School Staff

Questions (1)

Thomas Byrne

Question:

1. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Skills the timeline for talks to commence with school secretaries; if a date will be set for the commencement of negotiations with representatives of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20075/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Education)

Tá an cheist seo dírithe ar stad na rúnaithe agus na feighlithe sna scoileanna ar fud na tíre seo a bhfuil dhá chóras pá acu, cuid acu ar chonarthaí buan le pinsin agus cuid eile acu ar chonarthaí náid uaireanta.

This question concerns the two-tier structure for school secretaries and school caretakers, in particular the fact a very small number of them have permanent, pensionable jobs, as they should have, while the vast majority are effectively on zero-hour contracts, as the Department would have it. The question asks when negotiations will start, as mandated and agreed by the Department in the Workplace Relations Commission process.

Gabhaim buíochas don Teachta fá choinne an cheist. Ceist tábhachtach atá ann agus tá sé soiléir go bhfuil ról lárnach ag na rúnaithe sa tír seo. Nuair a bhíonn tuismitheoirí, Teachtaí Dála nó aon duine den phobal ag dul go dtí an scoil, an chéad duine a chasfar leis ná an rúnaí ag an doras. Tá na rúnaithe ag déanamh fíor-iarracht agus tá dualgas mór orthu fadúda scoileanna a bhogadh ar aghaidh.

I recognise the very important work done by school secretaries and other support staff in the running of our schools and I am grateful to them for the contribution they make to our education system.  I have spoken to a number of school secretaries about their employment conditions and understand the issues they have raised.

Schemes were initiated in 1978 and 1979 for the employment of clerical officers and caretakers in schools.  The schemes were withdrawn completely in 2008 and these schemes have been superseded by the more extensive capitation grant schemes.  The current grant scheme was agreed in the context of the Programme for Economic and Social Progress, published in 1991.

I have recently relaxed the moratorium for those community and comprehensive, C&C, and ETB schools with enrolments of 700 and more, which will allow them to employ an additional school secretary up to a maximum of two per school. There are 91 schools in the C&C and ETB sector which meet this criteria, based on the information available to the Department.

This is an initial step and has taken immediate effect.

The majority of primary and voluntary secondary schools now receive assistance to provide for secretarial, caretaking and cleaning services under these grant schemes.  It is a matter for each individual school to decide how best to apply the grant funding to suit its particular needs. Where a school uses the grant funding for caretaking or secretarial purposes, any staff taken on to support those functions are employees of the individual school.  Specific responsibility for pay and conditions rests with the school.

On foot of a chairman’s note to the Lansdowne Road Agreement my Department engaged with the unions representing school secretaries and caretakers, including through an independent arbitration process in 2015. The arbitrator recommended a cumulative pay increase for staff of 10% between 2016 and 2019 and for a minimum hourly pay rate of €13 to be phased in over that period.

The Deputy asked a specific question about timing. The Department has agreed to arrange a meeting with the Fórsa trade union and is currently making arrangements for this meeting to take place in late May or early June.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The arbitration agreement I referred to covers the period up to 31 December 2019.

The arbitration agreement was designed to be of greatest benefit to lower-paid secretaries and caretakers. For example, a secretary or caretaker who was paid the then minimum wage of €8.65 per hour in 2015, prior to the arbitration, has been paid €13 per hour from 1 January 2019, a 50% increase in that individual’s hourly pay.

Officials from my Department attended a meeting of the Joint Committee on Education and Skills on 9 April to discuss the status of non-teaching staff.

Fórsa has requested a meeting with the Department to discuss pay arrangements for grant-funded secretaries and caretakers from 2020 onwards. The Department has agreed to arrange a meeting with the union and is currently making arrangements for this meeting to take place in late May or early June.

It goes without saying that school secretaries and caretakers do great work. With all the circulars that the Minister's Department continues to fire at schools on a regular basis, secretaries actually have to take up a huge amount of schools' administrative burden. It is welcome that the Minister's Department will start talks. I would like to know the specifics. Are these talks in accordance with the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, recommendation of four years ago or are they just talks about talks? When will this inequality end? Things are unequal. The current crazy scenario is that education and training board, ETB, schools all have pensionable permanent secretaries and schools with other patron bodies do not. Many times in the last few years, plebiscites have been held among parents to decide which patron will take over a school. If an ETB takes over the patronage of a school the secretary will be permanent and pensionable. However, if patronage is taken over by Educate Together, the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association, CPMSA, or one of the bodies involved in the management of gaelscoileanna, the secretaries will not have permanent pensionable jobs. That is very unfair and wrong and it needs to end. I hope that these talks, for which we have been asking for some time, will be the start of it.

I will not predetermine how the talks will develop. The important thing is that the sides are meeting. I am on public record as saying this is an issue and there is an anomaly affecting many of these secretaries. I agree with the Deputy. A lot of these issues have been raised by politicians through the years and nothing has been done. I want to end that. I want to acknowledge the campaign the secretaries are undertaking through Fórsa. A meeting has been arranged with Fórsa in regard to this and several other issues specific to secondary schools. Once again, I want to put on record that we are due to meet late in May or early in June. I want to see a pathway to ensuring some sort of certainty for these very hard-working people. I include caretakers in that as well.

We have been asking for this and the WRC has mandated it. It has taken a union campaign to implement the terms mandated by the WRC. I have met the Fórsa caretakers and secretaries myself. This needs to end very soon. If a scale like those applied to teachers and special needs assistants, SNAs, is not set out, any increase like the one given before will become a ceiling rather than a floor. That is a real problem. It is not fair that the secretary, who probably knows all of the children, parents and staff of a school, is often the one person without certainty about her - sometimes his - employment. I note that it is an overwhelmingly female profession. Secretaries do not have certainty. That is wrong and it needs to end. We need to bring back something similar to what pertained before and still pertains to this day in the ETB sector.

I am happy to work with the Deputy on this. I would like to acknowledge the presence of the Chair of the Joint Committee on Education and Skills. I will keep the committee and the House informed on how things develop in the next several weeks. To reiterate, we need to develop a comprehensive mechanism that will provide a pathway to a resolution. The initial conversations at the points of contact must happen. I reiterate that when my officials meet with Fórsa we intend to have a comprehensive overview and look at ways to find a solution, rather than just meeting for the sake of meeting.

School Admissions

Questions (2)

Kathleen Funchion

Question:

2. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will introduce guidelines to ensure secondary schools have a policy in place to accept students from local feeder primary schools in order to ensure no child is left without a secondary school place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19782/19]

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Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Education)

Question No. 2 will be taken by Deputy Maurice Quinlivan.

I ask this question on behalf of my colleague Deputy Funchion, who cannot make it today. I have raised this issue with the Minister before. I seek an update on whether he intends to introduce guidelines to ensure that secondary schools have a policy of accepting students from local feeder primary schools to make sure that no child is left without a secondary school place, as happens too often in my home city.

I thank Deputy Funchion for asking this question and I acknowledge Deputy Quinlivan for raising it in the House.

To be clear at the outset, I have no plans to introduce such guidelines for feeder schools.

Regarding enrolment generally, it is my Department's responsibility to ensure that between them, schools can cater for all pupils seeking school places in an area. Parents can choose which school to apply to and where the school has places available the pupil should be admitted. In schools where there are more applicants than places available a selection process may be necessary. This selection process and the enrolment policy on which it is based must be non-discriminatory and must be applied fairly in respect of all applicants. However, it may result in some pupils not obtaining a place in their school of first choice.

In this regard, a board of management may find it necessary to prioritise enrolment of children from particular areas or particular age groups or on the basis of some other criterion. For example, some schools give priority to applicants who have attended a particular primary school, known as a feeder school.  The criteria to be applied by schools in such circumstances are a matter for the schools themselves.

The Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018 was signed into law by the President on 18 July 2018. The overall objective of the Act is to provide a new framework for school enrolment, designed to ensure that every child is treated fairly and that the way in which schools decide on applications for admission is structured, fair and transparent.

New schools established since 2011 to cater for demographic demand are required to prioritise enrolment of children in the school planning areas for which the Department has identified the need for a school.

I thank the Minister for his response. I am quite disappointed that he has no plans to do that. I have raised this issue with him before. It is an incredibly important and topical issue in my home city of Limerick. The current Limerick area post-primary schools common application system works quite well, as I said to the Minister when we last spoke about this. Some 17 secondary schools and 140 primary schools work together to get the right number of students into each institution. However, it is very distressing for a certain number of pupils who fall through the cracks in the system.

As the Minister is aware, several young students in the city were recently left without a secondary school place despite applying to nine different schools. That left them and their parents in a panicked and worried state. Some kind of safety net must be put in place to ensure that no child receives only rejection letters. It is simply not good enough for parents to be forced to contact their TD or local newspapers in a desperate attempt to get a school place for their child. Although the current system works well for many, I ask the Minister to look into this problem and ensure that no child is left without a place. That is why I specifically mention the issue of feeder schools.

I am aware that the Deputy has raised this issue on several occasions. I am very interested in seeing how this system works. On one hand, it is a very good system whereby up to 98% of students get a place. However, in some instances students do not secure a place, even after going through all their preferences as expressed on the common application system. This is very hard on the student and his or her family and parents. There is probably no foolproof system but the Education (Admissions to Schools) Act 2018 very clearly requires equitable and fair treatment. Ultimately, however, the design, structure and construction of any policy is a matter for the schools themselves. While we can call for fairness and equity in the application of these guidelines at the political level, it is ultimately a matter for the schools themselves.

The Minister used the words "equity", "fairness" and "non-discriminatory" in his response.

One of the barriers in the schools admission process is the rule many schools have in place giving preference to a student if his or her parent was a former student. The problem is that people whose parents did not go to the school and live in the area have no chance of going to the school. The rule has a harmful impact and prevents many children from attending their local school because their father or mother did not attend the school. It is clear in many instances in Limerick that it causes class division across the city and leaves many children behind. It results in the exclusion of some families altogether from their local school, despite living next door to it in some cases of which I am aware. I urge the Minister to again consider reforming the system when he examines the schools admission process in the future.

I know it is an important issue that the Deputy has highlighted in Limerick. The model in Limerick is a comprehensive one that not every area has. As he indicated, there are 140 primary schools and 17 secondary schools. A level of organisation is required by principals and boards of management to ensure the system works. The Deputy and his colleagues in Limerick highlighted a difficulty, which Senator Maria Byrne has raised with me on a number of occasions, namely, that there will always be a small percentage of parents and students who feel aggrieved because they are left out. I am happy to work with those involved in the system but the Department cannot be prescriptive in terms of designing the policy for individual schools. We have protective measures enshrined in legislation that promote fairness and equal treatment, but ultimately it is a prerogative of schools to design their own policy.

Apprenticeship Programmes

Questions (3)

Thomas Byrne

Question:

3. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Skills the actions he will take in 2019 to address the low take-up of apprenticeships by women; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20076/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Education)

Cad iad na gníomhaíochtaí atá á ndéanamh ag an Aire chun níos mó ban a mhealladh chun a bheith ina bprintísigh?

The question is about the actions the Minister will take to encourage more women to take up apprenticeships. We have an incredibly low rate of approximately 5% of female participation in apprenticeships. The reason is that traditional craft apprenticeships were male dominated but that is not a valid excuse because Britain does not have the same problem due to the wider range of apprenticeships, which we do not have in this country. That is the reason so few females are taking up this particular educational route.

I am aware that the Deputy has an interest in apprenticeships as he has asked a number of questions on it. Currently, there are 367 female apprentices registered, more than double the 2017 figure of 151 and a substantial increase on the 2016 figure of 60. I accept that is not enough but I have made a big effort since I came to this position to at least double the number of apprentices that we have today. The number of women employed in craft apprenticeships is low, reflecting the traditional low levels of overall female employment in the craft sectors. To address that, SOLAS offers a bursary to employers in those trades to encourage them to employ female apprentices.

In recent years, there has been a welcome increase in the number of women participating in apprenticeships overall, mainly because of the expansion of apprenticeship into new areas. Many of the new programmes are in occupations that have greater gender balance in the workplace, such as financial services and auctioneering. While the increase in the number of female apprentices is welcome, it is also important to address issues influencing the low level of recruitment of women in the craft sectors. SOLAS has completed a review on the pathways to participation in apprenticeship for underrepresented groups, including women. Areas highlighted for action include setting targets for female participation and considering extending the bursary to other apprenticeships. The bursary offers approximately €2,660 to an eligible employer to encourage him or her to employ females apprentices. We are considering extending the bursary.

Women feature prominently in all aspects of the Generation Apprenticeship campaign, which was launched in 2017 by SOLAS on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, radio and television to encourage women to take up apprenticeship. However, it would be untruthful to state that everything is fine with female apprentices. Much more needs to be done.

This is the biggest gender imbalance in the entire State, other than the Catholic priesthood. It is incredible that only 5% of apprentices are women.

A range of issues arise regarding the low take-up of apprenticeships. One is snobbery. We are all encouraging people to take up apprenticeships. Professor Kathleen Lynch spoke well at the ASTI conference. She said she would not encourage people to do apprenticeships until all of the professional middle classes have their own children do apprenticeships. That is the message we need to get out; namely, that they are of equivalent value to degrees. When people understand that, they will do them.

The issue up to now is that we have only catered for half of the population. The range and depth of apprenticeships on offer have traditionally been male dominated. There are no barriers to prevent women taking up apprenticeships, but the career choices are gender specific and they need to be broadened. Much more action is required in that regard to make sure that women take up apprenticeships, take pressure off the university system and show that it is a valid and equivalent way of educating oneself to any level one wants.

The Deputy's comments are important. Women are strongly represented in apprenticeships in the financial sector where they number approximately 46% of participants and 60% of accounting technicians are women. Progress has been made since 2016. We will announce another 16 to 19 new apprenticeships between this year and 2020. That will make it easier for women to participate in apprenticeships.

We have undertaken a comprehensive campaign. We are working with SOLAS and other agencies to attract women into apprenticeships. We offer a reasonable bursary to employers, which works out at approximately €96 a week for 26 weeks, who take on apprentices. We are running an extensive campaign on social media, in the press, and on radio and on television to encourage women to take up apprenticeships. In recent years, the rate of female participation in apprenticeships is almost 100%. I am confident that with the help of SOLAS, the bursary and working with employers we will dramatically increase women's participation in apprenticeships in the coming years.

There are areas where the Department has taken action regarding the participation of women in apprenticeships. In fairness to the Minister of State, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, there has been some action, although the effect of it remains to be seen in the higher education sector. Within the higher education sector we have the international programme and awards under the Athena SWAN initiative. The universities and institutes of higher education are doing fantastic work to promote gender equality and opportunity but it does not appear that the same is being done for apprenticeships. I do not know if there is an international standard in apprenticeships as there is in higher education, but perhaps that is the reason the pressure is on there. We need to put the pressure on ourselves and the Minister of State must put pressure on himself to ensure that we change the situation because it is not sustainable for civic society to have 95% of participants who are male and no realistic prospect of any substantial increase in the level of participation by women in the coming years. The rate will probably change slightly but we need much more dramatic action.

I have spoken to the Apprenticeship Council on a number of occasions about diversity in apprenticeships and in the take-up of apprenticeships as well as the expansion of the apprenticeship system into a range of new sectors of the economy. Previously, we had 60 females in apprenticeships and there has been almost a 200% increase in the meantime. I agree with the Deputy that the current level is not sufficient but between the bursary, the advertising campaign and talking to companies that take on apprentices, I am confident that the situation will have improved in two years. I would like to set a target of 600, which would be a fantastic increase on 60, and I believe it is possible to achieve it.

Special Educational Needs Service Provision

Questions (4)

Joan Burton

Question:

4. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans regarding the provision of autism-specific education in Dublin 15 for children at primary and secondary level; when work will commence on the proposed autism-specific school in Dublin 15; when the school will officially open; if he anticipates the possibility of opening the autism-specific school in temporary premises ahead of the 2019-20 academic year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19825/19]

View answer

Oral answers (11 contributions) (Question to Education)

I wish to ask the Minister about the indications he gave and promises he made regarding education for children living in Dublin 15 or Dublin 7 who are affected by autism. We have agreed that the evidence is that a special school is needed for children who are severely affected by autism spectrum disorder, ASD. Many of them also have serious behavioural disorders, with the result that children as young as six years of age are being excluded from primary school, which the Minister will agree is nonsensical. Does the Minister have a definite agreement with the Government to proceed to launch the special school? Will it open on a temporary basis for the upcoming academic year?

I assure the Deputy that concerns regarding a shortage of appropriate school places for next September are being taken very seriously. The Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, has been engaging with local groups on this issue directly. The National Council for Special Education, NCSE, has formally advised me that there is insufficient special school and special class capacity in Dublin 15. I wrote to the local parents' committee on 26 April. My Department, the NCSE and the office of An Taoiseach were represented at a meeting with parents on 29 April to discuss the issue.

My Department, the NCSE and school patrons are actively engaging to address the issue. As a result of these efforts, three special classes catering for 18 students are on track to open in September 2019. In addition, the NCSE met stakeholders, including education providers, in the Dublin 15 area on 30 April and further engagement with the objective of opening further special classes is ongoing.

If existing schools, including special schools, cannot provide the necessary number of places, other arrangements will be made following any necessary consultation with parents and schools. Options are being examined and scoped out in regard to establishing additional special school places to cater for the needs of children in Dublin 15. Officials of my Department are engaging with patron bodies, including Dublin and Dún Laoghaire Education and Training Board, with regard to suitable space which may be made available immediately for the purpose of providing the required placements. The NCSE will keep in regular contact with the parents of the children concerned to advise them of progress and identify placements as they become available.

I have discussed this matter in detail with An Taoiseach and my Department is actively engaged with the NCSE in taking steps to increase the number of suitable places to cater for the needs of children in Dublin 15.

I recently attended a very large public meeting in Tyrrelstown, Dublin 15, at which we heard in detail the concerns of parents whose children are affected by ASD. A spokesperson for the Taoiseach addressed the meeting. Deputies Coppinger and Jack Chambers were also in attendance. Parents very much need to know what is happening. We are making progress, but it is very slow.

The Minister referred to three classes of 18. Does that mean there will be space for 54 children or that there will be three classes of six?

Although the Minister may have been communicating with the Taoiseach on this issue, the Deputies representing Dublin West, who have raised this issue time and again, also need to be kept informed because we are the people on the ground dealing on a day-to-day basis with the parents affected by this situation.

To clarify, there will be three classes of six, giving a total of 18 spaces. A scoping exercise is being carried out to see whether there is additional capacity in any other schools. I acknowledge that far more than 18 students are affected by this issue, as has been publicly articulated at the meetings and elsewhere, as well as privately. For that reason, we are considering the possibility that an alternative property may provide a solution and there is active engagement with the ETB in that regard. I am reaching out publicly today to schools which believe they can provide additional capacity. That is one route which can be pursued, but it is not an overall solution for all of the students concerned, which is why we are seeking a solution in conjunction with the ETB.

I mentioned the Taoiseach because all Members of this House are elected as Deputies for their constituency. The Taoiseach is a Teachta Dála for the area in question and in that capacity he has been quite insistent and forceful regarding a solution being found on this issue. That is not to undermine the voices of Deputy Burton and other Deputies representing the constituency, who I acknowledge have raised this issue on several occasions and are working closely with the parents on it. I will keep the Deputies informed as soon as any information comes through.

Deputy Jack Chambers, Deputy Coppinger - who has also tabled a question on the issue - and I have been working on this issue constantly at committee, sub-committee and big public meeting levels, as well as with the various agencies. Can the Minister confirm what we were previously told, namely, that there will be an ASD-specific special school for Dublin 15 and Dublin 7? I appreciate that the Minister indicated that some additional capacity will be made available but I am unclear whether he is referring to the special school. The Dublin and Dún Laoghaire Education and Training Board has agreed to host the school, which is very good progress and we all hope that that will come about. Will the special school be established, whether in temporary or more permanent accommodation, possibly hosted by the ETB, for the academic year 2019-20?

Deputy Coppinger has a brief supplementary question on the same issue.

I want absolute clarity because this is a significant issue in Dublin 15 and elsewhere in the country. It will rear its head in every constituency, particularly those which are growing and have young populations. As Deputy Burton stated, there was a public meeting last week attended by almost 200 people. All of the local election candidates were in attendance. The ASD 15 campaign has very much progressed the matter and pushed it along. Is the Minister talking about an autism-specific school in Dublin 15, rather than asking schools to take in some students here and other students there? One could take that impression from his comments. A temporary building would be acceptable, but it would have to be specially designed for autism in the long run and have trained teachers who know what they are doing. It is wrong that schools must be asked whether they will take students in. The children should have access to suitable education as of right.

Let us be clear. The issue has been articulated in the public domain by the Deputies, their offices, the Taoiseach and others. There is a gap and a need. We are looking at extra capacity within existing schools and we are engaging with the ETB on a potential temporary solution for next September. Obviously, the building will need special adaptation if it is decided to utilise it. However, I do not wish to predetermine any decision. The matter is at an advanced stage of discussion and a significant amount of work has gone into it. As soon as the deliberations and discussions are complete, I will be in a better position to make a public announcement on the matter. I will not do so today because the continuing discussions are at an advanced stage.

I am very anxious to help the Minister achieve the special school for the parents and children who need it. Will he agree to meet the Deputies for the area, including the Taoiseach if he wishes to attend, because we are the people meeting the parents every day on the ground? It has been a long-standing practice in this House for Ministers to meet Deputies on overwhelmingly important issues such as this which affect their constituency.

Perhaps Fine Gael would revert to that practice while it is in government. The Minister told us he met the Taoiseach in his capacity as a Deputy. That is the same capacity we have. We will be happy to the meet the Minister this week or next week - we can accommodate him and I am sure Deputy Jack Chambers will agree as well - because the Minister must go through this in detail. He still has not answered the question of whether the ASD special school will be open, perhaps in temporary, borrowed or rented accommodation, for the beginning of the 2019-2020 academic year.

The Deputy is seeking two obvious answers. First, she is seeking an answer on something that has not been decided yet. She is also asking me to give the answer that she wants me to give. I will not do that out of justice to the parents and the community. I understand the effort she is putting into this and I am aware of the issue. That is why I formally arranged for NCSE officials and officials from my Department to meet the parents because, ultimately, it is the parents who need a solution for September. That is at an advanced stage, and as soon as I am in a position to give more information, I will be happy to do that and meet the Deputy.

Is the Minister meeting the parents?

Schools Building Projects

Questions (5)

Thomas Byrne

Question:

5. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Skills the status of the completion of remedial works in schools identified as requiring remedial works or precautionary measures for schools constructed by a company (details supplied). [20077/19]

View answer

Oral answers (11 contributions) (Question to Education)

I call Minister, or should I say Deputy Thomas Byrne.

Hopefully next February, a Cheann Comhairle. There are many ifs and buts before then.

Is February the date?

The leader of my party said that last November. He said he would go for another budget.

A February election.

Thank you for your confidence, a Cheann Comhairle. We will work hard to achieve it in the meantime. I had better stay in my leader's favour as well. However, this is a serious issue regarding the completion of the remedial works in the Western Building Systems schools. My question is about their status. The media cycle has moved on from this issue and the media are not covering it. People feel there is a lack of information, so it is important that the Minister provides as much clarity as possible. A number of schools are affected by this, including Ashbourne Educate Together national school, Gaelscoil na Mí, and St. Paul's national school, Ratoath, in my constituency. The Minister knows them only too well. Will he give a general update on this? I am keen to keep the matter in the public eye because many of the parents are very frustrated about it and they deserve information.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. I agree with him that it is important to make the information available because a great deal of work is taking place behind the scenes. A special unit has been set up in Tullamore and it is working on this each day, so I am happy to update the House on this important matter.

The Deputy will be aware that, last October and November, my Department carried out initial investigations into 42 schools that were built by the company to which he refers.  He will also be aware that, of those schools, 22 required precautionary measures to enable continued safe occupation.  The safety of pupils and staff has been and remains our first priority.

Following the initial investigations, which were based on sample opening up works, my Department initiated on 18 January last a second phase of detailed investigations for the schools.  This next phase of the programme is focusing initially on the 22 schools that have precautionary measures in place and Ardgillan community college, Balbriggan, part of which remains closed. The purpose of these investigations is to determine the type and extent of structural issues in each school and, from the technical information gathered by the appointed structural engineers, to design permanent remediation solutions where these are needed. In line with the update published in January, detailed structural investigations have been completed in 19 of the 22 schools with precautionary measures in place and in Ardgillan community college.  The investigations into the remaining three schools with precautionary measures in place will be completed by the middle of May.

In the meantime, significant work has been undertaken by my Department, supported by the National Development Finance Agency and an appointed multidisciplinary team, to design and plan permanent engineered remediation solutions for each of the 22 schools. An individual work plan for each school will flow from this body of work.  These plans will feed into an overall timetabled programme of remediation works for the schools which will commence during the summer months.  All efforts remain on track to achieve this objective. When the works programme is available, the details will be first shared at meetings with the patrons and the schools involved.  An overall update will also be published.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

In parallel with this work during the summer months, detailed structural investigations in 17 schools built by the same contractor without precautionary measures in place will also proceed.  A schedule for those detailed investigations issued to the 17 schools involved and their patrons last week.  The intention is that any remediation works that may be necessary in these schools will be carried out in 2020.

I again acknowledge and thank the principals, staff, parents and pupils for their patience and co-operation as my Department works its way through this complex process.

It does not sound as if a large number of schools will have remedial works completed by September. I do not fault the Department for this as it made every effort to do what it could when this first came to light, but it is still at the stage of plans. That is worrying because there is no indication when these plans will be executed. Unfortunately, that is a recurring theme with this Government. First, does the Minister have the funding to implement these plans? If he does, will that affect the funding of any other project? How many schools, if any, will be ready for September? I would be grateful for that information. What is the envisaged timeline for the entire project?

I will break it into two parts. There are the schools with the precautionary measures. The schools in the Deputy's constituency that have fencing outside or scaffolding at the entrances have precautionary measures. Three more such schools have to be investigated before the end of May. That will complete the 22 schools with precautionary measures. That will mean each of the schools will have intervention construction completed and ready for September next. In tandem with that, there are 17 schools that do not have precautionary measures. These schools do not have fencing, scaffolding or any intervention. Their investigations will take place throughout the summer and they will be ready for work in the new year. We have a job to do. The officials have been working very diligently with engineers, construction engineers and quantity surveyors in a live school environment. All this work is happening during the Easter holidays, at weekends and after the school day during the school term.

I have a question about the financial situation. Legal actions have been instigated. There were a number a couple of years ago and some were more recent, before Christmas. I do not know if there have been any since. Has any insurer come on record for the defendants? Is the Department in discussions with anybody about this, particularly anybody who has money to fund it, or is the Department alone funding it? Is the Department waiting for the outcome of court cases to finalise its plan of action so it can pay for it? What is the situation with those court actions?

To give an update on the court actions, cases in respect of two schools, Ardgillan community college and Tyrrelstown Educate Together national school, are in the Commercial Court as we speak and we are seeking a hearing in the autumn. That is fast-tracking at a good pace. I am happy with how it is progressing, but I am also conscious that this is before the court and I do not wish to put words on the record today as to how that will develop over time. As far as I and my officials are concerned, we are seeking to recoup this money to ensure that the intervention work that is required will be completed. I will be able shortly to give the House an update on exactly how much this will cost. I assure the Deputy that whatever moneys are involved, it will not impact on our planned programme in the year ahead.