Questions Nos. 40 to 44, inclusive, answered orally.

Special Educational Needs Service Provision

Questions (45)

Niamh Smyth

Question:

45. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Education and Skills the status of the July provision for special needs children; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26081/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

My Department's July Provision Grant Scheme provides funding for an extended school year for students with severe or profound intellectual disabilities and students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).

The scheme was developed to reduce potential regression in learning associated with these specific categories of special education needs over the summer holidays.

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) which advises me on these matters published its Policy Advice on Educational Provision for Children with Autism in July 2016 which included a review of the July Scheme.

The review found that in general parents value July provision because it provides day-time respite for families and a structured day for students. The NCSE review found a number of problems with the scheme as currently organised.

These include concerns that the scheme may be inequitable because it is not provided to all students with complex special educational needs.

The Council recommended that the relevant Government Departments consider how an equitable national day activity scheme could be developed for all students with complex special educational needs.

The proposed scheme would provide a structured, safe, social environment for all students with complex special educational needs.

My Department has convened an Implementation Group to ensure that the Report’s recommendations are fully and appropriately considered.

There has been consultation with a number of other Departments and State agencies regarding the future direction of the July Education Programme.

It is expected that the Group will make recommendations shortly concerning a revised scheme which would be implemented next year at the earliest. Before any changes are made, there will be consultations with stakeholders.

Following settlement which was reached last week regarding 2 High Court cases where children with special educational needs were seeking access to the July Provision Scheme, officials from my Department are meeting with Down Syndrome Ireland today. I look forward to meeting with the organisation myself shortly.

Schools Building Projects Status

Questions Nos. 47 to 53, inclusive, answered orally.

Questions (46)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

46. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Skills the extent to which he expects to meet the requirements and objections as set out in the school building programme by county throughout 2019; if he remains satisfied that the objective as set out can be met; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26588/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

Under Project Ireland 2040, the Department continues to make progress to increase the infrastructural capacity in the schools sector nationally, in order to meet demographic and other demands.

In 2019, capital allocation for the school sector amounts to €622m which is an increase of €80m on the allocation for 2018.

It is anticipated that construction activity in 2018 and 2019 will deliver approx. 40,000 additional and replacement school places. This will facilitate the replacement of over 600 prefabs which is a key element of our prefab replacement programme. It will also facilitate the provision/modernisation of the sports facilities and science laboratories in these schools.

In April 2018, the Government announced plans for the establishment of 42 new schools over the next four years (2019 to 2022). This announcement followed nationwide demographic exercises carried out by my Department into the future need for primary and post-primary schools across the country and the 4-year horizon will enable increased lead-in times for planning and delivery of the necessary infrastructure. A new 16 classroom primary school (to be established in September 2019) in Ashbourne and a new special school in Dublin 15 were also announced in 2019 bringing the overall total to 44.

As the deputy is aware I announced details of the structural remediation programme last week which has now commenced.

My Department regularly updates the current position on all projects on the school building programme and this information is available in county format on my Department's website at www.education.ie.

Questions Nos. 47 to 53, inclusive, answered orally.

Schools Site Acquisitions

Questions (54)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

54. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Education and Skills the detail of the plans for a permanent site for Dún Laoghaire Educate Together; the timeframe for the site; the rationale for developing a temporary site for three years when a permanent site is due to be announced in Autumn 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26628/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

I can confirm to the Deputy that my Department is committed to providing a permanent accommodation solution for the school in question.

There are multiple school site requirements in the South Dublin City area, including that for Dun Laoghaire ETNS. A number of viable site options have been identified and are being progressed with the relevant stakeholders, including relevant State bodies.

Once all critical information is to hand a determination regarding the optimal configuration of school sites will be made.

Officials in my Department are working to advance matters as quickly as possible with a view to providing better clarity on the permanent location for Dun Laoghaire ETNS by the end of the summer.

The timeframe for the subsequent delivery of the school’s permanent accommodation cannot yet be confirmed as it will be subject to the statutory planning process and procurement, among other factors. It is intended to provide a new school building for Dun Laoghaire ETNS as part of my Department's Design and Build programme.

Schools Building Projects Status

Questions (55)

Martin Heydon

Question:

55. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Education and Skills the status of interaction with the board of management and design team of a school (details supplied) with a view to agreeing the best approach for providing the increased capacity needed for the school; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26625/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

The major building project for the project referred to by the Deputy is at Stage 1 of architectural planning which entails preliminary design of site and location suitability and initial sketch scheme.

A revised Stage 1 submission, including an up to date cost plan, was requested from the Design Team following an increase in the schedule of accommodation to cater for up to 1,200 pupils. That submission has been received and a review has been completed with comments for action issued to the School and its Design Team.

A further review has yielded a proposal for an increase in accommodation to a 1,300 pupil school, which has been accepted by the school. The Design Team has been instructed to provide an initial sketch scheme for a 1,300 pupil school, and submit to the Department for review.

Following this review my Department will then be in contact with the Board of Management of the school with regard to the progression of the project.

This project is included in my Department’s Construction Programme which is being delivered under the National Development Plan.

Special Educational Needs Service Provision

Questions (56)

Thomas Byrne

Question:

56. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Skills his views on the Enough is Enough - Every Voice Counts campaign; his views on whether the constitutional right to education is upheld in circumstances in which children with autism do not have access to school places; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26612/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

I am aware of the need for additional school places for children with special educational needs for school year commencing next September.

Enabling children with Special Educational Needs including Autism to receive an education appropriate to their needs is a priority for me and the Government.

We have significantly increased the availability of special placements for children with special educational needs as well as bringing more and more children into mainstream education.

The number of ASD special classes has more than doubled in the last 5 years from 511 in 2014 to 1,196 across the country now. Provision in special schools has increased from 6,848 placements in 2011 to 7,872 this year. The NCSE has informed my Department that they intend to establish approx. 156 new ASD special classes nationally for 2019/20 school year to meet currently identified need.

The NCSE has formally advised me that there is insufficient special school and special class capacity in Dublin 15.

This letter is the formal activation of section 37A of the Education Act 1998 (as inserted by section 8 of the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018). This contains a procedure through which the capacity of schools in an area can be tested and through which ultimately a Ministerial direction can be made requiring a school to make additional special education provision available.

I am not happy with the progress made so far and additional special classes are required. I am therefore appealing to the communities concerned to open their schools to receive children with special education needs into their schools next September.

The NCSE and my Department are available to advise and support school boards of management in making decisions to open new special classes.

Youthreach Programme Review

Questions (57)

Joan Burton

Question:

57. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Education and Skills his views on the recent report by the Economic and Social Research Institute on the evaluation of the national Youthreach programme; his plans to ensure early school leavers are tracked, followed up with and offered a place on a Youthreach or other suitable programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26591/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

As part of a series of reviews of Further Education and Training programmes, SOLAS commissioned an independent review of the National Youthreach Programme which was conducted by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI). The review report, launched on 17 June, provides a comprehensive evaluation of the National Youthreach Programme and, making use of both quantitative and qualitative data, demonstrates the positive impact of Youthreach for learners.

There are significant supports in place within the school system to support retention of students to the end of post-primary. This includes the comprehensive package of measures delivered through DEIS and the various elements of the School Completion programme managed by Tusla. There are also formal statutory mechanisms for follow up by Tusla in respect of students under the age of 16. School retention rates been steadily improving and 91% of learners now complete senior cycle.

However, there is no formal mechanism in place to refer early school leavers over the age of 16 into second chance education. The evaluation noted that the referral process to Youthreach was often through informal networks and, although centres typically had good engagement with schools and services, steps should be taken to ensure that all early school leavers who are interested in Youthreach have the opportunity to avail of it. My Department will be engaging with SOLAS and other partners on the implementation of this recommendation.

Counselling Services Provision

Questions (58)

James Browne

Question:

58. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Education and Skills his views on the recent survey indicating that record numbers of third level students are seeking counselling for mental health problems; if the number of counsellors per student is low compared to the recommended ratio agreed by an organisation (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26552/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

Student services and associated activities are an integral part of the whole student experience at third level. Student services support each individual student to achieve his/her intellectual, cultural and social potential while supporting and complementing the formal academic programme. Student services can fall under a number of headings, particularly ‘Welfare and Guidance’ which includes counselling services, health promotion, careers service, multi-faith, racial and ethnic cultural support.

In relation to the provision of services within the institutions, the position is that my Department's provides recurrent funding to the Higher Education Authority for direct disbursement to its designated higher education institutions. The HEA allocates this funding as a block grant to these institutions, and the internal disbursement of this funding, including the funding of student services, is a matter for the individual institution.

The National Youth Mental Health Task Force Report, 2017 made a number of recommendations in this area and highlighted the good practice and innovative initiatives aimed at supporting students experiencing mental health difficulties in many institutions, as outlined in the AHEAD report Mental Health Matters. The Department of Health is developing a National Healthy Campus Framework whose aims include to support and recognise the work of institutions in improving the health and wellbeing of campus communities, and to generate and disseminate knowledge for promoting health and wellbeing on campus. In addition a working group has been convened by the Higher Education Authority to progress actions under the Connecting for Life (CfL) strategy, and the first meeting of the group was in December 2018. The group includes representatives from my Department, higher education institutions, student counsellors, and USI.

Back to School Costs

Questions (59)

Kathleen Funchion

Question:

59. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans to reduce back to school costs for the 2019-20 school year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26615/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

I strongly support any measures that can be put in place to reduce back to school costs for parents.

It is important that we work to make life easier for families and this is a priority for the Taoiseach.

In the Action Plan for Education, I have committed to the restoration of capitation payments. My Department has commenced the process of restoring capitation this year with a 5% increase in capitation funding that will apply from the start of the 2019/2020 school year.

As the Deputy may be aware, my colleague, the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Regina Doherty T.D., has recently announced an increase to the back to school allowance for the 2019/2020 school, bringing the total budget provision for the scheme to over €56 million this year.

I also want to give parents a strong voice in ensuring costs are always kept to a minimum. My Department published a Circular in 2017 which details the measures to be adopted by schools to reduce the cost of school uniforms and other costs. In addition, work on the drafting of the Education (Student and Parent Charter) Bill 2019 is close to being finalised and I intend to seek Government approval shortly for its publication. Under the Bill, each school will be required to prepare, publish and implement a Student and Parent Charter in accordance with national guidelines to be published by the Minister after consultation with the education partners. The charter legislation will include requirements for consultation and engagement with parents and students on matters relating to school life and will include provision for full transparency in relation to costs and the use of any voluntary contributions sought by schools.

I believe that these actions will also significantly strengthen the focus on reducing back to school costs for parents.

Schools Site Acquisitions

Questions (60)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

60. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Education and Skills when a special school (details supplied) can expect to have a permanent site; his views on whether it is appropriate for a school that provides for children on the autism spectrum will be beside a building site for the whole of autumn 2019 and its outdoor space will be inaccessible due to the lack of a permanent site for both the school and Dún Laoghaire Educate Together. [26629/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

The school referred to by the Deputy is currently located in temporary accommodation and arrangements are in train to improved this accommodation. The Consultant which the school has appointed for this purpose is currently preparing the material required to lodge an application for planning permission with the local authority. This accommodation, when installed, will replace the school’s existing accommodation which will be removed from the site.

The new prefab accommodation will meet the short term needs of the school. The medium to longer term permanent accommodation needs will be kept under review and considered in the context of the rollout of the National Development Plan.

My Department is also committed to providing a permanent accommodation solution for Dún Laoghaire Educate Together National School.

Schools Building Projects Status

Questions (61)

Aindrias Moynihan

Question:

61. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Education and Skills the status of the project brief for a school redevelopment project at a school (details supplied); the most recent contacts with the school patron in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26630/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

The Deputy will be aware that a project for the school in question is included in my Department's school building programme to be delivered under the National Development Plan (NDP).

My Department has undertaken a site visit to the school as part of the preparatory work associated with progressing the project. The accommodation brief for the project is currently being finalised and this process is expected to be completed shortly. My Department has been liaising with the Patron of the school in relation to the proposed project and will be in further contact when the accommodation brief has been finalised. The project will be devolved to the Patron for delivery.

Schools Building Projects Status

Questions (62)

Ruth Coppinger

Question:

62. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Minister for Education and Skills the progress of the delivery of a permanent home for a school (details supplied) and the delivery of temporary accommodation for the coming school year. [26427/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

Permanent accommodation for the school referred to by the Deputy is being delivered under the Department’s Design & Build Programme. The brief for this project is to provide a 16 classroom primary school with a two classroom special needs unit.

A planning application for the permanent accommodation for the school was lodged in January 2019. Additional information sought by the local authority was provided and a notification of decision to grant planning permission was received on 24th May 2019. The final grant of planning permission will enable the project to proceed to tender after the tender documentation is finalised.

Final Grant of Planning Permission for the additional temporary accommodation required for September 2019 was received from Dublin City Council on 27 May 2019. The 7 Day Commencement Notice has been lodged with Dublin City Council, and the Contractor is expected to start on site Monday 8th July 2019.

Special Educational Needs Service Provision

Questions (63)

Niamh Smyth

Question:

63. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Education and Skills if his attention has been drawn to the fact that children are being taught in schools without the necessary supports needed due to delays in assessments for children attending school who have developmental issues and may require specialised support; the efforts being taken to clear the backlog; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26082/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

I can inform the Deputy that in 2017 my Department introduced a new model to support pupils with special educational needs. This means schools are now front-loaded with additional teachers to enable them to respond to pupil needs, rather than requiring an assessment to allow them to apply for such additional resource. This reduces the administrative burden on schools as schools will no longer have to complete an application process annually and apply for newly enrolled pupils who require additional teaching support. Children who need support can have that support provided immediately rather than having to wait for a diagnosis.

Additionally some pupils with developmental issues may require an assessment of need, which is provided by the HSE services.

My Department’s National Educational Psychological Service delivers a tiered, consultative model of service. Each school takes responsibility for initial assessment, educational planning and intervention for pupils with difficulties including those with developmental delay. Teachers consult with their NEPS psychologist for assistance should they need to at this stage in the process. Only in the event of a failure to make reasonable progress, in spite of the school's best efforts, in consultation with NEPS, will the psychologist become directly involved with an individual child for intensive intervention or assessment.

This system allows psychologists to give early attention to urgent cases and also to help many more children indirectly than could be seen individually. It also ensures that children are not referred unnecessarily for psychological support. I would advise that parents of children in schools for whom concerns exist in relation to developmental delay should, in the first instance, raise the matter with the principal of the relevant school with a view to involving the assigned NEPS psychologist in the issue, where appropriate.

Schools Building Projects Status

Questions (64)

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

64. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Education and Skills the status of a development at a school (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26458/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The Deputy will be aware that this project has been devolved to Donegal Education and Training Board (DETB) for delivery.

I am pleased to inform the Deputy that DETB has appointed a new architect to complete the delivery of the extension project. It will now work with the existing design team to finalise the Stage 2A process prior to lodging planning permission, which is still expected to take place in September/October.

I can also inform the Deputy that, in the meantime, approval has been given by my Department to carry out a series of works that will take place over this coming Summer. These works will include surveys of the existing main building to investigate issues with it, refurbishment works on the existing temporary accommodation on site, and works to address disabled access issues.

Special Educational Needs Service Provision

Questions (65)

Joan Collins

Question:

65. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will meet parents (details supplied) regarding ASD units in their area. [26576/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

I am aware of the need for additional school places for children with special educational needs for the school year commencing next September.

Enabling children with Special Educational Needs including Autism to receive an education appropriate to their needs is a priority for me and the Government.

We have significantly increased the availability of special placements for children with special educational needs as well as bringing more and more children into mainstream education.

The number of ASD special classes has more than doubled in the last 5 years from 511 in 2014 to 1,196 across the country now. Provision in special schools has increased from 6,848 placements in 2011 to 7,872 this year. The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has informed my Department that they intend to establish approx. 156 new ASD special classes nationally for 2019/20 school year to meet currently identified need.

The NCSE has a statutory function to plan and co-ordinate the provision of education and support services to children with special educational needs, in consultation with the relevant education partners and the Health Service Executive (HSE). In this regard, SENOs meet schools and parents.

This includes the establishment of special class and special school placements in various geographical areas where there is an identified need.

In deciding where to establish a special class in an area, the NCSE take account of the current and projected demand and the available school accommodation both current and planned.

The Council ensures that schools in an area can, between them, cater for all children who have been identified as needing special class placements.

Individual school boards of management are responsible for the establishment of special classes. It is open to any school to make application to the National Council for Special education (NCSE) to establish a special class.

When the NCSE sanction a special class in a school, the school can apply to my Department for capital funding to re-configure existing spaces within the school building to accommodate the class and/or to construct additional accommodation.

Similarly, where special schools wish to expand provision, the school can apply to my Department for capital funding to accommodate additional placements.

The new power to compel schools to make additional special education provision available has yet to be invoked.

While the NCSE and the Department continue to encourage stakeholders to open special classes, the process under the admissions legislation will continue and may lead to interaction with education providers entering a more formal process.

The NCSE is currently undertaking Policy Advice on Education Provision in Special Classes and Special Schools to examine whether placement in specialist settings brings about improved educational outcomes and experiences, relative to their ability, for students with special educational needs. This Policy Advice is to be completed and a report submitted to the Minister no later than June 2020.

Parents who need assistance/advice or who are experiencing difficulties in locating a specialised placement, should contact their local SENO. All local SENO the contact details are available on the NCSE website at http://ncse.ie/seno-contact-list.

Ensuring that every child has a suitable placement available to them from September is a key priority for this Government.

Skills Development

Questions (66)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

66. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Skills the extent to which he remains satisfied regarding the availability on an ongoing basis of sufficiently qualified young persons with the skill sets sufficient to meet the demands of the modern workplace, academically and technically; the degree to which corrective steps are needed to address deficiencies in this vital area in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26589/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The tertiary education system has a number of key strategies in place at all levels to ensure we meet existing and future skills demands in the workplace and equip young people and the working population more generally with the skills and capacity to meet these demands, to enhance the level of human capital in Ireland and provide a solid basis for long-term economic sustainability and rising living standards. These strategies include, in particular, the National Skills Strategy 2025 and the Action Plan for Education 2016-2019.

According to an OECD 2017 Report, the employment prospects and expected financial benefits from completing tertiary education in Ireland are higher than in most other European countries, indicating that the education system provides skills that are relevant to the labour market. This finding is supported by the analysis contained in the recent independent impact assessment of Irish universities carried out by Indecon and commissioned by the Irish Universities Association.

In relation to graduate supply, in 2017 there were a total of 48,931 graduates from the Higher Education system. Of this number, a significant proportion were in key skills areas, 2,765 were in ICT, 5,729 in Engineering Manufacturing and Construction and 4,200 in Science and Maths.

The National Employer Survey completed in Q2 2018, has shown that employers are very satisfied with graduate recruits across a range of personal and workplace attributes, including computer and technical literacy, working effectively with others and numeracy/processing numerical data. Overall satisfaction with higher education graduates was 86% and for further education and training graduates overall satisfaction was 84%. The satisfaction with the computer and technology literacy of graduates is very high (88% for Higher Education, 83% for Further Education and Training).

Future Jobs Ireland, which was launched in March 2019 is a new whole-of Government plan to secure Ireland’s economic success. A key element of Future Jobs Ireland is to support business, invest in the development of people and to ensure our education and training system is responsive to enterprise needs.

Technology Skills 2022: Ireland’s Third ICT Skills Action Plan which is a collaborative effort by Government, the higher and further education and training system and industry to meet Ireland’s high level ICT skills needs was recently published. The plan has devised measures that will boost the supply of ICT graduates to meet the ambitious level of demand forecast for the coming years. By 2022, the interventions outlined in this plan aim to deliver up to an additional 5,000 graduates per annum through indigenous supply, with the remainder serviced by inward migration.

In addition, I recently launched the Report of the independent Review of Career Guidance Tools and Information carried out by Indecon International Consultants. The report which contains 18 far reaching recommendations under four themes: Reforms to Governance and Delivery Arrangements, Improvement in Career Guidance Tools and Career Information, Enhancement of Enterprise Engagement and Promotion of Inclusion, will ensure that my Department is providing high quality, relevant career guidance information to students from post–primary level up to further and higher education. A Departmental internal taskforce has been established to examine each of the recommendations and develop a prioritised implementation plan.

I am satisfied that these and other important elements of my Departments strategies, developed in collaboration with key stakeholders, will help ensure that we are well prepared to meet our skills needs on an ongoing basis and to support the long-term success of our economy.

Schools Building Projects Status

Questions (67)

Fiona O'Loughlin

Question:

67. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Minister for Education and Skills the progress being made for a new school building for a school (details supplied). [26456/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

The major building project for the school referred to by the Deputy is at Stage 1 of architectural planning which entails preliminary design of site and location suitability and initial sketch scheme.

A revised Stage 1 submission, including an up to date cost plan, was requested from the Design Team following an increase in the schedule of accommodation to cater for up to 1,200 pupils. That submission has been received and a review has been completed with comments for action issued to the School and its Design Team.

A further review has yielded a proposal for an increase in accommodation to a 1,300 pupil school, which has been accepted by the school. The Design Team has been instructed to provide an initial sketch scheme for a 1,300 pupil school, and submit to the Department for review. Professional fees have been agreed with the Design Team members for this additional task.

Following this review my Department will then be in contact with the Board of Management of the school with regard to the progression of the project.

This project is included in my Department’s Construction Programme which is being delivered under the National Development Plan.