Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Questions (51)

Joan Burton


51. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans to restore capitation grants to the pre-2011 level of €200 per pupil in view of the fact that per-pupil spending at primary level is substantially below OECD and EU averages; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26592/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Education)

I wish to ask the Minister about his plans to restore capitation grants to the pre-2011 level of €200 per pupil in view of the fact that per-pupil spending at primary level is substantially below OECD and EU averages and many schools are feeling the pinch with regard to capitation, particularly in areas where parents have lower incomes.

I fully recognise the need to improve capitation funding for schools and in the Action Plan for Education, I have committed to the restoration of capitation. I am pleased to have been able 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 this autumn. Over the course of the school year 2019-20, an additional €10 million will be allocated to primary and post-primary schools, of which €4 million will be allocated in 2019. I must be prudent. In the context of ongoing budgetary pressures, it is not possible to do everything that I would like to do in the education sector in any one year. It is my intention to seek funding in the next budget for further capitation increases for schools.

The Minister should be delighted that so many Deputies are raising the issue of capitation because it is certainly one of the biggest difficulties schools face. The Minister will be aware that many of the costs schools experience, particularly energy, heating and lighting costs, have soared in recent years. I know the Government talks a lot about the cost of insurance but the cost of insurance for schools has risen significantly and continuously over the past number of years. In addition, many schools are finding it more and more difficult to get cover unless they literally confine the children to walking with their hands by the sides and keep them out of what insurers like to see as danger areas.

How does the Minister expect schools to manage? Across the country, primary and secondary schools run lots of functions. I have attended lots of summer fairs in schools across my constituency. The one thing everybody mentions, be they people on the parent-teacher association, PTA, or teachers, is the enormous burden on the schools caused by the lack of restoration of the capitation grant. In modest demands presented to the Minister in respect of the budget, the INTO listed capitation as being critical.

The phrase, "modest demands", constitutes new vocabulary for me. There are many demands on this Department. When one considers a budget of €11 billion, the first question one asks is about how surely there is enough money in there to do everything we seek to do but the basics are really important. The Deputy is correct in pointing out that capitation is the bread and butter that keeps schools moving. The fact that there is a bit of flexibility around using ancillary and capitation funding together for expenditure is really important. Boards of management and parents' associations always go back cap in hand to the community and parents and the water eventually runs dry but I know that schools are such a fundamental part of the community. The day of the school gate being a dividing line between the school and the community is gone. I see the role now played by the private sector, for example, in secondary schools where it is looking to help out with computers. The community will always want to be part of the contributory process but we must also get the balance right and if capitation funding is needed, it is something on which I will focus.

The Minister must be aware that the lack of capitation is actually destructive of the quality of education and service schools can provide, particularly with regard to insurance. I do not know if the Minister has asked his officials to carry out a study into insurance costs for schools or a study into energy costs for schools but both are particularly onerous. If one takes the kind of schools with which the Minister was commiserating just a while ago, which were promised significant upgrades or rebuilds in 2004, he will know that those schools are likely to be the ones that have had the least amount of retrofitting with regard to energy conservation. In a way, the burden of the failure to improve and restore capitation falls on them. Remember that we have been in a restoration process for many things following the difficult years of the crash. Many schools built 40 or 50 years ago are basically heating the air when they operate their heating systems. Has the Minister asked anybody in his Department to have a look at this in a serious way?

We are taking the deep retrofitting of schools very seriously. This is why we have launched an initial pilot between my Department and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment in conjunction with the SEAI. One cannot use the word "modest" when one is talking about €30 million, which is a lot of money, but in the bigger scheme of things where one has 4,000 schools, €30 million will only do X number of those schools but we are looking at ways of ensuring that we do the proper deep retrofitting of schools because as I said earlier, students are demanding. Young people in these older schools are asking questions around climate change, are looking to their immediate environment and are asking why they are sitting in an environment like it. It goes back to choices. It goes back to the choices we must all make as politicians and the Deputy will recall the difficult years from 2011 through to 2016. Trying to deep retrofit all these schools in one go cannot happen but we must provide a pathway and instil confidence in young people that we are committed to it.