management to enable schools to provide equal access to a comprehensive, co-educational, community-based, multidenominational education. In doing so, the ACCS aims to contribute towards a just and caring society.

The ACCS acknowledges the challenges the Department of Education and Skills faces in meeting the growing demand for school places at post-primary level. With approximately 4,500 additional post-primary places needed for this year alone and post-primary student numbers potentially growing by an estimated 50,000 places by 2025, the scale of the challenge ahead is evident. Those figures come from the report, Projections of Full-time Enrolment: Primary and Second Level, 2017–2035. The ACCS acknowledges the in-depth analysis carried out by the future planning section of the Department of Education and Skills informing decisions on future accommodation needs. We also acknowledge that the section has agreed to meet us to explain exactly from where its findings earlier this year came.

From our submission the committee will see that 17 community and comprehensive schools have been involved in projects providing additional accommodation in schools over the past three years. These projects relate specifically to additional accommodation applied for using the ADA application form for post-primary schools. This additional accommodation can be divided into two main categories, namely, increased enrolment and provision of special needs units. Increased enrolment accounted for 11 of the projects, one of which also included a special needs unit, with six projects dedicated to the provision of special needs units. The preference in all cases is for permanent accommodation as opposed to temporary prefab rental. In four of the 17 projects the additional accommodation is being provided through prefabs. In future planning, ten community and comprehensive schools are listed for major works, with an additional two in active discussion with the Department and having had site visits from Department officials.

We acknowledge and recognise the work the Department has been doing directly with schools. Not included in our initial submission were a number of applications for different school accommodation. A significant number of major projects, either completed or in progress, also were not captured in the initial submission. It can be seen from my statement that eight schools completed major extensions in recent years. Other schools, including Ardee community school, Kinsale community school , Rathcoole community school, Blackwater community school, Pobalscoil Rosmini, Drumcondra, Mount Temple comprehensive school, Crescent College comprehensive, Limerick, Boyne community school, Ashbourne community school and Moate community school, were listed for ongoing major projects and extensions. This submission does not include works carried out under emergency works grants or the summer works scheme. A small number of applications for additional accommodation have not been successful on the basis that there was adequate accommodation in surrounding schools and schools were advised to review their admissions policy as demand for places exceeded availability in their school but not within the catchment area.

An area of significant concern for the ACCS is the maintenance of schools. During the economic downturn a moratorium on recruitment of caretaking, cleaning and secretarial supports in community and comprehensive schools was introduced. Despite a recovering economy, this moratorium remains in place and poses significant challenges for school management maintaining school buildings and sites. The number of caretakers is capped at one per school with an allocation of an equivalent number of cleaning hours. This is inadequate to meet the maintenance requirements of schools and is creating problems for the future. The ACCS asked in a pre-budget submission that this moratorium be addressed urgently to afford schools the opportunity to meet their obligations in maintaining schools and providing facilities to students and the communities they serve.

I thank Mr. Irwin for respecting the time. It is appreciated. I call Ms Karen Jordan, who is principal of St. Catherine's national school in Dublin 8.

Ms Karen Jordan

I am grateful for the invitation to attend today. I am the principal of St. Catherine's national school, Donore Avenue, Dublin 8. It is a small Church of Ireland school in Dublin's south-western inner city adjoining the former Player Wills factory site and the St. Teresa's Gardens housing development. Originally constructed in 1903 to serve what at that time was a small and declining Church of Ireland community, the school was extended in 2003 to accommodate a pupil capacity of just over 100. Since then, however, there has been a dramatic increase in the population of the area. This is reflected in our school enrolment of 214 pupils today. The current best practice approach in education focuses on active learning and project-based learning methodologies including school gardens and outdoor Aistear, as well as special educational needs learning, all of which require space for the children to move freely around their learning environment and classroom. This should be reflected in updated Department of Education and Skills guidelines for the provision of classrooms and other rooms and the appropriate sizes for all such rooms, having regard to the needs of their different users.

The Department should be proactive and timely in providing support for expansion of existing schools where this current best practice approach to learning and development cannot be provided due to space and accommodation constraints. This is the case in St. Catherine’s national school at present. In this context, the expansion of St. Catherine’s national school is both necessary and appropriate but cannot be facilitated on the existing property. The Department must give proactive and outside-the-box assistance to such school accommodation solutions in these unique cases, including direct land purchase and transfer to a school. The adjacent lands of the former factory sites and St. Teresa’s Gardens are identified for major regeneration under the current Dublin City development plan. The framework plan envisages a substantial new residential population. I expect this to translate into a new primary school age population of 250 to 300 children. This is in addition to the new population that continues to settle in the area.

The framework states: "Provision shall be made for the expansion of St. Catherine's National School, Donore Avenue, in the re-development of the former Player Wills site, subject to agreement with the Department of Education and Skills". It is clear from this that the Department is presumed to play a proactive role in ensuring adequate provision of primary classroom space, specifically focused on St. Catherine’s school, to ensure the success of the plan. It must be the case, therefore, that the expansion of the school occurs in tandem with the construction of new housing units on the lands, which has already commenced. As such, it is considered that active and early departmental engagement in the planning and programming of the regeneration must occur. This model of interaction may be unusual and probably is unique in the school building programme but I hope the committee can see its utmost importance and take on board the message that the Department's policy and strategy in this area must ensure flexibility to deal with a scenario such as now occurs for St. Catherine’s national school.

I thank the committee for its attention.

I invite Ms Lisa Ryan from Our Lady's Grove concerned parents group to make her presentation.

Ms Lisa Ryan

I thank the committee for the opportunity to address it today on behalf of the concerned parents group from Our Lady's Grove primary school in Goatstown, Dublin 14. From our experience in the past year, during which our school's land was sold for residential development, we believe an intervention and long-term strategy are needed from the Department of Education and Skills to ensure the private lands attached to many public schools across Ireland are not sold for development. Our main concern is that there is a lack of child-centred holistic planning for educational campuses across public school sites. Sports facilities and open space are crucial for the physical and mental health of children and these should not only be available to children attending private schools, which appears to be increasingly the situation in urban areas. The land is also needed to enable future expansion of the schools. In our case, many new developments are being built in and around the catchment area without sufficient school places planned.

Our school was founded by the Congregation of the Religious of Jesus and Mary, which purchased the land in the 1960s to set up the school. The campus consists of a public primary school, a public secondary school and a not-for-profit preschool and after-school facility. Since 2006 the religious order has sold the school land for development and last year the remaining land was sold for €13 million. Members can see the images in the additional material I submitted showing the almost complete removal of green space from the school. What have we done? We conducted a public campaign to retain some of the land of our school and that of Clonkeen College via Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council last year, as it is currently zoned A for residential amenity with an institutional label. Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council's head of planning was very clear that these lands could be protected if the Department of Education and Skills required their protection, which it has not done to date. The head of planning noted that the current footprint of the primary school is below the Department's guidelines for a school with this number of pupils.

We also met the Minister, Deputy Bruton, in May last year. He told us that the reduction in green space was not unusual for an urban school. He also responded that the Department has a just-in-time approach to capital expenditure on schools and had decided there were sufficient school places in the area and that no further expansion would be necessary. However, this information has been contradicted in recent months by the Department with the announcement of new schools to be built in the area and three additional classrooms to be added to the school, removing the last little strip of green space from the school.

In conclusion, the consequences of selling school lands will be felt now and into the future in our children's development and well-being. The Department of Education and Skills has the power to intervene to avoid a serious negative impact on the future of our educational system. We understand that 95 of the 105 national schools in the Dublin and Rathdown area are in the same situation as this school. We recommend that the Department examine all zoning and planning applications for lands associated with schools and that it direct planners to protect sufficient green space before allowing them to be zoned residential. In addition, when the State invests in a school or buildings perhaps it should take equity in the facilities or the land in return in order that a certain percentage of green space or playing fields remains in use for the school and the local community in perpetuity.

I thank the committee for its consideration of this matter.

Thank you. It is always important to hear from the teachers and parents, as well as from the bodies that represent them, in order that they can tell us what is happening on the ground. Unfortunately, that is mirrored in many other schools and communities. I invite Mr. John Curtis, general secretary of the JMB, to speak.

Mr. John Curtis

The Joint Managerial Body, JMB, represents the management authorities of almost 380 voluntary secondary schools. We welcome the invitation from the committee to participate in this discussion on the school building programme and related matters.

Any emerging strategy on education must include adequate provision for demographic surges in school population. Equally as important, we need to ensure that the fabric of our school infrastructure is systematically upgraded to enable quality provision for those in our care and that educational opportunity is afforded in an equitable manner. Projections show that we can expect a continuing increase in enrolments at second level of at least 84,000 students up as far as 2026.

A discrepancy exists in the voluntary school sector which has a historical tradition of engagement in education but which has suffered from inadequate government investment in refurbishment and replacement of ageing facilities through successive generations. One impediment to progress in this area is the lack of a comprehensive inventory of the national stock of school accommodation. This was outlined in Professor Emer Smyth's 2013 ESRI study, Governance and Funding of Voluntary Secondary Schools in Ireland. The JMB urges that a proper survey be conducted and the information disseminated.

We welcome the fact that the Minister for Education and Skills has announced plans for the establishment of 42 new schools over the next four years. This announcement follows nationwide demographic exercises carried out by his Department into the current and future need for primary and post-primary school places across the country. The Department has also committed to monitoring areas where the accommodation of existing schools may need to be expanded to meet the needs of the local population. Approximately 40% of additional school places are to be delivered by extending existing schools. Nonetheless, there are still questions as to whether this will adequately address the needs that we identify.

The JMB has welcomed the publication of the six-year plan for major capital investment. Some 54 voluntary secondary schools are listed on the plan and each of these can look forward to an extension and refurbishment of existing premises. However, it is imperative that the capital budget for schools be increased substantially. Many voluntary secondary schools have been serving their communities for more than 150 years. Many were built or extended with no or limited State assistance and are now in need of major refurbishment and extensions.

The JMB is concerned that with increasing building costs and lack of sufficient personnel in the school building unit the targets in the six-year plan will not be met. There are schools on the list for 2018 that still have not received a technical visit from officials in the building unit. Other schools that have had a technical visit are still waiting for a schedule of accommodation and few have received approval to appoint a design team. It is the JMB view that schools due to go to construction in the period 2019-2021 need to have technical visits almost immediately with schedules of accommodation being issued very shortly afterwards. With the time required to design, to get statutory approvals and agreement with the Department and to tender, it will be a huge task to meet the targets of the six-year plan. The appointment of a fully funded administrative assistant for building in schools with projects over a specified size or other appropriate intervention such as funded management body support must also be considered.

There are many voluntary secondary schools who have recently applied for major works but who are not on the six-year plan list. These schools and the communities they serve cannot wait until 2022 or 2023 to be assessed for capital investment. A mechanism must be found to have these schools added to the current list and additional funding made available to meet their needs.

There is an increasing demand under the additional accommodation scheme to provide additional classrooms and practical rooms for our schools, and to replace prefabricated classrooms. Current demand clearly exceeds the level of finance available.

Mr. Curtis is running out of time.

Mr. John Curtis

In addition, the additional accommodation scheme needs to be expanded to allow for general purpose dining areas, staff rooms and offices for our extra deputy principals and principals. We very much welcome the national development plan and the fact that €2.5 billion has been allocated to it. We are particularly thankful for the engagement we have with all the officials in the building unit. We feel that there needs to be a societal acknowledgement at this juncture to enable an impetus for proper infrastructural investment because we have neglected that infrastructural investment.

I am going to have to cut Mr. Curtis off there and I thank him. Everybody else respected the time. I call Mr. Seamus Mulconry, general secretary of the CPSMA, to make his presentation.

Mr. Seamus Mulconry

In the interests of brevity, I will summarise my statement.

Thank you.

Mr. Seamus Mulconry

The CPSMA would like to acknowledge the challenges the Department is facing as it seeks to meet the demand for school places. These challenges relate not only to budgets but also to the complexity of predicting demand. It is not easy to predict demand, particularly given some of the demographic surges around the city of Dublin. I would like to make three points. Last year, we surveyed our members in the greater Dublin area, which is one of the areas experiencing the greatest pressure, as part of an attempt to understand the admissions challenges that exist. When we mapped the 42 schools we identified as being over-subscribed, a pattern of rapid growth in demand around the external parts of the greater Dublin area emerged. In essence, it is a doughnut-shaped demand. There has not been a massive increase in demand in the inner city, but there certainly has been such an increase around the edges of the city. This has been very hard to predict. It appears to us that the greatest demand is in areas of north Dublin like Balbriggan, Cherrywood and River Valley, where there is a lot of use of prefabs. In the south of the city, we are seeing a demand for places but we are also seeing a need for existing schools in established working-class communities to be refurbished. This problem will not go away in the short term. The national demographic bulge is easing, but the demographic bulge in some areas around Dublin is increasing and will continue to increase. We have spoken to a principal in Greystones who recently learned that 700 houses are to be built beside her school. This needs to be taken into consideration as we plan for the future. I have made the three basic points I wanted to make on behalf of the CPSMA.

I have a few queries about the failure of local authorities to work hand in hand with the Department in cases like that mentioned by Mr. Mulconry. How can something like this happen without the school authorities being aware of it? I ask Ms. Deirdre O'Connor of the INTO to address the joint committee.

Ms Deirdre O'Connor

The INTO welcomes the opportunity to address the joint committee on this matter. We note that issues relating to the workload of principal teachers will be discussed later this afternoon. We would like an opportunity to address the committee separately on those issues at a later stage, if possible. Issues relating to school buildings were on the agenda of our first congress, which was held 150 years ago this month. Teachers have legitimate concerns about such issues. They are entitled to work in decent places. They want to work in buildings which enhance the educational experience of the children they teach. Such buildings are comfortable, bright, adequately heated and ventilated and have appropriate furniture and technology.

We acknowledge that it is difficult to plan for school places. It is not an exact science. We acknowledge that the Department uses demographic tools effectively to show areas of population growth to meet demand. However, those tools are not always as joined-up as they might be. The unique structure of primary education in Ireland, however, means that parents can exercise their right to enrol their child in the school of their choice, regardless of whether it is in an area that is not close to where they live, or whether it is a school of a different ethos. As a result, some schools are full to capacity while others have empty classrooms. We acknowledge the difficulties that exist in this regard. School provision can match demand if there is consultation and co-operation at local level and if decisions are made on the basis of clear and transparent criteria. The Department must take into account the OECD's finding that classes in Irish primary schools have an average of five children more than the EU average. If we want to have the best education system in the world, we need to plan to reduce class sizes and we must provide the accommodation to facilitate this.

It is absolutely correct that 40% of additional school places are delivered by extending existing schools. Schools need to be maintained and improved. As the day-to-day managers of schools, hard-pressed principals like Ms Jordan have to carry the burden of responsibility and additional work when projects are being undertaken or are being sought. In 57% of cases, they do this in addition to their teaching duties. The Department needs to ensure appropriate supports are in place to enable such works to be carried out efficiently. This must include the provision of additional release time for teaching principals and the funding of sufficient ancillary staff. Primary schools are struggling to make ends meet because capitation funding at primary level is significantly less than at post-primary level. Indeed, it is significantly less than it was before the cuts were made in the last decade. The minor works grant, which is intended for routine maintenance and upkeep of schools, is an essential part of the budgets of all schools. The Department does not provide any certainty in relation to its payment from year to year. The payment of this grant must be confirmed on an annual basis, and certainty must be provided with regard to its timing, so that schools can plan their budgets.

In 1872, the Ennis Teachers Association sent a letter to the founder of the INTO, Vere Foster, in which it described the transformation of a miserable hovel on a bleak mountainside into a school with whitened walls, a slated roof and handsome glazed windows.

It described the pupils' rapt delight at their new surroundings and how the teachers' labour, if not easy, was at least tolerable. Investment in good quality school accommodation improves the quality of teaching and learning today, as it did in 1872.

I call Ms Moira Leydon, the assistant general secretary of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland, ASTI.

Ms Moira Leydon

The committee has been given a very comprehensive and diverse picture of the issues, so, like Mr. Mulconry, I will paraphrase our written submission. First of all, we must be honest and state that nobody underestimates the complexity of the issues, including challenges in terms of demographics and spatial development. During the almost ten years of austerity from September 2008 onwards, the country did not have the money to engage in planning to address the issues which the committee is now addressing. We are all very mindful of that fact, and that the Department of Education and Skills has engaged in forward planning. The Department website states that 14 new schools catering for more than 10,000 pupils have been opened in the past five years, which indicates that the system has not stood still.

However, there are significant demands on the system and it is important for the committee to be aware not alone of the very pressing demographic demands but also demands due to technological developments, the integration of information and communication technology, ICT, into classrooms and the changing nature of education as a critical resource for society, the economy, labour productivity, etc. A 2016 ESRI report stated that there are infrastructural deficits in terms of the capacity of buildings to integrate new ICT, in addition to problems caused by the slow roll-out of broadband. There are also special educational needs demands on school buildings in terms of access, participation and accommodation, as adverted to by the Joint Managerial Body, JMB.

Ms O'Connor, my colleague from the INTO, referred to changes in the pupil-teacher ratio. The teachers' unions will not let that issue go away. It is a vital issue for us. Smaller pupil-teacher ratios require accommodation changes.

The ASTI considers the prioritisation of well-being to be a further driver of demand. We carried out research over the past eight years or so on the impact of austerity budgets on schools which revealed that chaplains and guidance counsellors in some schools had to give up rooms used to meet pupils on a one-to-one basis because the rooms were commandeered for teaching purposes. We must consider the capacity of schools to offer supports in terms of well-being and its priority in our curriculum and for the youth of this country. The ASTI also wishes to highlight the issue of the infrastructural capacity of our schools to facilitate the STEM - science, technology, engineering and mathematics - strategy, which is a very serious matter.

On curriculum change, it is very exciting that there is far more active learning. A teacher at primary or secondary level will have children sitting around tables, learning from each other, and the teacher will visit the tables. That is a far more dynamic environment than was previously present in schools. However, one cannot facilitate that in classrooms which are too small. It is important that committee members, as legislators, are aware that the demands are not solely due to demographics but, rather, are change demands which must be addressed.

I have two more points to make.

I ask Ms Leydon to make them quickly as she is over time.

Ms Moira Leydon

I will do so. Current school accommodation must be addressed. Future builds are important but we must look at current school accommodation and its capacity to meet change.

It is always important to end on a positive note. What can be done? Obviously, there is the area of planning and investment but there are two very practical solutions which the ASTI would like to leave with the committee. First, several reports by the Comptroller and Auditor General and a 2013 ESRI report on funding stated that we need an inventory of accommodation at school level. We simply do not have it. We know about demographics for the future but we do not know what we currently have to meet need. Second, I bring to the attention of the committee that the Department of Education and Skills is engaged in a very innovative and pragmatic OECD project, the learning environments evaluation programme, which is all about doing inventories of current accommodation to meet future educational and demographic needs.

I strongly urge our departmental colleagues to remain with that programme. It is a very important way for us to learn from our European partners. It will also give us the tools to do the type of inventory we are recommending. I will leave those two practical suggestions with the Cathaoirleach. Go raibh maith agat.

I thank Ms Leydon for her presentation. It is always good to get practical suggestions that we can bring forward. I now invite Mr. David Duffy, education and research officer with the Teachers' Union of Ireland, TUI, to make his submission.

Mr. David Duffy

I thank the committee for this opportunity to make a submission on the topic of school costs, school facilities and related matters. Ireland has an internationally acknowledged high-performing education system despite spending relatively little on education. The rapidly improving economic situation means that the Government is in a good position to make a meaningful contribution to improving school facilities and reducing school costs incurred by parents.

Ireland has a very young population. The latest projections by Department of Public Expenditure and Reform are that post-primary enrolments are expected to rise by 12.5% between 2018 and 2024. This creates obvious issues regarding the timely provision of school buildings. The TUI believes that free education should mean genuinely free education. Barnardos has estimated that genuinely free post-primary education would only cost €127 million. A useful first step would be restoration of the full capitation block grant to schools and education and training boards, ETBs. This would only cost €18.5 million. This is a tiny sum in the context of the State's funding of approximately 60 fee-paying schools to the tune of €115 million.

Funding to achieve genuinely free post-primary education could be sourced, at no net cost to the Exchequer, through a financial transactions tax, the restoration of the 13.5% rate of VAT on the hospitality industry or the abolition of bogus self-employment, which is designed solely to rob workers of employment rights and to place some businesses beyond the tax net.

As for school facilities, as well as catering for the rapid rise in student numbers over the next seven years, it is important that the school buildings programme should take account of the provision of special classes for students with autism. It also should take account of special educational needs generally such as, for example, the availability of resource rooms to provide small group and one-to-one tuition, the need for provision of ancillary staff to maintain buildings and keep them open at night, adequate and sufficient bathroom facilities for staff and students including members of the transgender community; increases in building costs especially in remote areas where they tend to be higher and the updating of facilities such as science laboratories. The programme also should take account of the importance of temporary buildings not taking over playing facilities and of curricular needs where, for example, some schools do not have access to sufficient - or in some cases any - PE halls, science laboratories, home economics kitchens, woodwork and engineering rooms etc.

School facilities will become an even more urgent issue when the revised junior cycle is fully rolled out. Its emphasis on experiential learning requires adequate facilities for such learning to take place. Recent and upcoming changes in senior cycle also create a buildings facilities issue. New examination subjects such as computer science and PE have been warmly welcomed by the TUI but create clear issues regarding the availability of facilities. These issues include provision for specialised provision in the further education sector as it often has very particular needs due to the increased specialisation for the programmes provided, the numbers of students present and the older age profile of those students, supporting new schools where they are temporarily being housed in primary schools and meeting local and language needs such as for Gaelcholáistí.

Mr. Duffy has reached his time now.

Mr. David Duffy

The TUI recommends that genuinely free education should be achieved through the implementation of revised tax measures. Significant investment is required for both the building of new schools and the modernisation and expansion of existing schools. Curricular needs and changes to curriculum must be taken into account. Building cost inflation must be taken into account, including in remote areas. The provision of special classes, increased ancillary staffing needs and the unique needs of new schools that are temporarily housed in primary schools must also be taken into account.

I thank Mr. Duffy. I call on Mr. Paul Hogan, senior adviser in the forward planning section at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government.

Mr. Paul Hogan

I thank the Chairman for the opportunity to contribute to the committee's work today. I will take the submission we made as read. I do not have an opening statement but I will make some observations on what has been said so far to try to inform our involvement.

Our Minister is precluded by statute from becoming involved or intervening in individual planning cases or applications. Therefore, we cannot say too much about those.

The overall national strategy is made up of the national planning framework and the national development plan. Project Ireland 2040 emphasises the prioritisation of compact growth in our towns and cities. This means trying to develop as much as possible within the existing physical footprint to make the best use of existing facilities. The idea is to counteract the doughnut that has been referred to, whereby we are constantly building outwards at cost not only in terms of provision of facilities but in terms of commuting, people's time etc.

We need also to accommodate demand as it arises. Everyone has acknowledged and referred to figures we face. We will have an extra 1 million people or thereabouts in the country in the next 20 years. This will give rise to further demand for education, especially in the 2020s, as has been said. In meeting that demand, good planning involves providing for schools in tandem with development. Before I joined the Department I worked for local authorities for almost 20 years. This approach was something that was improving and developing all the time in local authorities in my experience. Good forward planning involves consultation to ensure adequate future schools provision in association with the community and the Department of Education and Skills. I would be surprised to hear of someone involved in a school in a developing area not knowing about something like 700 planned houses, as has been mentioned. We need good planning and that is reiterated in planning guidance and the national planning framework.

It is important to point out that the zoning of land is a reserved function of local authorities, by which I mean that it is entirely the responsibility of local elected members to zone land. Once land is zoned, it is the duty of the local authority executive to implement the plan to give effect to that zoning. It is not the responsibility of my Department or of the Department of Education and Skills. It is determined at a local level in consultation with the community as part of the development plan process.

The provision of numbers and places for schoolchildren is complex, but school provision is also complex because it has profound impacts on society and on places. It also has an impact on community development as well as on the health of children, how they get to school and what they do when they are there. It also has an impact on transport. We have often heard about schools being accused of creating and contributing to congestion. There is considerable discussion around that, although I know that is not really a matter for today. The point I am making is that it is a complex issue. We have urban and rural environments, big schools and small schools. It is not really possible to simplify and generalise into a one-size-fits-all approach. I urge caution about guidance and generalities because every case is different. That is one of the key things about planning. All sites and all cases are different. Much depends on the demographics of the area, what is adjoining it, what is around it and what influences it. Sometimes, at a high level policy role, we can offer guidance and good practice, but ultimately it has to come down to what happens on the ground.

I thank Mr. Hogan. Next is Mr. Hubert Loftus, who is assistant secretary general at the Department of Education and Skills.

Mr. Hubert Loftus

I thank the Chair. I am pleased to have the opportunity to meet and assist the committee in its consideration of school costs, school facilities and related matters. I understand the invitation to the Department arises from its earlier submission to the committee on the provision of school places under the school building programme. The provision of school places under the school building programme was discussed during the Department's attendance at the committee meeting on 17 April and during the subsequent visit to the planning and building unit in Tullamore on 30 May. Following the committee's request on 12 July, the Department also provided a written submission to the committee on 31 July.

While issues can affect the timeline for delivery of individual projects, in overall terms the Department is satisfied that the school building programme delivers sufficient numbers of places to cater for demographic growth. The main focus of the school building programme over the past decade has been to ensure that additional school places are provided to cater for the bulge in enrolments, especially at primary level.

While national enrolments at primary level are in a peak period, localised increases continue in areas of population growth. In addition, there is a consequential sustained increase in enrolments at post-primary level and this is projected to peak in 2025. The delivery of additional permanent school places to meet demographic demand will continue to be a priority under the NDP, with an expectation of 20,000 places to be delivered annually over the medium term. The NDP will also provide for a strengthened focus on refurbishment of the existing school stock, which is an issue that has been raised by previous witnesses.

The Department also supports schools in dealing with maintenance and small-scale refurbishments of the existing school stock. This is dealt with as appropriate through the minor works grant scheme, the summer works scheme and, where necessary, the emergency works scheme.

I also understand that this session may include discussion on the provision and retention of open and green spaces to facilitate play and sports in schools. On the provision of green spaces as part of school building projects, the focus of the Department’s design guidance is to ensure that any landscaping around a school should be simple, cost effective and easy to maintain. The Department’s design guidance is not prescriptive in terms of area for green spaces but indicates that where space permits, grass kick-about practice areas can be provided. The provision of hard play areas varies with the size of school. For example, the design guidance provides for two ball courts and one junior play area for a 16-classroom primary school and for six ball courts for a 1,000 pupil post-primary school. It is important to note that the implementation of the Department’s design guidance can be affected by the size of a school site, which is particularly relevant in urban areas. The policy emphasis in the Project Ireland 2040 national planning framework is for compact growth and to deliver more housing and infrastructure within the existing built-up areas of cities, towns and villages on infill and-or brownfield sites. The logic underpinning the inclusion of hard play areas within the Department’s design guidance is to provide a play and sport facility for ongoing and intensive use by schools on a continual year-round basis. Given the Irish climate, such ongoing and intensive use is not possible on open or green spaces, particularly during winter months.

On the wider point of the retention of open or green spaces for use by schools, there are a number of matters to note regarding the decision-making function for such spaces. Most school sites are not owned by the Minister and, therefore, decisions relating to the retention of open or green spaces within the lands on which the school is situated is a matter for the landowner. It is only in circumstances where the Department has made a significant investment in those schools that a mechanism exists for the Department to have a role in the use of the school site covered by that investment. Second, some schools have use of land adjacent and external to their site for play or sport purposes. Decisions relating to the future use and retention of those lands is a matter for the owner. Finally, in circumstances where the school site, including open or green spaces, is within the ownership of the Minister, the Department has the authority to make decisions regarding the provision and retention of open or green spaces by schools.

I am happy to take questions from the committee.

I thank Mr. Loftus and call Deputy Thomas Byrne.

I thank the witnesses for attending. I wish all the pupils around the country, including my own kids, the best of luck going back to school. I am particularly thinking of those who are going into unacceptable accommodation. There are quite a lot of them.

Many of the statements from the management bodies and schools speak for themselves. What struck me about Ms Ryan's contribution was that people seem to be absolving themselves of responsibility for rezoning. There was a clear answer on rezoning from Mr. Hogan, namely that it is a matter for councillors. The council seems to be saying the Department has to tell it to do something. That was never my understanding and Mr. Hogan has cleared the matter up. We cannot comment on planning applications but perhaps we could have a comment on whether local authorities have to get the go-ahead from the Department of Education and Skills to zone land for purposes related to education. That seems to be what was stated. It may be the practice in local authorities and I have certainly come across it, but it does not seem to be the law as laid down in the planning Acts in respect of zoning. Local authorities and the County and City Management Association will want to listen to what Mr. Hogan and, I suspect, Mr. Loftus say today, namely that they do not get involved unless perhaps they want to reserve a site for schools as a matter of priority.

Councillors need to start asserting themselves. As Mr. Hogan said, they have the powers to zone land when development plans come up and, in certain circumstances, to dezone land, as well as being able to make changes to development plans.

I would like to ask Mr. Loftus about the announcement last April regarding 42 schools based on demographics. We have heard little about them. There have been patronage processes for less than a handful over the summer. I ask for an update on the process. None of the schools appears on the Department of Education and Skills school building list, which is extraordinary. The list appears to refer to old projects. I would love some clarity.

Does Mr. Loftus not think it extraordinary that the Department of Education and Skills does not provide for playing pitches when it is building new schools? I discussed this in the national media and the interviewer was shocked that this was the policy. When the State and religious orders were building schools in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, when we did not have two pennies to rub together, playing pitches seemed to be standard but they are not now. Is there a reason for that? Can we expect a change of policy?

Will Mr. Hogan and Mr. Loftus say how often the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and the Department of Education and Skills meet to discuss the need for new schools around the country? Is there a cross-departmental working group?

Does Mr. Loftus know how many new applicants have appeared on the list for major school building works over the past six months, on top of everything we know about? Is demand increasing? Does he expect an increased budget for school buildings? Does he believe it is needed? Does he believe that the school building programme, as set out, is adequate for the needs of our students?

I thank Deputy Byrne. I will take three sets of questions and go back to the witnesses. Senator Ruane is next.

There were detailed opening statements, but the issues least discussed were green spaces and PE halls. At a time when we are constantly discussing mental health, childhood obesity and other things, will any witnesses comment on the impact of not putting in place spaces for children? Obesity affects poorer communities more than those living in affluent areas due to the type of food choices people make. Not being able to access green spaces and PE halls is very important in terms of obesity being a class issue. Are there any examples of that having an impact on students?

I have an observation following Mr. Irwin's contribution. He stated there would be an increase of 50,000 in pupil numbers by 2025 and commented on the refusal to provide additional accommodation because school places are available in other catchment areas. This shows a lack of planning. By next year or the year after, schools will be at full capacity. One would think that, in terms of future-proofing schools and communities, schools would be granted additional accommodation so that by 2025 or 2026 the accommodation needs would be met.

I have a question on Ms Jordan's submission on regeneration.

I am less familiar with the regeneration of St. Teresa's Gardens than with the regeneration of Fatima Mansions and St. Michael's Estate. Is it the case that no schools or local amenities are on the regeneration board? Does St. Teresa's Gardens have a regeneration board that meets consistently and seeks to meet the needs of the community that is to benefit from the regeneration? A school is a vital part of a community and if a community is to be regenerated, the schools should have all the resources available to that community. We send people out of their communities when flats are being knocked down and they are then moved back into a space where there may not be enough school spaces. What process is in place for the local schools and the regeneration boards and teams? Do they communicate and can submissions be made? I seek further clarification on that aspect.

I thank the witnesses for their detailed presentations. In the first instance, I want to address Ms Ryan of Our Lady's Grove Concerned Parents Group. I am most familiar with this school as it is in my constituency. I find the situation quite bizarre, as do the parents. I was at the meeting with the Minister and his officials when we were told there simply was not enough demand for school places to justify the expansion of that school or the protection of the land. However, a year later, funding for 42 schools was announced, two of which were in the Goatstown-Stillorgan area, the very area for which we were told there was no demand in the previous year. I simply do not understand that. How does that happen? How can parents be told that there is no demand in one year but yet, a year later, there is enough demand to warrant a new primary and secondary school in the area? If there was no mistake and there really was a bizarre change in the demographics of the area, what does that indicate about the Department's mechanism for deciding on the provision of new schools?

In its submission the Department says it only has a four-year window to plan for primary schools. There must be a more long-term approach to planning taken by county councils and their planning departments, the Department for Housing, Planning and Local Government and other Government entities. What is the Department doing to protect school lands across the country? With the greatest of respect, as a former councillor I am well aware that zoning is a reserved function. What communication takes place during the development plan process between the Department and the council? Councillors should be given an indication from the Department. In my constituency, 25 of the 33 schools were zoned for residential use. Was this flagged by the Department during the development plan process? There has been a rapid growth in population here, as well as an increase in births. If that communication is not taking place, should it happen? There should be greater communication and co-operation between councils and the Department of Education and Skills during that planning process, ensuring that councillors are well informed enough to make decisions on the zoning of lands during the development process, rather than having to go through the complicated process of re-opening it. Are there plans for that type of communication to take place?

A large amount of land will be sold off. We know that because religious orders are looking to sell off land to fund projects such as nursing homes for the religious, as in the case of Our Lady's Grove national school. This is not specific to Goatstown; it will happen across the country. Greater co-operation is required in that area. It was stated earlier that most school sites are not owned by the Minister for Education and Skills and that decisions relating to the future of the lands rest with the owners. Has the Department looked into the possibility of bringing forward legislation to retain open green spaces or has it examined the possibility of compulsory purchase orders to retain such lands? Has it thought about purchasing additional lands for existing schools as required?

Does the Department have comprehensive aggregable data on the physical infrastructure of school buildings in the State? This would include information about the size of the buildings, the condition they are in, a list of available facilities and information on access to recreation and sporting facilities etc. The ASTI submission, mentioned by others today, led me to the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General from 1996, which referenced the fact that a number of tasks were recommended by a 1988 report drawn up by an interdepartmental committee of officials.

One of these was that an inventory of school accommodation detailing the location, size and condition of all school buildings should be prepared as a matter of urgency. I wonder whether this urgent inventory has ever been done because the indications from witnesses are that it has not been done. Why is that?

That leads to a question I have brought up many times in the committee. If we consider one resource facility, namely, physical education halls, there is a complete refusal to audit schools to identify those that do not have PE halls, yet we are rolling out physical education as a leaving certificate subject. That inevitably leads to an inequality. When a whole-school evaluation or one of the new management, leadership and learning evaluations, MLLs, is carried out in a school and the report indicates that the lack of a PE hall is having an impact on students, is that a matter for the forward planning section or is the issue parked somewhere in a report? Is the fact that the school needs a PE hall flagged? Twice now, a whole-school evaluation and MLL have indicated there is no PE hall and this is having an impact. This was before it was announced that physical education was to become a leaving certificate subject.

If it is the case that an inventory of school accommodation has not been done, what are the Department's plans in this regard? I assume an inventory must have been done at some stage for State schools, if not all schools. Is there a template for the information to be provided by schools on their physical infrastructure? If so, is it possible to provide us with the template and outline the information the Department has on the location, size and condition of school buildings?

I notice the Department's submission refers to the way it tracks enrolments but does not seem to mention any other way of tracking capacity. I am aware of a school in my constituency that was built 40 years ago with a capacity of 1,000 students. It has had 450 students or thereabouts for the past 15 years. Is that information being recorded or is only enrolment at the school being recorded? The school has space available. What is being done to support or invest in the school and bring it and other underutilised schools up to capacity? If the Department does not have information on schools' physical capacity, how can it properly tackle underutilisation and ensure the school to which I refer and others like it receive investment to respond to the changing educational needs outlined by Ms Leydon? Are we over-providing in the identified new school provision? Is that the best use of public money when there are schools like the one in my constituency, which was built for 1,000 students and has had a maximum of 450 students for the past ten years? That would not seem to be the case in Goatstown and with Our Lady's Grove primary school. We just move on, announce a new school and forget about available space, which in this case would be ideal for our children and for planning ahead.

What is the policy for bringing existing stock up to the standards of the new schools, where possible? Is there a target policy in place to work with data on the condition of current school infrastructure to prioritise certain improvements across the school building stock in a co-ordinated and effective way? Does the Department have data on which schools are below the standards of new schools? What is its policy on bringing these existing schools up to standard? Is there a priority list, either based on the schools in the worst shape or those lacking key facilities? What is the Department's policy on ensuring schools have access to open recreational space, identified as the ideal in the new school specification?

The witness from the Irish National Teachers Organisation, INTO, mentioned appropriate supports from the Department for teaching principals of schools that are being extended. Will she expand upon these supports?

What is the Department doing to improve its communication on school projects? Principals find this issue problematic, and I have also found it problematic when trying to help them with it. Moreover, has the Department thought about outsourcing to some sort of manager so as to take pressure off principals?

I thank Deputy Martin. I will go back to those stakeholders who have had specific questions directed to them. Others are free to comment.

Ms Deirdre O'Connor

I will come back to Deputy Catherine Martin's question on the supports which principal teachers would be able to identify. We acknowledge that, for major building projects, the Department makes provision for project management. The principal teacher is the day-to-day manager of a school, however, and things such as identifying a need for a new school building, participation in the summer works project or an emergency situation, such as when a school boiler blows up, fall back on him or her. The principal teacher tries to manage the whole thing. He or she has to ring the Department, fill out forms, bring issues to the board of management and communicate with parents about what is going on in the school community. As I mentioned in my submission, 56% of principals are also trying to teach a class. Building projects do not just take place in big schools but happen in small schools too. One might need an additional room for the provision of an ASD unit, for example.

It would make it much easier for principals if they had a secretary in the school during the day.

We are not getting into that as we have a separate session for it. This is specifically about facilities.

Ms Deirdre O'Connor

Deputy Martin asked about it.

She asked in the context of the building of new schools.

Ms Deirdre O'Connor

Yes, but managing building projects, like everything else in a school, requires support for the principal.

Absolutely.

Ms Deirdre O'Connor

Senator Ruane asked what impact a learning environment had for a primary teacher, and about the role of outside and inside space. The size of a classroom is a very practical issue. To implement an active curriculum, and a play-based curriculum such as Aistear, one needs flexible space for children to be able to sit on the floor or go off and play. Providing for a decrease in class size is something we will have to look at in this context.

I was asked about the impact of the fabric of buildings on children with special educational needs. There are good principles around universal design for this purpose. Schools are public buildings and people have to be able to get in with buggies when they drop their kids off in the morning. People of all shapes and sizes, and of all abilities and disabilities, have to be able to access school buildings.

A number of questions were addressed to departmental officials too. Does Mr. Hogan wish to deal with them?

Mr. Paul Hogan

The first question was on whether local authorities were required to get the go-ahead from the Department of Education and Skills to zone land for educational purposes. The short answer is "No". They are obliged to have regard to, and take into consideration, submissions from the Department and it would be good practice to do this. When new schools are required, local authorities would generally consult the Department. Changing an existing or established use is different, however. There is generally a reason for land being zoned in a particular way. Land tends to be zoned for residential purposes where there is more residential demand than educational demand.

Another question was on how often departments met. There is a very effective memorandum of understanding between the Department and the local authority sector, through the city and county management association on the provision of schools. In my time in local authorities, up to three years ago, I was involved in a very effective primary school programme.

At the time I was leaving, it was ramping up to a post-primary school programme because of the success of the memorandum and how it was operating whereby the local authorities were sourcing sites through local knowledge on behalf of the Department and then liaising and engaging with the Department to acquisition and development. That was very effective and involved ongoing engagement between the local authorities and the Department, which is more effective in some respects than our own Departments discussing things, but we do so also at a strategic level.

In response to Senator Ruane, I will make a general point about the provision of green space. It is important to recognise the usability and management of green space. We are all familiar with parts of cities and towns, in particular at the edge, where there is no shortage of green space but it is just open space that is neglected and unsafe. What makes a difference is how usable facilities are in terms of things such as the active provision of pitches, courts and floodlighting, how it is secured and the evolution of clubs. That is something communities working together with schools can bring to areas. There are many examples of where that has been done successfully. One then sees hives of activity in certain areas throughout the year, but in particular in the winter months, after dark, where children go to be active.

The maintenance of the green spaces ties into what Mr. Irwin pointed out in terms of maintenance being still restricted to one caretaker within schools as the embargo has not been lifted. Perhaps rather than not considering green spaces because they cannot be maintained we should consider increasing the level of maintenance support within a school to ensure the green spaces are maintained.

Is a local authority free either to preserve land that is in use for a school through rezoning it for educational purposes or to reserve land for future use for educational purposes?

Mr. Paul Hogan

Yes.

Mr. Hubert Loftus

Quite a few of the questions were directed at me. To follow on from Mr. Hogan's point, while it is the local authority's decision, it is required to consult the Department. The Department is one of the prescribed bodies it is required to consult but, essentially, it is a local authority decision.

Mr. Paul Hogan

They are entitled to be wrong.

Local authorities are required to consult other bodies and the public as well.

Mr. Hubert Loftus

Yes. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked quite a few questions and I will try to group them thematically. There are two themes to consider in terms of the building programme generally and the adequacy of it. One relates to catering for demographics and the other relates to catering for the existing school stock and refurbishment. In terms of catering for demographics, the Department is fully satisfied that, notwithstanding issues that can arise on individual projects, the school building programme caters adequately for need in terms of demographics. We are very conscious of and recognise and acknowledge the need to have a strengthened focus on existing school stock, and that is one of the reasons we have a significant increase in funding under the national development plan. In the past ten years we invested €4.9 billion in school buildings, and in the next ten years the investment will be €8.4 billion, which is a significant increase. That increase recognises that demographics are still a significant issue to manage, but it will also facilitate a very much strengthened focus on refurbishment of the existing school stock. There will be particular strands to the refurbishment programme in terms of the provision of PE halls, labs and prefab replacement. As much as possible we will try to do that in an integrated way in terms of addressing individual school needs.

I do not have figures for the number of new applications for school building projects to hand, but we do not have a big flow of new applications for large-scale projects. There is an existing cohort of applications that have not been processed going back a number of years. It is of the order of approximately 570 applications from schools for large-scale projects.

Are they on top of the 400 or so that are on the list?

Mr. Hubert Loftus

There are 341 large-scale projects listed on the website, and the 42 schools are on top of that.

Are the 570 on top of that as well?

Mr. Hubert Loftus

Correct. The more common applications that we get on a regular basis are under our additional accommodation scheme for additional classroom accommodation, and they come in on a daily and weekly basis. They are turned around pretty quickly. The vast bulk of them stack up and are approved.

On the provision of playing pitches, given that since approximately 2000 the Department is increasingly the purchaser of school sites, in contrast with historical arrangements, our focus is to ensure the school site is sufficient to cater for the building and the play areas. The capacity to provide pitches can depend on the site that we buy, particularly in urban areas, and the cost of land, which is not always a feasible issue to manage. We are particularly conscious that hard play areas provide a more sustainable, usable facility for schools throughout the winter period than grass play areas do.

As a general comment, which links in to Deputy Martin's question about inventory, PE hall facilities and so on, the national sports strategy was published during the summer, and one of the issues to be examined as part of that is a national sports facilities audit, which would look at facilities and sports facilities in schools. We will engage with that Department on that. It is envisaged that this will be done on a regular basis, and that the first such audit will be done within a two-year period. It will feed into the work we will do on refurbishment and the increased emphasis on refurbishment under the school building programme, as well as the requirements for PE facilities. That will take a town approach and a cross-Government approach to PE facilities. It may be the case that a particular school may not have a PE facility but there might be a facility adjoining the school or in that town, as part of the sports capital programme or otherwise, that is accessible and can be maximised to make the best use of an asset which has been provided with State funds.

Mr. Paul Hogan mentioned the engagement between the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and the Department of Education and Skills. There is quite a bit of engagement, and increasingly so under Project Ireland 2040. There is a delivery board that is managed at Secretary General level, which creates better co-ordination. While our forward planning area has some engagement with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, its biggest engagement is with individual local authorities in regard to needs.

Turning to Deputy Martin's question on the decision taken at the meeting she attended in 2017 regarding Our Lady's Grove, the Department did a national demographic analysis in 314 school planning areas. It was a big exercise that looked at all the various sources of data. When the committee visited Tullamore in relation to this, we briefed it on child benefit data, housing data, local authorities and so on, to find out where the needs were, what the capacity within the existing school system was, and what capacity could be managed by extending existing schools. Ultimately, it was completed in the first or second quarter of 2018, and led to the announcement in April 2018 of the requirement for 42 new schools over the next four years.

Deputy Thomas Byrne asked for an update on those 42 schools. The Department provided an update to the committee in May or June and, in September, it is the Department's intention to provide a further, comprehensive update on all 42 schools rather than discussing them individually now. Much progress is being made in terms of actioning those schools. The more immediate needs in regard to those schools are the schools due to open in September 2019 and we have engaged a project management team to work with the Department in terms of interim solutions that will meet those needs. The new element in regard to that announcement is that the Department is now projecting over a four-year horizon in terms of its accommodation needs and that positions it to better provide permanent accommodation solutions for those schools, particularly during the latter stages of that four-year period.

I appreciate that was done in the first quarter of 2018. The committee was told at a meeting in 2017 that there was no need for that school facility because demographics did not match. How old was the data that was quoted to the committee in 2017?

Mr. Loftus mentioned the audit of national sports facilities within two years. Can he understand my frustration, and that of many others, at the lack of joined-up thinking where a subject like PE is announced and yet we do not know how many schools do not have a PE hall? There is an inequality there. Mr. Loftus said that facilities will be accessible to the students in a school even if there is not a PE hall in the school. That is not fair on the students either. There is an 80-minute time slot for PE. In one school, the students are getting the full use of those 80 minutes where students in other schools must travel to access facilities so they are not getting the same value.

I asked a question and I am not sure it was answered. The inventory of school accommodation detailing the location, size and condition of all school buildings should be prepared as a matter of urgency. Has that been done?

Mr. Hubert Loftus

The Chair intervened before I covered all of the questions. Regarding the meeting about Our Lady's Grove, I was not a part of the building unit then and the national demographic analysis was not completed. The demographic analysis was only completed in 2018. It was only at that point that the need for two new schools in the Goatstown-Stillorgan school planning area was identified. That is a significant area. The Department is looking at site options for those schools and it has a number of site options in mind.

In terms of the inventory generally, there was a pilot inventory done previously in the school buildings area covering County Kildare. That covered two elements: the geographical information system, GIS, element and a detailed analysis of the accommodation and condition reports regarding school buildings. The GIS element is the one that the Department scaled up to national level and that is used particularly in the Department's forward planning work. The Department's experience with the accommodation and condition reports was they were detailed and cumbersome and quickly became out of date as things evolved in terms of the buildings and as work was done to the buildings.

In more recent years, schools were invited to provide information about their buildings and many schools did that.

Much work is also being done with the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland as part of the national development plan refurbishment, which involves a deep energy retrofit of school buildings.

That energy monitoring can provide a type of audit in a different way by identifying those schools with very significant energy usage which can be a proxy for dealing with some of the condition issues in certain schools. We are doing considerable piloting and testing of that at the moment.

A pilot has been done in Kildare and many other schools have come back to the Department. As it stands, however, we do not have a comprehensive inventory of school accommodation detailing location and facilities.

Mr. Hubert Loftus

We do not have the detailed condition-type information on schools at national level. We use our GIS which gives us the national perspective for our forward planning which is of critical use when we are focusing on demographics. Given our increasing focus on refurbishment and deep energy retrofit, which is a key element of the national development plan, we are looking at how the energy monitoring usage in schools, which we are doing as part of the engagement with the SEAI, can enable us to prioritise needs. We are working closely with the SEAI on that. We see that as a very cost-effective and efficient way to meet the needs rather than spending a significant amount of money on a separate inventory that would be cumbersome and difficult to keep up to date. Our other mechanism of getting information from schools regularly is through the enrolment returns schools provide to us.

When enrolment returns show schools under capacity, perhaps owing to a lack of investment and not having key facilities such as a PE hall so that they are not attractive to parents, and when we have a crisis with childhood obesity and mental health issues, I still do not understand how-----

Mr. Hubert Loftus

The ICT infrastructure that supports school enrolment returns will also enable schools to provide us with information on school facilities. We intend to target that as we move into the refurbishment space in terms of the school building programme. We see that as a very cost-effective way of dealing with that issue.

I will come back to some of the other witnesses. Mr. Irwin indicated he wished to speak.

Mr. John Irwin

Senator Ruane raised the issue of additional accommodation. On occasion, applications for additional accommodation are not successful. I concur that the majority are and they are very much considered, but each one is looked at within its own context. In our experience, where they have not been successful has more often than not been in provincial towns where there may be more than one school and there could be space in another school within that provincial town. The schools, particularly community and comprehensive schools, will definitely see their remit to try to meet the needs of all the students within that particular area. They will seek to do it, but on occasion, especially in the provincial towns, one school may be oversubscribed and another not. We understand that situation.

In Dublin, some schools are just oversubscribed but there may be spaces in many other schools within the area. Some areas may have had a school built for 1,000 to meet the demographic in that area, but, a bit like the doughnut effect, it no longer has the population to sustain a school of 1,000.

The reverse also happens. We have cited one in the submission where the Department approached Celbridge community school, which would be on the periphery. Again this is a bit of the doughnut effect. The school was being built for 750 but was asked to go to 1,000. All projects face challenges. The challenge in that area related to the site issue. The school has been in temporary accommodation for four years. The trustees have engaged openly with the Department. It will be in temporary accommodation for at least this academic year and a further two as they continue to build.

Then there can be site complexities, but we would go back to the planning processes, and it is tied up in the local planning area. The trustees, the Department, the management and the school are engaging on the matter and we hope to see it progressed.

Ms Moira Leydon

I wish to come back to the issues Deputy Martin raised. This idea of an inventory should not be seen as a type of stand-alone census. There are many ways to build up a database. As the Deputy said, there are statistical returns from schools, the GIS and the refurbishment strategy with the SEAI. The point is that the Department needs to develop a better database on the current capacities of schools. To give a specific and good example, we had a phenomenon in 2003 when, following a very critical OECD Programme for International Student Assessment, PISA, report on Irish students' achievement in science, the Department of Education and Science decided to review the science syllabus and introduce a new syllabus which had far more activity learning and whereby 30% of the marks in the junior cycle examination would come from practical, experimental laboratory work. An extraordinary phenomenon developed whereby the ASTI and the TUI kicked up a stink about this because we said we simply did not have the laboratories to move from the text-based approach to the more active learning approach. The Department conducted an audit of the science facilities in schools to implement this new curriculum. It found that a number of schools were simply unable to proceed and they were given derogations to postpone introducing the new science syllabus for a year until they got the facilities they needed.

Looking at our new, internationally and politically high-profile STEM strategy, we need to carry out the same type of implementation analysis. We need to ask whether we can do it. I have spoken to the schools about this because I co-ordinate the ASTI research annually with the external consultant. A number of schools informed me they did not apply to adopt the new leaving certificate physical education examination for the simple reason that they could not provide the range of options required. I should know this off the top of my head but I think there are a minimum four and an optional four. These schools simply could not provide the eight optional physical activities to meet the requirements of the PE programme.

I strongly urge Deputies and Senators to accept that when we talk about curriculum change and its implementation, we need also to look at bricks and mortar and what is happening at school level. It would not be wrong to say that one of the reasons for teachers' animus against and concerns about the profound change the new junior cycle curriculum represents was that they had questions about where it would be done and whether we had the facilities needed to do it. They may seem like very simple questions in the face of innovative change but they are the kinds of questions that practitioners ask. Unless those questions are addressed, practitioners become resistant because they do not have the tools, the resources, to act.

I will conclude on that point. We need to be a little creative about the concept of inventory, particularly in the context of curriculum change. As Mr. Duffy said, we are now moving into a similar process of change at senior cycle. We should not be facing crucial questions of resistance to change simply because we do not have the resources to implement it. It is up to legislators to ensure conditions are in place to facilitate optimal approaches to change.

Not just legislators, but Government.

Ms Moira Leydon

Yes, all Members. I meant that legislators are part of the institution.

Ms Karen Jordan

I wish to answer the direct question put to me about the St. Teresa's Gardens regeneration board. The school has never been a part of it, even though we are just at the other end of Donore Avenue. I took over as principal last September and have met the board in the past year. There is a Donore Avenue community centre, which the school must rent to perform concerts at the end of the year, but it is not accessible to us during the school day for PE - for football, running around or any other sports - because it is rented to the Coombe Women's Hospital for its antenatal classes. As I said in both the submission and my opening statement, we are mentioned in the Dublin City Council framework plan but we have never been asked to meet the council.

It has said the land has been put aside for educational use and I have asked for agreement in principle from the Department but I have received nothing. Returning to what Senator Ruane asked about well-being, sports halls etc., we do have a hall in our school. It is a general purpose hall meant for everything. It just about fits the 214 students but it does not fit the 214 students, the teachers and the parents or anybody else. Our class sizes can be detrimental to the roll-out of Aistear or to any new mathematics, oral language or other curriculum.

I believe the average classroom size on the Department's own website is about 80 sq. m. Our biggest is 66 sq. m and our smallest, housing 25 children this morning, is 36 sq. m. It completely falls short. I am finding it very tricky as a principal to ask a teacher to go into an environment like that, plan and teach the children. Parents are also finding it difficult to drop their children into a situation like that. During the summer, the Minister announced a new well-being programme. I do not know how we can roll that out if our building is not safe and healthy for the children and teachers and how we can even be concerned about the general well-being of the population. We like to do hurling and we want to do physical education. We walk over a kilometre outside of the area, from Dublin 8 to Dublin 12, to play hurling. We would like to do the daily mile and we go running up Cork Street and across South Circular Street but we have road safety issues. In 2015 we got two prefabs and they were much smaller because of the space allocated. As that took our only playing pitch, which was a very small tarmacadamed football pitch, the additional accommodation is decreasing the play and running space in an area and an era where well-being and combatting obesity is meant to play a huge role.

Mr. John Curtis

I have a few points. It is gratifying to know the physical education situation will be looked at, as referenced by Deputy Catherine Martin and Senator Ruane. We have done some research on it in our own sector and we know only 50% of our schools have full-sized physical education halls. Of those, 72% of the halls were fully or partly funded by the schools so it is important that we will be looking at the physical education situation as we move forward because 64 new schools are taking it as a subject now. It is an important issue to engage with.

In our submission we also made the point that one of our concerns at local level with principalship and leadership in schools is the administrative burden being placed on schools. We are ever more into an era of accountability and governance and we have suggested that perhaps the Department might be able to find some way of giving some administrative assistance to schools engaged in large-scale projects. What we want our leaders to do in schools is to lead the teaching and learning process. I imagine I speak for all of my colleagues in the management bodies here when I say we have the utmost trust in the planning and building unit in Tullamore and the work it does. It is far-sighted, thoughtful and works well with individual schools and ourselves as management bodies.

Individual schools will always have difficulties but the unit has the required planning ability, foresight and expertise. Ultimately it comes down to resources and whether the Government in its wisdom can give money in order that we can upgrade our schools. We are worried about the old stock we have and the discrepancy arising between new schools and what might be found in older schools. That is not fair on students. It will take time to address this issue but I have no doubt that it will be addressed if the proper funds are given to the planning and building unit over years.

To be positive, we have spoken here before about autism units and special classrooms and it is fantastic to see what has been done in schools that are being resourced. There is great promise in what we might be able to do and if the Government can find a way to resource what the planning and building unit needs to do, we would be most grateful.

Ms Lisa Ryan

I will respond to Senator Ruane's question on the impact of green space. There are a few issues here. Obviously, health and well-being are associated with exercise. However, one can see what happens in a national school such as ours where there is a mixed socio-economic group. It is the poor children who suffer because sports facilities are not being offered on site in the school, whereas the middle-class children are being driven to clubs or other places. The further impact is that clubs are also being affected. I am involved in Kilmacud Crokes, for example, and there are not enough pitches for a club of that size, so it is very dependent on the schools having pitches that it can use. One can pass the buck and say the schools can use the facilities in the area, but the clubs need the schools' pitches to play. There has to be some type of joined-up thinking about how many pitches there are in a certain area. Perhaps it is more efficient to try to economise and have some sharing but currently there are just not enough pitches.

The other problem in our school is that there is a health and safety issue with a building going up on the site. A five storey apartment building is going up at present and the main access road to the site is the entrance to the school. A digger fell over this year and the fence was knocked down. That is a health and safety issue. Approximately 120 houses will be built on the 5.5 acres that have just been sold. That is at the back of the site and, again, the access road will be the main entrance to the grounds. That is another health and safety issue.

I am not a planner. I accept that I am here as a parent but I wish to comment on the issue of ownership by the Department of Education and Skills and the local authority and planning. As I mentioned in my submission, we have talked to both. It appears that it is being passed around. The issue is that the land is privately held, as Mr. Loftus said, in the vast majority of national schools. One can talk about who will maintain that land but it does not have to be maintained if it is going to be sold and developed. There will be no land. It is basically a ticking time bomb. Some €13 million was paid for the land at the back of our school and, while I understand that the Department cannot afford to buy every piece of land, we have a lovely primary school and it was built and paid for by the Department. Surely some negotiation could have happened at that time in 2008 so there is some type of quid pro quo whereby a school is built and one field is retained.

As Deputy Thomas Byrne said, when the orders built those schools in the 1950s and 1960s, they thought the land and playing pitches were needed. Somehow, when the orders are no longer running the schools, the playing pitches appear to be no longer necessary or important for the schools. They are necessary. There has to be some type of system if a school is being built and there is land on the site. I understand that it might be an impossibility if a new school is being built in an urban area and there is not enough land, but if land is there and before we sell it, can we not work out some way for the Department to ask the local authority to designate the land for educational purposes so it is not zoned? Once it is zoned as residential, it is difficult to go back. There is a great deal of money involved, landowners can sue and so forth. Perhaps the Department of Education and Skills needs to step in at the beginning of the process and ask the local authority not to designate the land residential because after that there is too much money in the game.

Mr. David Duffy

Senator Ruane and Deputy Catherine Martin referred to PE halls and spaces being available in some schools and not in others. My ASTI, JMB, ACCS and Department of Education and Skills colleagues also referred to this. The impact of not having green spaces and PE halls available is quite serious, particularly in the context of junior cycle curricular change and the forthcoming senior cycle change.

In terms of the differences in provision, it is quite a complicated area. Some schools have good PE facilities while others have virtually none. There are many reasons for that occurring, but it is awkward and difficult. With regard to places in some and not in others, again it depends on demographics in the area. It also depends on the desired education to be available. For example, there is only one Gaelcholáiste in the north Kerry region, so if one lives in that area and wishes to have one's child educated through the medium of Irish, one will be driving the child a long distance or dependent on the school transport system that was mentioned.

In terms of prefabs, my colleague from the ACCS made reference to, for example, schools that were asked to expand rapidly to cater for demographic growth. Schools are sometimes put under significant pressure to put in a lot of prefabs as a temporary measure because of demographics locally. That sometimes means that prefabs are built on sporting facilities, which can be problematic.

With regard to new second level schools that are opening to deal with demographics, awaiting permanent buildings and currently being housed in a local primary schools that might have some space available, I particularly thank our primary school colleagues who are facilitating and accommodating of second level schools in this context. I do not want this to be interpreted in any way as criticism; they are helpful. It throws up issues for both parties involved, however. One school had a science laboratory. It had "Science Laboratory" written on the door and one sink. I am sorry but that does not constitute a science laboratory. In terms of a home economics room, "Home Economics" was written on the door and four cookers were put in. Again, everyone involved had the best intentions and made their best efforts, but that does not constitute a home economics room. A new school that wanted to have as many STEM subjects as possible had to take technology off the timetable because no room was able to cater for the subject. There are also issues around no sports facilities being available for teenagers because naturally enough - and quite understandably - the school, as a primary school, was designed for younger children. Where a post-primary school is using it temporarily, that creates a problem. In one school there are also issues regarding 16 year old second level students being in the same building at the same time as young children. That is not ideal.

Senator Ruane made reference to ancillary staff and my ACCS colleague also covered this. A new school of 1,000 students will get one caretaker, one secretary and one cleaner. In schools that do their best to open late at night to cater for the local community holding community meetings, to make sports facilities available to the local community, or to provide night classes, as many community schools and community colleges, in particular, do, one cleaner, one caretaker and one secretary does not come close to meeting the need.

In addition, Deputy Catherine Martin and others made reference to bringing existing stock up to the standards of new facilities. Many of the science laboratories that went into schools 30 or 40 years ago - and I think Deputy Byrne made reference to this - have been updated to the extent of providing additional or updated plumbing and gas-proofing. However, one obvious problem that crops up each time is non-slip flooring. It corrodes naturally over time. Obviously non-slip flooring is quite important in a science laboratory. I have been told that updating non-slip flooring in a science laboratory would cost approximately €8,000 per room. If that had to come out of the school budget, it would represent a big chunk of the budgets of many schools. These are some of the problems that crop up.

I thank Mr. Duffy. I am now going to go to the members who have not had an opportunity to put questions at this stage. I call on Senator Robbie Gallagher.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Cathaoirleach. I welcome everyone. I found the session worthwhile and I enjoyed everyone's contributions. Having listened to all of the witnesses, my overriding thought is that, while everyone has something positive to say and has made some good points, no one appears to be joining the dots. No one seems to be taking control of the situation or to be trying to manage and plan it. Is there merit in forming a committee comprised of the witnesses to feed into a process to implement many of the good suggestions that have been made?

I will break the discussion down into two sections if I may. The first section relates to the existing stock of schools that we have, both primary and secondary. The Department has a duty of care to ensure that the existing stock is well looked after.

The word "audit" has been mentioned many times here today. It is important that we have an accurate audit which shows where our schools are at and what their needs are. Ms Leydon made a point about the changing face of education. She spoke about how things have changed with regard to well-being and youth mental health. She referred to the needs of people within our current school infrastructure. She set out where we are in that respect. She also mentioned that legislators have a responsibility in this area. As the Chairman said, the Government might be able to take a more targeted approach. It is all very good to bring in new measures that seem very good, but consideration must be given to the infrastructure available to schools to implement those measures. Perhaps the Government needs to be more cognisant of this as we go forward. If we continue in the manner in which we have proceeded up to now, it will not be fair to teachers or students.

We need to plan to make sure our existing stock is well looked after and is not deteriorating. Ms O'Connor made the simple point that we do not know when the minor works scheme is going to happen every year. I think it is unfair and unsatisfactory that many teachers who are trying to plan have to come in during the summer holidays to do this work. I do not think there is any good reason for allowing this to continue. It should not be allowed to continue. We need to ensure adequate funding is available to protect the investment we have already made in relation to our existing stock.

When Ms Ryan spoke about future planning in her contribution, she put her finger on the crux of this issue. She spoke as a parent who is looking in from the outside. I am not pointing the finger directly at anyone when I say that the system cannot plan for the needs of areas. Mr. Hogan outlined the guidelines that apply to the Department. When Departments issue guidelines to local authorities in respect of development plans, they say that based on current requirements, there is a need to zone a certain number of hectares for residential accommodation. If it is recommended that 40 ha should be developed for residential purposes in County Monaghan, for example, one would imagine that someone would be looking at the educational need which will arise and feeding that into the plans being made. If a certain number of houses are built on that 40 ha over the six-year or seven-year lifetime of a development plan, a certain level of educational need will arise. Such considerations should be fed into the process. It seems everyone is aware that this should happen, but nobody seems to be joining the dots. Nobody seems to be in control. That is part of the problem that has led to 42 schools being over-subscribed, as Mr. Mulconry has said. Something is falling down somewhere if that is happening. Someone needs to grab control of that.

I would like to say two more things, the first of which might be a matter for Mr. Loftus. It seems to me as a lay person that the delivery of new schools is a laboured and time-consuming exercise from the point when authorisation is given for the construction of the school to the point at which the door of the classroom is opened. Ms O'Connor will be familiar with a pilot project that has been implemented in the old Army barracks in Monaghan. The Department of Education and Skills bought the property in question from the Department of Defence and secured planning permission for a primary school, a secondary school, an institute of further education, a sports hall, a theatre and playing fields. A project involving three schools, a theatre and a sports hall was turned around inside two years. Surely that is a more beneficial way of delivering new projects than the current approach. Perhaps we should be doing more of this. I would like to hear the witnesses' comments on this matter. When I think about the man hours that are involved in delivering a new school from the day it is announced to the day it is delivered, it strikes me that many people make a significant investment over a large period of time.

I would like to conclude by reflecting on a more global picture in relation to all the facilities in our schools and communities. Should we be giving more consideration to sharing the facilities and infrastructure in our schools? If so, how best could this be done?

Is much thought given to how best communities and taxpayers can get overall benefit from that?

I thank the witnesses for their presentations. It has been very useful and educational, in its truest sense, to listen to their various perspectives. I thank them for their time and patience. I do not wish to repeat the very valid points that have been made but a couple of key things strike me. Before I address them, I wish to commend in particular my colleagues from the trade union movement on the points they have made, several of which relate to the cost of schooling. I assure them that I will raise those points in the session tomorrow. They made some valid points, especially regarding the political choices which must be made.

On the green space issue, I suspect all members of the committee are genuinely surprised that design guidance is not prescriptive in terms of area for green space, particularly in light of ongoing commitments to the better health of children and others. That does not tie in with such commitments or make sense. I take on board Mr. Loftus's point on hard services. In my village of Castleconnell, a very progressive set-up has been established whereby an all-weather pitch is attached to the national school. I am surprised that the Department does not make more use of that type of thinking. I do not think it acceptable that in 2018 the Department is not being more prescriptive in regard to the need for green spaces. I hope that is something on which the committee will agree. That approach must change.

I am conscious that most of my questions are directed at Mr. Loftus.

I am conscious of that too.

It is because he is the witness most likely to have answers to the very valid points that have been made. He stated that most school sites are not owned by the Minister and decisions relating to the retention of open green spaces within the lands on which a school is situated are, therefore, a matter for the landowner. That is the elephant in the room. Ms Ryan ably highlighted, as did Senator Gallagher, that the Department needs to take more cognisance of it.

Ms O'Connor referred to our system of primary funding as unique, which it certainly is. It is bizarre that in the 21st century almost all of our education system is privately owned. What plans has the Department for moving away from that situation, as referred to by Deputy Catherine Martin? At times, it makes proper planning and building almost impossible.

How many of the planned new schools will be situated on State-owned sites? We want to find that out so that we can know that we are moving away from the outdated model of State-funded education without State ownership of the lands on which schools are built. It strikes me as especially ironic that a host of religious institutions still owe money to the State but we seem to be stuck in the 19th century thinking that it is okay to fund State education while leaving the land owned by a party other than the State. That strikes me as quite bizarre from every perspective. What are the Department's plans for dealing with the elephant in the room, the fact that we do not own the sites on which schools are built? Mr Loftus indicated that is often a fundamental problem. I ask him to give us further information in that regard, if he has it. If he does not have such with him, I ask him to follow up with the committee to inform it how many of the 314 schools analysed and the 42 planned are or will be located on State-owned sites. It strikes me that we will keep going around in circles until we have a proper, coherent plan to build a democratic process of schooling such that we are not at the whim of property owners.

I wish to comment and ask some questions. I am conscious that it has been a long session, particularly for those in the hot seat, although it has been very engaging and worthwhile. A few common themes have emerged from the opening statements received and this debate, and these have been touched on by my colleagues, especially in regard to land around schools not being designated as open space or being protected.

Frankly, it is a bit of a cop-out to say that because the Minister does not own the school sites, then the management and retention is not a matter for the Minister or the Department. We must have a far better system than that. We also need to have far better collaboration and consultation between the Department and local authorities, and between local authority members because it is they who are tasked with rezoning with regard to development plans. I was a councillor for a number of years and we never had the opportunity to actually meet the Department. The officials from the local authority sat with the Department and I believe that a three-way process would be important. The evidence that would come to bear would be really important. In one particular area in my county I sat through two development plans where one area was zoned educational. Even though we were told clearly on both occasions that the landowner was never going to sell the land to the Department or to anybody else for educational use, it was considered the only place because the planners felt it was the best place to locate a school. Against all our better instincts, the area was zoned educational in two successive plans. It was a bit of a ridiculous situation but those types of situations continue.

The planning and construction phases of works to new build schools and existing schools are very long processes. As building costs are now increasing exponentially, surely we must have a better system. Mr. Loftus is aware of this because I have raised the issue with him previously, as well as at the meeting in Tullamore, with regard to the situation in St. Paul's secondary school in Monasterevin and how long that process has gone on. There was also the issue of the extra numbers that had to be in place. I am aware that traffic management situations also must be taken into account with a new school and with a school extension. While everything changes within a short time, the build is a very lengthy process.

I agree that the administrative burden placed on schools during the building process is excessive. At a previous meeting of this committee we have spoken of problems with communication between the Department and schools. It was agreed, and was certainly taken on board, that there would be a better communication process and that a designated official in the forward planning section would communicate all the information on progress, lack of progress, issues and challenges. It was certainly a recommendation at that time that there would be a designated project manager to take away this burden.

A principal's function is to lead learning within a school situation. When principals' time is completely caught up with a new build, they nearly become builders and planners themselves. I personally know principals who say they have become experts in every form of school building. It is no harm to have extra knowledge but to have someone to follow through with all of the administrative work is hugely important.

Reference was made to class size and according to the OECD, Ireland already has school class sizes that are five pupils larger than the EU average. This must be borne in mind. The continued excessive use of prefabs is very concerning. While a commitment was made some 15 years ago by the then Minister that prefabs would be phased out, it seems they still exist on a very large scale. Schools that are already in the planning programme and that are hoping to have schools built by this time next year have been told to apply for prefabs for this year. Again, these prefabs are being put on the schools' open spaces and onto the only small pieces of yard that are available for students. This is not good enough.

I will refer briefly to the issues regarding the minor works grant, the emergency works scheme, the summer works scheme and the additional accommodation scheme. Between all the different schemes it is no wonder that people get confused.

There is considerable administrative work involved in applying for those grants. Almost every submission the committee received referred to issues relating to those grants. The Minister said in May of this year that the Department intended to engage with the relevant partners on giving schools a better lead-in period for planning and delivering projects under these schemes and that this engagement would commence shortly. That is one question I want to put to Mr. Loftus. What is the status of this engagement? What are the plans for reform in this area so that schools can better prepare? School staff should know by January in any given year what they are getting and what they can do with what they get. Ms Jordan and Ms Ryan made the argument well about having adequate space for students.

My colleagues mentioned the need for an inventory. We need an inventory of accommodation, including physical education halls etc. Indeed, I would go further. We had an engagement on obesity among children and how the problem can be addressed through our education process. We discussed the issue of drinking water being available in schools. That was one of the recommendations from the Irish Heart Foundation. I tabled a parliamentary question afterwards. The Department could not indicate how many schools had drinking water freely available for students. There was a commitment that there would be drinking water in any new builds. That is to be commended. At the same time, every school should have it. That could be addressed by undertaking an inventory. These are the types of things we need to have in place. We also need to bear in mind another point about new builds and extensions. There need to be adequate places for food to be prepared and stored in the context of healthy eating for young people.

I have mentioned some of these points and I have no wish to delay the meeting overly. There is a need for ancillary staff, including extra caretakers. I think it was Mr. Duffy who mentioned having ancillary staff working at night. My colleague, Senator Gallagher, mentioned this as well. Within any given community there has to be better use of community buildings, including school buildings and all new builds. Thankfully, under lotto funding, schools can have partnerships with existing sporting groups. That is the way forward. It does not make sense to have a school with these facilities not in use. I appreciate there can be insurance implications, but there needs to be a system whereby a community that needs the space is able to use it. Likewise, the Department should be able to support funding for some community buildings, where required, if schools are able to use them. They should be available during daytime as well. Someone mentioned that schools were unable to use some facilities during the daytime. They must be able to use them. There has to be a better system. Again, this goes back to local councils. They are made up of public representatives and they know what is going on in the community. They have their fingers on the pulse. There needs to be more engagement there.

It was interesting to hear Mr. Curtis from the Joint Managerial Body talking about the fact that he believes cutbacks over several years have had a significant impact on voluntary school funding. Is there some suggestion that voluntary schools have been unfairly targeted? I am interested in hearing about it. Mr. Curtis spoke about the delay of the technical visits to schools. That is something that we probably need to hear more about.

Mr. Mulconry mentioned that the Department of Education and Skills does not collect data on oversubscription of schools and the number of children who have been refused places.

It is important that we capture those data, without a shadow of a doubt.

Going back to Mr. Loftus and the question as to whether the census figures are robust enough, I heard an item on Newstalk radio station this morning stating that 90,000 people moved to Ireland last year. The figure far exceeds the number of those who left. Of the 90,000, approximately 30,000 were Irish people who had been away for a few years. That is roughly equivalent to a population the size of Waterford that is not catered for in the figures. Surely we have to have more flexibility in that regard.

I spoke to Mr. Loftus previously about a group in Kildare lobbying for a second-level school, which is certainly badly needed. South Kildare Educate Together has formed a strong lobby group and would be a possible patron for a new second-level school. Three months ago, the Minister indicated that he would make an announcement within a matter of weeks. People are now scrambling for school places and we have not heard anything. I beg indulgence to ask this one constituency question.

Mr. John Curtis

On funding and the voluntary schools sector, there are two aspects to it from our point of view. Traditionally, by virtue of the fact that the voluntary schools tend to be older than other schools in the system, improving the fabric of existing buildings is a major issue for us. There is some catching up that needs to be done there. I am delighted to hear Mr. Loftus speak about what needs to be done in the context of existing stock. The emphasis over recent years has understandably been on the demographic surge. On the broader funding issue, I am straying slightly into an area that we might deal with tomorrow. I must apologise as I cannot be here tomorrow; I have to attend a graduation.

I would rather if Mr. Curtis did not stray into tomorrow's discussion, to be honest.

Mr. John Curtis

As 30% of funding in our sphere comes from voluntary contributions, we are very much reliant on what the State can give us - any assistance it can give us in the context of school build, refurbishment, maintenance and ancillary staff. I will leave it at that.

Mr. David Duffy

On the building costs, inflation is a significant problem and is no doubt a problem for our colleagues in the Department of Education and Skills. I made reference to remote areas because there is a particular issue there. Not only do buildings, materials and so on often cost more in remote areas, but a new build in a remote area must also often be connected with existing public infrastructure, which means additional money and time factors.

In terms of the voluntary secondary schools, it is an area I do not want to get into today. We do not want to pick out one particular area and say it needs funding. I am sure everyone will agree that the entire education system could do with additional investment. The return on investment in education is not just dramatic in terms of tax revenues later on and reduced social welfare costs. International and Irish studies also state that lower crime rates are a consequence of greater education spending as well as improved statistics around health. That is very significant.

The ETB schools and in some cases community and comprehensive schools are more likely to have a greater proportion of students with special needs, as we know from plenty of Irish studies. They are also more likely to be located in designated disadvantaged areas and to offer a greater range of practical subjects, which are more expensive to provide. I am not sure it is a straightforward issue.

There is nothing straightforward about any of this, as I am sure Mr. Loftus can tell us.

Mr. John Irwin

In regard to what Mr. Curtis and Mr. Duffy said, no schools in this country are overfunded. There are funding issues throughout the sector. There is a significantly lower per capita payment for students in the community and comprehensive sector compared to other schools. In light of that, we had additional services. For example, our caretakers, cleaners and secretaries were Department-funded posts, but when caretaker numbers are capped at one, down from 4.6 in larger schools, and clerical officer numbers are reduced from three to one, that demonstrates no school in the State is overfunded. I very much concur with Mr. Curtis and Mr. Duffy that, if possible, education be funded at a higher level.

Mr. Seamus Mulconry

Schools on the periphery of Dublin are coping with expanding demand, but schools in the centre of Dublin are coping with lower pupil numbers and, therefore, income, to maintain older buildings. There is an argument for amalgamation in a number of inner city schools, but in the meantime they face the pressure of maintaining old buildings with less funding. It is a real problem. The communities concerned experience major disadvantage and it may be time to consider putting in place something to assist those schools. I was involved in a policy document a few years ago and we worked out that it cost approximately €69,000 to educate a person to degree level. More money is spent on keeping a person in jail for one year. Many of those in jail have educational difficulties or are not able to read and write, so there is a correlation. Investment in education makes sense.

When the Department gets things right in terms of schools, it gets them right. It is always a wonderful experience to visit a new school or school which has had a large extension. When I see such schools I am almost tempted back into the classroom to teach. The Department has to be congratulated on the work it is doing, which is great to see. However, we seem to be lagging behind in certain areas. I agree with what has been said about those schools which are in need of refurbishment.

Mr. Hubert Loftus

Some of issues raised are reflective of a decade or more of historical under-investment in infrastructure. We are playing catch up. The national development plan provides a good framework to address that and €8.4 billion over the next ten years is a significant investment. That will, as I said, enable us to consider the twin priorities of dealing with demographics and focusing on refurbishment.

On Senator Gallagher's points, in terms of a committee coming together, the Department has a great deal of engagement with educational partners on school building issues. If there are recommendations or reports from the committee, we will examine them. There is a lot of ongoing engagement with the sector on where the pressures are, many of which are common sense such as demographics, refurbishment and so on. I do not think much more can be gained from that process.

The Department does a lot of planning and has a strong forward planning unit, which uses GIS and data, including immigration data. We also examine census and child benefit data, engage with local authorities on housing and so on. We do a lot of planning in respect of identifying need and use a variety of delivery mechanisms to deliver projects. Delivering education projects is not simple or straightforward, no more than housing is. If it was, things would be more straightforward.

The two key issues to be dealt with and managed as part of the provision of new schools are site acquisitions and working through planning permission. They have to be overcome and at that point, there can be certainty in respect of the tender and construction process.

Generally we put up a list of all of our projects on our website and update it on a monthly basis. That list sets out all of the projects that are being dealt with currently, and also sets out the other projects we will do in the future.

Senator Gallagher asked about the delivery of new schools. Over the past eight years, we have delivered 220 new school projects. There can be issues in terms of the difference between when new schools are announced and their delivery but, increasingly, the Department's rapid-build design and build programme is the key delivery mechanism for new school projects. It works very well. It is led by project managers, and is the type of delivery mechanism being used for Ballinteer Educate Together national school and the Gaelscoil in Knocklyon, representatives of which appeared before this committee previously. Those schools are going through the system and are approaching planning permission stage. It also provides a good communication tool for dealing with those schools as well.

We rely, and will rely to an increasing degree, on the ETBs, which provide a regional structure for supporting the schools system generally in terms of management and delivery of projects. That applies not just to the ETB schools but also within the school system generally. We are conscious of that. Much of the "joining the dots" work has been done, which covers the issue raised by the Senator. I am familiar with the Monaghan case in respect of the Army barracks, which worked well.

The Department published guidance on the sharing of facilities last year. It has been updated to cover community usage of school facilities, which is encouraged and supported by the Department. It includes after-school provision and community usage in the evenings. We have good guidance in place for that.

We are conscious of the minor works grant scheme and the need to provide certainty, which was raised by a few members. The grant is paid annually during the school year. The issue for the Department is whether the payment is made in December or January and which calendar year is appropriate. Our intention is to provide as much certainty as possible. The NDP is useful and relevant in that context, because it includes provision, during the lifetime of the plan, for an increased emphasis on maintenance of assets and we are very conscious of that.

The Chair raised the issue of the administrative burden on project managers. That is something we use in terms of our design and build projects and ETBs. It is used in other areas as well, for example our ADAPT programme. We recognise the importance of supporting schools to deal with the administrative burden involved and we will look at that again.

The Chair also mentioned engagement with education partners regarding the summer works scheme, which was referenced by the Minister earlier this year, and proposed better planning and delivery timelines for the scheme. We have spoken to most of our educational partners about that, and there is more engagement to be carried out over the next week or so. We are conscious of the need to provide earlier timelines to schools for the scheme to facilitate better planning and delivery of projects.

The importance of the inventory was raised. We are linking with the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport regarding the PE hall audit, which will be useful and relevant. It will provide a whole-of-government context, rather than focusing solely on the educational aspect of it. On the wider inventory, we took forward the most relevant and useful aspects of the pilot, including the geographic information system, GIS, results and the detailed conditions survey. Our experience was that it was difficult, cumbersome and costly to keep up to date, but it was a useful exercise to get information from individual schools. We will look to improve that as we move towards the refurbishment side of things.

Our work with the Society of Actuaries in Ireland, SAI, is also relevant in that context as part of the deep energy retrofit.

Senator Gavan raised some questions about the projects we are delivering and asked how many of them are on Department sites. We can revert to the committee with detailed information, but most of the new primary school projects are on Department sites. Most of the post-primary schools are either on education and training board, ETB, sites, which are State sites, or they are voluntary secondary schools. We can come back to the committee on that. Historically, religious orders were heavily involved in education provision. I cannot change the past and I must work with what we have. Increasingly, primary schools are being provided on State sites.

The issue of ancillary staff was raised. While it does not directly concern the building programme, it pertains to caretakers. It is an issue that reflects the limited funding that was available over the last decade. It is one of a number of priorities that has to be considered in the budgetary process.

We are very conscious of the use of prefabs and so forth. We try to deal with the issue in an integrated way as part of the school building programme. If we take Whitecross national school as an example, the school had prefabricated buildings, as well as refurbishment needs and probably PE hall needs. We deal with all of that as part of the large-scale building project in an integrated way. Our large-scale building programme enables us to make significant inroads into the prefab issue, although it will take time to work through that. However, given the scale of investment in our large-scale projects and our additional accommodation scheme, which provides permanent accommodation to meet schools' additional accommodation requirements, we are making very significant inroads into the prefab issue.

I think that deals with most of the main issues.

I asked a question about Kildare.

Mr. Hubert Loftus

I apologise. There was a review covering Kildare, and there is also a review covering Ashbourne. We envisage the Department coming to a decision on both of those areas in October once the current enrolment process for September has completed. We can update the committee on the outcome of that.

I have a quick follow-up question on the minor works grant, which a number of colleagues from the Irish National Teachers Organisation, INTO, raised with me. I am very encouraged to learn from Mr. Loftus that it is intended to provide greater certainty on the matter. The obvious follow-up is to ask him how this will be provided. Our colleagues need to find out earlier that their schools will receive grants for minor works. While the intention may be very good, it should be easy to answer my question.

Mr. Hubert Loftus

Sometimes the most simple questions are difficult to answer. The Department has traditionally paid the minor works grant in November or December of each year, or maybe in the following January. That is all within the school year, which runs from September to August. As part of the Department's profiling of its spend, we want to provide a tighter window within that in order to improve certainty. The amount available for minor works grants, at €29 million, is not insignificant. This funding has to be managed and profiled and I do not want to mislead the committee by saying it will be paid on a particular date. However, it is something of which we are conscious and our intention is to provide more certainty.

I apologise for leaving for a few minutes. On Mr. Loftus's final point, I can tell him very clearly that, under the confidence and supply agreement, certainty in respect of minor works grants will have to be provided in the forthcoming budget.

I am glad Mr. Loftus mentioned Ashbourne.

This morning I received an email from another parent who cannot get their child into any school in Ashbourne, of which there are five. They cannot get into a school in Ratoath and they have not received a reply from any other schools in the area. I cannot believe the decision will be made in October as the school year starts this week. It is a joke. A student wrote the email about his little brother, in fact. I had thought it was his dad.

I will not be going to the Department of Education and Skills about this but will approach the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. It seems there is no liaison between the two Departments and it is obvious the Department of Education and Skills is not getting information from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to the effect that there is a major crisis in Ashbourne, about which I have been talking for the past couple of years. The witnesses said the decision will be taken in October but the kid needs a decision this week, along with other children in the same situation.

Mr. Hubert Loftus

The decision in October will look at the longer-term needs. The Department has had quite a lot of engagement with schools and patron bodies relating to the needs for September. We have been working closely with the school authorities on school places and we have engaged with Tusla as well.

It is clearly not enough on the basis of the emails I am getting, one of which I have received in the course of this meeting to tell me a child cannot get a place in Ashbourne. I urge the Department to find out what is going on in Ashbourne.

It should not do so at the expense of south Kildare.

In fairness, it is not a joking matter and both areas need to be looked at.

Mr. Hubert Loftus

The Department is fully aware of the issues and has been working closely with the school authorities. Classroom accommodation is available in Ashbourne and we have been working with the school authorities to utilise it.

Mr. Paul Hogan

Senator Gallagher said the system needed to plan forward, as well as to look at current educational need. When local authorities zone land, it brings with it an expectation of development, which enables us to plan, but the national planning framework process has identified historical overzoning in some places. Things have changed since 2010 and they continue to change but there is a link between the zoning of land and the expectation of development, along with the arrival of a greater population, which will bring with it schools and other services.

The Chairman asked whether the census figures were robust. Our population has experienced growth on a long-term trajectory but it is very volatile and there tends to be higher growth in some periods as compared with others. Growth shocks bring issues at local level and this feeds back into the idea of a national framework, which would allow a national view of where to prioritise. It is often difficult to do this when zoning land but, as Deputy Thomas Byrne has mentioned, it has a knock-on effect at the end of the process, which is when a child is trying to get into a school. Certain places have grown more quickly than others and if too much land is zoned and if there is uncertainty as to where development will occur, it is very hard to plan for investment.

I thank all the witnesses for their valuable contributions. It has been a really good engagement and there will be plenty of food for thought for members of the committee in the context of the report we will be drawing up and the recommendations we will be making to the Minister and the Department. If witnesses wish to follow up on anything from the meeting, they should feel free to send it to the clerk, Mr. Alan Guidon, who will make sure all the members receive it.

We will suspend until 2 p.m. for lunch and a comfort break.

Sitting suspended at 1.15 p.m. and resumed at 2.15 p.m.

I remind witnesses and members to switch off their mobile phones or to put them on flight mode because they can interfere with the sound system, which makes it difficult for parliamentary reporting, web streaming and television broadcasts.

We have reached No. 5 on our agenda. The purpose of this part of the meeting is to have an engagement on the workload of teaching principals. We all know that principals in general have a lot to contend with and have a busy working life, but that is especially true of teaching principals. This is the second hearing of a series of engagements in the summer school on the general theme of school facilities and costs and related matters. In this session, the committee will examine the significant challenges that face teaching principals due to the increased administrative burden associated with the role. We will also examine whether there are implications for the quality of teaching due to such challenges given that principals are sometimes taken away from their teaching role, and any potential cost implications and long-term effects for pupils and their families.

On behalf of the committee, I am happy to welcome Mr. Páiric Clerkin, CEO of the Irish Primary Principals Network, IPPN. He is accompanied by Mr. David Ruddy, president of the IPPN. We also have Ms Angela Dunne from the National Principals Forum. She is a teaching principal whom I met some two months ago. I was engaged with the story the teaching principals had to tell us and I put it to the committee that we should include this as an issue to be discussed in the summer school.

Ms Dunne is accompanied by Ms Nóirín Ní Mhaoldhomhnaigh, who is also from the National Principals Forum, and they are both very welcome.

I draw witnesses' attention to the fact that by virtue of 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009 they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. If they are directed by the Chair to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. Witnesses are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

Any opening statements made to the committee will be published on the committee website after this meeting. I have asked that witnesses try to adhere to three minutes for opening statements. After we hear from Mr. Clerkin and Ms Dunne, we will have the opportunity to refer back to members of the committee for questions and comments, to which witnesses will have the opportunity to respond.

I invite Mr. Clerkin to make his opening statement.

Mr. Páiric Clerkin

I thank the Cathaoirleach. IPPN is the professional body for the leaders of Irish primary schools, and provides a variety of supports and services to almost 6,500 principals and deputy principals. As a body supporting principals in their professional and personal development, IPPN has an obligation to highlight the increasing challenges faced by those principals who teach full time in addition to their leadership role, commonly referred to as teaching principals. More than half of primary school principals teach full time in addition to their school leadership role, as close to 2,000 schools in the State have fewer than 177 pupils. Today I will set out these challenges and recommendations, with particular reference to the impact of work overload on the ability of teaching principals to effectively lead and manage the teaching and learning in their schools, and also the impact this has on their personal health, well-being and personal life.

We believe that two key things need to be prioritised to support teaching principals. The first is adequate time to carry out leadership and management responsibilities, that is, a minimum of one day per week, which has been IPPN's number one priority for several years. Within that, a re-categorisation of schools is needed to take into account the reality of the actual size of the school. For this to work, a national panel of qualified substitute teachers needs to be set up and allocated to clusters of schools to ensure adequate and consistent cover for teaching principals’ leadership and management days. Second, all schools need to have access to full-time skilled administrative support to ensure all the administration is carried out efficiently and to facilitate communication with parents and others to free up the principal from such work in order that they can focus on teaching, learning, leadership and management. There are a number of ways to achieve this, which we will be happy to discuss.

Importantly, 18 of the 137 special schools are led by teaching principals. Due to the complexities of the role of principal of a special school, the large numbers of non-teaching staff and many special schools catering for both primary and post-primary pupils, IPPN recommends that principals of all special schools be automatically designated as administrative principals.

The number of release days a teaching principal has depends on the number of classroom teachers in the school, and there are between 17 and 29 days per school year available for this purpose. This is inadequate. Everyone can appreciate the importance of devoting all one's time and energy as a teacher to the pupils and their learning. That is no more than all our pupils deserve, and it is also the understandable expectation of every parent in the country. The role of principal is also critical to the school’s success, and to the culture, the environment, the quality of relationships across the school community and the quality of teaching and learning.

Principals need adequate time to lead teaching and learning, manage all aspects of the school’s work, and support the board of management in governing the work of the school. The 2,000 teaching principals in this country, however, are expected to do both roles at the same time. It is simply unsustainable with the current resources available to them.

They are continually being called away from teaching to deal with other important tasks. It is a significant concern that children in the teaching principal’s class often pay the price for these interruptions. The principal also pays the price in stress levels, guilt, work overload and so on. Teaching principals are the school leaders with the least support, as secretarial-administrative, caretaking and cleaning, middle leadership posts, financial and other resources are all based on the size of the school. It also has to be clarified that the way schools are categorised is fundamentally flawed because the complexity of teaching and learning is not taken into consideration. The number of teachers counted for the calculation of leadership and management days refers to mainstream class teachers only. It does not take into account additional support and ancillary staff such as learning support teachers, resource teachers, special class teachers, special needs assistants, ancillary staff or bus escorts, in addition to other staff such as nurses and occupational therapists who are often allocated to special schools. These additional staff members report on a daily basis to the principal. Some schools have three teachers, including the principal, and a part-time secretary. They are considered to be three-teacher schools. Another school may have three mainstream class teachers, a resource teacher, a learning support teacher, four SNAs, as well as ancillary staff. They are also considered a three-teacher school, even though there are more than nine staff in the school. They are not equal, but they get the same resources. It is fundamentally unfair.

I would be delighted to elaborate on any of the above points. Of course, the Irish Primary Principals Network, IPPN, has plenty of other suggestions that we do not have time to go into today but it will provide additional information to the committee for further consideration.

In surveying our members in 2015 regarding our priorities nationally, number one on the list for all principals, whether administrative principals or teaching principals, was that all teaching principals would be allocated one day a week to focus on leadership and management. I acknowledge that there have been some incremental increases in 2015 and last year but we now need a clear outline of how and when we will reach the required one day per week and how we will ensure consistency for the children in those classes in terms of substitute cover. I hope the committee has a copy of the staff photograph that I submitted of Scoil Chonaill in Donegal. I think the committee will agree that the present staffing structure, when it was set up, certainly was not set up for that type of scenario. Go raibh míle maith agaibh.

I thank Mr. Clerkin. Any further information that Mr. Clerkin or Ms Dunne wish to furnish to the committee following this hearing will be very happily received. All the members of the committee will get the additional information and that will form part of the consideration for the report and recommendations of the committee to the Minister and the Department.

Ms Angela Dunne

I am a teaching principal in Loughmore national school in County Tipperary and I am here today to represent the National Principals Forum. I thank the chairperson and the members of the committee for the invitation to engage in this very important discussion. I thank the committee clerk, Mr. Alan Guidon, for all his help along the way.

The National Principals Forum has been established as a grassroots campaign set up specifically to highlight the intolerable working conditions being endured by primary school principals throughout Ireland. We have reached unprecedented crisis levels of burnout and workload stress, as we attempt to maintain the high standards set in Irish primary schools, in the face of economic recession, societal, curricular and legislative change, in a climate of disillusion and exploitation of both our new entrants to the profession and the leaders of our schools.

Our group comprises both teaching and administrative principals from every single county in the Republic. Currently, we have more than 500 principals across Ireland actively engaging as members, and this is growing daily. Although relatively new, our group is well organised, vibrant and determined to achieve its goals by engaging with the stakeholders in education to effect meaningful and timely change.

We principals are keenly aware that we are in the privileged position of being able to influence and direct our school communities towards optimal educational experiences and outcomes for all of our pupils. We hold ourselves accountable to high standards of leadership. Ours is a very responsible and public position, which makes speaking out difficult, however we feel a sense of duty to both ourselves and our pupils to highlight our unsustainable workload, or else it will continue to devolve insidiously and incrementally to the further detriment of all concerned.

All primary school principals are under immense pressure from an ever increasing workload. The plight of the teaching principal is particularly arduous as this cohort of 57% of primary principals has dual responsibilities for full-time teaching, while being charged with the full administrative duties of a principal also. We are finding this punitive workload is adversely affecting both our mental and physical well-being. The system is beginning to haemorrhage some of its finest leaders as a result of this untenable situation. The committee will see from our submission a detailed report of the results of a nationwide survey we carried out in May and June this year.

The results of the survey are damning and expose an education system with school leadership on the brink of collapse. For example, 84% of principals have considered stepping down from their positions and 89% of teaching principals have had their health adversely affected by their role. Many excellent school leaders are being forced out of their roles, having to choose between their health and family life and their jobs.

It is also evident that between 62% and 91% of teaching principals across all sizes of small schools work an extra 20 to 30 hours per week in addition to their school week. That means we are working an average of 60 plus hours per week, which is way in excess of the working time maximum limit of 48 hours per week. As we struggle to manage our relentlessly increasing workload, burnout is inevitable.

The issues outlined in our submission unfortunately directly impact on the quality of education experienced by pupils in schools. Despite our best efforts they suffer from having their daily routine disturbed by principals having to deal with an increasing plethora of school management issues. The haphazard system of organising the inadequate number of release days allocated to teaching principals is compounded by a substitute teacher shortage. That is due in large part to the detriment caused to our profession by pay inequality. That leads to planning issues and inconsistency of curriculum delivery, and is completely unfair and unacceptable for all concerned.

We have been vigilant and diligent in protecting our pupils' educational outcomes thus far. However, that has come at a very high cost to our personal health and well-being and we are now at a crux. With school leaders overstretched, under-supported and under-resourced, we cannot guarantee that these outcomes will not be adversely affected going forward, under the escalating pressure we are experiencing. It is too much.

We have forwarded a carefully researched submission with recommendations of immediate, medium and longer-term actions necessary to improve our leadership system and protect the education system. The recommendations are the solutions to the crisis and require Government action and funding. As a matter of urgency we ask the committee to consider our most critical needs. The first is an immediate allocation of a minimum of one release day per week to teaching principals in all small schools to alleviate the current crisis. The second is to halt the rate and intensity of new circulars and initiatives from the Department and other agencies. To that end, it is imperative that principals are consulted and represented at discussions with the Department and other stakeholders to develop educational priorities for each academic year. The third is pay parity, which was agreed in 2007 and should be implemented for all principal teachers. We should be fairly remunerated for our work. Instead, the Department, our employer, is grossly negligent in its duty of care to its school leaders.

I wish to impress upon the committee that this is very much a national crisis and the future of the primary education system is at serious risk if the current trends around principal burnout and step down are not addressed immediately. Most worryingly, educational outcomes and the school experience of pupils cannot but be negatively impacted unless changes are made. Undervaluing primary education and educators in this manner comes at a very high cost to the education system, relative to the cost to the Exchequer of implementing the changes needed. This committee has the opportunity and influence to safeguard and prioritise the integrity of the national education system, and to save it from impending collapse. I thank members for their time.

I thank Ms Dunne. I now invite members to contribute.

I will ask a couple of brief questions to help my understanding of the issue. I have heard a great deal both in the Seanad and in emails I have received about administrative days and release days. I am a little unclear about the reasons principals are campaigning for such measures, rather than calling for an end to the practice of requiring principals to teach in the first place. Is it the preferred option to have a release day or would principals prefer to have the sole responsibility for managing schools, advocating for them and implementing the initiatives?

The submission, with its in-depth analysis, is an excellent contribution. It lists the responsibilities of an administrative as opposed to a teaching principal. I am sure the workload is much bigger than that set out in the document. On that basis, I do not understand why principals are campaigning for a release day rather than an end to the practice of requiring principals to teach. Perhaps I am missing something. Is it because principals would like to continue teaching or is it because of funding and not having enough teachers in schools? Would it not be better to campaign for an end to the practice?

I should have clarified for the witnesses that I will take questions from three of the committee members and go back to the witnesses and then I will take questions from the remaining three members. Deputy Catherine Martin is next.

I thank the witnesses for their presentations. Reading them reminds us that while we have moved forward in terms of the promotion of mental well-being for students in schools, teachers are being left behind. That is even more the case for principal teachers. The results of the survey are startling and reveal disturbing levels of stress. That is not surprising and we must do something about it.

Page 9 of the submission states that the system of one release day per week is in operation in Northern Ireland for more than ten years. How does the model work there? What is the resistance from the Department of Education and Skills here? Has the Department liaised with the Department in Northern Ireland to see how such a system could work?

From the point of view of the pupils, how will consistency of cover be achieved for the one day a week? Is the shortage of substitute teachers and other teachers related to the issue of equal pay for equal work? Will it not be possible to achieve consistency of cover, given that teaching is seen as a less attractive option for a profession? I speak as a former teacher and I have seen the inequality in the school where I worked for 20 years. How can consistency of cover be addressed?

What happens currently if a management issue arises when a principal teacher is in a classroom and he or she has to step out? How is the situation controlled? If a principal must step out, he or she will be concerned about the 30 children who have been left behind? Is someone on standby? Do health and safety issues arise?

I welcome the witnesses here this afternoon. I compliment them on their campaign to date. I have met Ms Dunne on a few occasions. Her campaign is going from strength to strength. I am familiar with the issues, which I have raised directly with the Minister for Education and Skills a few times. Unfortunately, so far there is no positive action to report from his perspective.

Aside from the campaign, I am aware of a number of school principals who have stepped down from the role purely because of the issues that have been outlined in the presentations. Are figures available for how many school principals have stepped down from the role each year and moved back into mainstream teaching due to the lack of a better post?

What happens if a teacher rings in sick in the morning and there is no time to arrange a substitute teacher? Deputy Martin addressed the issue in her question. I have no evidence to back it up but I am aware of teachers who had an interest in progressing their career and who applied for principal positions but many of them are not taking them up, primarily because they see their colleagues who are already stressed to their eyeballs. The system could be losing out as a result of that. Are the witnesses aware of the extent of the problem in that regard?

Stress is an issue that must be addressed, not alone in terms of the mental well-being of individual principals but due to the fact that principals are the team leaders in schools and if they are stressed then everybody else is affected, namely, teaching colleagues and pupils. Children in the classroom are being short changed as a result. The issue must be addressed. I am interested to hear the answers to the two questions I asked.

Does Deputy Byrne or Senator Gavan have any questions?

I will be very brief because of what the witnesses have said. They have made their recommendations and we have met them before privately.

This issue has been raised in the Dáil and the Seanad at various times and I am glad the witnesses had an opportunity to make the case here. They make an unarguable case and if the Government really values rural Ireland, and unfortunately none of its members is here, it will have to ensure that it values the smaller schools with teaching principals that are predominantly, although not entirely, in rural areas. One thing that struck me when I met the witnesses, and what they have set out today will strike many people, is that photograph of a three-teacher school with an absolutely massive staff. Huge reform is needed in this area. It is also striking that with all the circulars that have been issued, the last circular on principals was issued more than 40 years ago in 1975, if I read the submission correctly. What principals are expected to do will have to be addressed as well. There is also secretarial support. The secretaries are obviously a concern and are on my mind this year. Fianna Fáil will wish to do its best for the principals if it can get the Government to agree, and we will do as much as we can this year. It might not all happen in one year but the witnesses' colleagues should continue to demand action in the budget.

I thank the witnesses for their presentations, which are quite stark and paint a dramatic picture. As Ms Dunne said, school leadership is on the brink of collapse. While I have no doubt but that statement is true, it is shocking that the Government has let the crisis develop to this point.

My questions are straightforward. What comes across is the complete level of disconnect between the Department and working teachers and principals, with circulars being received each week without any recognition of the horrendous pressures the principals are already suffering. Do the witnesses have views on why that is the case? How has this level of disconnect arisen? I am sure that were representatives of the Department here, they would tell us that things are not so bad, but I doubt that any of us would believe them. It is frightening that this level of disconnect exists and I seek the witnesses' views on that.

Second, and this might be a harder question, why do the witnesses think the political will to deal with this has been lacking? My children get a fantastic education, and I am always struck by how hard the principals and teachers work. This is such a serious issue. Why has that political will been lacking? When the election is called, whether it is later this year, next year or the year after, we know that tax cuts will dominate the agenda. I cannot understand how anybody could possibly run on tax cutting waffle when we see the crisis the witnesses have just described, the level of underfunding and how reasonable the witnesses' requests are. As has been pointed out, the one day per week has long been in place in the North of Ireland. The witnesses' views on that will be useful. All of us here will probably agree with them but when real politics engages again in September and next year, my fear is that their real concerns will be relegated once again, and they should not be.

I will add a few comments. It is appropriate that we take everybody's comments at the same time. I was convinced by the argument I heard from Ms Angela Dunne and her colleagues when we met on the last occasion that this is something the committee needed to prioritise and bring to another level. This is the first time that has happened. With regard to political will, what we are doing here is important in terms of highlighting it. Moreover, when we have the opportunity to issue a report and make recommendations to the Minister and the Department, that certainly will be a step in the right direction. I looked at the photograph from Scoil Uí Chonaill. If I remember correctly, Ms Dunne is a walking principal and must cater for 26 staff, including SNAs and ancillary staff. Teaching is a full-time role and every child who goes to school in the Republic of Ireland - and of course the island of Ireland - deserves to have the best teaching experience possible, but we have a situation where teaching principals are constantly being called away from class to deal with administrative and management issues. This is happening even in the best run schools that have a teaching principal. They still have to leave their class.

As has been mentioned, there are health and safety issues.

I come from a teaching background and have friends who are teaching principals. I have a friend who stepped down from it as well. We met two such principals who then did not have a place in their schools. Every teaching principal should have the right to step back when the added burden is too much, particularly if they enjoy the teaching role, as many do, and have a great deal to offer in a classroom. We need a far better system whereby they are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve, as opposed to having to go back down to the bottom of the staff list in their school.

It is acknowledged that a principal's job is difficult anyway, regardless of whether the school is big or small. In most instances the smaller schools are older schools, so there will be more issues. During the earlier session we dealt with the capital building programme and it was clearly conveyed to us that we are dealing with a legacy of many older buildings that require refurbishment work. Many of those are the smaller schools so the principal is dealing with all of those issues that must be dealt with apart from dealing with staffing, the curriculum, the board, the budget and providing real leadership in education and learning. As trying to combine the two is difficult, I understand Senator Ruane's question as to why we do not opt for the big one. I believe it is something we should seek but on an interim basis, looking for one day a week would be huge. I support the call regarding special education schools, where 17 of the principals are teaching principals. There absolutely should be a moratorium for all principals in a special education situation because there are so many extra issues and so many extra staff required to try to give the students the best possible experience.

The committee commissioned a report on mental health in education and presented it about a year ago. We made 18 recommendations to the Minister. We made recommendations on the positive mental health of teachers as well. It is of great importance to value and support teachers in ensuring children and students get the best possible experience. Listening to and reading the diary excerpts from teachers and teaching principals on the challenges they face on an ongoing basis, there is no doubt but that it must cause undue stress. You found that teaching principals work an additional 20 to 30 hours per week. Obviously that is more than 48 hours. If those extra hours were costed it would not make the job any easier but would it make the advantages of it any easier if there was extra pay in that regard?

How is the extent of the workload impacting on the recruitment of principals? There appears to be a problem recruiting principals in mainstream primary schools generally but I imagine the situation is very difficult in the case of teaching principals. While the teaching principals need more administrative and secretarial supports, they also need more training. However, the principal has to leave the classroom for training so there will still be issues if substitute teachers cannot be acquired. The only way to deal with it is to have a paid panel of substitute teachers who are able to support both the one day per week for the administrative workload and the extra training and so forth that principals need.

Those are the comments I wish to offer. The witnesses tell a compelling story.

It is certainly something the committee will take up. I will now give the witnesses an opportunity to respond to the comments and questions, beginning with Mr. Clerkin.

Mr. Páiric Clerkin

I thank the Chairman and will try to cover as many of them as possible. I have taken notes and members can come back to me if I leave out anything. I thank Deputy Thomas Byrne for drawing attention to the photograph, which tells more of the story than anything else. If I were to bring in a photograph of a teaching principal in a special school, it would highlight another critical situation as it would include a multiple of the individuals in the photograph we have seen. It is important that we acknowledge the situation of our leaders in special schools and the complex situations they deal with as teaching principals.

With regard to the well-being of teachers and principals, it is true we are and have been focused on this. We are now focused on the well-being of children. Our organisations have been very proactive on this issue in recent years. We have had a well-being for teachers and learners group, that comprised the Irish Primary Principals Network, the national association for principals and deputy principals at second level, the national parents council and the Ombudsman for Children. The focus has been on how do we promote well-being in the school environment throughout the entire school and including parents. Recently some of our schools made very good presentations to our international colleagues who visited the country.

We need to ensure this becomes a culture and is not seen as another initiative. Our concern is about something being seen as an initiative that is forced on schools, rather than us all working together to try to create a culture. The work of the well-being for teachers and learners group is focused on the cultural aspiration of trying to create a well-being culture throughout schools. As has been pointed out today, an issue all schools are dealing with is how to do this when every week, something new is being thrown at schools and where they are focused on immediate concerns.

It is true we link with our colleagues in Northern Ireland, the National Association of Head Teachers, NAHT, and it was pointed out they have one release day a week. We call them leadership and management days because that is their focus. They are about leadership and management, with a focus on leading teaching and learning. Our colleagues in Northern Ireland have one day a week and many of them have two days a week. The difference between our system and theirs is that in the North, the schools themselves decides how their budget will be focused and whether they will invest in two days. Many schools in Northern Ireland have up to two days.

With regard to why we are not focused on full-time administrative status for all principals, I cannot disagree with it but we are trying to focus on what we feel is achievable. This has been our number one priority since 2015. I will state again that administrative principals and teaching principals are at one on what is the top priority for leaders in the primary school sector, which is aspiring to the one day a week we feel is achievable at present. We need to have a debate on going beyond this. We link in with our international colleagues and constantly look at how they cope in their various systems. This is a much bigger debate and something we need to look at in great detail.

Workload and recruitment are crucial and I am concerned about them. It is not just about leaders in schools at present. There is an onus on all of us as leaders in schools to build capacity and promote the positions of principalship and school leaders. It is crucial that we have future school leaders. Our organisation is concerned about teachers perceiving the principalship in their school as being undoable or something that is undesirable. If that is the case, we really will have a concern into the future about attracting the best leaders into crucial school leadership positions. As an organisation, we have been proactive in lobbying and campaigning for the Department to bring together all of the stakeholders to discuss the reform agenda, which we call the calendar of reform. We want all the parties to discuss what will be on the calendar of reform and agree what our priority should be over the coming year or two.

We want to ensure the workload handed over to school leaders, schools, teachers and children is sustainable and that we do not just focus on implementation. We in this country are too focused on implementation and we do not focus enough on embedding. Implementing policies and changes without embedding them is a waste of everybody's time. We need to ensure long-term benefits for the children in any changes we implement. We should have a discussion on whether we are sure all of the reforms we are introducing are being embedded in the system and that we are not just ticking a box and focusing on implementation. Through the groups coming together, and having a focus group and a calendar of reform whereby all of the various stakeholders sit down together and discuss this, we could bring improvements to the system and raise awareness of the challenges being faced by our school leaders.

Stepping back is simply not facilitated by the Department. Currently, if people want to step back from a leadership position they are asked to take up the most junior position on the staff. It is demeaning and does not respect what they have done over a 15 or 20 year period. We need to show greater value for our school leaders. We need a debate on how to facilitate somebody who wishes to step back from the position. This will be important with regard to encouraging others to take on the role. We will have plenty of individuals willing to take on the role for a period of time. We need to facilitate a step back if they want to go back into teaching at some stage.

My wife stepped back from a senior nursing position because it suited her to do so. I cannot understand why it cannot be done in teaching.

Mr. Páiric Clerkin

Currently, school leaders who want to step back are told they can do so if there is a vacancy in the school but that if they step back into that vacancy they become the most junior member of staff. This is a debate we need to have.

This ties into how we promote principalship. This is important because we need to look to the future. To go back to my earlier question, perhaps there is political disconnect. I know funding is an issue and we need to debate it. If the State is going to have only short-term aspirations for the next few years and will only look at how we can resolve an issue in the short term without looking at long-term implications, it is important that organisations such as the Irish Primary Principals Network look at these issues long term. We want to build and promote leadership capacity to ensure children will have the very best leaders available to them. I believe passionately that one way in which we can promote such a culture is through stakeholders meeting and discussing how we ensure the change agenda is managed effectively and that it has long-term, and not just short-term, impacts. We must focus on embedding.

Ms Angela Dunne

We made a very detailed submission and put a lot of work into it. We included ten recommendations which are simple and practical, such as secretarial support, that would provide immediate relief for us. This has to be approached in the short, medium and long term. Senator Ruane asked whether we should seek to no longer teach. The rate of change has been very slow over the past 20 years. This was identified more than 20 years ago as a very serious problem. Our union and the IPPN have represented us and incrementally have won small gains. We have been told by the Government we should be happy with this and that we have an extra day off. The optics of this are bad. A disconnect between teachers and principals and the Department has been mentioned. How would the average person understand the complexity of the role of principal given how the Minister discusses the days in question? They are far from days off. They are days meant to be spent on administrative duties. We are fully charged with the same administrative burdens as an administrative principal but have to teach a full class on top of this.

The reality is that in the last few years those administrative days have not been spent on administrative duties. They have been spent going to training on the latest circular, which will have been sent to us without any consultation from the Department. There were 88 circulars in the last year alone. Not every circular pertained to primary education, but quite a number did. In our submission we have outlined the legislative changes that have come in since 2011. In each year there were two or three such changes, but in 2018 there were seven or eight, all of which had massive implications for our boards of management, and which literally fall back on the principals. The boards are voluntary, and members sometimes have no background in education. All the will and moral support in the world is not going to get that work done. It all falls onto our lap. There is quite a legal burden on principals as a result of this. It is an onerous task; one cannot make mistakes with it. The pressure is mounting all the time. The rate of change has been so slow, so we never believed it was possible to ask for more. We are trying to be reasonable in our approach to this. We know are only one of many groups looking for changes in the budget.

Senator Gavan asked if there was a lack of political will. Principals have been holding this up. It has been papered over for years because we are generally a stoic, hardworking bunch of people who are publicly vulnerable. We want our schools to be represented in the best light possible. We are fire-fighting myriad issues at any one time, and do not want bad optics for our schools. We keep going and wait for someone to tell us to stop and to say that the way things are is unsustainable. We now find ourselves in a position where we have to do that, because we are suffering so much with our health that we cannot allow it to transfer on to children. We do not want to see that happen. Everything we do is for the children in our schools, and for their holistic education. We find that we are being squeezed so hard with administrative and teaching duties that the voluntary things which make a school the excellent centre of learning a principal wants it to be and which put the icing on the cake for the children are being squeezed out. When we look for change we are told that we do not have to participate in the green flag programme or similar things. We want to participate in such programmes - they are good for the children in the school - and schools are optically at a disadvantage if a school down the road has ten flags and another does not. Some small schools are suffering from the desperate legacy of cuts some years ago. They are at the mercy of a magic number every year in order to retain a teacher. If they lose a teacher the implications across a school are huge. In order to go from teaching two mainstream classes to three the entire whole-school plan has to change. One is then fighting harder than ever to get a teacher back because the appointment figure is higher than the retention figure. The one teacher who might be missing is so invaluable to the whole school.

We looked for one release day a week immediately to help us to survive in this role. Our second recommendation was that there would be a review of the criteria for achieving administrative status. The Chair mentioned that the photograph presented was similar to the situation in my school. I manage 23 staff in my four-teacher school, as the Department refers to it; there are four mainstream classes. We also have an autistic spectrum disorder, ASD, unit, which comprises two classes. I use the word "unit" because that is the word the Department gave us for it. We have two special education teachers and ten special needs assistants, SNAs. We have a high level of special needs in mainstream as well as in the ASD unit, and we pride ourselves on inclusivity. We work very hard and have a wonderful staff. It works, but I would be lying if I said that the effort involved in it is not excessive at times. As a teaching principal, it is almost impossible at times to keep on top of it all. One tries very hard. I teach my daughter at the moment, which put this issue under a huge microscope for me last year. With the best will in the world, no matter how hard I prepare and no matter how much midnight oil I burn it still is not enough to safeguard the educational experience of my daughter and her fellow pupils. This applies to all teaching principals in our forum. The pupils might achieve their educational targets because I drive it as much as I can, but they are missing out in other ways, for example, the consistency provided by having a teacher in the classroom all the time. The substitute shortage has really escalated this problem, because if I cannot find a substitute teacher to cover my release day I have to split that class between the other classes in the school.

The alternative is to not take the day and to miss out on the training that I need to implement the legislation that I am charged with rolling out in the school. I am constantly trying to reassure parents of children in my class that I am doing my best for the children and trying to ensure they are not missing out. Nobody wants teaching a class to be seen as a poisoned chalice, and nobody wants parents to not want the principal to be teaching their children. I pride myself on my work as a teacher but a parent said to me last year that it is a pity that I am the principal because I am such a good teacher apart from that. Teaching principals give their best to both roles, leading a school community as best as he or she can. I take huge pride in our school and our staff. We have pushed the boat out on every conceivable level but, again, that is reflective of principals in general.

We are here to ask that the committee considers these recommendations. They are practical, and the cost to the Exchequer, considering the damage that is being done to our education system, is relatively small. If we were given one release day a week in the short term and if the criteria for achieving administrative status was reviewed, it would be fairer. Currently, I have 25 release days. There are 94 pupils in the school. If I achieve the magic number of 113 pupils, I will suddenly go from 25 days a year to 183 days a year with an ASD unit. There is no sense to that. A colleague in south Tipperary had 112 children in her school. She was a teaching principal and was setting up an ASD class. The following year she got an extra teacher, and went from 25 release days a year to 183. She said that it saved her life, and that she genuinely could not stay in the role without it. We are not the anomaly we thought we were. This is a nationwide problem.

Deputy Catherine Martin asked about ongoing disruptions to our classes. We do the best we can to plan for such situations. I am militant about interruptions to my class, which means that staff are lined up at the end of the day to meet me. They have to consult their principal teacher. One goes into work at 8 in the morning and finishes teaching at 3 p.m.. One is in school until half four or five o'clock liaising with staff, be it SNAs or teachers, about team teachers, whole-school planning or policy, one is meeting parents. One then goes home to his or her life and looks after his or her children. Where is the time to plan for classes and to do all of the administrative work involved? That work is done between ten o'clock and one o'clock every night of the week. That is not unusual across the board. I love the job, for all the complaints I am making. I get €15 a day after tax. That is the stark reality of the situation. Principal teachers such as myself did not apply for this job to make money, but rather because we were passionate about education. However, we have reached a critical point. I came across a quote in preparation for the meeting from an American educator called Tom Whittaker. He said that the culture of any organisation is shaped by the worst behaviour the leader is willing to tolerate. We have got to the point now where the treatment of principal teachers is beyond horrendous. It is indefensible; enough is enough. The big issue going forward, in terms of the disconnect that exists, is that principal teachers have to be consulted about change. We are creative. We know the solutions. We know what is needed in our schools, but we are not consulted and have no way of stopping this. There is no mechanism to stop it.

Seamus Mulconry from the CPSMA wrote a good article entitled, "The Devil's Advocate", in which he recommended a filtering mechanism for all the initiatives being thrown at schools by the Department, Tusla or other agencies. We have to liaise with them, and we have provided an extensive list in our submission. The initiatives have to go through a filtering system before they land on our desks. At the moment they are arriving from all angles, and we have to make sense of them, make policies from them and bring them back to our staff and find time to introduce, implement, monitor and embed them. There is no time to do that before the next thing is thrown at us. Optically these policies look wonderful in press releases, for example, the well-being policy. Many of us are well ahead of the game in respect of that policy.

We have identified anxiety as a major problem for our pupils, especially since the economic recession. Anxiety has definitely come about as a result of it. Schoolchildren are absorbing anxiety from society and their parents. Unofficially and outside of the curriculum we have been implementing well-being for several years. Recently, the Minister released a well-being policy. Schools are supposed to open a room where a child with anxiety can go during the day. It sounds fantastic, but who will build and supervise the room? Who will write the policies around the room? The optics make it look like we are not trying this or interested in it.

The same applies to ASD classes. Many of us have opened our doors to such classes and many more would love to, but they simply do not have the buildings or resources to go with it. This was flagged a long time ago. When we were opening our ASD class, I contacted the NSCE. I was given an additional ten release days that year to manage the workload pending policy advice from the council. I contacted the lady who wrote the policy advice and outlined how there did not seem to be any forward thinking and that it would become a major issue, especially for teaching principals who do not have the time to manage this. I asked her to make a recommendation in the policy to allow teaching principals to get some consideration but nothing came from that. The following year, the ten days were taken from me and I have not got them back since. I have not got one concession for having to manage it, yet I am such an advocate for special needs that I will be at FÉILTE in October with a stand advocating for more schools to open ASD classes because I feel so passionately about it. However, it would be remiss of me to do that without giving the full picture because it could led to someone walking into a situation whereby she would be unable to cope with the workload. Powers to compel schools to open classes sounds grand. Many schools would love to open classes if the resources and supports were put in place.

I thank Ms Dunne. She has said it all eloquently and passionately. Her peers have a great advocate in her with the story she has outlined and the words she has expressed around it.

If there are no more supplementary questions, that is a good note to finish on.

Yes, it speaks for itself.

I thank Mr. Clerkin and Ms Dunne, and Mr. Ruddy and Ms Ní Mhaoldhomhnaigh, for attending and for their engagement. It was a worthwhile session.

Mr. Páiric Clerkin

I wish to make one point on the cost of one day in the year. We are talking about approximately €10 million out of a budget of €1 billion. I appeal to everyone to at least consider it.

We will have the opportunity to write a report and make representations again if there is anything else. I thank everyone for their comprehensive documentation. There is certainly much to consider. If there is anything else, please send it to us and we will bear it in mind. When we launch the report, we will be in touch and we will invite everyone to that as well.

The joint committee adjourned at 3.15 p.m. until 9.30 a.m. on Thursday, 30 August 2018.