On behalf of the committee I welcome the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, the Minister of State, Deputy Ciarán Cannon, and their officials. We are meeting to consider the 2011 Revised Estimate for the Department of Education and Skills, Vote 26. A proposed timetable has been circulated. It will allow for opening statements by the Minister, followed by a discussion on the 2011 Revised Estimate by way of questions on each individual subhead in the Estimate. I propose to call members in the following order, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the Technical Group spokespersons followed by members of the Government parties. I invite the Minister to make his opening statement on the overall Estimate.
Vote 26 - Education and Skills (Revised)
I should say at the outset that I have released a press release in respect of our response to developments in the Ryan report and redress board. I will circulate a copy of that press release just for information. As the two Opposition parties are the spokespersons on education and science, I did not want to do a discourtesy by releasing it while they are attending this meeting, in case they are asked for comments..
I congratulate you and wish you well on your appointment to this most important committee, from which I graduated last year. I look forward to working with the committee in the coming years in achieving the best outcomes for this country's education system in these very difficult times. It is appropriate that our first meeting should be to discuss the Department of Education and Skills Estimates for 2011.
As the committee is aware, the economic background to the formulation of the 2011 Estimates has been very difficult and uncertain. The big problem is that, while there is much more that needs to be done to give us the first class education system that this country and especially our young people deserve, Ireland has, in blunt terms, been placed in receivership by the previous Fianna Fáil-led Administration. Thanks to economic mismanagement on a grand scale, which has saddled every family and every child in Ireland with significant long-term debt, we are now in a position where much of the money spent on our public servants and on our public services comes not from our taxes, but from ECB moneys provided to our banking system on its terms and conditions.
This situation of indebtedness is unsustainable, which is why this new national Government has come together with one overriding objective, to regain our economic sovereignty and once again give us control over our economic destiny.
The Government has effectively had no choice but to sign up to the decisions in the agreement that must be met in 2011. These decisions include a number of savings measures across the education sector decided by the previous Government in last year's budget and which are reflected in the Estimates being discussed today. Some other savings decisions, covering the period 2012-14, have yet to be formulated in order for the overall EU-IMF expenditure reduction targets to be reached. Identifying and securing further savings in the education sector will be extremely challenging.
The previous Administration announced a number of changes in the structure of ministerial responsibilities and Departments in 2010. These changes included the transfer of responsibility for FÁS employment services and employment programmes to the renamed Department of Social Protection. My Department held responsibility for these employment functions on an interim basis, pending their transfer to the Department of Social Protection at the beginning of 2011.
Further changes in the structure of ministerial responsibilities were announced by the Taoiseach after the general election. Responsibility for the functions of the National Education Welfare Board has transferred to the Minister of Children and Youth Affairs. The remit of the board included responsibility for the management of the home-school-community liaison scheme and the school completion programme. The further Revised Estimates for 2011 now before the committee reflect these changes.
I turn now to the Estimates for 2011. The gross allocation for my Department for 2011, as set out in the 2011 Revised Estimate is €8.89 billion, which represents a reduction of approximately 1% on the outturn for 2010. It takes account of upward expenditure pressures mainly in regard to student support payments, the cost of pensions and demographic increases. It also takes account of savings of some €175 million to be secured across the education sector.
In addition to the €8.89 billion allocated, provision for expenditure of some €362 million has also been made under the national training fund in 2011, which is a reduction of 14% over the allocation for 2010, due mainly to a projected significant reduction in fund income in 2011.
Gross voted current expenditure on education in 2011, at almost €8.39 billion, equates to some 16% of total Government current expenditure, the third highest proportion after spending on social welfare and on health. It should also be pointed out that of the €8.39 billion allocated for gross current expenditure in 2011, pay and pension costs account for €6.5 billion or 77%.
The allocation for capital expenditure on education, at €501 million, represents 9% of total voted capital expenditure. I will briefly elaborate for members on the key elements of this expenditure.
The 2011 estimate for school transport services is €180 million. Some €4.5 million in savings will be secured in 2011, rising to €17 million in 2014, through a combination of increases in charges and the implementation of measures identified in a value for money review of the school transport scheme. With effect from the 2011-12 school year, a transport fee of €50 per annum will be introduced for primary school pupils, with a maximum family charge of €110 applying. This charge is being introduced to ensure that school transport provided for eligible primary pupils is fully utilised. The annual charge for post-primary pupils will be increased by €50 from €300 to €350. The combined maximum overall family charge will remain at €650.
The 2011 allocation for student support payments is just over €386 million. This represents an increase of some 7%, or €24million, over 2010 and reflects both increased numbers of students qualifying for grants and a greater proportion of students qualifying for higher rates of grants, which are means tested.
The current higher education grants schemes threshold will be increased to provide for an additional eligibility category of support qualifying for 50% student contribution. The 2011 allocation also takes account of savings of some €22 million, rising to some €51 million in 2014, to be achieved through implementing a range of savings measures in the student support scheme. These measures include a 4% reduction in the rate of student support grants; changing the qualifying distance criterion for entitlement to the higher non-adjacent rate of grant - distance from home to the higher education institution - from 15 miles, 24 km, to 28 miles, 45 km, the original distance criterion was set in 1968; and the reduction in the automatic eligibility of mature students to the higher non-adjacent rate of payment, thereby bringing the arrangements for mature students into line with all other students.
Some €22 million in savings will be secured in 2011 through an average 5% reduction in funding grants to schools and vocational education committees. This includes mainstream and ancillary grants for schools as well as grants for adult literacy, community education, Youthreach and the school completion programme. Overall, this will reduce capitation rates to those that applied to schools between 2007 and 2008. There will be a similar reduction in capitation rates payable in respect of senior Traveller training centres, the vocational training opportunities scheme and post-leaving certificate provision.
The 2011 allocation for teacher salaries of almost €3.85 billion takes account of €24 million in savings - rising to €98 million in the full year 2014 - to be achieved by reducing teacher numbers through a combination of measures. These measures will lead to a reduction of up to 1,200 posts from September 2011, comprising approximately 700 primary and 500 post-primary posts. However, these reductions will be partly offset by the addition of an estimated 875 new posts due to demographics.
The 2011 allocation for pay for special needs assistants, SNAs, will be approximately €360 million, compared with some €335 million in 2010. The allocation provides for the full-year costs of SNA provision for 2011. However, due to the situation we find ourselves in, it has now been found been necessary to cap SNA numbers at 10,575. This will require the National Council for Special Education to prioritise allocations to those most in need.
The number of resource teaching and learning support hours to be allocated for children with special educational needs in 2011 has been capped at 9,950 whole-time equivalent posts, including general allocation model and permanent learning support posts, at an estimated annual cost of €567 million. This compares with 9,600 posts in 2010 at an estimated annual cost of €547 million. For the 2011-12 school year, an allocation of 90% of valid identified resource teaching allocations has been made to schools, in the first instance, to provide the majority of their allocation while preserving enough capacity to deal with late applications and ensure the Department remains within employment control framework obligations. Following consideration of all applications received, if the level of demand permits, the initial 90% allocation may be revisited within the overall limit of 9,950 whole-time equivalent posts.
The 2011 provision for universities, institutes of technology and other higher education institutions is €1.177 billion, representing a gross reduction of 6% on the 2010 outturn. Net of adjustments for increased income in respect of the student contribution charge of €2,000, the overall 2011 reduction is 2.2%. Overall funding for the higher education sector, comprising current, capital and student support, has reduced from more than €2 billion in 2009 to some €1.7 billion in 2011. In the same period student numbers have grown by more than 8%. Further savings of €27 million will be achieved by replacing the existing annual €1,500 student services charge of €1,500 with a flat higher education student contribution of €2,000 with effect from the 2011-12 academic year. The student contribution will apply to all students who currently benefit under the free fees scheme.
Education and training are key pillars of our strategy for economic recovery. The additional training and education places announced in the recent jobs initiative are an important step in helping the unemployed to get back to work. The programme for Government pledged to deliver an additional 15,000 places in training, work experience and educational opportunities within our first 100 days in office. The measures contained in the jobs initiative will exceed this commitment and provide those seeking employment with an additional 20,900 places, with the majority coming from my own Department.
The Department of Education and Skills will provide 15,900 places across a range of programmes. These include: 6,000 places on FÁS specific skills training courses; 3,000 places under the part-time further education back to education initiative programme; 1,000 places on further education post-leaving certificate courses; and 5,900 higher education places funded through the Springboard initiative. This brings the number of training places for the unemployed this year to 114,500. It brings the total number of places available to the unemployed in the further education sector to 172,000 and in the higher education sector to 161,900. These additional places are being funded through the redeployment of some financial resources within my Department's 2011 allocation and additional funds provided to the Department this year of €8.3 million.
The Department's gross capital allocation for 2011 is €501 million, representing 9% of total Voted capital expenditure. The 2011 capital allocation for the schools building programme is €418 million, which includes an additional €10 million allocated as part of the Government's jobs initiative. Significant progress has been made under the schools building programme. When the 2011 large-scale schools building programme was announced at the beginning of the year, projects for 51 schools were under construction at the time. The position at the end of June is that 81 schools are now at construction stage. Eight large-scale school projects have reached substantial completion to date this year. There were 25 major schools completed in 2010, including four constructed under public private partnerships. It is expected that almost double the number of schools will be completed in 2011.
Together with the provision delivered by the large-scale schools building programme, additional accommodation is provided through the provision of permanent classrooms or prefabricated structures. Schools are given the option to build permanent accommodation or to purchase prefabricated structures and the selection chosen in the majority of cases is the permanent build option.
I announced on 30 March an allocation of €41.2 million for the summer works scheme in 2011. This will see major improvements in 453 primary and post-primary schools throughout the country which will benefit from projects such as gas, electrical and mechanical works. On 10 May, I announced an allocation of €40 million for building works as part of the Government's jobs initiative. This funding will allow 374 primary and post-primary schools to carry out small and medium-scale building works such as special needs access, toilet facilities, roof works and window replacements. The capital allocation will also provide for expenditure of €15.5 million under the Department's public private partnership programme. This is mostly for a once-off VAT payment on the second bundle of PPP schools.
The allocation for higher education capital in 2011 is €57.5 million, €110 million less than the outturn achieved in 2010. This allows only the minimum of investment in upgrading and modernising undergraduate facilities at institutes of technology, universities and other colleges throughout the State.
The Estimates for 2011 are an important step on the road to bringing public expenditure into line with available resources and to assist us in regaining Ireland's economic sovereignty and control over our economic destiny. I commend the Estimates to the committee and will be happy, together with my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Ciarán Cannon, to respond to any questions members may have.
I thank the Minister for his presentation and for his kind words to the committee. I propose that we follow the precedent established in previous committees of dealing with each subhead in turn.
At the end of that process, I will allow time for brief general comments or questions from each of the spokespersons.
I thank the Minister for his contribution. I am aware that other Departments used to provide briefings for spokespersons in respect of the Estimates. It would have been extremely helpful if members had been given such a briefing in respect of the subject matter of this meeting. It would also have been of assistance to the Minister because he might have obtained a flavour of the questions which we might seek to put to him. For next year - we will all still be here, God willing - perhaps this might be done. The Estimates process is similar to what happens on county councils. In other words, it is very difficult to navigate. If it were possible-----
I appreciate the Deputy's position and I have no desire to cut him short. However, the Minister has been very accommodating in the context of trying to facilitate us with a meeting to discuss the various issues involved and also our programme of work. Given that consideration of the Estimates must be completed by 13 July next, we were obliged to hold these meetings on the suggested dates. There was not sufficient time to do what the Deputy suggests but we will certainly consider it for next year. I am sure the Minister would be open to discussing the provision of briefings for members. We will not, however, dwell on the matter today because we simply do not have sufficient time.
As Members of the Oireachtas and as spokespersons for their parties or groups, those present are entitled to briefings. I will make arrangements for such briefings to be provided in the future.
Are there any questions in respect of subhead A.1?
Before we move to the individual subheads, will the Minister outline the expenditure profile in the Department up to the end of June, if available, or certainly up to the end of May?
I am informed that, in total, it is approximately €16 million behind profile.
Does that include capital and current expenditure?
Yes. We have been conscious of ensuring that some of the lag behind profile which, for many reasons, applied in the past should be narrowed. A narrowing to €16 million represents quite a contraction.
Does anyone wish to pose a question on subheads A.1 or A.2?
On subhead A.2, why has there been such a relative increase in the budget relating to foreign travel?
Would it be more efficient, from a procedural point of view, if my officials were permitted to offer replies rather than my trying to hear what they have to say and then repeat it for members?
I am afraid the Minister must supply the answers himself.
An additional provision of €30,000 was sought in 2011 to cover staff transferred from the former Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation and extra travel expected in the run-up to Ireland's EU Presidency in 2013.
In the context of subhead A1, with public service numbers being reduced, is the explanation similar in respect of the increase in salaries and wages for departmental staff?
On subhead A.1, I wish to raise the issue of the massively exorbitant salaries paid to professors employed in Irish universities in comparison to those paid to their counterparts in the UK and on the Continent. What steps are going to be taken to bring these salaries into line with those which apply across the EU? Our universities only open for-----
If it is okay, we will hold that question until we come to deal with the relevant subhead. It does not technically come under subhead A.1. To make matters easy, we will only take questions relating to the subheads under discussion at any given time. Are there any further questions on subheads A.1 or A.2? Are there any questions on subheads A.3 or A.4?
I presume subhead A.4 - Postal and Telecommunications Services - relates to normal postal services. Should the expenditure in this regard not be reducing in view of the increasing use of technology?
I am informed that we are installing a new telephone system and that comes under the telecommunications aspect of the subhead.
Are there any questions on subhead A.5?
The figure for the anticipated costs relating to contractors under this subhead has doubled from €3.948 million to €5.462 million. I would have thought that the figure would be decreasing.
The 2011 allocation provides for the ongoing enhancement and support of existing systems and the development of new systems. Basically, these costs relate to the ICT area.
What is the procedure in respect of this matter? Should we pursue it further on Question Time at some point?
The select sub-committee can also discuss it further at some future date. For today, however, we are only discussing the Revised Estimates.
Is all of the Department's information and communications technology in-house in nature?
Yes, it is all in-house.
Does the Department provide backroom services for any of the agencies which come under its remit?
We provide payroll services for the State Examination Commission.
This is surely an area in respect of which efficiencies could be achieved. I am aware, from previous experience as a Minister, that what is now the Department of Agriculture, Marine and Food provides backroom services for quite a number of organisations within its remit and for some which are entirely outside of that remit. Potential exists to make savings from the point of view of the smaller agencies and also to generate revenue for the Department.
We are examining that matter in the context of the overall exhortation from the Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform that savings should be achieved in areas of this nature.
Are there any questions on subheads A.6 or A.7?
On subhead A.7, why has there been a more than doubling of the anticipated costs relating to consultancy services? Is this increase linked to something that is happening?
I am informed that this is a token Estimate. It is a provision made in advance of actually knowing what might be spent. The outturn for last year was €39,000. In the original Estimates for last year, it would have been listed as €100,000 but the Department only availed of €39,000. The same provision is being made this year. However, there is no guarantee that all of the money involved will be spent.
Under what subhead does the National Centre for Technology in Education, NCTE, come?
That institution comes under another subhead.
Are there any questions on subhead A.8?
Yes. How many regional offices are in existence?
There are two locations, namely, Athlone and Tullamore, at which the Department has offices. A number of the outlying regional offices were closed down and services were concentrated in those two locations. The amounts under this subhead represent the ongoing expenses relating to the offices being closed down.
So the only regional offices will be in Tullamore and Athlone, where major divisions of the Department are already to be found.
Yes. The staff are remaining in the regional offices but, as such, no regional work is being done. They are involved in completing shared sections of departmental work, as allocated.
Is there a proposal or policy to close down those regional offices?
I will read out my note to allow me more comprehensively communicate with the Deputy. A regional offices service consisting of ten regional offices reporting to a directorate of regional services was established in early 2003 arising from recommendations contained in the Cromien report. Provision was made in this subhead to meet the running costs of the individual offices constituting the regional office service and all payments in respect of these offices were processed by the regional offices directorate.
It was decided in 2010 - the economic climate had clearly changed - to discontinue the regional offices service and the regional offices directorate, ROD, and regional office service, ROS, staff were reassigned as members of staff of various other business units within the Department. Responsibility for this subhead was then transferred within the Department's corporate services unit. This was a service that was opened in 2003 and when the economic downturn impacted, the decision was taken to close it down, and we are in the process of winding it down.
I will give some additional information that may be helpful. The offices in question are shared with staff of other Departments and offices. As the lead tenant in these offices, the Department pays bills in respect of shared services and subsequently arranges to recoup the appropriate proportion of the overall running cost from a range of other Departments or agencies. Accordingly, the processing of payments in respect of these regional offices has particular requirements and procedures that do not arise in the case of the Department's main office.
Are there any questions on subhead A.9?
I welcome the additional allocation to the National Educational Psychological Service. What is proposed in the area where the expenditure will be increased?
It is the full year cost of extra staff and staff that are being recruited.
It does not give one a sense of where those staff members are located throughout the country.
Subject to confirmation I am fairly sure they are increased professional staff, psychologists in the main.
Do we know how many children these psychologists deal with? For example, are some areas getting better services than others? Is there more of an output from some psychologists than others?
I am not sure if we have that information here but I can revert to the Deputy on it.
Do the special educational needs organisers come under that category also?
No. They are under the National Council for Special Education, NCSE.
Are there are questions on subheads B.1, B.2, B.3, B.4 or B.5?
On subhead B.5, research and development, EU pilot projects, regarding the framework programme 7 and the programmes run by the research and innovation directorate in Brussels, are any educational bodies or agencies drawing down funding from those programmes? There is a mention here of EU pilot projects.
That is a cost but I presume the funding for those is being sourced from European programmes.
I have the information for the Deputy. The purpose of the subhead is to meet the costs of EU projects in the field of education and training. The provision covers expenditure in the following programmes. The lifelong learning programme 2007 to 2013, which is funded by the European Commission, facilitates education and training related mobility and projects including participating member states. It is managed by Léargas and the Higher Education Authority on behalf of the Department of Education and Skills. It extends to all aspects of education and training through the following sub-programmes: Leonardo Da Vinci, which relates to initial and continual vocational education and training, including university-enterprise links; Comenius, which relates to school education; Grundtvig, which relates to adult education; and Erasmus, which relates to higher education.
On subhead B2, transport services, the Minister of State, Deputy Ciarán Cannon, attended a large regional meeting recently in Listowel, County Kerry, at which he heard all the concerns and complaints from the various people assembled who were, by and large, from the rural sector. There is a major concern regarding the restructuring of the transport systems and effect of that on remote rural areas in particular, especially on the small rural schools. A number of proposals were put forward on the night by a spokesperson for the private transport services and there were also some very good suggestions from parents and teachers. I suggest that we consider amalgamating the rural transport service with the Bus Éireann services.
That is a separate question, Deputy. We will deal with that at the end of the meeting.
The administration costs of Bus Éireann are extremely high. I ask the Minister to seriously take on board all the matters that were brought before him on the night, that he would reconsider this matter and that these services would be retained as much as possible. We must keep the lifeblood in rural Ireland.
To respond to Deputy Fleming, I met the Deputy at the meeting in Listowel and heard the concerns expressed by the more than 400 parents who were assembled. The CTTC, representing private coach operators, had a spokesperson at the meeting and I am meeting them tomorrow to hear any suggestions they may wish to make. While the impression given at the meeting was that the administrative costs of Bus Éireann were exorbitant, my assessment of the costs associated with the provision of school transport indicate they are reasonable and are reducing all the time. In fact, they have reduced by €18 million since 2009 and in this year alone Bus Éireann has agreed to reduce its administration costs by €1.5 million.
It is important to bear in mind that over 90% of the costs are directly related to providing the buses, the taxis and the drivers on over 6,000 routes across the country. It is a myth to suggest, therefore, that there is some pot of gold within the Bus Éireann administration costs that we are not accessing. We will continue to engage with Bus Éireann and work with it in bringing down its administration costs as much as possible but this is a major logistical operation that takes place on 180 days of the year, moving 123,000 children around our country. We will continue to engage with Bus Éireann but the savings we must achieve are €17 million by 2014. Those savings will be achieved through the reduction of those administration costs and, unfortunately, changes to the rules applying to the school transport service.
It is a crude method. I recognise that the Minister of State inherited an awful legacy and that he and every Department is constrained within the framework of the IMF, but he must accept people's opinions and the distress caused to those concerned.
We will deal with that at the end of the meeting. The Deputy has put the question.
We need to restructure it properly because the current method is very crude.
Are there any questions on subhead B.6? What about subhead B.7?
The Minister has been signalling significant curriculum reform and innovation which most practitioners would welcome. Is this referred to under subhead B7? Is there additional funding?
There is a very minor adjustment under subhead B.7 for the current year. I can explain it to the Deputy in some detail if he wishes. The adjustment is mostly related to the reduction in staff and various combinations of posts. We are making provision in the Estimates for the coming year for funding for the reform of the junior cycle of the curriculum.
We are in the process of preparing our Estimates for the next financial year and provision is being made. Nothing has been signed off on at this early stage. There will be an extra few million euro, or possibly more, depending on what we can negotiate. We will have to find the money from within our own budget so we will have to seek reductions elsewhere and capture some savings. Junior certificate curricular reform has priority and it will be funded.
I do not know whether the Minister has skipped subhead B.6. He talked about using Hibernia College to train second level teachers. Does he foresee a reduction in the cost of training teachers? Has there been an audit of the standard of teacher education and teachers' classroom performance focusing on students graduating from Hibernia College or the other training colleges?
We do not use any particular college. There are five teacher training colleges under the auspices of the HEA and they are funded through that mechanism. Hibernia College is an online private college and has been in operation for over ten years. It provides training to graduate students over approximately 20 months for a fee of €9,000. Some of the trainees have work experience. Enrolling is a decision that graduates make in the context of what they want to do and how they want to do it.
The Teaching Council recently approved four new courses, one of which was an equivalent graduate training programme for secondary school teachers in Hibernia College. I got notification of that within the last week.
Is the Minister happy with the standards?
Yes. The standard has been validated and assessed by the Teaching Council. More than half of all new primary school teachers hired in the past year were graduates of Hibernian College.
The difficulty people have is that there is a cap while there is none in respect of Hibernia College. This is unfair.
Let us consider subhead B.8.
Education and prevention are key pillars in the work of the drugs task forces. One difficulty - I do not know whether it is financial - is the absence of officials from the Department of Education and Skills from drugs task force meetings. There is a huge communication problem with regard to many of the programmes, including the home-school-community liaison scheme, Walk Tall, the primary prevention programme and the SPHE programme. There is no feedback from the Department. Is this because of financial considerations? The absence of the officials is the one pillar that is missing in respect of the drugs task forces if we are to work in partnership.
While there are financial considerations, it is one of the big gaps. Other Departments are managing to stay on board. Partnership is a key component of in the education sector. Having no departmental staff present at meetings is sending out the wrong signal. Perhaps the Minister would consider this in respect of financial costs in this area.
The problem is partly attributable to the fact that the new Department, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, has taken on responsibility for some of the work mine did previously. That is partly reflected in the budget the Deputy is referring to. I am aware from a previous life that, in regard to meetings of various kinds of multi-departmental local area task forces, the absentees were constantly from the Department of Education. In my 145 days in the Department of Education and Skills, I have not found out the exact reason for this. I share the Deputy's concern. When I receive an answer, I will let him know.
In general, what personnel are employed by the council and how many? I refer to subhead B.9.
Is the Deputy referring to the National Council for Special Education?
Yes. In his remarks, was the Minister referring to special educational needs organisers and other personnel?
The subhead includes the special educational needs organisers. We pay the staff and obviously the administrative staff of the council. There are 89 special educational needs organisers and each is responsible for the primary and secondary level schools in his area. There are also backup administrative staff.
We will proceed to B.10.
Subhead B.10 points to another decrease in funding. I do not know why but I am sure there is a logical reason. The National Treasury Management Agency manages the accounts.
There are Government accounts that were frozen and are now being redistributed. If one keeps on redistributing them, one runs out of cash.
On B.10, the programme for Government refers to addressing illiteracy. Does it fall under the category of educational disadvantage?
Is the question specific to subhead B.10?
The Minister should examine the circumstances of many people - the retired, for example - on a pro bono basis. I am sure-----
We will deal with that later; it is not part of the subhead under discussion. On having discussed each subhead individually, there will be time to make general comments. If there are no comments on subheads B.11 and B.12, we will proceed to subhead B.13.
With regard to subhead B.13, there has been much controversy over expenses. Has the Minister assured himself the days of gravy trains are over?
Yes, I have. The controversy was partly because of very sloppy accountancy within the system itself. I have been assured by the director of the RIA that those matters have been addressed.
I am informed mobile telephone interference is quite high. I ask members to turn off their telephones. We discussed this at our first meeting and I did not want to have to mention it again today. If all telephones are not turned off, there will be no record of what members are discussing.
We will proceed to subhead B.14.
Could I have an example of an organisation that receives some funding from the Department? What types of activities are covered?
My note lists Forás Éireann, the National Youth Orchestra of Ireland, Feis Maitiú and the Artane School of Music. Total funding for 2011 is €186,900.
Are there comments on subhead B.15?
Could the Minister account for the jump in funding? The figure listed is €600,000.
The funding is part of North-South co-operation funding, which incorporates the George Mitchell scholarship funding commitment. It is expected the 2011 allocation of €3.35 million will be sufficient to meet the Department's financial commitments to North-South co-operation projects and initiatives, including activities relating to the North-South Ministerial Council and in regard to the implementation of the George Mitchell Scholarship Fund (Amendment) Act 2010. In the case of the George Mitchell scholarship fund, in respect of which a provision of €2 million is included for 2011, the amending legislation and the related new agreement with the fund manager, namely, the US-Ireland Alliance, exposes this Department to a potential expenditure of up to €4 million in any single financial year subject to matching funding being raised by the fund manager until a ceiling of €20 million is reached. Thus far, one payment of US $1,840,000, equivalent to approximately €1.5 million, has been made by this Department to the fund on 30 July 2010. The level of the commitments which the Department will be required to meet each year from 2011 onwards will be dependent on the amount of funding raised by the alliance in those years from US Government sources or sources other than public funds in Ireland or Northern Ireland. Given the current global fiscal difficulties, it is reasonable to presume that without a significant one-off contribution from the US Government to the fund, for which the alliance is strongly lobbying, the alliance is unlikely to succeed in raising €4 million in any single year.
Perhaps I took up the Minister wrongly but I understood him to state there is a cost in regard to the North-South Ministerial Council. What costs can be incurred given the support staff for all North-South ministerial work comprises civil servants drawn from the respective Departments North and South?
I am checking in an effort to get this information for the Deputy.
The Minister can revert to the committee.
I will come back to the committee.
What percentage of the North-South co-operation budget is spent on the Dissolving Boundaries programme? This appears to be the major success story in this regard as it involves 500 schools, 1,000 teachers and 30,000 pupils.
What is the name of the programme?
It is called the Dissolving Boundaries programme and appears to be one of the more successful projects, given that considerable numbers are involved in the breaking down of North-South barriers. While I do not need the figure immediately, it would be interesting to ascertain its percentage of the budget, especially if it is compared with the Mitchell fund, as I do not know how many students are involved in the latter.
I will respond to the Deputy in a note.
Does anyone wish to comment on subheads B.16, B.17 or B.18?
I raised subhead B18 earlier in respect of the National Centre for Technology in Education, NCTE. How many staff are involved? Can the Minister explain the difference on current and capital expenditure?
The note I have to hand states the programme addresses four broad areas, namely, the provision of essential ICT infrastructure within schools, the provision of access to broadband connectivity to schools, continuous professional development, CPD, for teachers in ICT and integrating ICT within the curriculum and providing curriculum-relevant digital content and software. What specific question does the Deputy have?
My question pertains to the staff in particular as I have often wondered what precisely the NCTE is doing. The Minister has outlined four functions, of which I was aware of two.
If it is acceptable to the Deputy, I will send a letter setting out a clear response, rather than trying to attempt an answer here, which would be fraught.
That will be fine and I thank the Minister.
The committee can discuss some of these issues again when the Minister next appears before them.
There have been changes in this area pertaining to the roll-out of broadband and so on. I presume this-----
I will get an up-to-date report on this issue that I will submit to all members of the committee.
Very well. The other major weakness to which schools will point concerns the lack of backup in respect of ICT. As for seeking financial support from the Department, I presume the first point school principals will make is that the Department appears to be able to look after itself in respect of ICT but the schools are left scrambling around looking for support.
On broadband, there is some evidence that 155 schools have below-average broadband speeds of 2 megabits per second. While a tendering process had been sent out to providers, it was reopened in June and has been delayed until next February. Consequently, nothing can be done for those schools with below-average broadband speeds between now and next February, which the Minister will appreciate comprises most of the academic year. Although the providers are being paid, no broadband is being provided.
I will take this as a question and will revert to the Deputy.
Substantial capital funding was provided in recent years towards the provision of technology in primary and post-primary schools. Is it known whether all primary and post-primary schools have access to technology at present?
I do not have that information to hand but note there was a significant allocation in the past that has been reduced. The outturn in 2010 was €81 million and the previous Administration, of which Deputy Smith was a member, reduced the allocation for this year to €15 million.
I believe that in the previous two years, unused funding was diverted from the capital programme towards the provision of technology towards the end of the year. I believe this was the reason the outturn was so much higher than the initial allocation.
Yes. In fairness, the outturn of approximately €14 million in 2007 was followed by figures of €37 million, €26 million and €83 million. Over a period of three or four years, additional capital was provided for it.
Can members be informed later as to whether the project has been completed? I acknowledge Deputy Áine Collins's point that many schools have inadequate access to adequate broadband speeds but that is a slightly different issue.
Are there questions on subhead B.19?
Can the Minister relate subhead B.19 to subhead B.12? There is a huge difference between the provisions under subhead B.19 for 2011 and 2012.
The Estimate for 2011 concerns the paying out of legal costs relating to child abuse.
Subhead B.19 concerns payments to solicitors and barristers.
I am told it is similar to a response that came up earlier. The Department is anticipating claims and makes provision for them. Last year, a similar amount of approximately €12.5 million was set aside in anticipation of claims coming in. However, as it turned out, they did not come in and I am told the Department only paid out €2.2 million. However, a similar provision of €12.9 million is provided for this year in anticipation of the claims coming in although it may not necessarily be spent.
Is this not the same thing as the residential institutions redress? Are the same children not involved?
No, I am informed that redress concerns the awards that are assigned based on there being no legal cost related to them.
All right. Is this money for solicitors and barristers or for children who have been abused in the past?
Subhead B.19 pertains to solicitors and subhead B.12 is for victims.
Does the Department reckon there are many claims coming down the track? There has been a huge increase from an outturn of €2 million to a provision of €12 million. Is the Minister expecting something?
No, there are outstanding claims that have not yet come in but that are in the system. This is a cautious, prudent provision for them but it may not be paid out.
We will move on to subhead B.20.
Why is there an increased provision for this subhead?
It is a relatively small increase. The Department is in the process of merging those three organisations into one. Legislation will be brought to the House fairly soon. It is on foot of a decision made by a previous Administration.
How many staff does this affect?
I will read out the note on the impact of the allocation for 2011. The allocation represents a significant reduction in the allocation when compared with 2010. It is considered that the allocation for 2011 will enable the three agencies to deliver an appropriate level of service in accordance with their statutory obligations and to defray such costs as may arise from the forthcoming amalgamation of these agencies.
According to the figures I have, the 2010 outturn was €8.938 million and the 2011 one is €9.323 million. The Minister's note referred to a reduction in 2011.
The allocation under the subhead for B22 for 2010 was €10.6 million approximately and the outturn was just under €9 million. This is an Estimates exercise. In some cases it is an estimate of what expenditure will be incurred, not an accurate prediction as one cannot predict in some cases.
I assume that the merger and rationalisation of the three organisations will lead to savings and greater efficiencies. That is the purpose of the exercise.
It will lead to greater efficiencies and savings. There are approximately 93 staff employed between the three of them.
We will move to subheads C.1 and C.2.
On C.2, how many model schools are there in the country today?
Either eight or nine.
Are all model schools primary schools?
We will move to subheads C.3, C.4, C.5, C.6 and C.7.
On C.5, the rent of temporary school premises, the Minister referred to this in his opening remarks. The choice is left to the school but is there a plan in the Department for the eventual elimination of these prefabs and the waste associated with them? The rental of these prefabs is one of the chestnuts that arises every year as it is quite significant.
I will give the Deputy the historical figures. The outturn for 2007 was €34.5 million, for 2008 it was almost €50 million, for 2009 it was €35 million and it was down last year to €26 million. The outturn this year will be €27 million on the basis of what we can see.
As I said, we are moving away from them and giving schools the option of either buying the prefab or, where they have a chance, building a permanent extension. It is something we will be examining. However, some prefabs will be required in some schools in cases where there is a sudden surge in numbers, but it is not the way to go. We will progressively move to a position where we can have permanent buildings properly linked to the rest of the school infrastructure, with prefabs being used as an emergency measure.
The rent of temporary school premises is under the same heading. The Minister has been talking about the redress scheme for the abuse by the religious orders. Are any of those temporary school premises being rented from the religious orders?
I will be examining that; I am not entirely sure. The Deputy will have received a copy of the press release on that matter which I issued earlier today.
The third item under C.5 is special assistance for schools in disadvantaged areas. What type of assistance is involved?
This is for DEIS schools.
It is for additional financial supports to DEIS schools. In 2009-10 this subhead provided funding for school books to primary DEIS schools, grants to schools for use by support teachers for materials and equipment, and miscellaneous payments to the ERC relating to incremental costs associated with debt evaluation. It is a supplementary support to DEIS, not the full budgetary cost of it.
The Minister referred to the ERC. What is that?
The Educational Research Centre in St. Patrick's College, Drumcondra.
I wish to return to C.1 relating to part-time teaching schemes. There is an increase in the figure. I understood that teaching for Travellers and so forth has all been stopped. What does that mean for disadvantaged children and children with special needs? Also, under C.4, there is a dramatic increase in the Estimates for special needs assistants, despite the fact that the number of such assistants is being capped.
With regard to C.1, the purpose of the subhead is to meet the cost of paying part-time teachers to support children and adults with special educational needs. Grants are paid to parents, adult training centres and schools in respect of part-time teaching where the Department does not provide full-time teachers. The scope and effect of the service is that part-time teaching is used to pay teachers under the following schemes: July education programme; home tuition scheme for primary pupils; home tuition for post-primary pupils; home tuition for students taking section 29 appeals; vocational education trainers; workshops under the national learning network; special subjects hours in special schools, for example, home economics or art; sign language tuition; typing tuition; and part-time teaching hours in residential centres.
The allocation under C.4 is up to approximately €300 million for this year, as opposed to €275 million last year. There were increases in one year and the full year cost did not kick in until the following year. That is why it has increased from €275 million to €300 million.
Any questions under C.6 or C.7?
I have a question relating to the Middletown centre in County Armagh. Are students attending that centre from both the North and the South at present? Is it operational?
It is operational. I spoke with the Minister for Education in Northern Ireland, Mr. John O'Dowd, MLA. The Middletown Centre for Autism in Northern Ireland is providing a training and advisory service. Approximately 4,500 professionals have received training to date. It is assisting teachers in the area of autism, how to become aware of it, identify it, respond to it and work with it. It is a training college. It is a centre for autism and for developing an awareness within the educational population about autism.
Where are the centres for children with autism that are mentioned in the briefing document and which this increased allocation is funding?
My recollection, and I will confirm it for the Deputy, is that there are 13 special schools that were converted. One of them is in Drogheda. This allocation relates to funding to centres in the ABA pilot scheme. This was negotiated over a number of years by the Department. There were difficulties over recognition of qualifications which were not formally teaching qualifications, and these people were going to be paid a teaching salary in some cases. It took a great deal of time to negotiate. All 13 centres were recognised by the Department as special schools in 2010, but the opening dates of the schools have been staggered across the first half of 2011. The significant decrease in provision for 2011 reflects the transfer of salary costs to subhead C.4. Residual non-pay elements of funding to the schools from C.7 will be replaced on a phased basis by standard, school-based mechanisms. They have been integrated with the school system.
We will proceed to subheads D1 to D6, inclusive.
If one adds together the figures for subheads D.5 and D.6, do they correspond to the capitation grants paid to primary schools? In regard to subhead D.6, annual capital grants, I ask the Minister to speak further about the VECs and what they claim. Is the money intended for staffing and administration purposes or for capitation grants?
I am still trying to get my head around this matter. It is too complex to allow me to answer the Deputy's question because it is not like a free voluntary school system. A primary school receives funding for salaries, capitation grants and other bits and pieces; something similar happens with free voluntary schools. However, VECs also provide other services such as further education courses which give rise to related costs. Some in the education sector have simply divided the administrative overheads of the VECs by the number of pupils and describe the resulting figure as the per capita cost. That is a simplistic way of calculating expenditure which reflects a particular point of view. I will try to provide the committee with a proper breakdown of the figures in order that it can compare like with like.
That would be appreciated.
Subhead D.2 specifically mentions the Protestant block grant and the remote area boarding grant. I represent two counties in which minority religions control a number of schools. Several years ago concerns were expressed about protecting the funding base. I appeal to the Minister to ensure the funding is protected to the greatest extent possible in view of the small numbers of pupils concerned and the remote areas from which they are drawn.
I am familiar with this policy issue. An issue arises in respect of legal opinion which indicated that some aspects of policy amounted to discrimination and the Constitution forbids the Government from discriminating between religions. We are attempting to resolve these difficulties to ensure the support is provided in a legally compliant manner.
In regard to subhead D.8, further education should have its own designation because it has proved itself as a sector. It has been very successful in straddling the continuum of education, training, skills and employment, particularly in emerging disciplines such as film making, animation and music. Young people have been prepared for successful careers in a range of sectors. In urban areas most of the colleges are located in working class communities and are a beacon of hope for hundreds of people who left school early and are now returning to education at a more mature phase of life. The enormous personal advancement they have made allows them to act as role models for their communities. These colleges are the untold success story of recent years and I would like to see a wider debate on them.
We will shortly be in a position to announce the successor to FÁS, which will give us an opportunity to do what the Deputy advocates in developing a further education sector that can be clearly identified. We are bringing together various components, including the further education system administered by the VECs, and the intention is to link them in order that they will be seen as part of significant VEC activity when the 16 reorganised VECs are put in place. We are preparing the heads of a Bill which will consolidate the eight existing Acts pertaining to VECs, as well as other provisions. Once I approve them I intend to bring them before the sub-committee in order to discuss the implications of the various measures. Following the report of the committee, I will send the heads of the Bill to the Parliamentary Counsel with a view to having the legislation drafted. In that context, members will see opportunities to highlight the work done by the VECs and define clearly their contributions to the post-primary sector and further education. The conflation of these areas leads to the presumptions I outlined in regard to excessive funding compared to other second level schools.
Perhaps in the course of that debate we could invite some of the practitioners who pioneered this new branch of education to address the sub-committee.
We will facilitate the Minister in arranging a discussion. I welcome the opportunity to engage in a proper debate on relevant issues before the Bill enters its final Stages. We will proceed to subhead D.8 before returning to subhead D.7.
I support Deputy Conaghan's proposal because the further education sector should have its own identity within the education system. It is extremely important to students in rural Ireland who would not otherwise have an opportunity to progress to gainful employment or third level education.
As members have no questions on subhead D.7, we will proceed to subheads D.9 and D.10.
On subhead D.9, special initiatives in adult education, do these comprise allocations to VECs and other second level schools for adult education programmes?
The subhead covers VECs, adult literacy programmes, community education, intensive tuition in adult basic education, the VEC arts education programme, back-to-education initiatives in the non-VEC sectors, NALA and NALA media. It also includes a range of other initiatives, including Aontas, workplace literacy programmes and adult education officers in approximately 15 organisations. Some of the amounts are quite small but others are significant. For example, the adult refugee programme costs €2.5 million. The total figure is approximately €44 million. The Dyslexia Association of Ireland will receive a grant of €120,000 in the Estimates.
The funding is substantial but the returns to participants are great.
It is also an area which in the past many in the community education sector saw as the poor relation in terms of funding. There were difficulties for long-term staff in this sector in terms of salaries and pensions. They have been out of the funding loop for many years and the fact that we have reduced it further will have a huge impact. These adult education initiatives offer a lifeline in developing role models for the communities concerned.
We will proceed to subheads E.1 to E.3, inclusive.
Subhead E.3 appears similar to subhead B20.
To which subhead is the Deputy referring?
Subhead B.20, HEA.
These are separate organisations. On the National Qualifications Framework, HETAC, FETAC and the NQAI are separate organisations. It is a case of quality assurance and assessing standards in third level education, whereas under subhead E.3 grant-in-aid is provided for the Higher Education Authority. To give it its generic name, the Department of Education on Marlborough Street only dealt with primary and post-primary schools. This year 120 years ago it was established to run the primary education system. Universities originally reported to the Department of the Taoiseach and subsequently to the Department of Finance. In 1966 or 1967, if memory serves me correctly, Mr. Whitaker who was then Secretary of the Department of Finance, handed over entire responsibility for managing the university sector with one member of staff, Alan Dukes' father, who was an administrative officer. A decision was subsequently made to establish the Higher Education Authority. The relationship of universities with the Department of Education is different, historically and culturally, from that of schools.
I thank the Minister.
On subhead E.1, student support, an increase in student numbers is expected. This is also relevant to subhead E.4, higher education. The figures seem to suggest more students will continue in education. In that regard, will there be a difficulty with funding and the provision of supports? On subhead E.4, I refer to difficulties with third level salaries and perks such as houses enjoyed by many college heads. Is this an aspect the Minister could influence? I refer to the article in The Sunday Times in which reference was made to college lecturers earning €100,000. I do not have a problem with the provision of this information because many such persons have long professional training. However, I do have a difficulty with the salaries of some heads of colleges and the perks and expenses that go with these jobs. I suggest the Minister examine this sector when deciding on future funding allocations. He could use his influence in this regard.
The Deputy has posed two questions, the first of which relates to the caution or prudence with which the numbers have been calculated and the money provided for student supports. I am informed the Department's figures are based on the gross numbers of students likely to come into the system. We will not know what level of support will be required until they arrive and submit applications.
As for the salaries paid in universities, Deputy Fleming also raised this issue. In the light of the revelations in The Sunday Times - one must always double-check the accuracy of such reports and not rush to judgment based solely on what is contained in a newspaper article - I have asked the Higher Education Authority, the funding body, to investigate the matter and provide a report for me on whether there has been abuse. The sense of the story in the newspaper was that individuals were overpaid and paid excessively. The implication was that this excess was unwarranted. I have asked the HEA to look into the matter.
Are there any further questions on subhead E.4?
On Nos. 26 and 27.
I am informed that No. 26 relates to the management information systems in the institutes of technology. HEAnet provides broadband support for all of the higher education institutions.
Who runs the scheme?
I am informed it is a company established by all of the institutes to run their management and pay information systems.
As such, it is a public service provider.
Yes, it is owned jointly by the institutes of technology.
On No. 27, is the NCTE-----
This goes back to the division to which I referred. It is providing the information network for third level colleges. A case could be made that in the future there should be one network for all, but we are nowhere near that yet.
Perhaps the initiatives coming from some of the good VECs might be used.
As in the Deputy's constituency rather than his county.
No, in both counties.
Close by also.
I do not see St. Patrick's College, Drumcondra, mentioned in subheads E.4 and E.5.
Some of the colleges are now linked with universities. Prior to 1993, all five colleges of education were funded from this subhead. As a result of institutional linkages developed between the University of Limerick and Dublin City University, the two larger colleges, Mary Immaculate College and St. Patrick's College, have been funded through the Higher Education Authority since 1993 and 1994, respectively.
Are there any questions on subheads E.6 to E.8, inclusive?
Subhead E.6 seems to offer another in-house means of drawing down funding for the colleges. Is that the case?
The SIF was established in 2006, with the major emphasis on promoting inter-institutional collaboration in bringing about substantial change in quality improvement within the higher education system. It was a dedicated competitive fund and represented a new departure in the funding of the higher education system. The objectives of the fund include the enhancement of the delivery of core activities of education and research through effective and creative institutional and inter-institutional collaboration and, where necessary, appropriate internal restructuring and rationalised efforts. The Deputy may recall that the background was that all of these institutions - even departments within them - were stand-alone bodies with very protective personalities which were trying to run on their own. We needed to strengthen the institutional and research outcomes of the third level sector by forcing the institutions to collaborate, both within a single institution, as in UCD, for example, or between institutions. That is the purpose of the subhead.
Perhaps the Minister's officials might prepare a report on what has been achieved since 2006.
I would like to receive this information myself and it will be done.
The Minister's choice of the word "creative" was very good.
I am informed that the HEA has done some work on this issue. The other side of the coin is that out of 15,000 universities throughout the world, all of our seven are in the top 500. That is the alternative way of looking at the matter.
Are there any questions on subheads E.9 to E.14, inclusive?
Will the Minister give us an explanation on E.12? I see it is part funded under the national development plan and part financed by the European Social Fund. Is there a reason it is being reduced this year of all years? Is specific work being done? I am not aware of the background to this.
Most people, including myself until quite recently, felt the vast majority, that is almost 90%, of undergraduates entering our university system were from the secondary school system. This is not the case and it is one of the reasons we need to revise the points system. An increasing number of students come from access programmes which provide for students with disabilities or from disadvantaged backgrounds or mature students. These students do not come through the CAO system into third level. Most colleges provide access programmes and Trinity College in Dublin is particularly good. The colleges provide money from their own resources to run these access programmes and they receive support from us.
This is under E.12.
On E.14, with regard to the allocation of more than €2 million this year for the Grangegorman development, how far will the planning and design of this major new complex be advanced during the course of the year?
I will get the full details for the Deputy. I know it received special development zone status which went through Dublin City Council. This is to provide on a single campus the scattered buildings that make up Dublin Institute of Technology such as those on Bolton Street, Kevin Street and Aungier Street. I believe 33 sites in the greater Dublin area make up DIT. The idea is to centralise these in one campus and achieve economies and efficiencies. This project is at least five years old and grew up on the basis that much of the capital cost could be realised through the sale of lucrative and valuable properties such as those on Kevin Street and Bolton Street. There has been a certain change in this evaluation. The speed at which this will happen will, of necessity, slow down.
The amount provided for enables work to facilitate the delivery of the new mental health facilities on the Grangegorman site. The agency hopes to be in a position to sign the main contract for the construction of these facilities in the coming months. The agency has already appointed architects and engineers for some elements of the design. The site was that of Grangegorman mental hospital and was partially owned by the HSE, so part and parcel of the education sector obtaining it required the completion of new building facilities which, in this instance, are new mental health facilities in a new location adjacent to the site. We had to make provision for this as part of our commitment to the project.
Will the Department fund the HSE building?
No, we are making a contribution because we are getting the lands.
Before we move on, I wish to ask a question although I do not expect the Minister to know the answer. It is with regard to top-up salaries received by heads of departments and universities. Do these fall under a particular section of this financial statement or from another under-the-counter source of funding?
I am reliably informed that €1.177 billion is referred to in the Estimates under E.4 for third level and further education. It is on page 12 of the document.
The gross figure for the estimate for 2011 is €1.1 billion. University College Dublin has an allocation for this year of €116 million and the breakdown of this is contained in the accounts of that institution.
So it is included somewhere.
Will the Minister examine this and try to-----
Anyone can look at it.
You are the boss.
The total pay element is €847 million and there are other related costs. All of these accounts are audited and they go through a procedure. Like any auditing process, it is only as good as the accuracy of the inputs. People are examining them and they are checked and accounted. Deputy Mitchell O'Connor will know from her previous experience as the principal of a school that one is responsible for expenditure on which one signs off. The scale is much greater than the school which the Deputy was running but the same principle applies.
One would not describe €100,000 spent on taxi fares as good value for money.
It was great value for the taxi driver.
We will move on to F.1.
With regard to Deputy Crowe's point, the weakness was that he was his own accounting officer and that was a management failure.
On F.1, the minor works grant scheme that was introduced seven or eight years ago allowed schools to carry out preventative work to ensure small necessary repairs could be undertaken to prevent further deterioration. Primary school principals are concerned about a notification posted on the Department's website that it may not be paid out in the autumn.
We have been asked by the Department of Finance to hold off making provision for commitments until such a time as we know how many claims are made as part and parcel of the overall programme review process, which is the new form of Estimates.
With regard to Deputy Crowe's point on the cost of renting prefabs, the Minister and I have discussed the issue on the airwaves on a number of occasions. This relatively small allocation for the minor works grant scheme gives a very good return to the taxpayer. I hope it can be protected.
On the same issue, I have tabled a parliamentary question on the number of builders going bust and the difficulties schools have with unsafe buildings. I listened to what the Minister stated on the instruction from the Department of Finance but some schools are in crisis and the builders are no longer around. Someone will have to fill the gap.
Your question is on unfinished schools.
Yes. It falls under this heading to some extent.
It is a condition of a contract, as the Deputy is probably aware, that a builder must provide a bond to ensure in the event of something going horribly wrong that there is insurance funding to complete the project.
I do not think that will be enough in some schools. That is the problem. It will come back to the Department.
If that is the case, we will have to ensure the project is completed.
We will discuss it later in the week.
We will now discuss F.2.
With regard to public private partnerships, PPPs, in second level schools, is Athlone Community College included?
I will get this information for the Deputy.
My other question on PPPs is with regard to where caretakers and cleaners were paid their pensions and annuities through the VECs. Now, they will be transferred to the PPP. These people are concerned that they will lose some of their entitlements. Some of them want to remain under the VECs. People working under the VECs are concerned about this issue.
Why does the Department deal with only two companies when purchasing furniture for national schools?
I do not know the answer to that question. That may be a question for Jeremy Paxman on "University Challenge".
We need to know that.
We will get an answer to the Deputy's question.
In response to Deputy McFadden's question, the third bundle comprises a number of second level schools, including Athlone Community College. The bidders' tenders were due in July of this year. It is expected that construction will commence in the first quarter of next year. I do not want to discuss individual cases but it strikes me, from what I understand the Deputy to be saying, that existing employees of the VEC are being asked to transfer their contract to the PPP.
I am informed that when that arises we will enter into detailed discussions to deal with local cases. The Deputy should keep in touch with us on the matter.
I will. Thank you.
On F.3, Mary Immaculate College, Limerick and St. Patrick's College, Drumcondra, have their own identity for capital purposes but not for current purposes. Am I correct that €57 million in building grants is being allocated to the Higher Education Authority in 2011 and €165 million is being allocated for capital works for higher education institutions not under the remit of the HEA?
The figure is €57.5 million between the two.
We will now deal with F.4, G.1, G.2, G.3 and G.4?
Does G.4 relate in the main to new equipment? I presume it is not related to new training sectors.
It is maintenance of buildings and offices, including equipment used for training purposes.
Are all their training centres being utilised to the maximum?
To a great extent. This is a project in transition. The FÁS brand has been discredited and as such they are not necessarily getting the numbers they might have had before.
In relation to G.2, there is a significant increase in spending, which obviously is necessary. Is there any way of evaluating the value we get from this spend?
As I stated earlier, we are in the process of transposing. We are trying to restructure an organisation which has been divided in two, with more than half of it going to the Department of Social Protection and the balance going to the Department of Education and Skills, as an education and training entity. We are examining what we already have within the family, which is the further education component in the VECs, which I referred to earlier in response to Deputy Conaghan. The intention is to bring these much closer together. In the meantime, we are trying to manage this transition. I am told by assistant secretary, Mr. Mulligan, that some of the spare capacity in those training centres has been rented out and is being used by private contractors who provide training courses. It is far from satisfactory.
Is consideration being given to using our third level institutions and colleges of further education as training centres for short courses during the summer months?
That is in the mix for consideration. An indication of it being in the mix - I use my words advisedly - is that at a recent meeting with the TUI, which is the dominant union for institutes - they indicated on behalf of their third level members that they were prepared to consider the calendar year rather than the educational calendar year for work purposes. They recognise that if we want to move into that area we will have to be in a position to have a menu of different courses in place, some of which cannot be the traditional eight or nine month type academic course from September to May. The thinking has already started in what is otherwise a fairly cautious - I use my words advisedly - union. Once it sent that signal to us it was a clear indication that they are preparing for the reality, which is that we cannot have the luxury of an infrastructure being only utilised for nine months of the year.
I agree with the Minister. I welcome that progress can be made in this regard. There has been a huge improvement in the quality of facilities at ITs during the past number of years. I am familiar with the facilities in Dundalk and Athlone and some others. It is farcical and a bad return for the taxpayer that such plant and machinery is lying idle and unoccupied for much of the year. We know from business that percentage occupancy rate throughout the year is crucially important. I know education is not exactly comparable but when we have put such huge investment into top class facilities we should be using them on a calendar basis.
There is much utilisation of the university sector in terms of the physical resources and utilisation of residential accommodation. There is much more research done during the summer months by the university community in the broader sense that is done by the institutes of technology community.
We will now deal with G.5, G.6, G.7, H.1, H.2, H.3, H.4 and H.5.
On G.6 which deals with the European globalisation fund, in what areas in particular is that money being spent?
We do not have the best record in relation to this fund for a number of reasons. This fund was set up by the European Union in respect of workers who are victims of globalisation, in other words, they were doing their job in their country under pay and conditions that were negotiated and the company which owned their company decided to transfer their jobs to a cheaper location. SR Technics is one such group. The workers at Dell in Limerick are another group. If the Deputy has four or five hours available, I will tell her the saga. The Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, is expert on the terms and conditions and details applying to it. Bureaucracy got in the way of delivery. That is the best way I can describe it. We are looking at ways in which the situation can be improved but because of what happened in the past we will not be able to maximise the entitlement we would have otherwise got.
On H.1, receipts from the European Social Fund, a substantial reduction is expected this year in appropriations-in-aid. Is there any particular reason for such a reduction?
It is dropping by almost half. I will get that information for the Deputy. The explanation is that the funding was frontloaded.
I note that dormant accounts funding has been increased for this year. Deputy Crowe mentioned a particular programme funded under that heading in which the level of activity was being reduced. However, there was an increase in the allocation under the dormant accounts fund heading.
I do not know what the heading refers to, but I am told it represents matching expenditure. If we put up the money, we will receive a matching amount from the dormant accounts fund. That is why it is included as appropriations-in-aid.
Before we conclude, there is time for general comments on the Estimates. We kept the debate very tight and it was limited to questions, for which I thank members. Does Deputy Smith have any general comments to make?
No, I have spoken enough.
I welcome the Minister's comments on future opportunities in this regard. While we can go through the detail, we must have an overview of matters, although I accept there is a time element to the process. Under a couple of headings we get a sense that those coming from disadvantaged backgrounds will see reductions in spending. I know the Minister will consider such issues, but there are hard times ahead for many families. We are hearing increasingly from the likes of Barnardos and other groups that more and more children are going to school hungry.
Some groups in the community are meeting the shortfalls in the education system, particularly where children have dropped out of school. It is very difficult for these groups to access funding, particularly in the current economic climate. The Department is probably looking after particular programmes, but many groups are filling a gap in society which badly needed. With children dropping out of school, if there is no alternative educational structure in place, they will be causing problems in communities. If there is any funding available, I urge the Minister to examine this issue.
The cut in the number of special needs assistants amounts to a crisis for many families and there is no doubt that the Minister is aware of the issue. It is one to which we will return during the summer months and September in particular.
Following on Deputy Crowe's comments on special needs assistants, there is much disquiet and concern about the issue. Some are being notified that a special needs assistant has been granted for their child in the next school term but are unsure because of the uncertainty about the matter. Will the Minister confirm that special needs assistants will be kept in place, as there are genuine cases in which parents and families are worried? Will he consider keeping the maximum number of special needs assistants on the front lines of the education system to help very vulnerable children? We cannot deprive them while keeping other schemes in place at high costs. I, therefore, echo Deputy Crowe's comments.
Another issue is the significant impact on rural communities of the proposal to cut school transport services. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, to consider all of the options open to his office to retain services. I am sure they can be cost-effective and that we can get value for money by carrying out a thorough examination of the scheme.
I compliment the Minister on his remark at a recent teachers' conference that schools with fewer than 50 pupils would be maintained. There is a great standard of education in such schools which may operate in remote and isolated areas and are part of the fabric of communities. I would like confirmation that such schools will be kept open and utilised.
The general rate of delivery of services in universities is approximately seven and a half months per year. The European average is at least nine months. In some courses such as physiotherapy it takes students four years to receive degrees. In the United Kingdom such courses can be completed in three years.
In County Kerry the raising of the maintenance grant adjacent rate will prohibit some students from availing of services in colleges such as Tralee Institute of Technology. It might incentivise them to move to colleges further away from their homesteads, which might disrupt family units and put third level education beyond the reach of many. I ask that additional support be given to hardship cases.
I compliment the Minister, Deputy Quinn, and the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, as well as their officials on bringing forward such comprehensive Estimates which only feature a reduction of 1% on last year's figures. At such a difficult time financially, I applaud the Department for doing such a good job.
I share the concerns of Deputies Crowe and Fleming with regard to special needs assistants. In that regard, the Minister has given an assurance that children most in need will be looked after. There has been serious waste and I am aware of examples in that regard.
I commend the Minister for his work in challenging times. Everybody present is aware that tough decisions lie ahead. As someone who represents a mainly disadvantaged area, I have an interest in any issue which affects people in my constituency of Dublin North-West. Will the Minister and the Department ensure they take equality into account in any decisions they may make? To put this in simple terms, we must consider the effects of such decisions when allocating funding in the future. I would not like to see us return to a time when there was a wider gap between those who had and those who had not. Education has the potential to transform society. In these challenging times I ask that the Minister ensures all decisions made in the Department are equality proofed.
I thank the Minister and the Minister of State for their presentation. A letter about special needs assistants was issued last Friday. The Minister is holding back 10%, and I understand the constraints, but the SENOs are saying children with behavioural issues in class will be considered. Does the Minister think he will be cutting more special needs assistants before September? If so, school management will have difficulties with that.
I congratulate the Minister for what he is doing on literacy and numeracy and his efforts to raise standards in education. I am behind him all the way on that.
I commend the Minister and Minister of State for their presentation. There is evidence that the SNAs could be better delivered so perhaps the Department could look at that. Is a panel being established for those who are currently working but who may not be working in a couple of months or will the posts go to new recruits? What is the Minister's view of dyslexia? There is a lot of evidence pointing to a high rate of dyslexia in Ireland and that it is the cause of many behavioural problems and early school leaving. Could we have mandatory testing for that condition in national schools?
As both a Deputy and a parent, I am aware of the intense pressure we all come under from the parents of those with special needs. Our hearts go out to them. They are driven by the love for their children to want the same for their child as their other children. Sometimes that is not possible but sometimes people refuse to think it cannot be possible. It is an emotional topic and I appreciate Deputies are under pressure. So are the psychiatrists and psychologists and the SENOs, who in some cases are being told by parents that they need more than five hours and so on. It is a fraught area we must manage but it did not exist 15 years ago and we have had these problems for much longer. We must be mature about how we respond to this issue.
There are 4,000 schools, with 3,200 mainstream primary schools and around 700 post-primary schools, and we have 10,000 SNAs. The National Council for Special Education has responsibility for the system and the SENOs make the assessments so when a SENO makes a decision, that is his or her professional judgment, not a judgment of the Department of Education and Skills, although we are prioritising it within the constraints upon us.
The supply of SNAs has increased by 1,000% since it started. As a lay person, I find it hard to accept the manifestation of problems has increased at that rate in recent times. We could discuss this and the Deputies could talk to the NCSE directly. On the basis of 4,000 schools and 10,000 SNAs, there is almost two or three per school. Perhaps the best person to decide the allocation is the principal of the school. I do not know but Deputy Mitchell O'Connor has been there.
The allocation is not going to increase and if the problems continue to be diagnosed more accurately, reason and common sense would suggest that if the SENOs decide and the NCSE decide - and the decisions are made by them and not the Department - maybe children with acute needs should be prioritised. How we handle that as public representatives with parents and teachers is something we must consider. I realise Deputies are under pressure on the issue.
There are 620 rural schools out of the 3,200 that have 50 pupils or less, with most of them to the west of the Shannon or in areas that had a large rural population in the past. A value for money exercise was commissioned by the previous Government in October 2010 and its conclusions will be published by the end of the year. I do not know what the outcome of that exercise will be but the pupils, no matter where they go to school, are still entitled to go to school and they still have a capitation grant, with teachers on permanent contracts. Closing a school per se does not achieve an automatic elimination of the costs for the children going to the school and it may have other consequences. We must have an open mind and wait to see what the value for money report provides. That does mean, however, that we give a guarantee no small school will be closed. We must wait to see what the report recommends.
Deputy Fleming asked about productivity in the university sector. The numbers are extraordinary, contrary to the Deputy's perception. The increase in third level participation has jumped dramatically, particularly in the universities. Someone who went to UCD or Trinity in the 1970s, before semesterisation and project work, would go to lectures from October to May, with no one worrying if a student attended, sat exams and if he or she failed, he or she could repeat in September. The second year's exams were college exams and it did not matter if someone passed. Final year exams then took place in third year. There were two critical exams in three years and in between there were no papers to submit, no essays, no continuous assessment or project work. It was great craic but it was not productive. The productivity now is light years ahead of that and the capacity of the institutions has dramatically increased.
On Deputy Fleming's comments on school transport, neither the previous nor current Government would deliberately dismantle rural schools transport services unless it had explored every option available. I assure the Deputy that we are engaging with Bus Éireann to ensure costs are kept to an absolute minimum. Bus Éireann, as the contracted body to provide school transport services, has begun a rolling retendering process for private operators in the school transport scheme. Private operators provide 85% of the school transport network and to get the maximum value for the taxpayer, it is impossible to retender all operations in a single year. We will do a rolling 20% each year for the next number of years to ensure we get the best possible value.
The original intention of the school transport system was to accommodate children who live at a distance from the school. At a time of diminishing resources, those are the children we must focus on. There is disquiet among parents who currently are receiving special treatment and whose children live within two miles of the school but who got a special dispensation in the 1960s and 1970s when amalgamations took place. Children in non-amalgamated schools have not had access to school transport if they live within the two mile limit. That is the practice in Northern Ireland, the UK and the rest of Europe. In a time of diminishing resources we must focus our attention on services for those children who live furthest from the school. They will continue to receive a school transport service that will get them to and from school safely in the morning and evening. We will ask parents who live inside the 3.2 km or 2 mile radius to co-operate with us and pool their resources. That is the climate in which we live. I made that point to the parents at the meeting in Listowel. A similar meeting is taking place in my county, Galway, next Monday night and I will be saying that we will focus our attention on using our resources to provide a service for those children who live furthest from the schools and are in most need of such a service.
On behalf of the select sub-committee, I thank both Ministers and their officials for coming before us. They gave very comprehensive answers. This was very useful and beneficial to the committee.