Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Questions (10)

Thomas Byrne

Question:

10. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Skills the factors driving a decline in the number of full-time equivalent primary district inspectors in 2018; the actions he is taking to address vacancies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19840/19]

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Oral answers (5 contributions) (Question to Education)

Baineann an cheist seo leis an laghdú atá ag teacht ar líon na gcigirí scoile sa chóras bunscolaíochta. Tá mé ag iarraidh a fháil amach ón Aire céard iad na gníomhaíochtaí atá á dhéanamh aige chun an rud seo a stopadh. Iarraim air a rá linn céard é an plean atá aige i gcomhair na gcigirí sna bunscoileanna.

Tá droch-chuimhne agam ar mo thaithí i dtaobh cigirí. Bhí imní orm agus ar mo chomhghleacaithe sa rang nuair a bhí muid ag fanacht ar na cigirí sna 1970í. Tá sé difriúil anois, buíochas le Dia. Tá na cigirí uilig ag obair leis na scoileanna. Tá caidreamh agus comhluadar iontach dearfach idir na scoileanna agus na cigirí. Ba mhaith liom aitheantas a ghabháil chuig na cigirí uilig fá choinne an tiomantas a léiríonn siad i dtaobh a gcuid dualgais agus iad ag obair leis na scoileanna. Tá na cigirí agus na scoileanna ag obair le chéile ar mhaithe leis an chéad ghlúin eile.

At primary district inspector level, the figure between 2008 and 2017 has remained between 31 and 35. Any fluctuation in numbers can be attributed to departures from the grade through retirements, resignations or promotions.

The figure of 27.8 at 31 December 2018 arises because all panels created from the competition for primary district inspectors that was run in 2016 by the Public Appointments Service were cleared in October 2018. As a result, there was no capacity to fill vacancies.

The human resources unit of my Department has been in discussion with the Public Appointments Service and a competition is expected to be advertised this month, May 2019, with a view to recruitment of primary district inspectors in time for the 2019-20 academic year.

The Deputy's question and intervention are timely and I will ensure that he is kept up to speed on this.

I am glad to hear that because several people in recent months were expressing concerns about the inspectorate generally to me and numbers have declined overall, particularly in primary schools. That creates a huge difficulty, first as a career path for teachers which is important but also because inspectors play a key role in inspecting schools. They can also be an extra support to schools especially in the area of special needs where I have been told they can be quite helpful. It was in the context of special needs that the concern was expressed to me about the reduction in the number of inspectors.

They play a vital role in ensuring the quality of our schools. As their numbers decline they have to achieve more with less or simply not do it at all. The number of schools has increased significantly. Standards have increased. Does the Minister have any view on the impact this decline has had over recent years, and in particular the number of inspections?

From my observations in the six months I have been in this job, when I attend at different projects such as the launch of the social inclusion model or, for example, the school I was in this morning, St. Patrick’s National Junior and Senior School in Corduff. The inspector was there in the school. It was very obvious that the inspector knows what is happening in the school and is working with it in a very proactive way. There is an inbuilt flexibility there that inspectors are willing to work with change, with what needs to be changed and with the schools on their needs. It was great to sit down with both principals, junior and senior, with the inspector and to hear their different perspectives and to highlight the fact that it is not an us and them situation, that the inspectors do not have a vigilant role alone, but are also part of the solutions. Any time there is a depletion in resources it has an impact on the role. I look forward to this new recruitment to support the existing service because the inspectors are doing a good job.

I will keep an eye on that and table further questions. I welcome the announcement the Minister made about the recruitment of further inspectors. An interesting point of useless information: the word "cigire" is an invented word, made up approximately 100 years ago. There is no derivation for it. It was a mistake which is ironic for the type of job it represents. It is called a ghost word. There are various examples of them and that is one.

They play a very important role. There are many more kids in primary school and more primary schools. I welcome what the Minister has said. We will be keeping an eye on it and I think teachers and parents will too.

I remember the inspector in our primary school. I still know him because his grandkids play football with my kids. He was a very familiar figure in the school. I imagine he was a considerable help to a small school that was starting off then. I have made calls to members of the current inspectorate about problem issues where there is a bit of soft information and I ask either what is the story or do they want to know something. I find it very useful to be able to do that and let them do their job if there was something to do rather than my getting involved in a particular issue. I welcome what the Minister has said and we look forward to its implementation.