Vote 26 - Education and Skills (Revised)

Ba mhaith liom a chur in iúl do na baill, do na hoifigigh agus dóibh siúd atá sa Ghailearaí gur chóir dóibh cinntiú go bhfuil a ngutháin soghluaiste múchtha ar feadh an chruinnithe seo mar chuireann siad isteach ar an bhfearas craolacháin, fiú nuair atá siad ar an modh ciúin. This meeting has been convened to consider the Revised Estimate for Vote 26 for the Department of Education and Skills which was referred to the select committee by Dáil Éireann in pursuance of its constitutional function to consider the Estimates. I thank the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, and his officials for coming. I also thank the Department for the briefing document it provided. As the Minister is present, the officials will speak to him privately but not in public session.

The committee has agreed to proceed programme by programme and that we will focus on one programme at any one time. The Minister will be invited to speak briefly on each one. I will then open the floor to members to ask questions. Most of the information will probably be elicited then.

Déanaim comhghairdeas leis an Chathaoirleach as ucht a cheapacháin sealadaigh úr inniu. Gabhaim buíochas leis fá choinne an chuiridh go dtí an choiste. Táim thar a bheith sásta a bheith anseo os comhair an choiste inniu chun labhairt faoi Mhéastacháin Athbhreithnithe mo Roinne do 2019. Mar is eol do bhaill an choiste, tá obair tábhachtach á déanamh ag mo Roinn san earnáil oideachais agus scileanna. Mar sin, tá sé thar a bheith tábhachtach go mbeidh an Rialtas ag cur airgid ar fáil don earnáil sa bhliain atá romhainn.

The gross voted allocation for the Department of Education and Skills in 2019 is €10.3 billion. It breaks down to approximately €9.3 billion in current expenditure and €941 million in capital expenditure.

The non-voted national training fund has an allocation of €486 million, resulting in a total gross allocation for the Department of Education and Skills of nearly €10.8 billion. This represents a substantial increase of nearly €680 million, which is more than 6.7% above my Department's allocation for 2018. The Department's Vote comprises three programmes: early years, primary, and post-primary; skills development; and higher education. In previous years there was a separate capital services programme, but capital subheads have now been incorporated into the other three programmes.

The additional allocation in 2019 will deliver a range of measures in the education and training system. It will support an additional 1,300 posts in schools including approximately 950 special needs assistant, SNA, posts and approximately 370 net additional teacher posts, catering for demographics and additional special classes. Schools will receive a 5% increase in capitation with an increase of €10 million in school funding over the 2019-20 school year. This is the first increase in the standard rate of capitation since the period of reduction in capitation rates that took place from 2011 to 2015. We will be investing in improving outcomes for children with additional care needs, with €4.75 million allocated to commence the implementation of the comprehensive SNA review. School leadership will be supported with additional release days for teaching principals and the allocation of administrative deputy principal posts in special schools. The Department's capital budget will be at its highest ever level, at €941 million, in 2019. This is an increase of more than 26% on last year. More than €670 million will be invested in schools, including investment in ICT, and more than €150 million will be invested in the tertiary education and training system. The Department's allocation includes a package of nearly €99 million in measures in the tertiary education system. This includes nearly €70 million in funding arising from an increase in the national training fund levy.

It may be more useful if we proceeded programme by programme.

We will stick to programme A, which relates to primary, secondary and early years education. I do not know whether anyone has indicated but we are going to take questions from myself, then from Deputy Funchion, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, Deputy Catherine Martin, and then finally the Fine Gael representatives, because the Minister is a member of that party. I will go by order of party size, with Fine Gael last because it is in government, if that is okay.

That is very pointed, but it is okay.

I believe that is the way in which these things have traditionally been done.

It is the first time we have done it that way.

In fairness, it is, but it does not matter. It is fine.

In fairness, it is the first time we have ever done it that way.

I am glad that was said in public session, but it is fine.

It is in order of party size. As far as I could see nobody had indicated anyway.

I was waiting for the Minister to finish.

I have already made my proposal. If the committee is okay with it, that is how we will proceed.

I have not agreed with it. The Acting Chairman is completely changing the way in which the Select Committee on Education and Skills is run.

One does not come in, take over, and make new rules and regulations as one goes along.

If somebody had indicated I might have had another option, but no one indicated.

No one indicated out of courtesy to the Minister. The first thing the Acting Chairman asked was for the Minister to make a statement on programmes A, B, C or whatever else. Out of courtesy to the Minister, he is given the opportunity to speak first.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta McLoughlin. I will ask my questions now. There is no time limit on this. People will be able to come back as often as they want to ask whatever questions they want to.

What rota will be followed?

I propose to proceed as set out, that is, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, Labour, the Green Party, and then the two Government representatives.

When was this agreed?

Okay, I will look for proposals for an alternative order then.

I propose we proceed in the way we have always done.

Has anybody indicated? If Sinn Féin is proposing that other parties get in ahead of it, that is Sinn Féin's business.

With all due respect, I assume the Acting Chairman is Acting Chairman for this meeting only. The system in this committee has always been that those who indicate first come in first.

The Acting Chairman should also have the decency to hear members out when they are indicating. He may not agree with their points, but as Acting Chairman he is supposed to be impartial.

It is fine. If Deputy Funchion is happy for the Government to go ahead of her, that is fine.

I propose that we elect an official Vice Chairman for this committee.

I agree with Deputy Funchion. The Acting Chairman is taking the Chair and changing the rules.

The Deputy was not here when I was chosen. She could have asked that somebody else chaired the meeting. My colleague is sick.

I do not object to Deputy Byrne having the Chair, but rather to how he is conducting the meeting. That is all.

Things have worked out to the Deputy's advantage. That is absolutely fine. I have no difficulty with it. It makes no odds to me.

This was the traditional way things proceeded when a Minister was attending a committee.

We have never done it like that in this committee.

Okay. The job is done. I have two indicating.

That never applied before. The Acting Chairman should not be bringing in new rules or regulations just because he is in the Chair.

I congratulate Deputy O'Loughlin; he is second. It is over. The matter is dealt with. I will begin my questions. The growth in the number of school places seems to be slowing somewhat, despite what appears to be a substantial increase in the capital budget for schools in 2019. Can the Minister explain this? Can he tell us the position regarding construction inflation? Is it a big factor in his budget? It is part of the reason for the increase in the capital budget?

Could the Acting Chairman repeat that?

Is the growth in construction costs affecting the Minister's capital budget? Is it part of the reason that there was a large capital budget this year given the fact that the growth in the number of additional primary and post-primary school places being provided is slowing, as is spending per student on enhancement and replacement of post-primary school facilities? Are there other reasons for it? Is there a focus on projects that are necessary but more expensive? Does it relate to site costs in urban areas? What are the reasons for the higher capital budget when the outturns do not seem to be appreciating at the same rate? Could any efficiencies be identified in projects earmarked for delivery in 2019? Will the Minister tell us how many students will be moved from prefabs to permanent accommodation in 2019 as a result of the capital budget?

The Minister's capital budget provides for extra funding for school laboratories and physical education, PE, halls. Have those projects already been applied for? Are the schools aware of the projects that are being funded this year? Has planning permission been received for any or all of these projects? Are all of the science laboratories and PE halls provided for due for completion in 2019?

On current expenditure, we had an issue before with regard to the number of pensioners. The figures seem to be the exact same this year as for last year. Will the Minister explain that? What changes have happened in the calculation of these figures? We were promised that this would all change and that there would be better preparation and better work with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform but the figures seem to be exactly the same. What new system of predicting the number of pensioners could have resulted in effectively the same number of pensioners retiring this year as was predicted last year?

Will the Minister comment briefly on the payment of substitute teachers? I will then come back with other questions. We will proceed in groups of three. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan is next.

On programme A and with regard to one of the questions raised by the Acting Chairman, as physical education is to become more significant as a subject, has the Minister made a policy decision in respect of PE halls? A number of schools would argue strongly that they have difficulties in providing for the curriculum in the absence of physical facilities. I understood we were to mainly concentrate on current rather than capital expenditure but as the Acting Chairman has raised the issue, I would like to raise it as well.

We are proceeding programme by programme. Programme A relates to current and capital expenditure on primary, second level, and early years education.

Then my question with regard to whether there is a plan to roll out PE halls to schools around the country in to facilitate the subject of physical education stands. In respect of the figures we were given, I understandably took a look at those which went down rather than up for 2019. One of these is subhead A7, which relates to the salaries, wages and allowances of non-teaching staff in primary and post-primary schools.

There has been considerable concern about secretarial and caretaking staff, particularly those who are not paid directly by the Department. Will the Minister clarify if they are included in this statistic or if there is a separate allocation on account of the fact that they are paid directly by the school? They are in a much less advantageous position than others working in the same school.

There is a 2% reduction in the allocation for teacher education, which seems to be mostly continuing professional development, CPD, and related to the running of education centres. Will the Minister explain why there is a reduction? There is an increase of 15% under subhead A15 for primary and post-primary infrastructure. As it includes temporary school premises, can the Minister say if there is still widespread use of prefabs and whether there has been a significant increase or decrease in the length of time students have to spend in prefabs while waiting for the provision of more long-term school buildings? It is of concern to all of us that some children spend a large number of their school years in prefabs. There is a policy to reduce the length of time they spend in prefabs, but how successful have we been in achieving this? One needs prefabs when they are required for urgent use because the population in a given area is growing.

Will the Minister increase capitation grants for schools in the next budget? How many extra SNAs and teachers are in the education system as a result of budget 2019? I will ask a final question if I have time to do so.

I am putting no limit on the time available.

That is a relief.

Each year Bus Éireann administers the school transport service on behalf of the Department. I see that there is an increase this year. Will it be adequate? At times, I feel Bus Éireann is very hard to deal with when I raise complaints I have received about the service. I believe other members feel the same way.

The Acting Chairman asked about the growth in the number of school places and whether there was a correlation between land price inflation and what we were trying to do in the capital programme. Our focus is on the capital programme for the period 2016 to 2019 which is for planned school projects, extensions and other construction works. The Acting Chairman said there had been a reduction in the number of new school places throughout the country. He is obviously aware of the pressures in his constituency.

Our guesstimates are made on a mathematical basis, using geographical information systems and in consultation with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and the local authorities. We try to identify where the pressure points will be. My predecessor, Deputy Bruton, announced 42 new schools in places where we projected an increase in population. When I was in Gorey two weeks ago, I met a number of primary school principals who were very anxious about the availability of secondary school places, not this year or next year but in three to five years' time. There is an acute awareness of the pressure points in terms of where the next growth centres will be. That is why it is important we keep all of our projections, estimates and data under constant review.

There was a point made about different standards and specifications. In the past two or three years there has been increased emphasis on the environmental sustainability of buildings. We are putting a stronger focus on ensuring the design of buildings is in keeping with environmental considerations. Design teams now have to have such factors at the heart of their work.

On the use of prefabs, in 2018-19 there will be over 130 large-scale projects, or 38% of the 340 projects referred to, in addition to 280 smaller-scale projects and the additional accommodation scheme. They will deliver 40,000 school places and provide for the replacement of over 600 prefabs, a key element of the prefab replacement programme. I was asked how many students would be involved. I will be happy to obtain the data for the committee at a later stage.

Another question concerned school laboratories, physical education halls and home economics facilities upgrades. There is constant reconfiguration of internal parts of buildings, whether they are engineering rooms, art rooms or school laboratories. With specific reference to PE halls, we are looking to the next ten-year capital plan. We will introduce a pilot PE leaving certificate option in all schools by 2020 because there is weak infrastructure in PE hall provision throughout the country. We are looking to move forward in that regard.

There is no point putting in place comprehensive PE infrastructure at secondary level if it is not done hand-in-glove in primary schools. Throughout rural Ireland there are primary schools on the backs of hills that are not near community centres, parochial halls or parish centres. We really need to focus on the sports infrastructure we want to provide at primary school level because the statistics suggest half of all girls drop out of physical activity when they reach the age of 12 or 13 years. If we offer leaving certificate physical literacy or physical education classes when many of the target cohort have already dropped out, it will be a major challenge. A body of work needs to be done in that regard. Schools are being very creative and some have introduced sports in which we used to participate, including rounders and skipping, in addition to rugby, Gaelic football and soccer.

We need to keep a focus on the differences between physical education and physical activity.

In the Revised Estimates 48 PE halls and 200 laboratories are provided for this year.

What is the procedure for getting one of these PE halls replaced or refurbished? Are these already on lists? Are planning applications pending? Will they be built this year at all?

Every new major capital build will have a PE hall. Schools are already expressing interest that they want to have PE halls prioritised in the new ten-year capital plan. That is something-----

Do these 48 PE halls form part of the 130 major projects that will be completed this year?

Some PE halls because of their state of repair will need roof replacement and some will need upgrade. It is not all new buildings; many schools within the 2016-21 capital programme will get extensions or additional accommodation and part of that solution will also be PE halls.

There are 48 this year and many schools throughout the country do not have PE halls, including one in Deputy Catherine Martin's constituency. Can that school now apply to the Department for a PE hall to be one of the 48?

Yes. The schools are already applying to get on the list for the next capital plan. One of the-----

I have to stop you there. We are dealing with the Revised Estimates for 2019. I am more than happy to have a discussion about the capital plan for the next ten years, but we are talking about this year's Estimates.

A school not covered by the 2016-21 capital plan will need to look to the next capital plan if it wants a PE hall in its school. I am conscious that there are schools throughout the country that want a solution before 2021, 2022 or 2023. We need to work collectively on prioritisation of that.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked about secretarial and caretaking staff. Many of those are paid for out of ancillary funds. I am conscious that a campaign has started and the Deputy has advocated on behalf of them already. I have met Fórsa representatives. They are already engaging with the school secretaries. Not all secretaries fall into this complement. We have 1978-79 solutions for some school secretaries. When I go to primary schools and meet the secretaries, I find that they are very modest in highlighting the role they play. However, they play an integral part of the school. I met a school secretary in Drumshanbo in Leitrim yesterday. The principal outlined all the work she does. I am conscious that a body of work needs to be done there. My officials are on hand to meet Fórsa representatives. I have already said that on the public record when it was raised in the Dáil recently. A conversation needs to start and communication is key to finding a solution in this regard.

Even increasing the ancillary grants in the meantime while a more extensive solution is-----

That will be in the context of the budget. I am conscious that the day-to-day running of schools, including things such as oil, is a big issue. The 5% increase in capitation was a start in the right direction. I am conscious that it certainly is not far enough.

Improvements to the caretakers and secretaries grant were made in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 to enable schools to implement the arbitration salary increase for grant-funded school secretaries and caretakers, to pay increases for cleaners and to implement the restoration of salary for cleaners arising from the unwinding of the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, legislation. While there have been increases, I am conscious of the issue of the stability and certainty around the role of caretaking staff and some secretarial staff.

The Deputy also made reference to replacement of prefabs. I have been to many primary schools where some fifth and sixth class pupils have spent all their primary school education in prefabs. Some of them are not in great shape but the schools are waiting for the new build or new extension to come along.

While much patience has been shown, sometimes that patience reaches a limit when it comes to trying to get the education environment in a good place. We need to keep a strong focus on adapting the building suitability for autistic students and those with special needs, as is happening in some of the newer primary and secondary schools.

Deputy McLoughlin spoke about the capitation increase from last year and asked about next year's budget. I am conscious that it was reduced by 11% in 2011, which was a big hit for schools. While we have come back up by 5%, I acknowledge a body of work remains to be done there. I discuss this with my officials weekly. I re-emphasise - I know it is also coming from this committee - the importance of capitation. We will look at that in the context of the next budget.

We will have an additional 950 SNAs this year, which will bring the cohort of SNAs up to about 16,000. We have increased teaching staff by 372 this year. That is part of an overall increase to the effectiveness of schools. Yesterday in Scoil Naomh Pádraig in Drumshanbo, the principal pointed out that the SNAs there keep the school moving. That is how intrinsically linked they are to the school. They do not work in silos and are very much part of that. I am anxious to push ahead with the SNA recommendation. We will look at a pilot in that area and I want to see more integration between the HSE and the Department of Education and Skills. We will make that happen. We will do a pilot in September. We will look at key issues that were raised in this committee in my first week in the job about dealing with cases where a clinical nurse, a speech and language professional or an occupational therapist is needed. We need to work in a more collective way on that. That pilot will be the signalling post for how we develop in the future.

The Deputy also asked about school transport. Anyone living in a rural constituency will know the phones start ringing in the last week in August. There are issues. In defence of Bus Éireann, it has a mammoth task every year. The numbers change every year with new people coming in and other people leaving. Bus Éireann obviously works within the rules and guidelines of the policy it is given. I am working with the officials on the school transport area. The Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, has been very proactive in this area in applying more common sense in the area. I know Deputy Funchion has raised this issue in respect of her constituency. Sometimes local people can come up with a common-sense solution, but sometimes if the wall of policy comes up against them it can lead to unbelievable frustration. I am very conscious we need to try to protect the integrity of certain parishes as best we can and the integrity of traditional school choice. Sometimes the closest school might not be the traditional school of choice for many people. When this change came in in 2012, it got rid of the closed school amalgamation rule. It caused considerable upset in communities and I am working very closely with my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, on the matter.

Unfortunately I have to put this on the record. I know some members took umbrage at the speaking rota I put forward. That rota is as set out in the chairing guidelines. I accept that members were not happy with that, but that was my only motivation and it is how things were done previously. It is set out that party spokespersons would be called first. That is the only reason I did it. I was a bit taken aback at the reaction. It is no skin off my nose whatsoever.

Deputy Funchion indicated next.

As I was going to ask about school transport, I am glad the Minister covered that one. I welcome that he is working with the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, on potential changes. Change to the nearer school criterion might alleviate some of the stress for parents, students and those in Bus Éireann who deal with the queries. That is a welcome step.

I hope progress will be made because it is a big issue, one we continue to come across.

I wish to ask about special needs assistants. We can see that they have been increasing in number. The number provided is an estimated 15,950. Does this figure come from the National Council for Special Education? I am not querying it, but we still come across an awful lot of cases in which children, for whatever reason, may have to switch schools during school term, for example, at this time of year. It could perhaps be down to there being some blockage in the system or a lack of common sense when it comes to dealing with these issues. The children are told that if they switch school, they will not be able to have a special needs assistant until September. Does the Minister have any information on this matter? There are also cases in which the provision of a special needs assistant is recommended in the various reports people receive from psychologists, but the SENO overrules that recommendation. Sometimes I wonder about the power SENOs have in making these decisions. A number of professionals in the medical world might say a child would benefit from having access to a special needs assistant, but then the SENOs will say "No". They never seem to have to give any detailed reason to a parent for the refusal, which can be quite difficult. In our area there are two SENOs; therefore, there is not much wiggle room to speak to anyone else about the issue, but it still comes up. Even though we have heard - it is a welcome development - special needs assistants are increasing in number, it seems there are still issues in certain areas. Can this matter be raised with the National Council for Special Education? It might not even have to do with the number of special needs assistants available; it could have to do with a breakdown in the system. I wanted to take the opportunity to ask about this issue. That is my main question.

I thank the Minister for his opening statement. Regarding DEIS schools, The Irish Times has an initiative No Child 2020. It looks at child welfare, educational disadvantage, children in schools and class divides. Will the Minister elaborate on the funding for DEIS schools and the criteria used in determining which schools are to become DEIS schools? I know that a number of schools across the country are applying for such status and obviously believe they are eligible, but there are some blockages. I am asking about the funding and extra resources provided for these schools which are attended by many disadvantaged children.

We might discuss this issue in private session, but I raised my hand at the exact same time as Deputy Jan O'Sullivan and as high as she did-----

I am going on the advice I have available. I apologise. I did not see the Deputy raise her hand.

I assumed the Acting Chairman would see me doing so.

I have a list which was written by the clerk and I am taking his advice. I apologise to the Deputy.

I will leave the matter of the way the meeting is being run and others until we go into private session, but I request that we be given time to discuss them.

I thank the Minister for his statement. As we are dealing with the programme that covers salaries, I will call out the elephant in the room - pay inequality. I am aware of the ruling of the European Court of Justice in recent weeks. I would say the Government was pleased with it. On the issue of age discrimination, it indicated that it was based more on the date of entry into a position, but that is a technicality when we all know that the vast majority of new entrants are young people. It is young teachers who are continually being sold out. The arrangement worked out by the Government in September which will take effect soon does not address the fundamental underlying issue, that is, the concept of equal pay for equal work. Unlike his predecessor, I ask the Minister to recognise that principle. Yesterday I read with interest the news of the job-sharing scheme for teachers. Perhaps it is a necessary move, but it fundamentally misses the point as to why over 90% of schools are struggling to recruit teachers. The reason is pay discrimination. One cannot have partial equality, which is what seems to be envisioned by the Government's approach. One cannot have a situation where everyone is equal but some are more equal than others. That is how young teachers feel. Therefore, I really urge the Minister to commit to recognising the principle of equal pay for equal work. Recruitment and retention are issues because of the cost facing graduates of pursuing a two-year professional master's in education degree.

They are also a problem because of the working conditions, the initiative overload, with document after document and change after change coming in, the quality of resources, the facilities in the schools, the need for a supplementary panel and, needless to say, the class sizes.

Another point is the superannuation section under this heading. In recent years we have approved substantial Supplementary Estimates every year to deal with unexpected expenditure and every year we bring this up. Has the Minister managed to sort out this anomaly? I would be grateful if he would provide an update on plans to develop a sustainable superannuation forecasting and funding model and a timeline for its completion.

Deputies Jan O'Sullivan and Thomas Byrne brought up the issue of PE halls. I know the Minister said he was conscious of the fact that there is weak infrastructure. I would like a little more light shed on this because since my election to the Dáil, I have asked for an audit of all schools so we can establish exactly how many schools do not have PE halls. However, every time I table this question there is a refusal to answer it. Yes, there is one in my constituency but there are others. I just do not understand how PE can be rolled out fairly and equally when there are students without PE halls, so I ask again for that audit.

I welcome the funding being allocated to well-being, following our own report on positive mental health in schools, including the funding for ten additional education psychologists. Does the Minister have plans to increase these numbers in the future?

Finally, while the Minister is here, I wish to bring up the recent call for geography to be restored as a core subject in the junior cycle curriculum. I welcome that he is reviewing the dropping of history. I really plead with him to review the decision to remove geography as a core subject too. We have students outside Leinster House every Friday. We have a movement for climate strike across the world led by Greta Thunberg on 15 March. Our students get it. Geography is crucial in educating our students on one of the most urgent issues facing humankind, and it is shocking that this Government would move to remove geography as a core subject. I ask the Minister to reconsider, as he did with history, the removal of geography and to please restore it as a core subject.

I thank the Deputies for their questions and observations. I will start with Deputy Funchion's queries. We covered transportation but I will give her a few figures. She asked about the amount of money involved yearly. The cost of the school transport scheme in 2018 amounted to €200 million. This is an increase from over €171 million in 2011. The main reason for this increase in cost is the provision of special educational needs transport, which now accounts for over 50% of the total cost of the scheme. I am quite conscious that many of our very vulnerable young people have to travel large distances to get to the appropriate school. This is very evident when I visit mainstream schools and special schools.

The number of children on special educational needs, SEN, transport has increased from 9,200 pupils in 2013 to more than 13,000 pupils in 2018. This is reflected in the increase in classes as well. The number of special classes has gone from 475 to about 1,500 this year. The cost of the provision of SEN transport has increased from just over €60 million in 2011 to €106 million in 2018. Lastly, for the purpose of the public record of the committee, the main cost of contractors providing SEN services rose from around €42 million in 2011 to €73 million in 2018. The cost of the provision of school bus escorts has gone from €15 million to €29 million in 2018.

That is not where the complication is. As the Deputy correctly identified, the complication relates to school transport and getting children to a traditional school of choice or a school that respects the integrity of their area. That is mainly a matter for primary level. The changes we are seeking to make relate to second level schools.

The Deputy referred to special needs assistants and complications there and used the term "blockage in the system". The people who come to my constituency office are waiting for a diagnosis report. I want to get away from that as do the members of the committee. We all want the same model whereby the school is profiled rather than to have one-to-one special needs assistance. One of the key recommendations of the SNA review was around the stigmatisation and alienation children in fourth, fifth and sixth class feel with one-to-one SNA provision. That is at one level. The Deputy was talking about the more complex area. I want to focus on the pilot project we will commence in September to see how we can take a more integrated approach to identify a young person's needs at preschool level rather than to require parents to go through the hardship and difficulty of dealing with matters at the first point of entry into primary school. A great deal of the knowledge, data and intelligence the system has at preschool should determine what happens at primary school. It is about reprofiling the schools whereby the school does not rely on demand-led, one-to-one assessment or diagnosis. We need to get away from that system.

I hope through our vigilance at political level, we can consider how to take a more joined-up approach, including to the training SNAs need. Even where children have complex medical needs, parents want their children to be in a mainstream setting. They want that choice and we should be able to afford it to them. However, it will require the training of SNAs. We do not have a higher training authority for SNAs currently but that will go hand in glove with the pilot project. It will ensure the experience SNAs have built up over the last two decades will be taken into account where they seek to retrain and equip themselves with the skills needed for more complex cases. They will be afforded the opportunity to do that. Many SNAs want certainty. Trying to find a job is difficult. I hear from my colleagues nationally that even though we have 16,000 SNAs, representing a 45% increase since 2011, that uncertainty continues to exist because the SNA follows the student instead of working under a whole-school model which provides greater long-term certainty. That is the place I want to get to. With the committee's help, there will be other areas in which we can work together.

Deputy Naughton raised the matter of DEIS schools. DEIS schools were selected on a geographical basis. As a result, geographical areas which did not fall into particular socioeconomic categories were completely left out. I have received a lot of representations from schools which are not in the DEIS programme. Whereas in the past DEIS status was somewhat of a stigma and schools were questioning whether or not to enter the scheme, we have the opposite situation now. Schools that have DEIS status want to maintain it and those without it want it because they see how it contributes to the development of the individual child. We have collected all the data and will be ready at the end of the first quarter of 2019 to carry out a demographic and socioeconomic analysis of the country with a view to putting in place a more gradual and targeted approach to DEIS. It will require a great deal of work to ensure we meet the needs of the most vulnerable in schools. It is a matter of different DEIS bands for some schools while other schools see value in home-school liaison. There is a meal programme and other extra resources to address class size, for example. All of these provide added advantages for a school. One of the things I will make an integral part of the three-year plan for the Department is bridging the gap between DEIS and non-DEIS schools. It is already happening to an extent, but there is more we can do to advance the process.

The other thing is to look at progression. We are very lucky in where we have got to in the space of ten years. For example, staff at Larkin Community College in Dublin city centre tell me they now have an 80% progression rate to diploma, apprenticeship and higher and third level education. It represents massive progress at that DEIS school. A lot of schools are aiming to replicate that achievement and I want to look at a more targeted approach to help them.

Deputy Catherine Martin referred to new entrant teachers and equal pay for equal work. I am on the public record as saying there is unfinished business in this regard. Obviously, we are working within the parameters of the public sector stability agreement. I am conscious of the fact one creates that vulnerability in a staff room setting where some people around the table for a cup of tea are getting less money than others to do the same job. It is a negative of which I am conscious. The unions are working on this and it is something I have discussed with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe. I am also conscious that the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, has been through this in the context of the recent nurses' strike. I want to create a pathway whereby we have done work prior to the end of 2020 to bring about this resolution. There were changes in 2011 to the grade at which primary and secondary school teachers came into the system. It is about acknowledgement of the higher diploma in education for secondary teachers and of the post-graduate certificate of education which primary school teachers hold. I want to continue to work within the framework of the public service stability agreement to see how we can move towards a place in the next round where this is eliminated.

Towards equality.

Can I clarify that the Minister means the next round of pay talks?

Yes, at the end of 2020. It may be that there are things that can be done within the existing framework. Obviously, I respect collective bargaining. It has got teachers to a position now where the starting salary for a teacher in 2020 will be almost €38,000. The salary of 2011 entrants will be upwards of €53,000 this year. However, I am conscious of the fact that they took a reduction. To acknowledge the higher diploma and primary teaching qualification will cost €43 million. These are the figures we are looking at and must work with within the existing mechanisms.

Deputy Martin referred to the job-sharing scheme yesterday. Education and training boards worked with that scheme in the 1970s and some secondary schools have engaged in job-sharing on an ad hoc basis more recently. It will not address the big issue of teacher supply, however.

I am under no illusion there. If there is a maths teacher in a base school on 12 hours and the whole school is looking for seven hours, common sense can be applied and joined-up thinking can be engaged in. Principals who spot that opportunity will go for it. Having spoken to them, I know it is about timetabling. If there are distances involved, the teacher has to be compensated for the time spent travelling and the interruption to his or her day. Where teacher approval is being granted by the Department, officials have to ensure the teacher does not have to travel during the day. It should be about going to one of the schools on one day and the other on another day. I re-emphasise, however, that it is not a solution to the teacher supply issue overall, albeit I encourage principals to work on it. I know they will. Deputy Martin also mentioned recruitment and retention which is a big issue.

Looking at the new courses, especially the masters courses we introduced this year in Mary Immaculate College, and at other courses at undergraduate level, it takes time to do that. As a strong advocate of returning to education, I am also conscious that it is very difficult for somebody who is in the circle of paying bills and mortgages to go back to it full-time. We increased the funding for student support this year as well. I am conscious of the retention issue. There are initiatives within the teacher supply consortium that is up and running, but I wish to examine ways of trying to address the issue that there are a number of teachers in the south east of England and in the United Arab Emirates. We must be practical in the conversations we have with them. It is not necessarily to encourage them because many teachers are waiting for the prospect of getting a job. It is the not knowing, certainty around that and when interviews are held. I am doing a piece of work with my officials on that.

The Deputy spoke about initiative overload. That is something I am hearing about from the staff room. A great deal of change is happening, much of it good. The schools I visit around the country are doing the well-being part very well. They are considering creative ways. They are doing the social inclusion part. Teaching is happening in a very holistic way in schools. Central to the way teaching is taking place today, from my observations, is the dignity and respect piece in the school setting, that is, the way teachers respect young people, young people respect teachers, respecting the whole school environment, having parents and the community front and centre and the integration of business not just within secondary schools but also within primary schools. We can learn a great deal from what is happening in schools for developing our policies. The well-being policy is working very well. It is trying to get students in touch with their issues and to be honest and upfront about the challenges they face.

The Deputy spoke about the audit of all schools. A piece of work was done a number of years ago on an audit of all school buildings. Secondary schools are probably in a better position than primary schools. It is a big piece of work. I emphasised that there is a weakness in this infrastructure and we must try to find a way of doing it. If we were to use the full €8.4 billion on building gymnasiums in all 4,000 primary and secondary schools, it would not be enough.

How many second level schools in Ireland do not have a PE hall?

I can get the Deputy that number.

I thank the Minister.

The Deputy referred to funding for well-being. She also welcomed the ten additional educational psychologists and asked if there would be more. I hope we will be in a position to roll out more support. If we are serious about developing the inclusion model we must examine more supports around that.

Finally, the Deputy referred to the history review.

I committed to carrying out the history review towards the end of last year on the basis that there was a big conversation about it. I was meeting people on the street who randomly approached me to talk about history. They were not just history teachers, history fanatics or people who would have studied history. There has been a big change in the way we look at history in the last four to five years. I believe 2016 contributed to that. There is a yearning to find out more about our past. That is the motivation I had for the history review. It will only be a history review. There have been recent representations on geography and there were representations on home economics a couple of months ago.

I want to give the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment the space and time to arrive at conclusions and recommendations in the history review. There are many short courses, such as philosophy and so forth. We are now considering Lithuanian on the junior certificate course as well, so there is a broad spectrum. However, I take the Deputy's point about the importance of the geographical challenges and the environmental area.

Does the Minister want to close the door on a review?

My predecessors were involved in the junior certificate curriculum changes. In fairness, it was a very difficult job, and I am not just saying that because Deputy Jan O'Sullivan is sitting in front of me. It met with a great deal of resistance and much of that was justifiable. Teachers were trying to figure out how they could be fair and how they could ensure they would be able to continue doing other important parts of education. It was a massive change at the time, but one of the things that emerged from it was more choice and a broader spectrum. To answer the Deputy's question, I do not have any plans at present to do any more reviewing of that. However, I want to see what comes from the history review.

The Minister is not shutting the door on it. I would appreciate if he would say that he is not shutting the door on it. It is very important for our students. The Minister spoke about the people he met on the street talking about history and 2016. In view of everything that has happened around the world, and apart from climate change, where we situate ourselves as a country and the context of everything that is happening around us, it is essential. The Minister will hear those conversations as well. If he hears them, is he open to a review?

No. I am open to helping the junior certificate embed itself. It has been a massive change. Many teachers are still grappling with the new syllabi and curriculum. Much of it is continuous assessment and there is a new dynamic. The last thing I want to do is create another sense of flux around it. That is why I was very careful to state that history was the one for review. That is all I planned. There is an ongoing campaign regarding geography, but where does the domino stop? I am shutting the door in terms of what I plan to do for the moment, but I will be interested to see what emerges from the review of the history curriculum. To be honest, I do not know what will emerge. The group knows what my wishes are, what Deputy Thomas Byrne's wishes are and the wishes of the members of the committee, but it is an independent group and I am giving it the latitude to come up with its own conclusion.

The Minister should listen to the conversations that are happening every Friday on Kildare Street outside Leinster House among our students. They have had the opportunity to study geography as a core subject and they are very well informed on what is happening around the world. I ask the Minister to listen to our students.

I have a responsibility to listen.

I have allowed wide latitude in the questions being asked, as I always take it myself. Does anybody wish to ask anything else? I suggest that we confine questions in this round to the Estimates. I am not imposing a time limit but we should confine it to the Estimates in the interest of time. It is an important function.

I have a couple of questions. I could ask more but I do not wish to take the time of other members who may wish to raise issues. In response to Deputy Catherine Martin on pay equality, you said there are things that can be done that you would support within the pay talks. Could you suggest some of the things that could be done in the pay talks in terms of pay equality?

No, I will not, out of respect for collective bargaining. There are processes. In the recent discussions involving the nurses my colleagues were anxious and adamant that whatever changes or proposals were made they would be made within the mechanism of collective bargaining. I respect that process and I would not make any suggestions.

My second point relates to school places and the capital spend. The briefing from the Department refers to 40,000 places replaced or provided. However, I am looking at page 102 of the Estimates document, the details of programme. I see in 2018 an output target for additional places at primary, additional places at post-primary, enhance or replace at primary and enhance or replace at post-primary. There are a total of 18,900 for 2018. That is my addition but the officials can double check it. That reduces in 2019 to a total of 18,850. There are 50 fewer school places according to this document.

At the same time, however, the money provided for school buildings and capital services at primary and second level increased by €82.4 million, from €539.6 million to €622 million. That is an increase of approximately 20% per place. Are my figures correct? Am I reading the document correctly? This means that for the extra €82.4 million secured from the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, there are 50 fewer places. I invite the Minister to answer if his officials have the relevant information to allow him to do so.

As stated earlier, there is price inflation and there is no question about this. Somebody who built a house ten years ago would not have got the same price they would get today. The focus and the priority of the Department are to ensure that we finish out the 2016 to 2021 capital plan. This is where our focus lies and we will do it in the most economical and efficient way possible. We are looking at different ways of doing this. Take, for example, the adapt system whereby we will try to ensure that we put project management teams on some of these projects to build new schools in order that we can complete them in a more efficient and timely manner. A good number of new capital builds are in train throughout the country. We have tried various ways. There are pros and cons to public private partnerships. It is about finding the most efficient and economical way of doing proceeding.

During my first couple of weeks in the job, the Acting Chairman raised in the Dáil the increase in land prices in Dublin. There are increased pressures when it comes to increases in commercial land. My priority is to follow through the commitments in the capital plan from 2016 to 2021, which is what we will fast track.

Is it the case that we are getting less growth in the context of school places for substantially more money?

I do not think so.

Am I right? I do not know whether the officials have the figures.

We have the summer works scheme, emergency accommodation and all of the works that can lead to additional accommodation, such as small extensions to classrooms. We obviously have price inflation and an increase in land prices so we will have increased pressure on prices. Will this have an effect on the output and delivery of additional places? Yes, it will.

Even with primary school numbers nationally decreasing, or beginning to do so, there will still be massive pressure in urban areas.

There will be massive pressure in urban areas on the secondary school system. The numbers that required the increase of extensions in classrooms in the primary school sector will move into the secondary sector. I am under no illusion that urban areas, which do not necessarily have to be on the east coast or in the Deputy's constituency-----

There are also Cork and Galway.

The population will grow in urban areas from Gorey to Cork to Galway and in large and expanding towns such as Portlaoise and Letterkenny.

Are any other members offering? I have other questions but I will ask them after other members.

My questions on the 2.3% reduction for teacher education was not answered. Is this because continuing professional development for junior cycle reform was wound up? What is the reason for the reduction?

One of my core objectives in the plan and the three-year strategy will be to have continuing professional development at the heart of it. We can do more with it. The 2% reduction is quite possibly down to the increase that had occurred during the junior cycle reform, as the Deputy pointed out. I cannot see how we have a reduction when we are committed to providing more professional training to teachers. We need to do more of this. We need to concentrate our focus.

It is specifically in the documentation under A12 on teacher education.

The information I have here states the 2% reduction is reflective of a 2018 underspend of €3 million versus a reduction in the 2019 allocation of €1 million. Therefore, it is an underspend and not a reduction.

The budget relating to schools is by far the largest. I have one very quick question and the Minister has touched on it. I find the capital programme and the figures on school places frightening. The Minister mentioned Gorey. My colleagues from the area have contacted me. I keep mentioning Ashbourne and I need an answer on this also. I have had a colleague on from Ennis and I have heard stories from Limerick. None of these areas, and certainly not Gorey or Ashbourne, features very heavily in the context of the 42 schools. Is it time to review the particular programme in terms of where schools are required?

The review is ongoing. We will monitor it very closely. Last Friday, I was in Limerick where there is already a big cohort of schools in the national bundle. They were not among the 42 schools, as the Acting Chairman pointed out. There was a focus on the numbers with regard to the capital plan. If we look at Ennis - the Acting Chairman mentioned Gorey - we must keep this under constant review. From my empirical data and conversations with colleagues, planning permission applications are coming in fast and furious. To use Gorey as an example, if there is an increase in the number of housing estates and the amount of development there, then the school must have a plan for the next five to ten years. If we consider the road infrastructure, with a clear run it is an hour between Dublin and Gorey. It becomes an appetising prospect to move to an area in which lower house-purchasing costs apply.

Gorey has two very good schools. Creagh college has capacity for 1,000 students and increased capacity for 1,200 students. It will be able to meet capacity this year and next year. There is also Gorey community school, which is maxed out at present.

I will move on to skills development, which is programme B. Does the Minister wish to speak about this or will we go straight to questions?

I will highlight a couple of the figures. The Department's allocation includes a package of almost €99 million in measures in the tertiary education system. This includes almost €70 million in funding arising from an increase in the national training fund levy, more than €16 million Exchequer funding for demographics in higher education and almost €14 million reallocated funding in further education and training to reflect changing economic priorities. This will deliver additional places on Springboard courses, support for the higher education performance and innovation fund, a research fund for technological universities and institutes of technology, increased provision for flexible learning, management and leadership capacity building in higher education institutions, increased apprenticeship registrations and new apprenticeship schemes. As part of budget 2019, the Government also announced a new human capital initiative that will involve an investment of €300 million in higher education over the five-year period from 2020 to 2024, with €60 million available in each of those years.

In November 2018, the number of female apprentices surpassed the 2018 target, which was 300. It stood at 323. This is good news and very welcome. I would be grateful if the Minister will comment on how this came about. What plans does he have to reach the ambitious target for 2019 to double this and bring the number of female apprentices up to 600?

The increase in the national training fund levy is maintaining a substantial surplus that will go to the human capital initiative from next year until 2024. I appreciate that this is still a year away, and Brexit will occur between now and then, but does the Minister have information on how exactly the initiative will operate?

On subhead 5, SOLAS and further education grants, the number of apprentices and trainees has doubled since 2016 from 6,000 to over 12,000, yet the combined allocation has only increased by 9%. Can the Minister elaborate on this?

At our last meeting, we spoke at length with the Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, about apprenticeships, which Deputy Catherine Martin has just raised, and further education grants. There is great emphasis on apprenticeships, and rightly so, to encourage more people into the various programmes. Is the funding allocation adequate to cater for the demand, which is increasing steadily? Are the funds available to encourage more people across the board?

This is a really important section, providing for the whole area of apprenticeships, springboard and all the various opportunities for young people to find positive careers. I also welcome the growing number of apprenticeships in general and of female apprentices in particular, as Deputy Catherine Martin mentioned. The Apprenticeship Council has been rolling out new types of apprenticeships in conjunction with industry and higher and further education. Are there any more new programmes to come? Are more planned for this year? I refer particularly to the tourism sector, where there is still a lot of reliance on people coming in from outside to work in the sector. I know there are apprenticeships in that area and that there are also some very good training programmes. I am aware of one in my own constituency, provided by the Limerick Enterprise Development Partnership, LEDP, which is run through the ETB. It is a relatively short training programme that does an excellent job and gives young people really good opportunities to work. I want to ask the Minister about the growth of that whole area. It really is very positive.

Deputy Catherine Martin asked about funding from the European Social Fund, ESF. There was a Supplementary Estimate because the figures were submitted in November for the ESF co-funding. Was that money received subsequently?

At the end of the year.

I thank the Minister for the clarification on that. In future, could that be more closely aligned with the budgetary process here, in order that the Minister would not have to go looking for a Supplementary Estimate? On the National Training Fund, NTF, increasing, there is some concern that business is going to have undue influence with regard to that fund because it is going to make a greater contribution. I am all in favour of the interaction between further and higher education and industry in respect of job opportunities and so on. However, there is some concern that there might be too much influence from the world of work as opposed to the world of education. Would the Minister have a comment or opinion on that?

I will briefly add a question about the results from apprenticeships. In 2017, the Department targeted 13 new apprenticeship programmes and the outturn was 11. Last year, the target was reduced to ten and this year the target is 35. It has been very slow progress. If we make 35 extra programmes this year it will be fantastic, but is the Minister confident this will happen given that we are coming from an extremely low base?

I thank the members. I will respond to Deputy Catherine Martin ar dtús. On female participation, the Deputy pointed to the positive aspects and asked why this is happening. We have to be in the realistic space as well; we have a lot more to do there. A number of reports have highlighted that the number of women employed in craft apprenticeships is still low, which is reflective of the traditionally low levels of female employment in the craft sector. I have had preliminary discussions with a number of officials in SOLAS on this issue.

Sometimes in life, the things that are staring us straight in the face are the things we may take for granted. In my own county, SOLAS is looking at the traditional craft sector to see what it can do in respect of apprenticeships. SOLAS offers a bursary to craft employers to encourage them to employ female apprentices but the uptake by women is still very low. To provide a few more figures, at the end of 2018 there were 341 female apprentices registered, more than double the 2017 figure of 151. That is the positive aspect to which the Deputy alluded. While this is welcome, it is also important to address issues influencing the low level of recruitment of women in the craft sector. SOLAS has completed a review of the pathways to participation in apprenticeship for under-represented groups, including women. Areas highlighted for action include setting targets for female participation, considering extending the craft employer bursary to other apprenticeships with less than 20% female participation, and a specific focus on female participation as part of the Generation Apprenticeship national promotional campaign. Women now feature prominently in all aspects of the national promotional campaign, where there is a specific focus on encouraging women and girls to consider apprenticeships as a means of launching or developing their careers.

We will be doing the career guidance review in the coming weeks and a number of suggestions have been made through this committee on career guidance. We have a body of work on how we can support career guidance teachers more in terms of the information they have. The information available at junior certificate and leaving certificate level is critical, including information about different industries, apprenticeships, a higher diploma or higher education. We have to be aware than an information vacuum can exist. This is not the fault of the career guidance teachers. There could be one career guidance teacher for a whole school and he or she is not going to be able to develop individual career paths for every student. We must address how to make that information more accessible to the student cohort.

I am aware that they do something very collaborative in Limerick. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan might be able to shed more light on that. I only found out about it from my trip to Limerick. They bring together the third level institutions, the ETB, SOLAS, all the different stakeholders and the young people in a single environment once a year. That type of information sharing is so important. Returning to Deputy Catherine Martin's question, the future skills forum is also contributing to this dissemination of information. It is done on a regional basis, which is critical. When I was in Drumshanbo yesterday, I came across two more potential apprenticeships there, one in the area of beauty and healthcare and the other in organic farming. They are really tapping into the possibilities around tourism as well, which Deputy Jan O'Sullivan mentioned.

On the National Training Fund and the human capital issue, from January 2020 a new ring-fenced funding line, the human capital initiative, will be established within the National Training Fund to invest €60 million per annum from the accumulated surplus over a five-year period. This ring-fenced allocation will total €300 million over the period from 2020 to 2024. It will form a key part of the strategic response to Brexit and other challenges. Deputy McLoughlin mentioned funding for apprenticeships. I acknowledge the role played by all the different service providers in this area. The 2019 budget allocation for apprenticeship training is €142 million, which represents an increase of over 16% on the 2018 allocation of €122 million. The 2019 allocation is apportioned between SOLAS, which is allocated €105 million, and the HEA, which is allocated €37 million. It will support an apprenticeship population forecast to be in excess of 18,000 by the end of 2019, and new registrations forecast to be in excess of 7,000 in the same year.

The findings of a recent study that appeared in The Irish Times showed that multinational companies held in equal esteem graduates from higher level institutions and universities and from apprenticeships. We have to ensure we continue to send the message to young people that the race for points to go to university will not be a perfect fit for all students. The great work being done in promoting apprenticeships is central to the conversation.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan raised an issue about funding from the European Social Fund. I remember that the applications for funding from some Youthreach programmes had not been submitted in time. I have raised this matter with my officials and efforts will be made to try to ensure we will not have to wait for a Supplementary Estimate to be presented.

The Acting Chairman raised an issue about the provision being made for the payment of pensions. A great deal of work goes into coming up with figures for how many teachers will retire, but the reason we had to present a Supplementary Estimate for €144 million was insufficient money had been put aside in the initial Estimate. I am confident that the Department will be in position this year because of the new increased baseline figure of €1.35 billion. My three predecessors in the Department since 2011 evaluated correctly the figures for the numbers who would retire, but the resources were not available in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. That is the reason the Department had to prepare a Supplementary Estimate.

What the Minister has just said is that the Department knew how many teachers would be retiring but did not provide for it in the Estimate.

No, the Department estimated the numbers.

It did not provide for them because it had to present a Supplementary Estimate.

The Department had to have a conversation with the Department for Public Expenditure and Reform to obtain sanction to incur the expenditure.

Therefore, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform sanctioned funding that was less than expenditure.

It was not a question of sanctioning funding that was less than expenditure; it was a case of meeting expenditure within the available resources. The Department of Defence had a similar issue to that of the Department. The good news is that €1.35 billion is the baseline figure this year.

Previously the reason given for presenting a Supplementary Estimate was there had been unanticipated additional retirees. We are now getting a slightly different story, that the numbers had been anticipated but the money was not available.

The information I had was to explain the rationale behind looking for €144 million in a Supplementary Estimate. As a result of the Supplementary Estimate a decision was taken to raise the baseline figure to €1.35 billion.

The final question raised by Deputy Jan O'Sullivan was about the relationship between the education sector and industry. There is cross-sectoral collaboration between them which the Department promotes, whether it be IBM or Microsoft working with secondary schools. I am hearing great things about the approach adopted by the University of Limerick which sees itself as a university for the region. It is looking at ways to attract more young people from County Limerick, as well as from the city. There is a great hunger for collaboration with the Limerick Institute of Technology. Last Friday I was in Troy Studios-----

Was the Minister auditioning?

I did not receive a follow-up phone call, but Troy Studios is looking to meet the need for skilled staff through apprenticeships, which is really exciting.

The film industry needs precision scaffolders. It also needs skilled and experienced people for lighting so it is bringing in electricians or "sparkies" to use the slang word to train them up. Consideration is also being given to providing apprenticeships for younger people in that area. It is a great model.

The world of work and education are separate entities in terms of definition. There is an obvious link but I agree that we must still protect the philosophy of education within that, which is something that I am conscious of as well.

We move on to programme C, third level. Does the Minister wish to comment?

No, I have covered everything.

Subhead C4 is for general current grants to universities, institutes of technology and other designated institutions. The Estimate here appears to have been cut by €15.5 million in 2019. Will the Minister explain the reason for that, particularly given the ever-increasing number of students? It has been predicted that the number of full-time undergraduates will increase from 159,000 to 162,313 and that there will be a similar increase in the number of postgraduates.

Subhead C11 refers to student supports or Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI, grants. There is projected to be a cut from €406.877 million to €404.450 million. Will the Minister explain the decrease?

We see a scenario where the amount spent on higher level education is not enough to sustain the sector and it is reaching crisis point. The State currently spends just over half of what it spent in 2008 on each full-time student equivalent. We are only two years away from the Cassells report's first major benchmark in 2021, which is the requirement to provide an additional €600 million in annual spending from 2015 to 2021 to bring the overall spending up to €2.4 billion. We still await an economic analysis on the report. How does the Minister plan to deal with the impending funding gap? Many institutions are already experiencing the consequences, which will only get worse until action is taken.

Subhead C16 refers to capital expenditure. The increase of more than 200% in the funding allocation over the past year is welcome. To which projects will this funding be allocated? I ask the Minister to elaborate on the allocation.

On the equality budgeting objectives for the Athena SWAN award, what percentage of all State funded third level institutes are involved? How many or what percentage of them applied? What measures are being taken to promote the award? What percentage of school leavers have disabilities? Is there a disparity in the percentage leaving school and those going on to third level? What is the current percentage of women in senior academic roles?

On subhead C4, about which the Acting Chairman asked, and subhead C5, which is a similar issue, why has funding for the Church of Ireland College of Education and the Marino Institute been reduced?

On subhead C11, we interacted with the Minister on the education element of the Brexit Bill, which involved an issue related to student supports and so on. Subhead C13 relates to North-South activities, etc. Will the Minister give us an update on how a possible crash-out Brexit or any kind of Brexit would affect the two subheads?

Subhead C9 refers to grants for certain third level institutions. I ask the Minister to elaborate on why these colleges or institutions have been prioritised.

Subhead C12 refers to research activities and I noticed that there was quite a large increase in funding. I ask the Minister to elaborate on the matter.

Subhead C16 refers to third level infrastructure. I welcome the money allocated for capital investment programmes. What is the timeframe for the allocation of such funding? What institutions or areas will benefit from the funding?

Why has funding for SUSI grants, under subhead C11, been reduced?

I want to ask a question that is not directly related to the Estimates. Does the Minister plan to consider extending the 45 km limit as set down for the SUSI grant? I ask because there may be no public transport in rural areas so people will have to try to finance a car. In certain areas, which happens a lot in my constituency, students must take two buses, which costs quite a considerable amount. Applicants might be over the 45 km limit by a little as half a kilometre. Are there plans to reconsider the limit?

Nobody has raised the issue of the National Training Fund, which is mentioned on page 106. The issue is slightly off-balance sheet so we will deal with it after this round of questions. Is that okay?

Did we not deal with the issue as part of subhead B?

I want to ask questions on the issue. I also want to ask questions about the Estimates in terms of €10 million for the children's hospital. I ask the Minister to go ahead.

First, there are no cuts. The Acting Chairman raised two issues and talked about institutes of technology and third level education. What has happened has to do with the National Training Fund. The €60 million is money that is there now for the National Training Fund.

Funding has been withdrawn.

I want to explain to the Acting Chairman that it is not a reduction.

The amount that the Department gives has been cut because there is more coming from the National Training Fund.

It is not a cut.

Cutting funding was not the idea when my party supported the initiative. The Minister has been very open about the matter but a cut was not part of the idea.

I am being upfront and honest here when I say that there has been a recalibration.

It is a cut of €15.5 million.

We will agree to differ.

It is €15.5 million less that the Department is paying to third level colleges because the National Training Fund has been increased. In fact, the purpose of that fund was to provide extra funding, not replace departmental funding.

Yes, but it is a departmental allocation. The Acting Chairman also asked about the SUSI grant. There has been no change to the thresholds and no reduction in SUSI grants. Obviously there has been a reduction in participation and that accounts for the change.

Is that because the rules now make it so hard for applicants to qualify for a SUSI grant?

The thresholds have not changed. Obviously, greater participation in the labour force means that more people have an income, whether one is a single parent who works or a couple where both people work, and that has an effect. That is my reasoning behind the change.

Deputy Catherine Martin asked a number of questions. She asked what percentage of school leavers with a disability go to higher education. There are schemes available to support students with disabilities to gain access. It is one of the conversations that I had with the president of the University of Limerick. It is an ongoing conversation I also have had recently with presidents of institutes of technology in Galway, Sligo and Letterkenny, as to how we can get better in terms of access. I will forward the figure on the percentage of school leavers to the Deputy. I know that this area is still a challenge.

There is a massive challenge whether it is vulnerable sectors or people with a disability or members of the Traveller community. We are looking at finding better ways to improve access, which is one of my priorities in this job.

There are ways in which we can make it easier for somebody with a disability. I met a professor recently who said much research has gone into this but it could come down to simple factors such as environment and physical accessibility to buildings, and we should keep that first and foremost in mind.

There was a question on the percentage of women in senior academic roles. The Minister of State, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, has been a very strong advocate on this matter. There is a significant deficit but it will be mandatory for all higher education authorities to retain a certain percentage for research funding. I can revert with the exact details of the number of women who will be involved. We must first create awareness and then do something about it. The Minister of State has been campaigning on that.

There was mention of third level funding and there is the question of how to future-proof universities and higher level education. I attended an event last Thursday morning at the new Technological University of Ireland Grangegorman campus. We brought all the stakeholders and leaders in the third level sector together and I specifically raised the matter of funding so they could make suggestions and see how we could look at the issue in a collaborative fashion. There has been an increase in capital funding and there will be future increases in such funding. Whether in Ireland, Edinburgh University in Scotland or any other university in the world, there is a constant debate on future third level funding. The Minister of State, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, keeps me abreast of what is happening with the Cassells report, which is in Europe currently. Whenever we are in a position to follow up on that, I will be happy to do so.

The reallocation of National Training Fund, NTF, resources that were used for employment programmes below the National Framework of Qualifications, NFQ, level 5 to the Exchequer was begun in budget 2018 and it has been accelerated in budget 2019. There was €57 million in investment in programmes with significant activity below level 5 on the NFQ that were previously resourced from the NTF but it will now be funded from the Exchequer. The NTF should be deployed to support close to labour market skills programmes in areas of identified skill needs. The support for enterprise higher education programmes increased from €37 million in 2018 to €120 million in 2019, and this investment will be made in areas with identified skills needs as outlined in the national skills bulletin and in line with priorities established by the National Skills Council. As was the case in budget 2018, the NTF will fund all of some programmes as part of this investment.

With regard to Athena SWAN, there is reference to eight State-run institutions. What is the percentage of this of all State-funded institutions?

I can get back to the Deputy on that specific point.

What is being done to promote it?

The Minister of State, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, has responsibility for this area and she has been very proactive in calling out weaknesses in the form of gender gaps. I am happy to revert with specific information.

I thank the Minister. I meant to thank him as I received the answers to the questions he did not get to answer on his previous appearance before the committee. I appreciate him following through on that.

That is no problem. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked about the Church of Ireland College of Education and the Marino Institute. I will have to get back to her on that.

It was in addition to the Chairman's question.

Let me get the information on that. The Deputy referenced the Brexit Bill again and what might happen with a crash-out Brexit. We are preparing for the worst-case scenario while hoping sanity will prevail over the next couple of weeks so some form of path or solution can appear instead of a crash-out Brexit. We will continue to prepare and all we can do is control the areas within the omnibus Bill that we can. There is provision for student support, whether it is for Republic of Ireland students in the North or Britain or vice versa. We will continue to remain vigilant in that respect.

Deputy McLoughlin spoke about subheads C12 and C16. What was his specific question on subhead C16?

I was just looking for the timeframe, if possible, for the allocation of funding for capital investment programmes this year. The Minister may not have it.

There will be a number of different avenues. There is preparatory work ongoing with public private partnerships, PPPs, for institutes of technology. There has been a call out for capital funding in the higher education sector and the closing date is 21 March. We met the representatives of St. Angela's College in the Deputy's constituency recently. They are anxious to ensure they can get a fair hearing with respect to their demands. Many higher education bodies are working hand in glove to be part of a successful outcome for universities. I visited the new engineering campus at Limerick Institute of Technology last Friday. It is an impressive and comprehensive project. Universities need capital funding to meet the needs arising from changing demands and environments.

I thank the Minister.

Is the Minister finished on that?

I will go back to the NTF and third level funding. The Minister has taken the opportunity to cut third level funding from the Exchequer, which is unprecedented in the past number of years since the economy started to turn. It has been replaced with a NTF levy. One of the recommendations of the Cassells report is to try to get additional funding into the third level sector and training. It was never envisaged by employers that the increase in the NTF - a significant imposition that employers have been asked to take on, and which we supported - would replace funding for third level. They thought they would give additional funding to third level, which is badly needed. Instead, there has been a €15.5 million cut in third level funding.

The Acting Chairman is aware the Indecon report made the recommendation and that was an independent report. We must have a robust system that is fit for purpose. If we are serious about trying to get employers to the centre of potential solutions, we must consider the different recommendations. It is not a cut but a more focused or targeted way of delivering schemes.

All I know is €1.007 billion was put into third level institutions from the Department in 2018 but, for 2019, it is proposed to put in €991.926 million. A cut is a cut. Funding has been received from employers and the Department thinks it does not have to pay that amount. It is breaching the trust that employers have placed in the Department. Let us be fair as they did not object to this additional levy that they had to pay on behalf of employees.

The Indecon report was independent and it made a recommendation.

Indecon did not recommend that the Department should take this opportunity to cut its share of funding to third level.

We are going to agree to differ on the retargeting of this money. I certainly do not see it as a cut.

If there are no other questions on third level education, I might move to the NTF estimate of income and expenditure. I also want to ask about the national children's hospital. This will be the only Department for which a Supplementary Estimate is not required so it is only fair to ask the Minister about that transaction at this meeting. Employers were asked to contribute to the NTF at an increased rate last year, this year and next year.

The surplus is projected to increase from €143.5 million to €258 million. Can the Minister explain to employers the reason that a significant amount of money, which they are contributing, is not being spent and is being carried forward into what is now a substantial balance on that account? In fact, there is so much money in the account, it is earning interest. However, the Department is paying substantially more in bank charges to keep the money in the bank. Employers are paying a significant amount of money while the Department is paying less but not all of it is being spent.

The national children's hospital is not part of this Estimate but this is the only committee that has not been given the opportunity to consider that issue. The Department is pre-paying €10 million. Under what contract is the Department paying that money to the Department of Health? What authority has the Department to pay €10 million to the Department of Health? Why is the Department of Education and Skills obliged to do that?

The National Training Fund, NTF, does not form part of the Vote of the Department of Education and Skills. The allocation for each scheme is determined as part of the annual Estimates process. The NTF is included as an annexe to the published Estimates of the Department and such funding has been included in the overall expenditure ceiling for the Department of Education and Skills since 2011. This means that overall expenditure from the fund cannot be increased even where receipts increase, without a corresponding drop in voted expenditure. The surplus remains available for investment in education and training programmes to meet skill needs. Prior to 2012, income from the National Training Fund levy had fallen from a high of €413 million in 2008 to €299 million. However, since 2012, receipts from the NTF levy have increased annually due to improved employment levels. The accumulated surplus in the fund has been critical in maintaining expenditure levels, particularly in the provision of training for the unemployed in a period when receipts were falling. It is considered prudent to continue to maintain an adequate surplus in the fund to meet demand in future years and while the surplus represents a very significant sum, it would only cover seven months NTF expenditure at current levels. The surplus remains available for investment in education and training programmes to meet skill needs.

I alluded earlier to the reform of the National Training Fund. I mention also the independent report. The Government announced increases in the NTF levy by 0.1% in 2018 to 0.8% and by a further 0.1% in both 2019 and 2020 in order to fund investment in education and training relevant to the skills needs of the economy. The Government is committee to reform of the fund to ensure that it continues to be responsive to the world of work.

The Acting Chairman mentioned the payment of €10 million to national children's hospital. A historic commitment of €17 million to education in the national children's hospital has been made. To meet the needs of the overspend, this year we have decided to allocate €10 million from that €17 million towards that shortfall. Effectively, what it means is that when the hospital development gets to the stage of building the infrastructure around that training service provision, only €7 million will be needed, so it is a front-loading. It will also ensure we keep to the historic commitment we made.

Does the Minister think that commitment will be increased or that the Department of Health or the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform will look for an increased commitment from the Department in the next few years?

Not that I am aware of. I know we are not going to allow that €10 million to be offset and prevent other projects from going ahead. We have ensured that will not happen this year.

That concludes our consideration of the Revised Estimates for Public Services, Vote 26 - education and skills. I thank the Minister and his officials for their constructive and lengthy engagement at this meeting and for answering all the questions members put.