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Thursday, 25 Nov 2004

Other Questions.

Education Vote.

Questions (6)

Phil Hogan

Question:

6 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Education and Science the amount to be spent on primary school buildings in 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30488/04]

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Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

The allocation of capital funding for each of the sectors within the Education Vote is governed by the Five-year Multi-Annual Framework for Capital Expenditure 2004 — 2008. This framework provides an allocation for each of the five years and allows a carry-over into the following year of unspent capital up to a limit of 10% of a current year's voted capital allocation.

It should be noted that the Minister for Finance has indicated that he will deal with adjustments to capital envelopes as part of his budget speech on 1 December and accordingly I am not in a position today to indicate the precise allocation for primary buildings in 2005.

I assure the Deputy, however, that within the €50 million carry-over capacity available to me I will ensure that any saving in relation to primary buildings in the current year is fully compensated for in setting the 2005 allocation.

Will the Minister announce only the 2005 building programme in December or will she announce the five year programme? Given that public private partnerships have been used only for post-primary schools to date does she intend to use some public private partnerships for primary schools? How does she intend to prioritise? Priority was allowed for when the former Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Dempsey, changed the way the building programme operated but schools are still unclear as to whether they are at stage 1, band 1 or whatever and what that means and how soon it is envisaged progress will be made? Does she intend to change anything in that area?

I will certainly publish my five-year allocation of capital and within a framework the stages at which the different schools are. It is important to have flexibility to deal with emergencies and changing priorities over the next five years. In the initial stage I will announce those ready to go to tender and construction and then those that are ready to move up to the next stage. However, I do not want to be in a situation, where we find ourselves at the end of this year with an under-spend in the year and without flexibility to move over the next couple of years. We are aiming to ensure that schools know where they stand and how soon they will be able to move. However, because there are local considerations regarding planning permission, it may not be possible for me to say that a particular school will move in 2006 as an appeal to An Bord Pleanála could hold it up for quite some time. These are the issues we have to take into consideration. My aim is to ensure there is as much clarity as possible for schools all over the country.

In regard to the PPP programme my intention is to build schools under PPP. It is not as easy to do it at primary level because of management issues, largely boards of management. If there are trustees it is not so easy to go into partnership with a builder or developer who will manage it over the next 20 years. I am trying to see if there is any flexibility but it is not as clear cut as for the post-primary level where we are aiming to do more.

Is the Minister aware of the finding by the Comptroller and Auditor General that PPPs are more expensive that any other method? Last year a number of schools that urgently needed extra classrooms were told to use either their PE room or general purposes room as classrooms because they did not feature in the building programme. Can the Minister give a guarantee that will not happen next year? There is one such school in the constituency of the Minister of State, Deputy de Valera, and one in mine. Will the Minister ensure that those schools get back their PE room as a PE room and get a classroom?

In regard to the provision of accommodation we have to look at the amount of money available at any one time and where we can provide temporary accommodation or, perhaps a devolved grant, to a small school to build on a extension. That would be preferable but it would not be possible to give a blanket guarantee at this stage to say they cannot use the facilities available to them. I will certainly aim to ensure we are adding to rather than taking from school accommodation.

On the issue of PPPs the reality is that the Comptroller and Auditor General said they were more expensive. However, the cost has to be ascertained over a 20 year period. The schools are built and the students are occupying them. If those schools were on a building programme they would still probably be waiting. By the time we would get to build them they would be much more expensive than when they were built last year or the year before. When one looks back in hindsight one will find they were good value for money. He is looking at the cost today whereas the cost has to be spread out over the whole period.

Given the issue of efficiency over a long period, and the fact that Jarvis has more or less gone bankrupt in a number of projects in the UK, will the Minister consider setting up a system of integrated public partnership where a school facility, incorporating community buildings and sports facilities as part of a partnership between the school, the local community and the local authority, could be set up in a parallel process to the public private partnership to gain efficiency in terms of opening hours and security? Perhaps it could be tried as a pilot scheme.

The issue of schools opening up their facilities is a matter for management. Where new schools are built they include PE halls but there are instances where local management are not making facilities available. Generally the facilities in PPP schools are available to the wider community.

Schools Building Projects.

Questions (7)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

7 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science her plans to advance the school building programme in the next 12 months; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30697/04]

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Oral answers (3 contributions) (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

The Deputy will be aware of the five year multi-annual envelopes for capital investment. I am not in a position to define the detailed expenditure until after budget day.

In the case of third level, the agenda is set by the Kelly report on a "Review and Prioritisation of Capital Projects in the Higher Education Sector". The planned countrywide roll-out of broadband to schools during 2005 will continue to influence how funds are provided for schools ICT.

The Deputy raised the issue of primary and post-primary schools. While I must await the clarification on my final allocation on budget day, I will want to make further significant inroads on moving to tender and construction projects that are already in the final stages of the design process and are likely to be ready to go to tender during the year.

In advancing the school building programme, I am anxious to further develop the focused schemes introduced to address historic under investment in our schools: initiatives such as the summer works scheme and all the other initiatives. It would be useful to list some of the projects in which we are involved such as, the grants scheme of minor works, the small schools initiative, the permanent accommodation initiative, design and build scheme, the standard and generic design, the standards and generic design for PE halls, technical guidance and the PPP project. As Deputies will be aware we are using a wide range of schemes to make serious inroads into the needs of building throughout the country.

The Minister has highlighted the need for Dáil reform as this is like a lottery system. Will she continue the reliance of her predecessor on providing for prefabs and what he called, good quality temporary accommodation? I was amazed to have been invited to an opening of what I thought were classrooms in my constituency last year to discover they were prefabs. That is not an adequate way to proceed. They may be a slightly better quality than what was there before but they will still run into the same problems down the road.

On the issue of public private partnerships, will the Minister clarify the position in regard to the use of those facilities after hours by sporting organisations? Who would have control of a public private partnership school? Is it the operator, be it Jarvis or whoever, and can they charge what they wish to community groups to use the facility? Does the Minister have an opinion on the fact that in the five public private partnerships schools there are coke machines and mars bar machines in the corridors? The principals and boards of management of the schools are unable to prevent the use of such machines to make money from children. This practice is obviously promoting poor dietary habits.

I understand that the management of the schools rests with the management bodies rather than the principals. I will provide the Deputy with details on after-school hours etc. I would be concerned if a principal were not able to control soft drinks and sweet machines. Most principals adopt a responsible and positive approach to these in their schools. I am sure that, by local arrangement with management and with health considerations and responsible teaching practices in mind, they should be able to address the issue.

On temporary accommodation, the reality is that new prefabs constitute good-quality temporary accommodation. Many of them last for 20 or 30 years. They are ideal in cases where there is a blip in demographic trends such that there is an increase in enrolment for a few years. One might need them while building is taking place or while a school is waiting for a building project to commence, thus relieving the pressure on numbers. Obviously, if a school needs a small extension that costs a few hundred thousand euro while a prefab costs €70,000, we must consider how to achieve the best value for money. In many such cases, prefabricated temporary accommodation is needed in the interim. We obviously seek to address all these issues.

School Performance.

Questions (8)

Dan Neville

Question:

8 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Education and Science if she intends to allow for the release of a greater amount of information on the performance of schools to parents; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30475/04]

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Oral answers (5 contributions) (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

The Deputy's question refers to the performance of schools and I want to begin by reflecting on what constitutes school performance. The true measure of a school's achievement is the extent to which it enables each student to realise his or her full potential as an individual and as a member of society. Each young person is unique. Each enters our education system with different skills and attributes and each comes from a different family background. The job of the school is to take that unique person and equip him or her to live a worthwhile and fulfilling life.

When we talk about school performance, it is not good enough to apply a single superficial measure, be it examination results or levels of college entry, and to categorise a school as succeeding or failing on that basis. Unfortunately, there is a real tendency to do just that. I was appalled to see in The Sunday Times last week selective and misleading league tables under the headline “Rural schools a failure”. This conclusion is based solely on levels of entry to university. This is an elitist, misleading and outrageous evaluation of the essence of every school.

I favour the release of information that is fair and meaningful and can benefit the child. I do not, however, favour the release of information that allows for schools to be unfairly labelled as the worst in the country, as another headline indicated in reference to an area where, in the journalist's opinion, "the worst performing schools were located", or to be labelled the best in the country based on narrow criteria. For this reason, I will continue to refuse to release examination results on a case by case basis. I am, however, very much in favour of parents having access to meaningful information. I intend to consider, in consultation with the education partners, how we can improve in this area.

I support the concept of information being given to parents and I stress that information on individual teachers or students should never be made public. However, we are now allowing the very worst scenario to obtain in that newspapers are able to obtain such information and use very limited criteria to evaluate schools and, in some cases, students from particular areas. On the basis of what was stated in The Sunday Times and repeated in the media on Monday, the students from my constituency appear to be the worst in the country. This is not the case.

What does the Minister intend to do about this issue? Unless clearer criteria are established regarding the information to be released to parents, such that they can make decisions on a school as a whole and what is available therein, parents will continue to make decisions based on insufficient criteria and on examination results alone, such as were published in the newspapers. The summaries provided in Monday's newspapers were particularly misleading because they dealt only with universities and made no mention of institutes of technology. This is of concern because many students from rural constituencies go to institutes of technology for geographical reasons rather than for any other reason.

What are the Minister's intentions? Does she believe legislation needs to be introduced so that meaningful and useful information that is not limited to academic criteria can be provided?

The Deputy and I agree on many aspects of this issue. Obviously, it is difficult to state in tabular form all the work that is done in a school. One cannot account for the dedication to sport, music, cross-Border exchanges, social work and work experience, for example, or the fact that most schools derive as much pleasure from a very weak student receiving a pass in his leaving certificate as they do from a very bright student obtaining eight A grades. These phenomena are very difficult to put on paper. At the same time, there is a need for information for a range of people. Parents want information about their local schools to find the one that best suits their children. Boards of management and teachers obviously require information on the ways in which they need to change and adapt to suit their needs. Local authorities, State agencies, health boards and various services including the National Educational Psychological Service, the National Educational Welfare Board and the National Council for Special Education all require information. Information is required in the provision of support services and in terms of site acquisitions and the use of land in an area. The Department needs it for decision making and policy making.

We need a process by which we can obtain information required by everybody but not allow it to be used in league table form or for comparative purposes. We need to work very closely with all the education partners to ascertain how we could provide information in a way that would ultimately benefit the child and not the sale of newspapers. I know the education partners are willing to do this

I concur with both the Minister and Deputy Enright on the narrowness of the information published in the newspapers and on the headline in particular. I felt that rural schools fared quite well if one took all the information, including that pertaining to ITs, into account. State schools, non-fee-paying schools, did quite well in the broader picture.

I urge the Minister to take proactive measures. What specifically does she intend to do in terms of drawing up a broad policy on the kind of information that needs to be circulated and on how we can counteract the use of inadequate information?

The Deputy will be aware that my predecessor conducted quite a large consultation process, the YES process, throughout the country. As part of this process, an attitudinal survey was carried out which indicated that parents want more information. There is considerable public support for this.

People find the whole-school evaluation to be very positive. Perhaps there are ways of using the information gleaned in this process in which inspectors visit schools and involve the teachers, principals, students and parents. Such information highlights the best aspects of a school rather than its academic achievements and identifies how it targets each child. It is time to strike a balance between providing the information required and ensuring it is not used inappropriately. I am genuinely trying to do this at present.

Educational Welfare Service.

Questions (9, 10, 11)

Seymour Crawford

Question:

9 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Education and Science the amount to be allocated to the National Educational Welfare Board for 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30493/04]

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Phil Hogan

Question:

24 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of educational welfare officers to be recruited by the National Educational Welfare Board for 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30494/04]

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Joe Costello

Question:

29 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Education and Science if she has sanctioned the outstanding ten posts to the National Educational Welfare Board, for which funding has been approved; if not, when they will be sanctioned; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30529/04]

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Oral answers (11 contributions) (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 9, 24 and 29 together.

The Education (Welfare) Act 2000 established the National Educational Welfare Board as the single national body with responsibility for school attendance. The Act provides a comprehensive framework promoting regular school attendance and tackling the problems of absenteeism and early school leaving. The general functions of the board are to ensure that each child attends a recognised school or otherwise receives a certain minimum education.

To discharge its responsibilities, the board is developing a nationwide service that is accessible to schools, parents, guardians and others concerned with the welfare of young people. For this purpose, educational welfare officers are being appointed and deployed throughout the country to provide a welfare-focused service to support regular school attendance and discharge the board's functions locally. The budget which has been allocated to the National Educational Welfare Board for 2005 is €7.8 million, an increase of €1.3 million, or 20%, on the 2004 allocation.

My Department has already conveyed approval to the board for the filling of a further ten educational welfare officer posts, bringing the authorised staffing for the board from 84 to 94. The additional posts will enable the board to further roll out its services at local level around the country. The percentage increase being allocated to the board for 2005 is more than double that for the education Vote as a whole. This provision will enable the board to continue to develop its services in 2005.

I will keep the board's staffing under review in the light of the roll-out of services and any further proposals the board may put to me in regard to clearly identified priority needs.

I welcome the additional funding but it is short of what the National Educational Welfare Board sought. I wish to draw the Minister's attention to comments made by Mr. Eddie Ward of the National Educational Welfare Board who said that the service is in danger of developing only as a reactive fire fighting agency. What we are asking for is very important in terms of tackling educational disadvantage, given the significant figure of 84,000 primary and post-primary students missing more than 20 days, the drop-out figures and the failure of transition from primary to post-primary education.

I welcome the fact that the Minister will examine the issue. Has she a timetable or plan to achieve the aim of reducing the ratio of educational welfare officer to student from 1:12,000 to 1:5,000? Is this an aim she would like to realise?

The board is currently based in five locations, Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford. Given the increase in staff, every county throughout the country will be covered, which is real progress. There will be designated staff in the RAPID towns.

I would like if members of the board became involved in the work we are doing in the schools where we are tackling attendance and disadvantage. I would like to see them working more closely with the home-school community liaison officers, of whom there are 370. I do not want to wait until a problem exists where children may have missed 20 days or more. I would like them to work with the people already in the schools to encourage children to remain in school. This is one of the real success stories.

There are 82 co-ordinators involved in the school completion programme. These people link with the other services and primary schools to ensure pupils make the transition from first level to second level. There are 40 specialist teachers working with Travellers and we recognise that Traveller education is particularly difficult. Now that the educational welfare board is based in every county, it should be building on the work others will be doing. I intend ploughing money into these areas next year as part of the overall programme.

It is interesting to note that when we talk about students missing over 20 days, we tend to focus on disadvantaged students who do not attend school. Many of these students go on two continental holidays a year and miss days. They are equally losing out on their education. We should not assume it is a welfare issue, but it is certainly an education issue.

While I have problems with the amount of money allocated, I welcome the fact that the ten posts have been sanctioned and I understand the staff can now be appointed. This matter was raised recently by members of the National Educational Welfare Board in the education committee. Will the embargo on public service workers cause a difficulty in terms of the extra posts announced in the Estimates?

I do not envisage a difficulty in this area. There were comments in the newspapers that I might have to cut back 430 posts. There have been no discussions on that issue. I have received sanction to create various new posts in regard to special needs.

The Minister will be aware that last year the National Educational Welfare Board sought €25 million and this year it sought an extra €13 million. While the 20% increase to €7.8 million would be very welcome, obviously they are seeking that amount of money because they are aware of the problems that exist. It pointed out that 20 days or more are being missed by a considerable number of pupils and that one in seven children leave primary school with literacy problems. Does the Minister acknowledge that there is a need to sort out the problem during the lifetime of the Government? In that context, will she give a timeframe as to when the full roll-out of 300 educational welfare officers will be sanctioned and over what period?

I hope we will never reach a stage where we will need 300 educational welfare officers, because this would be the stick approach rather than the carrot approach. The home-school liaison and school completion programmes, targeting disadvantage and targeting programmes at pre-school and early school level and working with the parents and families is where the real benefit can be gained. If we are successful in this area, we will not need 300 educational welfare officers. Obviously we will continue to expand the service, but now that every county is covered, I hope there will be progress with everyone working in consultation with each other.

The drop-out rates have been increasing over the years despite these schemes being in place.

What has been focused on is that people might not have achieved the leaving certificate or junior certificate. Those who work with the disadvantaged — I believe they are correct — believe we should be focusing on those people who leave school without certification as opposed to just dropping out. Many people obtain certification which is not the junior certificate or leaving certificate, to which we are not giving sufficient recognition.

There are many pupils who do not go from primary to post-primary school. This issue must be addressed.

Equally, the number assessed in the NES document was based on very raw data, most of which cannot be substantiated. I acknowledge there is a problem in regard to the transfer of information from first level to second level, which is why the school completion programme is very useful. This works in a cluster of second level schools and primary schools to ensure all the activities and links exist between the two to encourage children to continue their education.

Property Transfers.

Questions (12)

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

10 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of properties transferred to the State by religious orders to date under the redress scheme; the value of this property; if there are properties to be transferred outstanding; the purpose intended for these properties; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30516/04]

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Oral answers (3 contributions) (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

The indemnity agreement provided that the property contribution of the congregations was to be divided into two separate and distinct schedules of properties as follows. First, properties to be transferred from the congregations to the State, State agencies and local authorities after the date of the signing of the indemnity agreement on 5 June 2002. The total value of these property transfers for the purposes of the indemnity agreement was to be €36.54 million. I can confirm that agreement in principle has been reached with the religious congregations on the transfer of 35 properties to the amount of €38.28 million. This figure of €38.28 million includes €4.98 million in cash that was provided by the congregations in lieu of property. Second, regarding properties transferred from the congregations to the State, State agencies, local authorities or voluntary organisations between 11 May 1999 and the date of the signing of the indemnity agreement on 5 June 2002, the total value of these property transfers for the purposes of the indemnity agreement was to be €40.32 million. I can confirm that, at this stage, transfers of 27 properties to the value of approximately €32.93 million have been agreed in principle.

One further property was under consideration by my Department but this has now been declined and the congregations have been informed of the decision. My Department has written to CORI suggesting they should now consider offering a cash sum in order to finalise the property aspect of the agreement. My Department is awaiting a response to this letter. Arrangements for the final valuation and legal transfer of these properties are the responsibility of the individual transferees. My Department will continue to liaise with the various transferees to ensure that all properties on which agreement in principle has been reached are legally transferred.

The list of properties accepted to date will be circulated.

I received a list previously which is probably the same list the Minister will circulate. Some of the properties are in my area, with which I am familiar. Others are in various parts of the country so I do not know much about them. This is in substitution for taxpayers' money which will be paid to victims of abuse, therefore, the public is entitled to know a little bit more about the properties and the use to which they will be put. One property in my constituency has been handed over to the Irish Wheelchair Association. Its perception was that it was getting this property from the nuns rather than from the State. More clarity is needed in the public interest. Will the Minister give detailed information on the uses of the different properties?

The lists I am circulating today indicate more specifically where the property is to go. Of the first list — properties accepted under the terms of the redress scheme to be transferred, and alternative properties after 2002 after the date of signing — six properties go to the Department of Education and Science, one to Dublin City Council, three to the Eastern Regional Health Authority, two to the Mid-Western Health Board, one to the Office of Public Works and a number to the Southern Health Board. Of the second list, a substantial property in my constituency in Blackrock will go to the Alzheimer Society of Ireland, one will go to the Ballymote Childcare Association, a couple to housing projects and a number will go back to the Department. One will go to the Hospital Voluntary Housing Association, two to the Irish Wheelchair Association, one to PACE and one to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. There is a range of properties. I will circulate the information, which might be of use to the Deputy.

Special Educational Needs.

Questions (13)

John Gormley

Question:

11 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Education and Science the plans in place to roll out the additional funding in the areas of special education and educational disadvantage to ensure that this funding goes to those who need it most in the areas of early childhood education and literacy; if this will include a new commitment to reduce class sizes in primary schools; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30631/04]

View answer

Oral answers (10 contributions) (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

Every effort is made to ensure that children with special educational needs receive an education appropriate to their needs. Decisions regarding the most appropriate model of response in each case are based on the professionally-assessed needs of the individual child. My Department is continuing to prioritise the development of the network of special educational provision for children with special needs and the steps taken in recent years and those currently in hand represent significant progress in the development of those services.

At present, there are more than 5,700 teachers in primary schools supporting pupils with special educational and learning support needs. In addition, there are in excess of 5,000 special needs assistant posts allocated to meet the special care needs of such pupils. Those posts assist nearly 6,000 children. The enactment of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act and the establishment of the National Council for Special Education will provide the key building blocks to underpin service delivery in the future.

My approach in addressing the issue of educational disadvantage is set in the context of the Government's National Action Plan Against Poverty and Social Exclusion 2003-2005 and the latest partnership agreement, Sustaining Progress, which contains a special initiative focused on literacy, numeracy and early school leavers.

A key focus of education policy is to prioritise investment in favour of those most at risk and to optimise access, participation and outcomes at every level of the system for disadvantaged groups. A sum of €540 million is being provided by my Department in 2004 for programmes specifically designed to tackle educational disadvantage. This direct expenditure on educational disadvantage represents an increase of over €80 million on the 2003 provision and nearly 8.5% of the net education budget for 2004. The approach for education set out in the national action plan is based on a continuum of provision, from early childhood through adulthood, with the focus on preventive strategies, targeting and integrated community responses.

My Department is finalising an overall review of its educational disadvantage programmes, with a view to building on what has been achieved to date, adopting a more systematic, targeted and integrated approach and strengthening the capacity of the system to meet the educational needs of disadvantaged children and young people.

Significant improvements have been made in the pupil-teacher ratio at primary level in recent years. The ratio has fallen from 22.2:1 in the 1996-97 school year to 17.44:1 in the 2003-04 school year. Arising from these improvements, class sizes have reduced in the same period. The overall maximum class size in primary schools by reference to the staffing schedule has been reduced from 35 to 29.

In line with the commitment in the programme for Government, class sizes will be reduced still further. This, however, can be done only on a phased basis having regard to the available resources and subject to spending priorities within the education sector. The timing and manner in which the target set out in the programme for Government can be met is being examined by my Department in consultation with the education partners. My priority as Minister for Education and Science will be to continue targeting resources at those areas and people most in need.

In terms of prioritising spending from this very welcome additional investment, will the Minister agree that the circulars stating the number of hours to be allocated to children with special educational needs, as opposed to what is recommended in private assessments, is very much resource driven and that if the needs of children were taken into consideration and further funding provided, such circulars would not be necessary? Will the Minister acknowledge that this is an area that could be examined with a view to providing additional hours of speech therapy to certain children? Another area that could be examined is that of early learning support and child care because children are helped if they are involved and given socialisation skills.

Will the Minister also acknowledge that given that surveys show that there is high unemployment among graduates of a number of teacher training colleges, it would be preferable, rather than increasing the number of SNA's in some instances, to employ more teachers and reduce the pupil-teacher ratio?

It is important to be clear as to functions of special needs assistants. The circular states that these are for children with significant physical and medical needs or whose behaviour is likely to be such as to cause them to be a danger to themselves or to others. That there are now 6,000 such children in our system is a tribute to the educational system, to the parents who were able to have them integrated and particularly to the teachers who welcome them into their classes with the other children.

I do not understand the Deputy's reference to circulars for individual children. If there is one area that is very much child focused it is special needs where individual assessments are examined and the level of need is determined.

There is a limited number of hours.

That is why it has grown so substantially over recent years. The Deputy referred to early learning support. We are all agreed on the importance of early intervention for all children, whether they are early learners, children with special needs or children from disadvantaged areas. A cross-departmental high level group is examining the early childhood area to ensure we do not end up putting money into capital for child care and ignoring the developmental and educational aspects. I believe that is the way forward in that area.

The Minister indicated that this is child focused. Can I deduce from that that the weighted system will not be introduced, as suggested by the former Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey? Is there a timeframe for full implementation of the Education for Children with Special Needs Act?

Regarding special needs assistants, will the Minister review the situation where certain children who have been granted special needs assistants until lunch time are in class until 3 p.m. and have no special needs assistant during the afternoon?

Two days after the last occasion on which I answered questions here, when I gave a commitment that I would deal with this issue speedily, I announced an extra 295 posts, which cater for nearly 500 children. For many of those children, the length of time during which assistants were available was extended and those hours were spread out. Children do not necessarily need somebody with them all the time while at school. Child psychologists indicate it is very important that children do not develop a total dependency on having somebody with them. That is why it is important to examine the needs of the child regarding special needs assistance and that is why the special needs organisers under the special education council are working with schools, services and parents locally to see what is in the best interests of the child.

Regarding resource teaching hours, at the time I announced the 295 extra posts I also announced that I am reviewing that whole system. It is a very good principle that the resources should be in place before the child comes into the school. That is a valuable way to proceed. However, it came to my attention that small and rural schools in particular would lose out and that children who were in need of a service might not be able to get it. That is why I am reviewing the system previously announced.

Is there a timeframe for implementation of the legislation?

We are examining the matter to see how we can progress implementation of the legislation. That deals with individual education plans so it is very much child focused.

Institutes of Technology.

Questions (14)

Denis Naughten

Question:

12 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Education and Science when the Grangegorman Development Authority will be able to begin its work; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30476/04]

View answer

Oral answers (1 contributions) (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

The legislation for the establishment of the Grangegorman Development Agency is before the House with Committee Stage scheduled for the Dáil Select Committee on Education and Science on 2 December 2004. The purpose of this Bill is to establish an agency whose function in the first instance is to prepare a strategic planning scheme for the Grangegorman site.

The plan must provide for the needs of the Dublin Institute of Technology, the Eastern Regional Health Authority and the Ministers for Education and Science and Health and Children.

The Bill provides for wide-ranging consultation with all the parties that may have an involvement in the site. This ranges from those who are directly concerned — local residents, DIT, ERHA and Dublin City Council — to those parties whose future involvement may have a bearing on the site reaching its full potential, such as IDA Ireland and Dublin Bus. The Department of Transport will also have a major input because of the public transport requirements of the developed site.

It is my intention, once the necessary legislative framework is in place, to establish the agency as soon as possible thereafter so that it can commence carrying out the functions given to it in the legislation.

Bullying in Schools.

Questions (15)

Liam Twomey

Question:

13 Dr. Twomey asked the Minister for Education and Science the reason a national anti-bullying strategy for all schools has not been introduced; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30480/04]

View answer

Oral answers (3 contributions) (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

I am aware of the issue of bullying in schools and my Department has moved to tackle the issue on a number of fronts. The education of students in both primary and post-primary schools on anti-bullying behaviour is a central part of the social, personal and health education curriculum.

SPHE is now a compulsory subject both at primary level and in the junior cycle of post-primary schools. The SPHE curriculum provides for the development of personal and social skills including self-awareness, respect for others, self-esteem and communications skills, all of which are important elements in addressing the issue of bullying. In primary education, the issue of bullying is addressed in the SPHE curriculum, in the strand called Myself and Others, from infant classes onwards. In second level education, the issue of bullying is addressed from first year onwards in the SPHE curriculum at junior cycle, in the module called Belonging and Integrating.

My Department, in its guidelines on countering bullying behaviour in schools, has provided a national framework within which individual school management authorities may meet their responsibilities for implementing effective, school-based policies to counter bullying. These guidelines were drawn up following consultation with representatives of school management, teachers and parents, and are sufficiently flexible to allow each school authority to adapt them to suit the particular needs of the school.

Each school is required to have in place a policy which includes specific measures to deal with bullying behaviour within the framework of an overall school code of behaviour and discipline. Such a code, properly devised and implemented, can be the most influential measure in countering bullying behaviour in schools.

Does the Minister accept the code may work better in some schools than in others? I would not raise this issue if I did not think there was a better way of tackling this. Will the Minister take the time to meet representatives from Trinity College who carried out a pilot programme in County Donegal which has proved extremely successful in that the instance of bullying there has been reduced dramatically.

These representatives came before the Joint Committee on Education and Science. Given their findings, which have been adopted nationally by the Norwegian Government without the carrying out of a pilot project, will the Minister consider implementing this type of policy? While I realise there must be changes in different areas for different reasons and that policy must suit each particular school, we could at least try to have best practice in this area, which we do not have at present. If we used this type of programme, we could achieve best practice. It is not an issue that is heavily resource dependent.

From my personal experience, significant advances have been made in the tackling of bullying, especially with primary schoolchildren, because there is awareness among children of what bullying is and that they can complain about it and tackle it. The schools are the best place to deal with this because they know their school profile — the children, the parents and the support they can get from other bodies to develop a policy.

Deputy Enright referred to the anti-bullying research and resource centre at the department of education in Trinity College, under the direction of Professor Mona O'Moore. Professor O'Moore is known to me as she was on the board of management of the school at which I taught. She recently took the opportunity to discuss her anti-bullying intervention programme with me at my constituency clinic, which, before the rest of the country turns up, is for my constituents only. The Department funded the replacement costs for the pilot study in County Donegal, which Professor O'Moore is anxious to extend to the entire country. For this year, she sought in-service training among other measures, but such issues must be set out well in advance so that parents and others know exactly what day schools will be closed, when the in-service days will take place, how that trainers will be organised etc. The teacher education centre in my Department will conduct ongoing work with the centre in Trinity College to find how we can develop this because bullying is an issue with which we are all concerned.

Third Level Education Review.

Questions (16, 17, 18)

Richard Bruton

Question:

14 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress being made on the implementation of the OECD report on third-level education policy here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30466/04]

View answer

Róisín Shortall

Question:

36 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Education and Science the action she has taken on the recent report from the OECD on third level education here; if she has considered the implementation of any of the recommendations in the report; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30509/04]

View answer

John Deasy

Question:

39 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Education and Science if she has met representatives of the universities or institutes of technology to discuss the implementation of the OECD review of third level education policy; if so, the outcome of such meetings; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30484/04]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 14, 36 and 39 together.

The OECD review on the future of higher education in Ireland makes far-reaching recommendations for reform and development of the sector. The extensive consultation undertaken by the OECD team with all of the key stakeholders in the sector and their own undoubted expertise lend considerable weight to these recommendations. Obviously it is now incumbent on me to give serious consideration to possible implementation approaches and also to engage in consultation with my colleagues in Government and with the Higher Education Authority, the universities and the institutes of technology.

From the outset, it is important to note that a number of the recommendations, such as the designation of the institutes of technology within the proposed new tertiary education authority, require legislative amendments while others, such as the structures required to maximise research output, require extensive consultation, not only with the agencies involved but also with my colleague, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Since my appointment, I have already met representatives from the universities and the institutes of technology and emphasised my commitment to progress the recommendations of the OECD. I hope to start an intensive round of formal consultation early in the new year with the appropriate parties.

I have already signalled the Government's position on the re-introduction of fees for undergraduate programmes and, once again, I emphasise that this will not take place during the lifetime of this Government.

Read my lips.

This clearly places pressure on funding in higher education and I was therefore pleased to be able to announce recently in the context of the 2005 Estimates that I had secured a 35% increase for research funding in the sector, in addition to increases of 6% and 7% respectively for recurrent funding in the universities and institutes of technology. These increases represent a step in the right direction.

The OECD report also makes important recommendations on governance and leadership of higher education institutions and gives us a detailed analysis of required changes to the funding allocation model for the sector. The Higher Education Authority, in consultation with relevant stakeholders, is already working on a revised funding mechanism.

Will the Minister give a commitment that if private sector funding is given to third level institutions, this will not be used instead of or as a replacement for State funding?

Does the Minister intend to bring institutes of technology under the Higher Education Authority, which is one of the recommendations? The institutes are concerned with the recommendation that they would no longer be allowed to have PhD programmes and there is validity in their argument, to which I have listened. Will the Minister consider these two areas in regard to the institutes of technology?

The recommendations in the report have wide-reaching implications for the entire sector. I had occasion recently to meet the author of the report. When I told him he had provided me with the road map for third level, he disagreed and told me it was up to me to decide which of the recommendations I intended to implement. I will only do this in consultation with all the relevant bodies, with which I intend to formally consult immediately.

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