Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Questions (227)

Dara Calleary


227. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Education and Skills if his attention has been drawn to the fact that special needs schools are facing uncertain futures as a result of rising insurance costs; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that some patron bodies in the health sector that previously included special schools under their patronage in their insurance policies are now being instructed by the Department of Health that they can no longer do so; the arrangements he is making to ensure that capitation grants are increased to allow these schools to pay their insurance premiums; the other measures being undertaken to ensure that such schools remain open; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26830/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

Securing and maintaining adequate and appropriate insurance cover is a matter for the managerial authority of each school.

My Department is aware of issues relating to very significant increases in insurance costs in some special schools, through correspondence received from some special schools, through discussions with the National Association of Boards of Management in Special Education (NABMSE) and media reports.

These increases appear due, in some instances, to an annual increase in insurance costs generally and, in some cases, an increase in claims against special schools.

Separately, a number of special schools under the patronage of organisations that are funded by the HSE to provide health and personal social services on behalf of the HSE under Section 38 of the Health Act, experienced increased insurance quotes, when the funded bodies were delegated to the General Indemnity Scheme (GIS) under the State Claims Agency. The effect of the delegation was that the special schools under their patronage needed to seek separate insurance cover.

The mechanism for funding schools, including special schools, is through the provision of capitation for running costs including insurance. There is no scope to provide additional funding to schools outside this mechanism.

Additional funding has been made available to provide for a 5% increase in capitation funding for primary and post-primary schools that will apply from the start of the 2019/20 school year.

While some special schools under the patronage of organisations funded by the HSE under Section 38 and 39 of the Health Act are among special schools that are experiencing increases in insurance costs in recent years, since the funded bodies were delegated to the General Indemnity Scheme (GIS) under the State Claims Agency, over 50% of special schools that are not under this patronage, have always had separate insurance cover funded from their capitation grants and have not had the benefit of being included as part of a larger body's insurance cover.

My Department is working as a matter of urgency with NABMSE and relevant Government departments, including the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the State Claims Agency, to seek a resolution to the issue of increased insurance costs in special schools.

A number of options have been identified to address the issue. These include the development of a group insurance scheme for special schools, which, at this stage, appears to be the most viable.

My Department has been working with NABMSE in recent weeks to explore options for establishing a group insurance scheme. NABMSE has agreed to facilitate the establishment of a group insurance scheme on behalf of special schools.

As a first step, NABMSE met with boards and patrons on 6th June to discuss the matter and options available. An official from my Department attended this meeting. The importance of all special schools signing up for such a scheme was emphasised at the recent meeting and all school representatives who were in attendance, were in favour of exploring the Group Scheme option.

Special Schools have until the 28th June to return a letter authorising NABMSE to represent the schools on all matters pertaining to the proposed special school insurance ‘Group Scheme’. NABMSE hope to publish a request for tender for a brokerage service on receipt of letters of authorization from schools and have a broker in place before the end of July.

15 special schools have contacted my Department directly, who are experiencing difficulty in paying insurance premiums currently, some of which were facing closure as a result. These schools report increases in insurance of between 30% to over 700% in recent years.

My Department has agreed to provide advanced school capitation payments on an exceptional basis to a number of special schools and is currently engaging with the schools involved in this regard. An advance in capitation has been provided to 2 specials schools to date.

In making the decision to issue advanced capitation, my Department has had regard to a number of factors which have combined to create an insurmountable and unforeseeable financial challenge for the special school.

Taking into account the amount of capitation due to the special schools for 2019/20, the impact a full recoupment might have on the schools next year and their ability to meet other costs, methods of recoupment will be explored with each school individually.

It is not sustainable however for my Department to continue to advance capitation payments as a way of meeting vastly increased insurance premiums.

I know that this is a cause of concern to schools as well and it is my hope that a speedy and cost effective resolution can be secured for impacted special schools.