Special Educational Needs Service Provision

Questions (68)

Kathleen Funchion

Question:

68. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Education and Skills the reason the number of language units is being decreased rather than increased (details supplied); the policy in place regarding the continuation of language units; his plans for a new type of provision replacing the current model; the level of provision of education services for children with a diagnosis of developmental language disorder; his views on whether it is meeting the demand for services; the policy in place for provision of language devices to children who need a device in order to communicate and attend a school setting; the application process for parents with children that need such language devices; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26619/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

63 Specific Speech and Language Disorder special classes in mainstream primary schools will be provided for the 2019/20 school year. This compares to 60 such special classes in 2011/12. In the period 2011 to 2019, the number of SSLD special classes has ranged from 60 - 65, depending on need.

My Department provides an extensive range of supports for pupils with Specific Speech and Language Disorder (SSLD). This includes provision for the establishment of special classes for pupils with SSLD in primary schools.

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE), through its network of local Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENOs), is responsible for processing applications from schools for special educational needs supports, including applications to establish special classes for SSLD. Applications meeting the criteria for establishment are approved by the NCSE.

The NCSE continues to monitor and review the requirement for special class places in particular areas and has capacity to establish such new classes or retain current classes where necessary, subject to the willingness of schools to open/retain classes. The NCSE welcomes expressions of interest from schools in opening special classes to meet the demand for special class provision. In deciding on the location of a special class SENOs take into account both the present and the future potential need for special class provision, and they must also be satisfied that the special class is sustainable and appropriately located. SENOs liaise with relevant professionals in their area to arrive at an informed decision.

The opening and retention of a Speech and Language class is, however, contingent on the HSE being in a position to provide Speech and Language therapy to the students in the class. The availability and provision of speech and language therapy is the responsibility of the Health Service Executive (HSE).

My Department has recently set up a working group to consider the criteria for Specific Learning Disability (SLD) and Specific Speech and Language Therapy (SSLD). The aim of the working group is twofold:

- To review the current definition of SLD and SSLD, which continues to be used as a criteria for entry to Reading schools, special SLD classes, for Assistive Technology and other supports for students with SLD

- To develop a new definition/criteria for SLD and SSLD and for entry to special Reading Schools and special SLD and SSLD classes.

NCSE SENOs also make recommendations to my Department where assistive technology is required. The NCSE operates within my Department's criteria in making recommendations for support, which is set out in my Department's Circular 0010/2013.

In order to qualify for equipment under the assistive technology scheme, a student must have been diagnosed with a physical or communicative disability and must also have a recommendation in a professional assessment that the equipment is essential in order to allow the student to access the curriculum. It must also be clear that the existing I.T. equipment in the school is insufficient to meet the child's needs.

Communication devices which are not specific educational interventions, or equipment specifically required as essential for school educational access, and which have a general application outside of school, are normally provided for children with disabilities by the Health Service Executive (HSE) through the HSE Aids and Appliances scheme are not provided for under this scheme.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio

Questions (69)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

69. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans to reverse the changes introduced in the pupil-teacher ratio for two, three and four-teacher schools in 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26546/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

I am holding a symposium tomorrow to engage with people and organisations who work in and with small schools. I am interested to listen to the views of the experts, but more importantly to engage with ideas and proposals on how to support and sustain small schools as a key component of the primary education system.

Budget 2012 increased the appointment and retention ratios for small schools, i.e. schools with four classroom teachers or fewer.

Since 2015, measures have been introduced to improve the staffing of these schools which has seen improvements in the appointment and retention thresholds for the 2nd, 3rd and 4th classroom teacher and more favourable enrolment thresholds for one teacher schools situated 8km or more from the nearest school of the same type of patronage and/or language of instruction.

Budget 2017 announced two adjustments in relation to one teacher schools. Additional supports were introduced for primary schools on the islands. In relation to single teacher schools generally with an enrolment of 15 or more pupils the school can apply to the staffing appeal board for a second post where the single teacher has children across 6 or more class groups.

Small schools have also benefitted from the 1 point improvement to the primary staffing schedule for all schools implemented in 2016 and again in 2018. For the current school year, the staffing schedule at Primary level operates on a general average of 26 pupils to every 1 teacher (26:1) which is historically the lowest ever allocation ratio at primary level.

In addition, the staffing process includes an appeals mechanism for schools to submit a staffing appeal under certain criteria, including a specific appeal measure for small schools, to the Primary Staffing Appeals Board.

Any additional improvement in the pupil teacher ratio would have to be considered as part of the next annual budgetary process, alongside the many other demands from the education sector.

Schools Site Acquisitions

Questions (70)

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

70. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Education and Skills the status of the site acquisition to accommodate a school (details supplied); the timeline of works to ensure that the school campus is completed as soon as possible; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26459/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

As the Deputy is aware, the provision of new accommodation for the schools in question is included in my Department’s capital programme. The project to provide this school accommodation requires the acquisition of a suitable site and this has proved to be extremely challenging to date, despite the best efforts of my Department and of officials in Donegal County Council who are assisting under the Memorandum of Understanding.

I can assure the Deputy that my Department is doing its utmost to deliver a solution for the schools at the earliest possible date and officials in both my Department and Donegal County Council are actively engaged in this process.

School Staff

Questions (71)

Thomas Byrne

Question:

71. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Skills the status of meetings with representatives of school secretaries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26610/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

I recognise the very important work done by school secretaries, and indeed by 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.

I have recently relaxed the moratorium for those C&C and ETB schools with enrolments of 700 and more which allow them to employ an additional School Secretaries up to a maximum of two per school. There are 91 schools in the C&C and ETB Sector who meet this criteria, based on the information currently available to this Department. This is an initial step and has taken immediate effect.

Schemes were initiated in 1978 and 1979 for the employment of Clerical Officers and Caretakers in schools. The schemes were withdrawn completely in 2008.

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.

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 individual schools. Specific responsibility for the 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 of 10% between 2016 and 2019 for staff and that a minimum hourly pay rate of €13 be phased in over that period. This arbitration agreement 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 from 1 January 2019, been paid €13 per hour which is 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 the 9th of April to discuss the status of non-teaching staff.

Officials from my Department recently had discussions with FÓRSA trade union representatives as part of a planned meeting. FÓRSA took the opportunity to formally table a pay claim.

This was tabled as a follow-on claim from the current pay agreement for this cohort of staff which lasts until December 2019. The Department will seek to establish the full current cost of the trade union’s claim. This is standard practice.

FÓRSA's claim will be fully considered once the current costings have been determined on completion of a survey. The Department is fully open to having further dialogue with FÓRSA once this work has been undertaken.

Special Educational Needs Service Provision

Questions (72)

Gino Kenny

Question:

72. Deputy Gino Kenny asked the Minister for Education and Skills if the exclusion of children with Down's syndrome from the July provision will be investigated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22695/19]

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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 which might include some children with Down syndrome.

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.

Officials from my Department are due to meet with Down Syndrome Ireland this week and I look forward to meeting them in the weeks to come.

Special Educational Needs Service Provision

Questions (73)

Eamon Ryan

Question:

73. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Education and Skills if, further to the enactment of the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018, he has instructed schools to make additional provision for children with special needs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26584/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018 was passed by the Oireachtas on 4th July 2018, and was signed into law by the President on the 18th July 2018.

The Act will create a more parent-friendly, equitable and consistent approach to how school admissions policy should operate for schools.

The first stage of commencement on 3rd October 2018 brought a number of sections of the Act into operation including the banning of admission fees and the amendment of the Equal Status Act 2000 to remove, in the case of recognised denominational primary schools, the existing provision that permits such schools to use religion as a selection criterion in school admissions. Under this provision, there will be a protection to ensure that a child of a minority faith, can still access a school of their faith or a similar faith.

Section 8 of the Act, which commenced on the 3rd of December 2018, also provides the Minister with a power, after a process of consultation with the NCSE, the board of management and the patron of the school, to compel a school to make additional provision for the education of children with special educational needs. A number of sections of the Act were commenced in 2018.

Whereas most children, including children with special educational needs, will be able to be enrolled in the school or school placement of their choice there are circumstances where it may be difficult for parents to obtain the school or special class placement of their choice.

The Government is spending nearly one euro in every five of the education budget on special education – about €1.9 billion. We have significantly increased the availability of special classes for children with special educational needs as well as bringing more and more children into mainstream education.

Notwithstanding the extent of this additional investment, there are some parts of the country where increases in population and other issues have led to pressure on school places for children with special needs, it is vital that all children, including those with special educational needs, can access an appropriate and sustainable placement.

I have been assured that the National Council for Special Education (NCSE), an independent agency of the Department, is actively engaging with schools, patron bodies, parents, the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS), health professionals and other staff who are involved in the provision of services for children with special educational needs to try to ensure that each child has a school placement appropriate to their needs for the 2019/20 school year.

As Minister, my objective is for children, including children with special educational needs, to access education in as inclusive a setting as possible where they will experience a welcoming school environment.

Following the commencement of the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018, a power has been created to allow me to compel a school to make additional provision for special education.

The power has yet to be invoked and I believe it should only be used as a measure of last resort.

As Minister, I hope that schools, patrons and boards of managements can be encouraged to work together with the NCSE to meet demand in the best interests of the children concerned.

Ensuring that every child has a suitable placement available to them from September is a key priority for me and my Department.

School Transport

Questions (74)

Kathleen Funchion

Question:

74. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans to address school transport issues, particularly in counties Carlow and Kilkenny, regarding the nearest school rule; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26616/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

School transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department.

There are currently over 117,500 children, including over 13,000 children with special educational needs, transported in over 5,000 vehicles on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country covering over 100 million kilometres annually.

The purpose of the scheme is, having regard to available resources, to support the transport to and from school of children who reside remote from their nearest school.

Children are generally eligible for school transport if they satisfy the distance criteria and are attending their nearest school.

Children who are eligible for school transport and who complete the application process on time will be accommodated on school transport services where such services are in operation for the 2019/20 school year.

Children who are not eligible for school transport may apply for transport on a concessionary basis only and will be facilitated where spare seats are available on existing services after eligible children have been accommodated.

Families wishing to avail of transport on a concessionary basis should, having completed the online application process, liaise with their local Bus Éireann office regarding the availability of such services for the 2019/20 school year.

The terms of the School Transport Schemes are applied equitably on a national basis.

Special Educational Needs Service Provision

Questions (75)

Kathleen Funchion

Question:

75. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Education and Skills the reason in the recent SNA allocation announcement of May 2019 that SNA allocations to schools were cut rather than increased in schools in which both teachers and principals were recommending and requesting an increase; the number of schools nationally that experienced a decrease in the number of SNAs and SNA hours granted for the 2019-20 school year; the justifications given in cases in which a reduction was made; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26618/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

I announced on 27th May that 792 additional SNA posts will be allocated to schools for the beginning of the 2019/20 school year, with up to 130 additional posts expected to be allocated by December 2019.

By the end of this year, there will be up to 15,950 SNAs working in our schools, an increase of over 51% since 2011.

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) is responsible for allocating a quantum of Special Needs Assistant (SNA) support for each school annually taking into account the assessed care needs of children qualifying for SNA support enrolled in the school.

The NCSE allocates SNA support to schools in accordance with the criteria set out in Department Circular 0030/2014, which is available on my Department's website at www.education.ie, in order that students who have care needs can access SNA support as and when it is needed.

In considering applications for SNA support for individual pupils, the NCSE take account of the pupils' needs and consider the resources available to the school to identify whether additionality is needed or whether the school might reasonably be expected to meet the needs of the pupils from its current level of resources.

SNAs are not allocated to individual children but to schools as a school based resource.

SNA allocations to all schools can change from year to year as children with care needs leave the school, as new children with care needs enrol in a school and as children develop more independent living skills and their care needs diminish over time.

The NCSE Appeals Process may be invoked by a parent or a school where it is considered that a child was not granted access to SNA support because the requirements outlined in Circular 0030/2014 were not complied with. Schools may also appeal a decision, where the school considers that the NCSE, in applying Department policy, has not allocated the appropriate level of SNA support to the school to meet the special educational and/or care needs of the children concerned.

Where a school has received its allocation of SNA support for 2019/20, but wishes new enrolments or assessments to be considered, which were not taken into account when the initial allocation was made, they may continue to make applications to the NCSE.

The closing date for receipt of appeals in regard to SNA allocations is Friday 27th September 2019.

The NCSE publish the allocations for individual schools for each school year and this information is available on their website, www.ncse.ie .

Schools Site Acquisitions

Questions (76)

Fiona O'Loughlin

Question:

76. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Minister for Education and Skills if there has been progress on the signing of a contract for the site for the new school building for a school (details supplied); and the progress in tendering. [26457/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The major building project for this school is at an advanced stage of architectural planning, Stage 2b – Detailed Design, which includes the applications for Planning Permission, Fire Cert and Disability Access Cert and the preparation of tender documents. All statutory approvals have been obtained.

Following a legal challenge, authorisation to re-commence the pre-qualification process issued to the Design Team and school. This advert has recently closed and the Design Team is currently in the process of compiling a shortlist of contractors for tender stage.

When the pre-qualification process for the main contract and reserved specialists contracts is complete, the project will then be progressed to tender stage.

A tender stage normally takes between 7 and 8 months to complete.

Regarding the site acquisition, legal representatives for both vendor and purchaser are working together with a view to concluding the conveyancing. There has been progress on foot of close engagement between both parties.

The present position is that the draft Contract for Sale, (incorporating a number of amendments) has been recently referred for consideration to the vendor’s legal representatives. When the vendor’s legal representatives have had an opportunity to consider all the points, a meeting of both parties is being proposed in order to finalise matters.

Teacher Supply

Questions (77)

Joan Collins

Question:

77. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Education and Skills the policies he is proposing to bring home the 6,000 Irish teachers working abroad, with significant numbers in the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar; and the expected outcome of his visit to the United Arab Emirates. [26596/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

Management bodies and schools have, in recent years, reported difficulties in recruiting teachers. At primary level this relates mainly to the recruitment of substitute teachers and at post primary to the recruitment of teachers of particular subjects such as STEM, modern foreign languages, Irish and Home Economics.

In response to these difficulties, the Teacher Supply Steering Group, which is chaired by the Secretary General of my Department, was established in March 2018.

The Steering Group is considering the issues that relate to teacher supply under four policy headings: initial teacher education policy, provision, funding and support; data/research requirements; policies and arrangements for schools and teachers that impact on teacher mobility/supply; and promotion of the teaching profession.

The Steering Group oversees the implementation of the Action Plan for Teacher Supply, which I published in November 2018. Several of the actions are aimed at supporting Irish teachers who are considering returning to Ireland to take up teaching positions, including:

- The commencement of a new teacher sharing scheme for post-primary schools in the 2019/20 school year, as set out in my Department’s Circular 0015/2019. This scheme will support young teachers in obtaining full time employment and enhance curricular choices in post primary schools.

- An online teacher recruitment portal is being developed which will facilitate the recruitment of short term substitute teachers by primary and post primary schools. It is intended that the portal will be in place for the coming school year.

- The use of digital technology by schools to facilitate interviewing applicants, for teaching posts, is also being explored, particularly in the case of qualified applicants resident outside the State.

- The Teaching Council is developing more streamlined processes for the registration of teachers, including those originally from Ireland, who qualified in jurisdictions outside the State.

- In December 2018, a national campaign to promote the teaching profession was launched across a number of platforms, including radio and digital media, supported by a new dedicated webpage www.gov.ie/teachingtransforms. This website provides useful information about teaching as a career in Ireland.

The Deputy is referring also to my recent Education Trade Mission to the UAE.

While in the UAE, I engaged with 450 Irish teachers at two meetings in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. These meetings gave me the opportunity to hear the challenges facing these teachers and also gave them a chance to offer practical solutions to some issues.

The meetings allowed me in my role as Minister to meet with these teachers and discuss first hand with them the challenges they face in returning to Ireland and to consider ways that we can work together, to support them, when and if they decide to return to work in Ireland.

To facilitate this, teachers volunteered to form a group to liaise on the identified issues with the embassy and my Department. Arrangements are being made for the first meeting of this group in the Autumn.

I want to thank the Irish ambassador and his staff in the Embassy, the local Irish groups, including the GAA, and the Irish living in the UAE for the work they did to make this visit a success.

Schools Building Projects Status

Questions (78)

Pat the Cope Gallagher

Question:

78. Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher asked the Minister for Education and Skills the progress being made on four school projects (details supplied) in County Donegal; the timeline for the delivery of the school buildings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26349/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

St Eunan’s College, Letterkenny

This major building project is included on my Department’s ADAPT Programme. My Department is currently in the process of finalising the appointment of a Project Manager for this Programme. The process to appoint a Design Team for this project has also recently commenced and is underway.

Gaelscoil na gCeithre Maistrí

This major building project is currently at Stage 2a (Developed Design). At this stage the preferred option design is developed to a stage where the project is fully cost planned and can be prepared to lodge for statutory approvals.

Little Angel’s Special School

The major building project for Little Angels is at an advanced stage of architectural planning, Stage 2b (Detailed Design). The Stage 2(b) submission has been reviewed by my Department and comments have issued to the school and its’ Design Team.

The Design Team is currently working on a submission to my Department outlining the steps required to achieve compliance with Part L of the Building Regulations 2017 (NZEB "Near Zero Energy Building").

Scoil Mhuire, Stranorlar

This major building project is also at Stage 2b. The pre-qualification process to select a shortlist of contractors for tender stage has been completed. The Design Team is currently completing work on its NZEB submission.

When the Design Team’s revised NZEB submission has been considered, my Department will be in contact with the Board of Management at that time with regard to the further progression of the project.

Teachers' Remuneration

Questions (79)

Joan Burton

Question:

79. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans to return to the principle that teachers would start at point three of their pay scale instead of the first point; his plans to reinstate additional payments to teachers with masters qualifications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26594/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The public service agreements have allowed a programme of pay restoration for public servants to start. The starting salary for a new entrant teacher in 2012 was €30,702. As a result of the programme of pay restoration, the starting salary of a teacher is now €36,318 and from 1 October 2020 onwards will be €37,692.

Section 11 of the Public Service Pay and Pensions Act 2017 provides that “the Minister [for Public Expenditure and Reform] shall, within three months of the passing of this Act, prepare and lay before the Oireachtas a report on the cost of and a plan in dealing with pay equalisation for new entrants to the public service.”

The report laid before the Oireachtas on foot of this provision by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform assesses the cost of a further change which would provide a two scale point adjustment to new entrants recruited since 2011. The total cost of such an adjustment across the public sector is of the order of €200 million, of which Education accounts for €83 million. The report also acknowledges that, during the financial crisis, there were policy changes which affected remuneration in different occupations across the public sector (including education).

The matter of new entrant pay is a cross sectoral issue, not just an issue for the education sector alone. The Government supports the gradual, negotiated repeal of the FEMPI legislation, having due regard to the priority to improve public services and in recognition of the essential role played by public servants.

On 24 September 2018, an agreement was reached between the Government and the public services committee of ICTU in respect of new entrant pay.

This agreement will benefit 16,000 teachers and nearly 5,000 SNAs within the education sector. The deal provides for a series of incremental jumps for new entrants.

I am aware that the teacher unions have outstanding issues of concern following the September 2018 agreement. These outstanding matters will be given full consideration. This will happen either in the context of any pay review mechanism agreed by the parties to the Public Service Stability Agreement, or in the context of the next round of pay talks. The positions of each of the parties on these matters must be given due regard in endeavouring to reach a mutually agreed resolution.

The matter of the H. Dip Allowance is the basis of a claim under the TCC. Discussions are taking place under the auspices of the TCC, to which the Department, school management and teacher unions are all party. As the proceedings of the TCC are confidential, it would not be appropriate for me to make any further comment.

The current series of restorative measures for new entrants have been achieved through continued engagement and collective bargaining between the Government and the public service unions and shows the benefits that such engagement can bring.

Special Educational Needs Data

Questions (80)

Joan Burton

Question:

80. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Education and Skills the number of additional school places secured in existing schools in Dublin 15 for the provision of autism-specific education for the academic year 2019-20; if existing schools cannot provide the necessary number of places, his plans to ensure children do not go without a school place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26590/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

I am aware of the need for increased specialist education provision in the Dublin area.

The Government is spending nearly one euro in every five of the education budget on special education – about €1.9 billion in 2019. 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.

Notwithstanding the extent of this investment, issues remain. There are some parts of the country where increases in population and other issues have led to shortages in capacity in the school system.

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) wrote to me on 18th April pursuant to provisions now contained in the Education Act through which ultimately a Ministerial direction can be made requiring a school to make additional special education provision available.

The NCSE identified that provision is required for 40 special school places for students with complex needs, including ASD, in Dublin 15.

As existing special schools could not provide the necessary number of places within the timescale, it is necessary to establish a start-up special school in the area.

Work is well advanced on the establishment of a new special school in the Dublin 15 area.

The NCSE and my Department are actively engaging with education service providers in order to encourage them to address the shortage of places. 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.

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.

In short, ensuring that every child has a suitable placement available to them from September is a key priority for this Government.

Parents/guardians who may need advice or are experiencing difficulties in locating a school placement should contact their local SENO who can assist in identifying an appropriate educational placement for their child. Contact details are available on www.ncse.ie.

Institutes of Technology

Questions (81)

Lisa Chambers

Question:

81. Deputy Lisa Chambers asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans for the future for the GMIT Castlebar campus in County Mayo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26281/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

Firstly, I would like to reiterate the Government's commitment to the future sustainability of the Castlebar Campus of Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) which was the motivation for establishing the Working Group so as to develop a plan to safeguard the future of the campus.

The Report of the Working Group was published in December 2017. It provides a wide-ranging assessment of the context within which the campus is currently operating and outlines a proposed vision for the future of the Mayo Campus, as well as a strategic and comprehensive plan to address the financial and sustainability issues which have been experienced by the GMIT Mayo Campus.

As the Deputy is aware, the plan includes 33 recommendations, the majority of which are for GMIT to implement. A sub-committee has been established to oversee and monitor the implementation of the working group report. My Department has prioritised the recommendations that relate specifically to the Department. This includes the allocation last year of €750,000 per annum for a period of 5 years to assist the sustainability of the campus. The provision of this additional funding is contingent on GMIT continuing to make progress on implementing the recommendations of the review which is subject to ongoing review by the HEA. My Department also provided the capital funding for the replacement of the roof of the GMIT campus which was in need of repair.

My Department and the HEA are continuing to work closely with GMIT to ensure that all of the recommendations of the report are progressed. The working group report acknowledged the complexities and the necessary implementation time required for a number of the recommendations.

I would like to again assure the Deputy that my Department and the HEA will continue to work with GMIT on ensuring that the recommendations of the Working Group are implemented as soon as possible, and with appropriate consultation with relevant stakeholders, to ensure the future sustainability of the Castlebar campus.

Insurance Costs

Questions (82)

Thomas Byrne

Question:

82. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will report on special schools that have raised the issue of insurance costs; the number of schools that have contacted his Department; the advance capitation released to date; the increased insurance costs reported by schools; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26609/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The work done by the 124 special schools is invaluable. Since my appointment as Minister I have had the opportunity to visit a number of these schools and see first hand the work they do.

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.

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

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. NABMSE met with boards and patrons on 6th June to discuss the matter and options available. An official from my Department attended this meeting.

At this stage, the Group Scheme proposal appears to be the most viable. The importance of all 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.

15 special schools have contacted my Department directly, who are experiencing difficulty in paying insurance premiums currently. These schools report increases in insurance of between 30% to over 700% in the last 2 years. My Department has advanced school capitation payments on an exceptional basis to 2 special schools to date, amounting to € 36,860. My Department is currently engaging with the other schools in this regard.

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.

Special Educational Needs Service Provision

Questions (83)

Gino Kenny

Question:

83. Deputy Gino Kenny asked the Minister for Education and Skills if his attention has been drawn to the fact that following the review by the National Council for Special Education of special needs assistants that schools in an area (details supplied) have lost approximately 12 SNAs despite a promise by the previous Minister for Education and Skills that each child requiring a SNA will have access to one; his views on the negative impact the loss of the SNAs will have on children with special needs and take steps to reverse same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26502/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

I announced on 27th May that 792 additional SNA posts will be allocated to schools for the beginning of the 2019/20 school year, with up to 130 additional posts expected to be allocated by December 2019.

By the end of this year, there will be up to 15,950 SNAs working in our schools, an increase of over 51% since 2011.

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) is responsible for allocating a quantum of Special Needs Assistant (SNA) support for each school annually taking into account the assessed care needs of children qualifying for SNA support enrolled in the school.

The NCSE allocates SNA support to schools in accordance with the criteria set out in Department Circular 0030/2014, which is available on my Department's website at www.education.ie, in order that students who have care needs can access SNA support as and when it is needed.

In considering applications for SNA support for individual pupils, the NCSE take account of the pupils' needs and consider the resources available to the school to identify whether additionality is needed or whether the school might reasonably be expected to meet the needs of the pupils from its current level of resources.

SNAs are not allocated to individual children but to schools as a school based resource.

SNA allocations to all schools can change from year to year as children with care needs leave the school, as new children with care needs enrol in a school and as children develop more independent living skills and their care needs diminish over time.

The NCSE Appeals Process may be invoked by a parent or a school where it is considered that a child was not granted access to SNA support because the requirements outlined in Circular 0030/2014 were not complied with. Schools may also appeal a decision, where the school considers that the NCSE, in applying Department policy, has not allocated the appropriate level of SNA support to the school to meet the special educational and/or care needs of the children concerned.

Where a school has received its allocation of SNA support for 2019/20, but wishes new enrolments or assessments to be considered, which were not taken into account when the initial allocation was made, they may continue to make applications to the NCSE.

The closing date for receipt of appeals in regard to SNA allocations is Friday 27th September 2019.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio

Questions (84)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

84. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans to reduce primary school class sizes; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that Ireland currently has the largest class sizes in the EU; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26224/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

Budget 2019 marks the third year of a major reinvestment in the education. In 2019, the budget for the Department of Education and Skills will increase by €674 million, a 6.7% increase on last year. In total, the Education budget will have increased by €1.7 billion compared to 2016.

Budget 2019 will see numbers employed in our schools reach the highest ever level. Over 1,300 additional posts in schools will be funded, including more than 370 teaching posts to cater for growth in student population and additional special classes. This builds on the Budget 2018 measure which provided a one point improvement in the staffing schedule in primary schools which brings the position to the most favourable ever seen at primary level.

The 2018/19 school year saw an increase of over 6000 teaching posts in our schools compared to the 2015/16 school year.

The Statistics Section of my Department's website contains extensive data in relation to our schools including pupil teacher ratios and teacher numbers. The latest figures in relation to pupil teacher ratios show an improved ratio of teachers to students from 16:1 to 15.3:1 at primary level when comparing the 2015/16 school year to the 2017/18 school year.

Education Funding

Questions (85)

Joan Burton

Question:

85. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Education and Skills his views on OECD figures that indicate investment in education here as a percentage of national wealth is at the bottom end of the league table for wealthy countries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26593/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The Government has significantly increased investment in education and training. My Department's gross expenditure allocation in 2019 will be nearly €10.8 billion, the highest amount ever allocated to education and training. Since 2016, the Department's allocation has increased by around €1.7 billion, an increase of some 18.7%.

It is also important to note that GDP, which is usually used as the measure of national wealth in international comparisons, can give a misleading picture of Ireland's relative position compared to other States, given that globalisation effects disproportionately impact the measurement of the size of the Irish economy.

School Accommodation

Questions (86)

Kathleen Funchion

Question:

86. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Education and Skills the guidelines for new school builds; if new school build plans must include an autism spectrum condition class in the building being adhered to; the way in which the stipulation is being monitored; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26617/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

In the case of all new schools, it is general practice to include a Special Education Needs Base (SEN Base) in the accommodation brief for new school buildings, unless local circumstances indicate that it will not be required. Typically, a two classroom SEN Base is provided in new primary schools and a two or four classroom SEN Base is provided in new post primary schools.

The Government is spending nearly one euro in every five of the education budget on special education – about €1.9 billion in 2019. 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 National Council for Special Education (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). 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.

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.

Details of all special classes for children with special educational needs are available on www.ncse.ie.

The NCSE has informed my Department that they intend to establish over 167 new special classes nationally for 2019/20 school year of which 156 will be new ASD special classes.

Notwithstanding the extent of this investment, issues remain. There are some parts of the country where increases in population and other issues have led to shortages in capacity in the school system.

The NCSE and my Department are actively engaging with education service providers in order to encourage them to address the shortage of places. 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.

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.

In short, ensuring that every child has a suitable placement available to them from September is a key priority for this Government.

DEIS Eligibility

Questions (87)

Catherine Connolly

Question:

87. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Education and Skills further to Parliamentary Question No. 70 of 22 January 2019, the further analysis being undertaken of other variables known to be strong predictors of educational disadvantage in the context of resource allocation; the person or body undertaking the analysis; if the analysis has been completed; if not, when it will be completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26614/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

As previously advised, my Department is currently undertaking data analysis in the context of resource allocation to match identified need, including the examination of variables known to be strong predictors of educational disadvantage. All schools at both Primary and Post Primary are being assessed using the new identification model.

This analysis is being carried out by members of the DEIS Technical Group which contains representatives of the Department’s Statistics and Social Inclusion Units, the Inspectorate and the Educational Research Centre. Work is ongoing by this group, including consultation with relevant experts. I am confident that the culmination of this analysis will facilitate the ultimate aim of matching resources to identified need and will allow us to target extra resources at those schools most in need.

Until this analysis is complete, it is not intended to extend the DEIS programme to any further schools.

The DEIS advisory group (which includes school management bodies and unions) was briefed last month by officials from my Department on progress and it is intended to schedule a further meeting of the DEIS advisory group for October this year.

Departmental Circulars

Questions (88)

Thomas Byrne

Question:

88. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Skills his views on the low completion rate of the consultation requested in circular 0038/2018 in Education and Training Board schools; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26613/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

Circular 0038/2018, which issued to schools last year requires all schools to consult with teachers, students and parents in developing policy for the use of smart phones and personal devices in school. This requirement to consult will be underpinned in law once the Students and Parent Charter Bill is enacted. I will publish this Bill in the Autumn. Schools are not required to report to my Department on the implementation of circulars and my Department is not aware of any issues in the implementation of this Circular in ETB schools.

Decisions on the use of smart phones and other such devices in schools are taken at local level by the Board of Management of a school, who under the provisions of the Education Act, 1998 have responsibility for the direct governance of a school.

My Department recognises the requirement to safeguard children from the negative impact of using digital devices. It is also important that we continue to work together to raise awareness to the benefits of new technologies and to recognise the value of digital technology to enhance teaching and learning for all students while also safeguarding our children online

Schools Building Projects Status

Questions (89)

Martin Heydon

Question:

89. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Education and Skills the projected timeline for the delivery of a new building for a school (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26624/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

At this juncture it is premature to give a timeline for the delivery of the new building to replace the school to which the Deputy refers. A new site is required for the replacement building and my Department has commenced the site identification process. When a suitable site is identified and agreed for purchase, architectural planning for the new building has to be undertaken and planning permission sought. Then the project has to be tendered for construction. I can assure the Deputy that my Department is making every effort to progress the site identification.

Oireachtas Joint Committee Reports

Questions (90)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

90. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Education and Skills when the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Education and Skills Report on Education inequality and disadvantage and Barriers to Education, published in May 2019, will be implemented; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26051/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The mission of my Department as set out in Cumasú, my Department's Action Plan for Education 2019, is to facilitate individuals through learning to achieve their full potential and contribute to Ireland's social economic and cultural development. Goal 2 in the Action Plan commits to advancing the progress of learners at risk of educational disadvantage and learners with special educational needs in order to support them to achieve their potential. Equality of opportunity is at the heart of our vision.

The Report on Education Inequality and Disadvantage and Barriers to Education by the Joint Committee on Education and Skills was published recently.

The Joint Committee met on two occasions to during 2018 to discuss the topic of education inequality and disadvantage. At these meetings it also heard from a range of Stakeholders including senior officials from my Department.

The aim of the examination by the Joint Committee was to focus on solutions to the issue of education inequality and disadvantage. Areas covered in the examination include my Department's DEIS programme and if it can be improved; if an education system can be created which increases participation in post-secondary education, especially among groups with traditionally low rates of participation; the benefits that equal access to education can provide particularly among groups who experience high instances of poverty, addiction and other social issues especially those who live in areas of deprivation.

Based on the contributions made at both meetings, the Joint Committee made six conclusions and forty four recommendations in the Report.

My Department is investing heavily in supporting learners at risk of educational disadvantage.

DEIS is the main policy initiative of my Department to tackle educational disadvantage. DEIS provides additional supports to 896 schools identified as having the highest concentrations of pupils from disadvantaged communities, serving approximately 183,000 pupils, at an overall cost of €125 million per annum. Schools can use these additional resources to meet the identified needs of their pupil cohort.

My Department's Further Education and Training Strategy set out a vision to transform the sector, and provide a focus for the annual funding and investment priorities, to deliver a world-class integrated system of further education and training that would support economic development, increase social inclusion and to meet the needs of all who engage with the sector. SOLAS are currently developing a new Further Education and Training Strategy which will cover the next five year period from 2020. This provides an opportunity to refresh commitments on how further education and training can support inclusion of diverse and marginalised groups in education and training, society and the labour market.

The Progress Review of the National Access Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education was published in December 2018. It highlighted an increase in participation rates across a number of the target groups with particularly high increases for students with disabilities and among socio-economically disadvantaged groups. The Programme for Access to Higher Education (PATH) Fund comprises dedicated funding to support access to higher education. €16.2m secured through the budgetary process has enabled three strands of the PATH fund to be rolled out.

My Department is currently examining those recommendations made by the Joint Committee which come under its remit, in the context of the supports currently available.

School Transport Eligibility

Questions (91)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

91. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans to reduce the number of eligible pupils required for a school bus service from ten to eight in order to reduce the carbon footprint; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26547/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

School transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department.

There are currently over 117,500 children, including over 13,000 children with special educational needs, transported in over 5,000 vehicles on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country covering over 100 million kilometres annually.

The purpose of the scheme is, having regard to available resources, to support the transport to and from school of children who reside remote from their nearest school.

Changes to the School Transport Scheme introduced in Budget 2011, derived from recommendations in the Value for Money Review of the Scheme and encompassed a number of elements such as an increase from seven to 10 eligible children residing in a distinct locality to retain or establish a school transport service, provided this can be done within reasonable cost limits.

The terms of the School Transport Schemes are applied equitably on a national basis.

Residential Institutions Redress Scheme Eligibility

Questions (92)

Catherine Connolly

Question:

92. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Education and Skills the number of open applications to the residential institutions statutory fund, Caranua, as at 2 August 2018; the number of applications in which supports and services have been given to date; the number refused; the number of open applications awaiting support; the number given supports in the past; the average waiting time for support to be provided in an approved application; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26585/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

Caranua is an independent statutory body and I have no role in relation to its day to day operations. The organisation publishes regular monthly updates on its website (www.caranua.ie) which contain information on the number of applications received, the current status of applications, the expenditure incurred, feedback and complaints, etc. The position as of 2nd August 2018 can be ascertained from the update published on 31 July 2018. If the information sought by the Deputy is not contained in the published updates, there is a facility for direct contact with Caranua through the dedicated e-mail for members of the Oireachtas.

Special Educational Needs Service Provision

Questions (93)

Shane Cassells

Question:

93. Deputy Shane Cassells asked the Minister for Education and Skills the reason a school (details supplied) has lost its special class placement after more than 20 years; and if same will be reinstated. [26376/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

The National Council for Special Education (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).

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.

As the Deputy's question relates to a particular school, I have arranged for the question to be forwarded to the NCSE for their attention and direct reply.

Schools Building Projects Status

Questions (94)

Aindrias Moynihan

Question:

94. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Education and Skills if the project brief for a school redevelopment project at a school (details supplied) has been finalised; when he expects the brief will proceed to the next stage; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26631/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

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

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.

School Placement

Questions (95)

Thomas Byrne

Question:

95. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans to increase second level provision in County Meath, particularly in the south of the county; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26611/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

In order to plan for school provision and analyse the relevant demographic data, my Department divides the country into 314 school planning areas and uses a Geographical Information System, using data from a range of sources, to identify where the pressure for school places across the country will arise. With this information, my Department carries out nationwide demographic exercises to determine where additional school accommodation is needed at primary and post-primary level.

Where demographic data indicates that additional provision is required, the delivery of such additional provision is dependent on the particular circumstances of each case and may, depending on the circumstances, be provided through either one, or a combination of, the following:

- Utilising existing unused capacity within a school or schools;

- Extending the capacity of a school or schools;

- Provision of a new school or schools.

Approximately 40% of extra school places are delivered by extending existing schools.

As the Deputy will be aware, in April 2018, the Government announced plans for the establishment of 42 new schools over the next four years (2019 to 2022). The announcement followed nationwide, demographic exercises carried out by my Department into the future need for primary and post-primary schools across the country.

A new 500 pupil post-primary school to be established in Enfield in 2020 was included in the new schools announcement.

In addition the following developments in the south of County Meath may be of interest to the Deputy:

- In 2014, a new 1,000 pupil post-primary school, De Lacy College, was established under the patronage of Louth and Meath ETB to serve the Ashbourne school planning area. The school has a current enrolment of some 400 pupils in the 2018/19 school year.

- A project to provide an extension to St. Peter’s College, Dunboyne to cater for an additional 225 students was recently completed.

- Dunshaughlin post-primary school planning area is catered for by Dunshaughlin Community College. The school operates under the patronage of Louth and Meath Education and Training Board (LMETB) and has a current enrolment in the region of 1,000 pupils. The school is experiencing demand for additional school places and the LMETB is open to assisting in meeting this demand. The ETB has submitted an application for additional accommodation which my Department is currently considering. The outcome will assist my Department in determining the future need in the area. In the meantime, my Department has approved the provision of additional temporary accommodation - 8 general classrooms and 1 science lab - to LMETB to meet the school’s immediate needs.

- An extension project for Ratoath Community College, to provide for a total of 1,300 pupils in the school, is currently in the final stages of being re-tendered.

The requirement for new schools will be kept under on-going review and will have regard for the increased roll out of housing provision as outlined in Project Ireland 2040.