Status of Non-Teaching Staff in Schools: Discussion

I remind members and witnesses to turn off their mobile phones as they interfere with the sound system, causing difficulties for parliamentary reporters, and television coverage and web streaming can be impacted as well. Will the Deputies and Senators please resume their seats?

We are moving to No. 6 on our agenda, which is engagement with stakeholders on the status of non-teaching staff in schools. There is no doubt that schools are very complex places and that there are a number of people working in schools to make sure that our children get the best possible education they can. While the leadership in terms of education lies with the principal and the instruction of teaching lies with the teachers, there are a number of non-teaching staff, including special needs assistants, SNAs, as well as secretaries, caretakers, cleaners, and bus escorts, who do an incredible amount of work to make sure that the essential operations of a school are functioning. They all support continued successful education within their schools. Today we will be listening to the views of the stakeholders and witnesses on the current status of non-teaching staff, how that may impact on students and on the school community as a whole, and whether this has any impact on the effective delivery of education within our schools. We will then get an opportunity to ask them about that.

It is not our function as a committee to deal with pay and conditions, purely to deal with any impact that the status of non-teaching staff can have on the delivery of education within a school.

I welcome the stakeholders who are present: Ms Nessa White, general secretary of Education and Training Boards Ireland, ETBI; Mr. Paul Fiorentini, president of the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools, ACCS; Mr. David Duffy, education and research officer from the Teachers Union of Ireland, TUI; Mr. Andy Pike, national secretary of Fórsa; Ms Breda Lynch, president of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland, ASTI; and Ms Tara Carton, principal officer with the Department of Education and Skills. The format of this part of the meeting is that I will invite the witnesses to make a brief opening statement of a maximum of three minutes, which will be followed by an engagement with members of the committee.

Before we begin, I draw the attention of witnesses 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, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

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

I also advise the witnesses that any opening statements they make to the committee will be published on the committee website after this meeting. I invite Ms White to make her opening statement on behalf of the ETBI.

Ms Nessa White

On behalf of the ETBI and the 16 ETBs that we represents I am very pleased to make this statement on the status of non-teaching staff in schools. ETBs are statutory authorities with responsibility for education and training, youth work and a range of other statutory functions. ETBs manage and operate community national schools, second-level schools, further education colleges, and a range of adult and further education centres in communities throughout Ireland.

In the course of the recent economic downturn, schools and education centres suffered the imposition of significant cutbacks. The cuts affected all areas of service provision and school life in general. In the main, efforts were made to safeguard core services to the greatest extent possible and, as such, the impact of the cuts were experienced most acutely among the non-teaching staff cohort. In recent years, and as fiscal space has allowed, efforts have been made to restore many of the depleted services. The efforts have primarily targeted teaching and learning in the first instance, much of which was driven by the growth in enrolment, together with legislative and policy requirements aimed at meeting special educational needs. That has been broadly welcomed by all stakeholders, including ETBI and we advocate the continued and increasing investment in teaching and learning. However, little has been done to address the disproportionate cuts imposed on ancillary services and, as a consequence, schools are significantly under-resourced in that regard.

Ancillary services play a crucial role in the life of the school and the school community. Adequate staffing levels in ancillary services are vital for the effective and efficient operation of the school and many keys functions are reliant on their contribution. In the absence of the requisite staffing levels, many key duties are not being performed adequately or at all, at a significant cost to the school and community in general. The delivery of core school administrative tasks, ongoing maintenance and even basic standards of cleanliness and hygiene present challenges to schools, which are struggling to cope in the absence of the necessary allocation of staff.

While the ETBI welcomes the Minister's recent announcement on secretarial support in schools with more than 700 pupils, we call for the immediate restoration of ancillary staff to pre-recessionary levels; the standardisation of terms and conditions of ancillary staff across all schools; the lifting of the moratorium on the engagement of ancillary staff and that full effect be given to the provisions of delegated sanction to minimise the need for expensive contracts for services; the engagement of the Department of Education and Skills with all stakeholders to establish a staffing baseline for schools, regardless of size; and the determination of a reasonable basis for the increase in this baseline staffing level to take account of various factors, including growth in student numbers, increase in the size of school infrastructure, the age and general condition of the facilities. I thank the committee for the opportunity to address it today.

I thank Ms White and call Mr. Paul Fiorentini, the president of the ACCS.

Mr. Paul Fiorentini

The association is the representative body for the boards of management of 96 community and comprehensive schools providing a multi-denominational, inclusive and comprehensive education to more than 60,000 post-primary and further education students. Many of the 96 schools provide lifelong educational opportunities to approximately 25,000 adult learners in self-financing adult education programmes in the communities they serve. In many cases, school facilities are made available for local community use outside school hours and schools are encouraged to do so.

Prior to the introduction of the public sector moratorium, with effect from 27 March 2009, non-teaching staff positions such as clerical and maintenance staff, were approved and allocated by the Department to community and comprehensive schools in accordance with the number of pupils enrolled as outlined in the table included in my submission. Since the imposition of the moratorium on appointments in the public service, community and comprehensive schools have been restricted to the appointment of positions to a maximum of one clerical officer and one caretaker. That has severely curtailed the ability of schools to provide the quality of service they require in their schools.

The ACCS appreciates the recent acknowledgement by the Minister for Education and Skills of the administrative burden on community and comprehensive schools, in particular for larger schools, in his relaxation of the moratorium with effect from 1 April 2019 for those schools with enrolments of 700 students or more. That will allow them to employ an additional clerical officer up to a maximum of two per school. This welcome alleviation is seen by the ACCS as an important first step in the restoration of essential posts in schools. A timeframe for the complete alleviation of the moratorium is now required.

In Cumasú, the Action Plan for Education 2019, action No. 74 commits to "support the operation of a high-quality school system through the annual provision of teaching and financial support." That is consistent with goal 3 of the previous Action Plan for Education, which stressed that: "Ongoing practical support to the key people in the education sector is vital if we are to realise the ambitious objectives that we have for Irish education".

The publication, School 2016, A Quality Framework for Post Primary Schools, rightly places an emphasis on the leadership of learning and teaching in schools. Goal 4 of Cumasú, the 2019 action plan, states, "We will intensify the relationships between education and the wider community, society and the economy." An open, welcoming, well maintained environment is fundamental to achieving this aim and clerical officers, caretakers and cleaners play an essential role in schools. It is also of interest that one of the indicators of pupil well-being is whether "the physical environment of the school is well kept and bright."

It is essential that we support school leaders with adequate clerical and maintenance personnel to ensure they can meet their requirements in leading learning and teaching for the benefit of all learners in schools.

During the moratorium, schools continue to grapple with significantly increased regulatory obligations in areas such as data protection and child protection. That has been accompanied by the introduction of the post-primary online database and the introduction of new financial reporting systems with the support of the financial support services unit, FSSU. Clerical officers are key to the delivery of those initiatives. Without adequate clerical officer support in those areas school management cannot deliver on their obligations. The additional workload is no longer sustainable.

With reductions in maintenance staff, facilities cannot be maintained to the required standards. The immediate is all that can be addressed and essential planned maintenance programmes are difficult if not impossible to implement. That is simply storing up potential problems which will ultimately require significant expenditure to correct. Adequate caretaking and cleaning personnel is essential to meet the State Claims Agency obligations outlined in Managing Health and Safety in Schools.

Many community and comprehensive schools provide access to facilities to their local communities outside of school time. This tradition will be potentially damaged due to the lack of availability of caretakers to open and maintain facilities.

Clerical and maintenance personnel provide loyal and dedicated service in schools throughout the country. It is time to ensure the required levels of staffing are restored to provide essential services in schools.

I call Mr. David Duffy from the Teachers Union of Ireland, TUI, to make his opening statement.

Mr. David Duffy

The TUI represents more than 17,000 teachers and lecturers employed by education and training boards, voluntary secondary schools, community and comprehensive schools and the institutes of technology.

The TUI welcomes the work of the Oireachtas committee in examining the status for non-teaching staff in schools. This is important both in terms of staff working inside schools, such as secretarial, caretaking and cleaning staff, as well as staff working in vital support agencies such as child and adolescent mental health services, the National Educational Psychological Service, Tusla, etc. The role of special needs assistants in supporting the care needs of students with special educational needs is also relevant.

Recent years have seen drastic cuts in the resourcing of support agencies in particular. Schools rely heavily on support agencies, especially when working with students with special needs or students experiencing crisis. Crisis situations require the presence of ex-quota guidance teachers but also other specialist agencies. The TUI recognises the valuable work done by staff in agencies such as Tusla, the National Council for Special Education, the Health Services Executive, the National Educational Psychological Service and many others. Despite the best efforts of staff in those agencies, the level of resourcing available to them means that schools often cannot access professional support when needed.

The most important issue with staffing is to ensure schools have access to well trained, high quality teachers. The current crisis in teacher supply is unhelpful in this regard. The presence of both non-teaching and teaching staff is vital to schools. The great educational theorist Larry Cuban once said “when society gets an itch, schools get scratched”. Schools have responsibilities but so too does society. Schools should not be held responsible for issues beyond the remit, resourcing or staffing of schools. The smooth running of schools requires the availability of non-teaching staff including caretaking, cleaning and secretarial staff.

Many post-primary schools are open from early in the morning until late in the night. Many also open their doors to the local community over weekends. It is not possible to safely and reasonably do this with an allocation, as is available to many schools, of one caretaker and one cleaner. In some schools, non-teaching staff are paid through an ancillary grant, which means their pay is determined by individual school boards of management. This causes a significant issue in terms of consistency and fairness.

The TUI supports our colleagues in Fórsa in its current campaign on this issue. The TUI welcomes this research by the Oireachtas committee and would strongly welcome any future initiatives of the committee to further examine the issue of staffing resources for schools. This could include the Oireachtas committee asking the Department of Education and Skills to carry out an audit of non-teaching staff supporting schools. This data could demonstrate exactly how many non-teaching staff are available now compared to a decade ago. This data could further take into account the significant rise in student numbers being experienced in post-primary schools between 2012 and 2025.

I call on Mr. Andy Pike, Fórsa, to make his opening statement.

Mr. Andy Pike

Fórsa welcomes the opportunity to address the committee on the status of non-teaching staff in our schools sector. The committee has already received our detailed submission on this subject which encompassed problems affecting school secretaries and caretakers, special needs assistants, staff in education centres and the school completion service.

The Fórsa Support Our Secretaries campaign is unusual. It is unusual because it is rare to find an issue raised by a trade union which has seemingly universal support among the public, parents, students, and colleagues, as well as across many political parties. The lack of public service status for the majority of school secretaries results in low pay, precarious insecure employment, lack of pension provision, lack of sick pay and no holiday pay. These problems can be resolved by transferring school secretaries and caretakers on to public service conditions of employment, as is the case for the 10% of such staff employed by education and training boards.

Any objective assessment of the employment status of school secretaries would result in the conclusion that as a group they have been taken for granted, undervalued and ignored both within the schools sector and the political world for far too long. Many of our members who have worked in schools all of their careers believe their work was never valued. They also believe that, especially in smaller schools, dealing with administration was viewed as something of a vocational obligation not meriting recognition or even fair employment rights. Such perspectives may have been commonplace 50 or 60 years ago. However, the employment model has not kept pace with the development of our education system and the increasingly complex demands placed on school secretaries who now carry significant levels of responsibility within our schools in areas including accounting, banking and audit queries.

It could never have been the intention of policy makers in 1994 to engineer a two-tier pay system where those employed by the then vocational education committees would remain and continue as public servants, with job security, pension rights and public service payscales, while the 90% of staff paid through the ancillary grant were left on locally determined conditions of service, required to sign on the dole in the summer months, as well as without access to occupational sick pay, pensions or job security.

Some progress has been made. In 2015 the union secured the first collective agreement covering pay for grant-funded secretaries and caretakers. That agreement expires at the end of this year. Fórsa has formally requested that the Department of Education and Skills agrees to meet to open pay negotiations on an agreement to come into effect once the current deal expires at the end of the year.

The Support Our Secretaries campaign is designed to highlight the injustices of the current employment model, as well as the value of the work carried out by our members. We have tried to convey the esteem in which secretaries are held by local communities, school colleagues, students and the tens of thousands of parents who trust implicitly the advice of the school secretary. As a parent, one call I always answer is the one from our school secretary.

Will the committee endorses this campaign to regularise the employment status of grant-funded school secretaries and caretakers? The cost and the ask from the employer is small, but the benefits of changing the unfair system will be felt in 90% of our schools.

I call on Ms Breda Lynch of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland, ASTI, to make her opening statement.

Ms Breda Lynch

The ASTI commends the decision of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills to examine the status of non-teaching staff in schools. While teachers constitute the core professional staffing of schools, schools cannot effectively operate without the work of non-teaching staff. Typically, the latter includes school secretaries, caretakers, cleaners and special needs assistants. Given the expanding nature of the work of schools and consequent increase in administration, it might be more appropriate to use the term “education support personnel” for such employees. This title better communicates the nature of their work in schools and also the fact that they are increasingly enjoined in departmental policies as regards the implementation of whole-school practices such as anti-bullying procedures, child protection and safeguarding procedures, school attendance strategies and school completion programmes.

The status of school secretaries and caretakers is not the same across the three second level sectors. Education and training boards, along with community and comprehensive schools, receive funding in aggregate form, block grant and annual budget allocation respectively. On the other hand, the funding of these services in voluntary secondary schools is based on a capitation grant. It is a matter for each school to apply this funding as it sees fit. There is strong anecdotal evidence, underpinned by the work of other trade unions representing non-teaching staff, that the conditions of work are insecure and the salary is based on an hourly rate. According to our colleagues in Fórsa, some school secretaries in the voluntary sector earn as little as €13,000 per annum and must revert to social protection income support during holidays and sick days. Most have no entitlement to pension rights.

From a trade union point of view, it is unacceptable that workers doing the same job do not receive the same pay. The ASTI fully believes there should be a common salary scale for all school secretaries with standard benefits such as sick pay, holiday pay, pension rights and public service leave entitlements.

The introduction of the special needs assistant scheme to support students with special educational needs has been central to the goal of providing inclusive education.

Their work in schools is highly valued and we need more of them. The ASTI broadly supports the NCSE 2018 recommendations and is happy to see many of them as key features of the school inclusion model being trialled in the next school year. The front-loading allocation model, breaking the need for an assessment, should improve the situation. We welcome the expansion of the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, and the fact that special needs assistants, SNAs will be offered a new national training programme. The proposed nurse-led service to complement current provision delivering health supports to students with complex physical needs is very welcome, as is the development of regional support teams comprising speech and language therapists, occupational therapists and behavioural support practitioners under the auspices of the National Council for Special Education, NCSE.

Schools are highly complex social institutions whose role is continually expanding to meet new societal challenges in a constantly evolving environment. Schools cannot meet the requirements of society if their funding model does not take account of the complexity of the work undertaken. This applies particularly in the area of special educational needs, which we addressed recently with the committee. Non-teaching staff are essential support staff in these complex environments. Their status must be acknowledged and funding mechanisms for schools must be reviewed to ensure that no sector is disadvantaged in terms of its capacity to provide decent working conditions for valued members of staff.

I invite Ms Tara Carton, principal officer in the Department of Education and Skills, to make her opening statement.

Ms Tara Carton

I thank the committee for the invitation to today's meeting to discuss the status of non-teaching staff in schools. In general terms, non-teaching staff in schools fall into three main categories: special needs assistants; secretaries, caretakers and cleaners; and school bus escorts. The Department of Education and Skills recognises and values the work of these non-teaching staff and the supports they provide in helping to ensure the continued successful education of pupils in each learning environment and the efficient operation of the school.

The special needs assistant, SNA, scheme is designed to provide schools with additional adult support staff who can assist children with special educational needs who also have additional and significant care needs. SNAs are recruited specifically to assist in the care needs of pupils with disabilities in an educational context. SNAs therefore do not have a teaching or pedagogical role. There are approximately 15,000 SNAs in schools nationally, supporting approximately 36,000 pupils. SNAs employed in recognised primary, voluntary secondary and community and comprehensive schools are paid by the Department's payroll section.

The NCSE is responsible, through its network of local special educational needs organisers, SENOs, for allocating SNAs to schools to support children with additional care needs in accordance with the Department's criteria, including a requirement to have regard to the overall limit on staffing numbers under the employment control framework. SNAs are not allocated to individual pupils but to schools as a school-based resource, in the same manner that teachers are allocated to schools. SNA duties are assigned at the discretion of the principal, or another person acting on behalf of the principal, and-or the board of management of a school or the education and training board, ETB.

The second category are secretaries, caretakers and cleaners. There are 3,246 primary schools and 715 second level schools in the State. The majority of primary and voluntary secondary schools in the free education scheme receive grant assistance to provide for caretaking and-or secretarial services. This model enables the support to be spread more widely and ultimately to cover all primary and secondary schools with funding for such services. Within the grant schemes, the level and extent of services provided are a matter for the school authorities which, through the discretion afforded under the scheme, apply diverse arrangements for secretarial and caretaking services as resources permit and as their local needs mandate.

In May 2015, under a chairman's note to the Lansdowne Road agreement, it was agreed that the Department of Education and Skills would engage with the union side on issues around grant-funded school secretaries and caretakers. This resulted in an agreed arbitration process at the Workplace Relations Commission in 2015. The arbitrator recommended a cumulative pay increase of 10% between 2016 and 2019 for staff and that a minimum hourly pay rate of €13 be phased in over that period. The arbitrator's recommendations were accepted by both sides and all agreed measures have now been implemented. The final 2.5% increase and floor hourly rate increase to €13 per hour was paid on 1 January 2019. The agreement covers the period up to 31 December 2019.

The final category is school bus escorts. There is a facility within the special educational needs transport scheme for the appointment of a school bus escort where a child's care and safety needs while on school transport are such as to require the support of an escort. While the Department sanctions the appointment of the bus escort, the school employs the escort and this appointment is grant funded by the Department.

Thank you. It is clear from the evidence we have heard that non-teaching staff undoubtedly play a vital role in the workings of a school. I believe secretaries and caretakers are the heartbeat of the school. They have an essential and particular relationship not just with the teaching staff but also with parents and the children.

I will call members for their questions. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan wished to speak but she had to leave for another engagement at 5 p.m. I hope she will have the opportunity to return. I call Senator Gallagher.

I welcome the witnesses and thank them for their presentations. It is a worthwhile exercise for members of the committee to hear about the issues at first hand. As the Chairman said, school secretaries and caretakers are vital members of the team. If a team has a weakness, that affects the overall performance, and it is no different in this case. Mr. Duffy made a good point about the audit and I would like to hear the Department's thoughts on that. Before we can try to find a proper resolution to this, we have to know the extent of it, and the only way we can get a grasp of that is by having an audit. Was an audit in this regard ever carried out? Do we have an idea of the numbers involved in each sector?

Ms Carton said in her statement that this was examined and an agreement was reached by both sides on pay increases. Have the other issues of holiday pay and sick pay been considered at all? What is the position on that? Until we get to a point where all school staff are treated equally, and currently that is not the case, we will continue to have a problem. The Department must take over responsibility for the payment of all ancillary staff so there can be fair play. I have encountered many such staff who are on as little as €13,000 per annum. They are forced to sign on during the school holiday period, and if they are sick they get no payment. That is not good enough. It is not fair to the individuals involved in the first place and, indeed, to the school community, be it the colleagues they work with or the parents of pupils attending the school.

I look forward to the responses to my questions.

I have a few questions for the representative of Fórsa first. I realise employment contracts and so forth are for another conversation, but it has a direct impact on a school and the morale in a school. It appears to be quite gendered as well. The school secretaries and SNAs who will not be able to access pensions, holiday pay and so forth are mainly women. The caretakers in most cases are men, but it is mainly women who are affected by the employment conditions. Will Mr. Pike talk a little more about the atmosphere and morale created in the school setting when there are, perhaps, two secretaries in an office and in the staffroom there are different non-teaching staff along with the teachers, given the inequality that exists between them? What does that do for the environment? Will he give us a better picture of how that looks on the ground, especially for school secretaries?

I believe the Department has to intervene with regard to SNAs. I have been inundated over the past month with communications from SNAs about the conditions in which they work. The Department says it provides funding to the schools and the schools employ the SNAs.

There needs to be some accountability here, however, particularly when it comes to the 72 hours. We hear contributions here all the time on barriers to education, whether they are about special education or Traveller education, yet it is being recommended that SNAs use up these 72 hours. Moreover, some schools quite literally abuse this from the accounts we have received. We heard of one SNA being told to wash the teacher's car and other cases involving cleaning toilets and everything other than what those extra 72 hours could be used for. We hear evidence at this committee about how much extra support certain students need, yet these 72 hours are being abused. Can Ms Carton comment on the role the Department should be playing in intervening in respect of the conditions under which SNAs work? I am quite happy to send on the many emails I have received. I know they have lots of concerns about the 13 recommendations made by the NCSE. There has been no engagement with Fórsa, which represents a lot of SNAs. Should that engagement happen before the new school year?

What is the Department's position regarding looking at pay scales for school secretaries? Much of today's business relates to the Department regarding how it can intervene and whether it also involves communication with the business committee. I am not sure how the Department is going to address the inequalities that exist in the school setting.

I welcome all the witnesses and thank them for their contributions. I acknowledge the various staff members within schools. I see the contribution made by SNAs, caretakers and school secretaries over the years in my own constituency of Sligo-Leitrim. I have been approached by quite a number of them over the years.

My first question is for Mr. Pike and concerns the role of Fórsa and the Department with regard to pay arrangements and grant funding for secretaries and caretakers. While Fórsa may have arranged meetings with the Department, can Mr. Pike indicate if that is the case?

Regarding ETB schools, the recent announcement was welcomed the length and breadth of the country. A total of 58 schools will benefit immediately from the announcement made during the week. I know there are a number of schools in that scheme that will continue. This concerns additional staff in these schools. There are many other areas where we have heard from Fórsa. I have heard about many people who are working extremely hard such as cleaners, caretakers, secretaries and SNAs. Is there a review regarding the position of all of the staff?

Can somebody elaborate on the subject of capitation grants? I was of the opinion that this money was paid into the schools. Can Ms Carton elaborate on that regarding capitation grants?

I might wait until the witnesses answer because some of them were my questions.

That is fine.

Likewise with regard to one or two of the questions.

I have one or two points to make. Deputy McLoughlin referred to the fact that the ancillary grant is capped at €500. There are large schools with 700 or more students. I cannot understand how the Department would think that the grant should be capped at €500 per child because, obviously, there are extra needs, many more classrooms, many more spaces that need to be looked after and far more administrative work. It is really difficult for those schools that have taken on the extra pupils but are not getting the extra staff. We know that where there might be only one secretary in a larger school, some of the senior management team have to take on some of these essential tasks, which takes away from leading teaching and teachers. That can be difficult.

SNAs play an important role in terms of inclusion in Ireland. Many students with intellectual disabilities have the opportunity to go to mainstream schools, which we recognise and commend. We have spoken about it here previously. We must acknowledge that were it not for the SNAs, that would not be possible. I have received a number of communications regarding SNAs and their conditions of employment. I know we cannot get into this too deeply at this meeting but it is having an impact on the overall educational experience within the school. When we had stakeholder engagement here regarding the issues around recruitment and retention of teachers, we found that because teachers could not get permanent positions, it was very difficult to get staff. Is it pretty much the same now with school secretaries, caretakers and SNAs? Is the fact that their conditions are difficult, many of them are not being paid during the summer and their employment is not permanent affecting attempts to recruit these essential people who keep our schools running?

We will go back to the stakeholders. We will start with Ms Carton and work back. If Deputy Naughton and Senator Byrne wish to come back in, they may do so.

Ms Tara Carton

A number of questions were asked and I will try to answer them in order. Members might remind me if I miss any of them. I apologise in advance if I do. Senator Gallagher mentioned an audit of staff that had been suggested by the TUI and asked if there had been any previous audit. A survey of grant-funded secretaries and caretakers was conducted in early 2009. At that time, approximately half of primary schools and about 300 voluntary secondary schools responded to it so about three quarters of voluntary secondary schools were involved. Based on the returns we got, we estimated that between secretaries and caretakers, the head count of staff in the schools in question was about 8,000. It came to approximately 4,000 whole-time equivalents so each would be roughly working on a half-time basis. That is an extrapolation from the survey results.

There was a question about holiday, lay-off and sick pay. Those are matters for the school's board of management as the employer of the staff concerned. Issues relating to pay and terms and conditions are agreed between the employer and the staff member concerned and the Department does not have a role in that. The arbitration agreement that was reached in 2015 with Fórsa, or IMPACT, as it was at the time, only concerned pay and did not deal with matters like leave or lay-off.

Senator Ruane asked about SNAs, their conditions and the 72 hours. There is an agreed list of duties that SNAs carry out. This includes things like assistance with feeding, administration of medicine, assistance with toileting and general hygiene and assisting teachers in the supervision of pupils in the class and playground etc. There are other duties such as preparation and tidying of work spaces. The duties I listed are part of the 72 hours.

The 72 hours does not include issues the Senator mentioned like washing cars or cleaning toilets. The Deputy mentioned she had some examples and if she wants to send those on, we will look into them.

In terms of engagement with Fórsa on a new model for SNAs, I understand there has been a commitment to engage with Fórsa on that. With regard to the secretaries, the Deputy asked about the different payscales. Mr. Pike mentioned they had written to the Department to seek a meeting on that and we have recently agreed to meet. We have not yet set a date for that but we will arrange one in short order.

Deputy McLoughlin asked about capitation grants but I did not get the details of that question.

It is the same point I was making about the ancillary grant stopping at 500 pupils in a school.

Ms Tara Carton

There have been increases in the ancillary grant in recent years. The primary ancillary grant has gone up from nearly €88 million in 2017 to nearly €92 million in 2018. With regard to the moratorium on staff in ETB and C&C schools, as alluded to earlier by Mr. Duffy and Ms White, there was a recent announcement to alleviate the moratorium in larger ETB and C&C schools, that is, those with more than 700 pupils. In those cases, the schools will be allowed to recruit up to two secretarial staff in recognition of the administrative burden they carry. Anything further in that area will be a matter for the Government to consider, probably in the context of the Estimates.

Is that immediate?

Ms Tara Carton

Yes. It has come into effect from 1 April.

Last week. That is good. We will come back to Deputy Jan O'Sullivan. If Ms Lynch does not wish to comment, I call Mr. Pike.

Mr. Andy Pike

In answer to Senator Gallagher's question around holiday pay and sick pay, it is probably worth pointing out that what Fórsa is seeking is application of the same terms to non-teaching staff as apply to everyone else in a board of management school. It is really just making sure there is a level playing field because teachers employed in those schools are paid and have conditions of service determined by national circulars from the Department of Education and Skills. What we are seeking is the extension of the system to non-teaching staff. A basic point of fairness is where we start from.

On Senator Ruane's question about the effect of some of these issues on the day-to-day running of a school, there are some governance problems because school secretaries are now involved in complex areas of work that are at the very heart of the administration of the school system. Unlike teaching colleagues, there really is no governance around their employment as would apply to public servants. If one is a public servant working for a Department or an organisation that has a code of ethics or a code of standards, that goes alongside the benefits of public service status. School secretaries and caretakers would be bound by the local contract of employment but they are not in the governance tent in same way as other public servants who are dealing with issues like bank lodgments and audit queries, which regularly crop up as issues of concern in the public service. There is an issue around governance and who is exposed to what risk on both sides of the employment relationship.

One of the other effects is that people do resent having to commence work on new projects, such as the post-primary online database, P-POD, and the junior cycle profile of achievement in certain schools, alongside teaching colleagues. This is a new development. They are not public servants themselves and they are administering a lot of this and participating in working groups in Marlborough Street with the Department on this issue, as is Maria Dunne, who is here today and who is chair of our school secretaries branch. They are good enough to do all of that, yet they are not good enough to get holiday pay or be considered as a public servant. It causes something of an atmosphere but the main thing is it causes embarrassment to school secretaries. When waving goodbye at the end of summer term to colleagues, invariably, the school secretary is not going on holiday but is going down to the employment office to sign on.

The other point is that this is hidden. Parents are not aware that the person who rings them up to say their child has a cold, or has fallen down and needs to be collected - the face of the school to many parents - is not a public servant and does not have the same status as everyone else who works in the school, although it is a problem for caretakers as well.

We could spend a lot of time talking about conditions of service for SNAs. On the NCSE review, we would not criticise the Department for lack of engagement with Fórsa or SNAs as a staff group because the Cabinet decision on implementing some of those recommendations was only made last week, and it is only when the Cabinet decision has been made that we have been told engagement can start.

We would criticise the NCSE very strongly for conducting the biggest review of the role of the SNA since the scheme was introduced without talking to any SNAs themselves. They have not been involved in any of the consideration around the 14 recommendations. The issue of the 72 hours is worse in terms of secondary school SNAs having to be onsite in June, when there is no teaching and no work for them, which is a separate problem. Some of the other issues around the 72 hours could perhaps be addressed through a new role for SNAs, which is what the NCSE review suggests in terms of a focus on inclusion and a national training programme. If there are problems around the 72 hours not being used properly, there is a national training programme whereby the training can be offset against the 72 hours. We are of a view that we need to have a look at that again in the context of the "what happens next" piece around the NCSE review.

The chairman referred to recruitment difficulties. The labour market is tightening and employers are finding it more difficult to recruit as the economy continues to improve. Notwithstanding what might happen over the water in a few weeks or, hopefully, a few months, that process is going to continue and schools will find it difficult to recruit unless they can offer things like year-round employment, some form of sick pay and some form of paid holidays.

Our estimate of an audit is that 98% or 99% of school secretaries are women. This would not necessarily be happening if there was a large group of well-organised male employees. It certainly is a gendered issue. I would not go so far as to say it is unlawful discrimination but it is very unfair treatment of a group of women workers.

It is a good point.

Dr. David Duffy

I am grateful for the comments from the Chairman and members about the vital role caretakers, secretaries and cleaners play in a school. The standard line is that if anyone wants to know what is happening in a school beyond the principal and the deputy principal, the people who know everything that happens are the caretaker, the secretary and the cleaner. As Senator Gallagher rightly said, they are a vital part of the team and a vital role is played by all of the non-teaching staff in a school.

While the slight alleviation we had in recent days is welcome and a step in the right direction, it is only a small step and it only affects some schools. If there was an office building or factory with 1,000 staff in the building every day, I strongly suspect it would not be relying on one cleaner, one caretaker and one secretary, but that is exactly what schools of 1,000 were relying on until a few days ago. An employer with 1,000 staff in an office building or factory would not allow that to happen.

It is extremely important that we carry out an audit, in particular so we have the data. I welcome the data my colleague has given for 2009, which at least gives us some baseline. We need to factor in that the rise in student numbers in the post-primary sector in particular in the past eight years, and the expected rise over the next six years, is truly enormous. We are talking about 100,000 additional students.

As well as carrying out the audit, we need to be looking beyond restoration to where we were before because student numbers will be up by 100,000 in a few years. We need to be looking for an increase. In reference to the 2009 audit, which was referred to by my colleague from the Department of Education and Skills, I think Ms Carton was referring to 4,000 whole-time equivalent staff. That is welcome but we need to put it in the context of 4,000 schools. If I am picking it up correctly, and I hope my colleague from the Department will tell me if I am not, we are talking about the equivalent of one person per school between caretaking, cleaning and secretarial staff. That is for the time prior to the recession. My fear is that it is significantly less now.

Mr. Paul Fiorentini

I endorse what Mr. Duffy has said. The reality is that schools do not have a big role to play in determining the terms and conditions immediately. Schools can only pay what they have in their budget. We must remember that it is not just a reduction in caretakers or clerical officers. Since 2009, we have had an 11% annual cut in the overall budget. To maintain any kind of services, schools have often had to be inventive and may have arrived at ad hoc employment contract situations that are not really what schools want and are certainly not designed to create the situations Mr. Pike has described. To survive in the past half dozen years, many schools have found themselves taking money out of their overall budget, which they would have spent in other areas, and diverting it in fractions to allow for the provision of ten or 15 hours of a caretaker or cleaner, simply because they were restricted to having one caretaker and one clerical officer. There is a bigger issue at stake here as well. We would all like to arrive at a situation where schools are properly resourced in respect of financing and personnel. The two cannot be separated.

Ms Nessa White

In learning from my previous attendance here, in our presentation today we looked at a point that I would not like to be missed, namely, to reinforce the requirement for determining what is reasonable in a school irrespective of size. We tend to look at what was in place pre-moratorium, but maybe that did not suffice anyway. We should not lose sight of engaging with the Department to determine the right thing based on size but also based on infrastructure, how old the building is, and the presence of prefabs. I would like that point to be taken into consideration in the committee's recommendation.

We will go back to the members. I call Deputy Naughton.

I thank the witnesses for their invaluable contributions. We all acknowledge the significant role of non-teaching staff in schools. I and many of my colleagues have attended public meetings in our constituencies. We are here with the best of interests in progressing this. I welcome the fact that Fórsa will be engaging with the Department in the near future on this. We will continue to support Fórsa in that.

I have a question for the Department officials. I welcome the Minister's announcement that he is relaxing the moratorium to employ additional school secretaries for schools with 700 or more pupils. In respect of the pay structure, are the newly recruited staff to be paid by the Department directly? Is that going to be the new system? In respect of the secretaries, we all acknowledge that it is a gender issue. I do not know what Mr. Pike's views are. As has been alluded to, be it the caretaker or the secretary, there is one in every school so it is harder for them to mobilise throughout the country. It is easier for a staffroom of teachers to mobilise and they have their INTO representative, for example, on the staff. For secretaries who are often working in silos with one in each school, it is harder to engage with the trade union and mobilise. That might be an issue but I know it is something Fórsa can also raise in its engagement with the Department. They were my main questions. For Ms Carton, maybe I did not explain myself. In respect of the community and comprehensive schools, the education and training board, ETB, schools, and the moratorium, my question was how those new posts work in respect of their pay.

On secretaries and the workload, they are a key part, as was said. I know some of them were on very low salaries. Is there a recommendation that their salaries be increased under the announcement that was made recently? It would be nice to see that they were being paid sufficiently, certainly for the job they are doing. They carry an awful lot of the burden of the school. I think Fórsa said it was hoping to have a meeting with the Department. Is that meeting going to go ahead?

I apologise for having to leave earlier. I welcome the witnesses and thank them for their presentations. It was not possible for Maria Dunne, who is chair of the school secretaries branch, to address us because of the way in which arrangements were made. I understand that. I do not know if anyone else has brought it up. I would ask that if Ms Dunne wants to send something in to the committee, it could be considered. We all very strongly support the case of the secretaries and caretakers who are paid from the ancillary grant. It is a totally unequal system. Those who are paid directly get all their holiday pay and so on. That case has been very strongly made and I wish to endorse and support it.

On trying to make progress, the current agreement expires at the end of this year and it is very welcome that Ms Carton has clarified that the Department will meet Fórsa to discuss the issues. It surely is an opportunity to set up a system whereby those who are doing the fantastic job that they do in schools will not have to sign on, as Mr. Pike was describing, when they get their school holidays and will not have to worry about a pension and so on. I do not know whether Ms Carton can answer my question but to what extent is the Department going to engage on that very important element of what has been requested? I have a further question for Ms Carton. The estimate in 2015 was that the cost would be €5 million. I presume it is more than that now. Has the Department done any costing in respect of bringing those secretaries and caretakers into the system?

In terms of Fórsa's ask to us, Mr. Pike has spelled it out to some extent, but is there anything he wanted to add? I do not have any specific questions for Ms Lynch, Mr. Fiorentini or Ms White. In his presentation, Mr. Duffy was talking about carrying out an audit and referred to the fact that there would be an extra 100,000 students coming into the post-primary system. Obviously there is going to be demand for more staff. I think the priority is to ensure that the staff who are there are getting their proper pay and conditions, while certainly also needing to ensure that we have adequate staffing for the future. What kind of audit did Mr. Duffy have in mind? What should we be recommending in that regard?

There are some specific questions there for Ms Carton, Mr. Pike and Mr. Duffy. I would also like to ask Ms Carton if the Department has any responsibility or oversight in respect of staff who are in the schools but whom it does not pay directly. If not, who has that responsibility or oversight? Does it rest purely with the boards of management? I will ask Ms Carton to respond to those specific questions, and we will then go on to Mr. Pike and Mr. Duffy. There is no need for anyone else to comment unless they feel they need to do so. We will accept any further submissions from any of the organisations or groups.

Ms Tara Carton

I think the first question was about the recent announcement by the Minister of the additional posts in C and C and ETB schools and how those staff would be paid. These are not the type of grant-funded posts we have been discussing. These posts in the C and C schools are paid for by the Department and ETB covers the pay in the posts in its schools. Effectively, there is no change in pay arrangements; it is simply additional support. Senator Byrne asked a similar question. There is no salary increase involved. It is simply additional posts.

In terms of the meeting with Fórsa, we have agreed to meet to begin those discussions that it has sought. A date has not been arranged at this point but we will do so shortly. Deputy O'Sullivan asked about those talks and their potential outcome. We are about to embark on those so I cannot comment on where they may go but we will engage with Fórsa on its demands or asks.

The costs are based on the survey done in 2009. Our current estimate of the cost of extending public service salary scales to the grant-funded staff that we have been talking about is €7 million per annum. If they were given public service pension scheme membership that is an additional cost we estimate at €36 million per year. That is on top of the cost of the arbitration that was already agreed. The cost of that was €22.5 million but that is already in the system.

On additional resources or staffing, that is a matter for the Government. It is not something I can comment on today.

Regarding the oversight of staff who are not paid by the Department but paid directly by the school, with the board of management as the employer the Department does not have any role in setting terms and conditions or general pay in terms of those staff. Those are matters for the board.

Mr. Andy Pike

Deputy Naughton's observation that school secretaries and caretakers being hard to mobilise is entirely right. Were this happening in a local authority, placards would be dusted off. There would be a direct response. The word "ballot" would be mentioned and several other words familiar to those involved in the industrial relations world. However, where we have a situation involving a part-time secretary in a school and it is the school's issue alone in terms of the conditions of service under which he or she is employed, Fórsa has decided to look under every other stone before we look at the more traditional ways in which workers express dissatisfaction. Hence, the start of the campaign and the local meetings. We will look for any option we can find to try to get an agreement over the line that is satisfactory to members. However, where we dealt with even bigger groups in education such as clerical, administrative and professional staff in institutes of technology recently, industrial action took place to achieve an agreement. It was done quickly and it produced a result. We are not convinced that at this point in time the same approach would be appropriate for school secretaries and caretakers so we will continue with the campaign as is but it is true that it is more difficult to mobilise a campaign effectively where the members are spread out in small numbers across the country rather than being concentrated in one place.

On Senator Byrne's query about the new announcement of additional recruitment, we were pleased. To confirm our view, all those staff would be on ETB conditions of service so this problem would not arise. That is great but again it reinforces the current two-tier system. I have no doubt we will meet the Department of Education and Skills on this and the State industrial relations machinery is available to assist if needs be.

Deputy O'Sullivan asked what is being asked of the committee. We are not asking the committee to delve too much into the particular pay scale or the costings but we ask the committee to consider endorsing public service status for non-teaching staff and to say that is an objective worth striving for and achieving as it would benefit the entire school community.

On the costings Ms Carton set out, certainly in terms of pension costings - I will not say anything this side of an actuarial report which I do not have - there are many issues to be negotiated between the parties related to moving from non-public service status to public service status. At this stage, what Fórsa is looking for and what our members want is as many endorsements of the principle that they should be public servants as we can obtain.

I will make a final comment on the Chairman's question on oversight of board of management staff. Many staff employed by boards of management schools are subject to professional frameworks, policies and procedures but for school secretaries and caretakers it is very ad hoc; they do not work within the same framework. That is particularly worrying when considering audit and financial management issues. Even in terms of dealing with complex procedures such as complaints of various descriptions and flavours, some of that work is statutory but all of it is quite complex. School secretaries are employed by boards of management on local conditions. I worry that they are a little vulnerable. If one is a public servant, one knows where one stands. One has obligations but one knows one will be treated fairly.

Mr. David Duffy

I want to return to Deputy O'Sullivan's question for which I thank her. In terms of what we would expect and hope from an order, we would be looking for two things. One relates to the number of whole-time equivalents across the system of caretaking, cleaning and secretarial staff. It would be no harm to look at that also in terms of whole-time equivalent staffing in support agencies such as child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS, Tusla and so on. There has been a good deal of research on staffing shortages in that area and despite the best efforts of the staff in those organisations, they are struggling with caseloads they cannot manage. That has a knock-on effect on schools.

In other circumstances, it probably would be a simple enough task to pull staff data off a payroll system. In fairness to my colleagues in the Department of Education and Skills, in this case that simply would not be possible for them because of the diverse ways in which non-teaching staff are employed. As Ms Carton rightly mentioned, because not all of them are paid by the Department, that is not be an option. The easiest way to do it is probably by way of a survey akin to what my departmental colleagues did in 2009. The TUI would be more than happy to support our departmental colleagues in any way we can in terms of asking people to get that data back as soon as possible. In any context a survey will be part of the response but we will be happy to do anything we can to make sure the response is as extensive as possible.

As the Deputy and others rightly mentioned, we also need to factor in the increase in student numbers. In the timeframe I outlined we will have an increase in pupil numbers at post-primary level of approximately one third. We are just over half way through that increase now. We had approximately 60,000 extra students in the post-primary system in the past seven years. Over the next six years we are looking at approximately another 40,000. It is a case of doing the survey of whole-time equivalents as to where we are now. We have good baseline data from ten years ago so it is a case of comparing the two but also factoring in that we are now looking at a significantly larger number of students to take into account.

As I mentioned earlier in regard to Senator Gallagher's question, we are not looking just for restoration of the numbers to where we were, and my ETBI colleague also made reference to that. We will look for more in terms of where we were then and where we will be in a few years. A survey is probably the easiest way to gather the data in this particular context because not all the staff we are talking about are directly employed by the Department.

Many of those issues also need to be considered by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; it will go beyond the Department of Education and Skills.

Ms Breda Lynch

The ASTI would strongly support what Mr. Duffy has suggested.

Yes. It is a good idea.

Ms Breda Lynch

We have many of these people in voluntary secondary schools and while conditions and numbers might have improved in the other sectors, an increasing number of our secretaries are in this position. We fully support the idea of an audit and the work of Fórsa in trying to bring about public service status for these people who are providing an important public service.

I thank Ms Lynch for that.

Ms Moira Leydon, from the ASTI; Mr. Seamus Lahart, the TUI president; Ms Debbie Howlett, from the ETBI; Ms Maria Dunne, the chair of Fórsa's school secretaries branch; Ms Caoimhe Allman, from the Department of Education and Skills; and Mr. John Irwin, the general secretary of the ACCS are in the Public Gallery.

I would like to thank our witnesses for their very valuable contributions, for their time and for coming here to talk about a very pertinent issue which impacts on all schools. We really appreciate them giving up their time to engage with us. We will have the opportunity to reflect on what was said and to write a report. I thank the witnesses also for the practical recommendations they made, which we will take on board. If they want to send us on anything further, they should please do so as we would certainly appreciate it.

Members should not forget that our home school liaison report will be launched at 10 a.m. on Thursday. I thank everyone.

The joint committee adjourned at 5.50 p.m. until 3.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 21 May 2019.