I thank the Senator for raising this matter, to which I am responding on behalf of the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn. I wish to outline to Members the allocation process for primary schools, including the reforms to the teacher allocation process that are being made and that will take effect from September 2012, and in so doing I will address some of the Senator's concerns.
The relevant appointment and retention figures for mainstream staffing for the forthcoming school year have been published on the Department's website. However, the staffing arrangements in schools for the 2012-13 school year, including the one referred to by the Senator, can also be affected by changes in enrolment, the impact of other budgetary measures and reforms to the teacher allocation process. The reform of the teacher allocation process has been designed to bring about a more equitable distribution of existing posts between schools. Inevitably, some schools will lose posts, while others will gain them.
While the Government has tried to protect as best as possible front-line services, difficult choices had to be made to identify savings across all Departments in line with the requirements of the EU-IMF programme of support for Ireland. Achieving savings in education is particularly difficult, given the significant increases in the overall numbers of pupils in schools. Notwithstanding this, the Government has protected the 28:1 pupil-teacher ratio at primary level, prioritised targeted support for the most disadvantaged schools and maintained the overall numbers of resource teachers and special needs assistants, SNAs, to support children with special needs.
The new arrangements incorporate a long overdue updating of the general allocation model, GAM, learning support allocation for all schools. Inevitably, this involves changes to existing clustering arrangements, whereby a teacher is shared between schools. A further change is that schools in any locality are empowered to cluster and arrange their GAM resources in a manner that best suits local needs. This should be completed by schools by 16 March.
There are new and separate arrangements for how resource hours for individual pupils are converted into teaching posts in schools. The requirement for resource hours in a school varies from year to year, depending on the number, if any, of its pupils with autism, etc. Small schools generally have a lower requirement for resource hours. The new arrangements take account of the later timescale for the allocation of these hours necessitated by individual assessment by the National Council for Special Education. All the changes have been designed to enable a more efficient operation of the teacher allocation and redeployment process in the new climate of a fixed ceiling of teacher numbers.
Budget 2012 provided for the phased withdrawal of approximately 428 posts allocated to some schools under disadvantage programmes prior to the introduction of the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools, DEIS, initiative in 2005. As announced, the withdrawal of 192 posts from primary schools outside DEIS band 1 and 2 and DEIS second level schools will proceed, including the 38 posts from 15 non-DEIS schools which include the four posts in the school in question. Three posts will also be withdrawn as a consequence of a combination of falling enrolments and reforms to the teacher allocation processes. The school has the option to cluster 15 GAM-English hours as additional language hours with a neighbouring school to retain a further post.
The staffing schedule also includes an appeals mechanism for schools to submit an appeal under certain criteria to an independent appeal board. Details of the criteria for appeals are contained in primary Circular 0007/2012. The existing staffing appeals criteria have been extended to enable limited phasing arrangements for schools where the combination of budget and reform measures impacts in a particularly adverse manner on a school's overall allocation. Schools such as the one in question that are due to lose three or more posts as a result of a combination of budget and reform measures will be able to apply to the staffing appeal board with a view to having a portion of the loss of posts deferred to the 2013-14 school year. This may assist the school in question. The closing date for submission of appeals for the April meeting of the staffing appeal board is 23 March. The board operates independently of the Department and its decision is final. It is intended that the board meeting will take place on Wednesday, 18 April, which will be prior to the release of the main redeployment panel and allow for any impact of the board's decision on redeployment panels to be taken into account. However, it is important to note that all schools that have surplus teachers for redeployment are required to return the completed redeployment forms to the Department on or before Friday, 16 March.
I acknowledge the Senator's concerns and see the issue in the light in which he presented it. The Department will be working with schools and the relevant education partners to ensure the new arrangements operate as efficiently as possible.