Schools Complaints Procedures

Questions (108)

Martin Heydon

Question:

108. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Education and Skills the options open to parents who believe their children are being badly treated at school but do not know where to turn; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15636/14]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

While this Department sets out the constitution of Boards of Management and rules of procedure it is not directly involved in the management of schools. Under the provisions of the Education Act, 1998, the Board of Management is the body charged with the direct governance of a school, and it is the Board of Management which employs the teachers at the school. The schools Board of Management is accountable to the school Patron. Neither I nor officials of the Department have powers to investigate individual complaints, except where the complaint involves a refused enrolment, expulsion or suspension, in accordance with Section 29 of the 1998 Education Act. Accordingly, whereas the Department provides funding and policy direction for schools, the Department does not have the power to instruct schools to follow a particular course of direction with regard to individual complaint cases.

In dealing with parental complaints, my Department's role is to clarify for parents how their grievances and complaints against schools can be progressed. The Office of the Ombudsman for Children may independently investigate complaints relating to the administrative actions of a school recognised by the Department of Education and Skills, provided the parent has firstly and fully followed the school's complaints procedures. The key criterion for any intervention by the Ombudsman for Children is that the administrative actions of a school has, or may have, adversely affected the child. The office can be contacted at: Ombudsman for Children's Office, Millennium House, 52-56 Great Strand Street, Dublin 1; tel. 1800 20 20 40 or (01) 865 6800 or email oco@oco.ie. My Department publishes information for parents on a range of topical subjects including complaints at: http://www.education.ie/en/Parents/Information/Complaints-Bullying-Child-Protection-Discrimination/. The Deputy may be interested to know that I am committed to providing for a Parent and Student Charter. With this in mind, my Department is examining the legislative changes that could provide the statutory underpinning of such a charter.

School Closures

Questions (109)

Brendan Griffin

Question:

109. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will visit County Kerry to see the logistics involved for children as young as four years old travelling to and from some isolated small schools and the potential journeys involved in the event of small school closures due to his Department's policy on teacher allocation for small schools; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15654/14]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

Work and diary commitments would not facilitate a visit to Co. Kerry such as outlined by the Deputy. I have already made clear to the House on a number of occasions that school communities should have no reason to feel that there will be a forced closure of their local school.

As part of the Budget 2012 decisions, there is a phased increase in the number of pupils required to gain and retain a classroom teaching post in small primary schools with four teachers or less. The first phase of the budget measure took effect from September 2012. The final phase of the budget measure takes effect from September 2014. The phasing of these measures has provided the schools concerned with time to consider the potential for amalgamation with other schools where this is feasible. If amalgamations do take place, they will be voluntary and follow decisions taken by local communities and not by the Department.

An appeals process is available to small schools which have had their staff number reduced as a result of the budget measure. A school with four classroom teachers or less which is losing a teacher or failed to gain an additional teacher as a result of the Budget 2012 measure can submit an appeal to the Primary Staffing Appeals Board. Details on the appeals process are published annually as part of the staffing arrangements for primary schools which are set out in Circular 0007/2014 and available on the Department website. The appeals board operates independently of the Department and its decision is final.

The Government recognises that small schools are an important part of the social fabric of rural communities. They will continue to be a feature of our education landscape. In these extremely challenging times, all public servants are being asked to deliver our public services on a reduced level of resources and teachers in small schools cannot be immune from this requirement.

How best to sustain provision for widely dispersed and small local communities does present as a particular challenge, especially in any locality where enrolment is declining to single figures.

I am mindful of the concerns of smaller schools and rural schools. Our overall primary school enrolment has been growing rapidly in recent years and this is going to continue. In managing the resource consequences of this, it is important that decisions on school provision and organisation are based on a rigorous evaluation of requirements and needs, not just at a local level but also at both regional and national levels.

Educational quality for the pupils has to be one of the main criteria in any consideration of primary school size. It is also necessary to consider the needs of local communities and of course there are wider social and cultural factors that need to be considered. Given our population growth, we have increasing enrolment at all levels of education which is expected to continue in the medium term. Many pupil places are required in areas that currently have no school provision at all and we have schools in areas of stable or declining population with relatively low pupil numbers.

Our current configuration of small primary schools has been examined by the Department in a value for money (VFM) review. This review took account of the ethos of schools and the locations of small schools relative to other schools of a similar type. I am currently considering this review in consultation with my Government colleagues and I intend to publish the report on completion of this consideration process.

Broadband Service Provision

Questions (110)

Ciaran Lynch

Question:

110. Deputy Ciarán Lynch asked the Minister for Education and Skills when e-fibre broadband will be available to schools (details supplied) County Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15661/14]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

At the time when St Columba's and St Luke's schools were awarded their current broadband connections next generation access (NGA) was not available in their area. The schools were awarded the following connections: St Luke's 12mb St Colomba's 17.408mb. These contracts were awarded for 3 years ending in June 2015 following a public procurement process. NGA is in the process of being rolled out by suppliers at present. Department officials have engaged with suppliers to trial the product on a pilot basis in a number of schools. Results from these pilots will inform my Department on how to move forward in relation to the NGA offering in schools.

Schools Site Acquisitions

Questions (111)

Ciaran Lynch

Question:

111. Deputy Ciarán Lynch asked the Minister for Education and Skills the progress made towards securing a site for a school (details supplied) in County Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15662/14]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The Deputy may be aware that I signed a Memorandum of Understanding between my Department and the County and City Managers' Association (CCMA) in 2012. This Memorandum of Understanding fosters increased levels of cooperation and formalises the Local Authorities' part in identifying and securing sites for educational use.

In that context, my Department is working closely with Cork County Council towards acquiring a permanent site as soon as possible to meet the needs of the school to which the Deputy refers. Whilst I can advise the Deputy that options are under consideration, due to the sensitivities associated with land acquisitions generally I am not in a position to provide further information at this time. Once the acquisition of a site is finalised, a design team for the project will be appointed with a view to its progression to tender and construction.

Public Sector Pensions

Questions (112)

Brendan Smith

Question:

112. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if a public servant who has reached the age of 50 years is eligible to retire on a full pension even though he or she a few months short of a full 30 years service; if it is possible for the public servant to purchase the outstanding service incentivised retirement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15455/14]

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Written answers (Question to Public)

Certain areas of the public service have pension arrangements which feature early paid pensions based on fast accrual of benefits, such as An Garda Síochána, the Permanent Defence Force and the Prison Service. 

I understand that some cohorts of staff in these fast accrual sectors may qualify for retirement on full pension at age 50 years, provided that they have 30 years' service. 

Responsibility for the particular rules of individual public service pension schemes rests with the relevant public service employer or other sector-specific authority, rather than with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.  Accordingly specific queries on aspects of the pension scheme applicable, including on minimum pension age and purchase of service, should be addressed to the employer or authority in question.

Legislative Process

Questions (113)

Derek Nolan

Question:

113. Deputy Derek Nolan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform when the Valuation (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2012 is expected to come before the Houses of the Oireachtas; when it should be concluded; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15477/14]

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Written answers (Question to Public)

The Government published the Valuation (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, 2012 on 3rd August, 2012 as part of its legislative programme. The Bill proceeded through its Second Stage in Seanad Éireann on 11th October 2012. The primary purpose of the Bill is to accelerate the national programme of revaluing every commercial and industrial property in the country which is being undertaken by the Valuation Office. Since the Second Stage debate was taken in Seanad Éireann, officials in my Department and the Valuation Office have engaged in an extensive consultation process on various aspects of the Bill with a range of stakeholders. While the legislation is quite complex, the amendments to be proposed on Committee Stage in the Seanad are at an advanced stage of drafting.

As stated in my reply to the Deputy on 11th February 2014, I expect to see the Bill progressing through the Oireachtas before the Summer recess. I am still aiming to meet that schedule and I would like to see  the Bill  return to the Seanad for Committee Stage shortly.

Office of Public Works Properties

Questions (114)

Derek Nolan

Question:

114. Deputy Derek Nolan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform when an area of land (details supplied) in County Galway designated to be a car park and which is within Office of Public Works ownership will be fit for purpose and used as a car park; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15486/14]

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Written answers (Question to Public)

Galway County Council previously expressed an interest in the site in question for use as a car park. The Council has since decided not to pursue this option. The Commissioners are currently considering alternative uses for the property.

Office of Public Works Properties

Questions (115)

Derek Nolan

Question:

115. Deputy Derek Nolan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he will consider leasing a property (details supplied) in County Galway to a community group for the use of the persons of the area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15487/14]

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Written answers (Question to Public)

In line with the previously stated Disposal Policy the Commissioners of Public Works sold the former Garda station at Lettermore at a public auction on Thursday, 27th March 2014.