Pupil-Teacher Ratio

Questions (71)

Willie Penrose

Question:

71. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Education and Skills if a further planned reduction in primary school class sizes commencing in 2020 such as reducing class sizes by one could be considered in the context of budget 2020 in view of the fact that primary school classes here being the largest in Europe; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27424/19]

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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.

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.

Mental Health Services Funding

Questions (72)

Willie Penrose

Question:

72. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Education and Skills the steps he will take in the context of budget 2020 to commit to a nationwide investment in mental health services for students at third level education (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27425/19]

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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 provides funding to the Higher Education Authority for direct disbursement to its designated higher education institutions. The HEA allocates this funding as a block grant, and the internal disbursement of this funding, including the funding of student services, is a matter for the individual institution.

I understand that 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 assigned to it under the Connecting for Life strategy, and the first meeting of the group was in December 2018.

In relation to Budget 2020, I cannot comment, or preempt any decisions to be taken by Government at this stage, other than to assure the Deputy that funding for the higher education sector will continue to be a key focus for me and my Department.

Student Accommodation

Questions (73)

Willie Penrose

Question:

73. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Education and Skills if the call by a union (details supplied) for the provision of capital grants specifically for developments of purpose-built student accommodation will be considered in advance of budget 2020 in view of the high costs that students pay for accommodation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27426/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

My Department is actively engaging with USI and the higher education sector to find solutions to the student accommodation issue.

The National Student Accommodation Strategy was launched in July 2017 and was designed to ensure that there is an increased supply of purpose built student accommodation (PBSA). Figures from the of the end of May 2019 show that a total of 6,691 additional PBSA beds have been built since the publication of Rebuilding Ireland in 2016. An additional 14,000 bed spaces are either currently under construction or have had plans granted and are awaiting the start of construction at this time.

This represents in excess of 20,500 new student specific bed spaces known to be either complete or in the pipeline since the launch of Rebuilding Ireland in July 2016.

The increased availability of supply should act to moderate price in the medium to long term. In the interim, the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2019 was enacted in May of this year and provides that PBSA, let under license, will be brought under the rent predictability provisions of the Rent Pressure Zones which are already applicable to general tenancies.

The Department's limited capital funding allocation for the higher education sector is focused on the expansion and upgrade of core academic infrastructure, taking account of increasing student enrolments. The Department is not in a position to provide capital grants for the development of student accommodation.

Special Educational Needs Service Provision

Questions (74)

Michael McGrath

Question:

74. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Skills if the decision to refuse an application for a grant for assistive technology for pupils with a physical or communicative disability by a person (details supplied) in County Cork will be reviewed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27428/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

Under the Assistive Technology scheme, as set out in my Department’s Circular 0010/2013, funding is provided to schools towards the cost of computers and specialist equipment, which are required for educational purposes. Equipment is provided under this scheme for children with more complex disabilities who, in order to access the school curriculum, require essential specialist equipment which they do not already have, or which cannot be provided for them through the school’s existing IT provision.

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. SENOs also make recommendations to my Department where assistive technology/specialised equipment is required. The NCSE operates within my Department's criteria in making recommendations for support.

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.

Schools make applications directly to the SENO, providing details of the student’s special educational needs or disability, including details of the approach taken by the school in making relevant interventions.

SENOs will review the application, and professional reports provided in support of same, in order to establish whether the criteria of the scheme have been met. They will then make a recommendation to my Department as to whether or not assistive technology is required; and based on this recommendation, my Department will decide on the level of grant, if any, to be provided.

In this instance the SENO was unable to recommend the equipment applied for as the student in question did not have a diagnosed disability or medical condition in line with my Department’s Circulars.

As this student is commencing post-primary school in September, if new medical evidence is available an application for Assistive Technology for the 2019/20 school year can be submitted by the post-primary school in which the student is enrolling. The basis for this is that while applications are made under the Assistive Technology scheme in respect of individual pupils, equipment provided will be the property of schools; and they make application for same, having considered that the equipment available to them under the school’s general IT provision is insufficient to meet the student’s needs.

Applications can only be considered therefore, where the student is enrolled in the school to which the equipment would be provided.

All schools have the names and contact details of their local SENO. Parents may also contact their local SENO directly to discuss their child's special educational needs, using the contact details available on www.ncse.ie.

Student Grant Scheme Eligibility

Questions (75)

Willie Penrose

Question:

75. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will commence the process of reversing the decision taken in respect of student grant adjacency rates and increase the qualifying criteria for non-adjacent rate of grants from 24 km to 45 km; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27432/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The student maintenance grant is a contribution towards the living costs of a student. It is not intended to cover the full costs of attending college. The student grant scheme does however, provide for different levels of maintenance support, depending on means. Grants are also provided at adjacent and non-adjacent rates. The higher non-adjacent rates are intended to provide additional support to those students who may be living away from home.

Budget 2011 provided for a number of student grant measures which came into effect for the 2011/12 academic year, including the change in the assessment of the qualifying distance criterion for the non-adjacent rate of grant from 24 kilometres to 45 kilometres.

The 24km distance criterion was originally set in 1968 and had not been updated in more than 40 years. Since then, significant improvements have taken place in the road and rail network and it is considered that the revised distance criteria is more consistent with the type of distances that students may legitimately be expected to commute to college.

The current qualifying distance of 45km for the higher non-adjacent rate of student grant takes into account a reasonable radius within which students may commute on a daily basis.

Students in third-level institutions experiencing exceptional financial need can apply for support under the Student Assistance Fund. This Fund assists students, in a sensitive and compassionate manner, who might otherwise be unable to continue their third level studies due to their financial circumstances. Information on the fund is available through the Access Office in the third level institution attended. This fund is administered on a confidential, discretionary basis.

School Admissions

Questions (76)

Pearse Doherty

Question:

76. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Education and Skills the number of applicants for each school nationally that were not accepted due to capacity issues for the school year that began in September 2018; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27440/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

It is the responsibility of the managerial authorities of all schools to implement an enrolment policy in accordance with the Education Act, 1998 and the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018.

My Department's main responsibility is to ensure that schools in an area can, between them, cater for all pupils seeking places. Parents have the right to choose which school to apply to and where the school has places available the pupil should be admitted.

In schools where there are more applicants than places available a selection process may be necessary. In this regard a Board of Management may find it necessary to restrict enrolment to children from a particular area or a particular age group or on the basis of some other criterion. For example, some schools give priority to applicants who have siblings in the school. The criteria to be applied by schools in such circumstances are a matter for the schools themselves.

Schools are not required to report to my Department on the number of applicants who are refused enrolment and therefore, the information requested by the Deputy is not available.

Residential Institutions Statutory Fund

Questions (77)

Catherine Connolly

Question:

77. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Education and Skills the policy regarding retrospective payments to clients from Caranua for services and or supports; the number of approved retrospective payments to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27447/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

Caranua is an independent statutory body and I have no input into their administrative decisions on how payments are made. 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. If the information sought by the Deputy is not published on the website, there is a facility for direct contact with Caranua through the dedicated e-mail for members of the Oireachtas.

Parental Leave

Questions (78)

Clare Daly

Question:

78. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if employers are permitted to require parents to take parental leave in a single 18-week block rather than as a few days per week over successive weeks; his views on whether such a requirement from an employer will push some parents out of work in view of the fact some parents will not be in a position to take 18 consecutive weeks of unpaid leave; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27284/19]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

As the Deputy will be aware, the Parental Leave Act 1998 provides that a parent who completes one year of continuous employment shall be entitled to maximum of 18 weeks of parental leave.

Sections 7(1)(a) and (aa) of the Act provide that an employee has a statutory entitlement to take parental leave in either (i) a continuous period of 18 weeks, or (ii) in two separate periods of not less than 6 weeks and not exceeding 18 weeks in total.

In addition, from 19th July a parent will be entitled to take parental leave in blocks of one or more weeks at a time.

An employer cannot require an employee to take parental leave in a single large block of more than 6 weeks.

In addition, section 7(1)(b) of the 1998 Act provides that employees may take parental leave in days or hours. However leave taken in this manner can only be done so with the consent of their employer.

The Deputy will also be aware that following commencement of the Parental Leave (Amendment) Act 2019, the maximum period of parental leave will increase from 18 to 22 weeks from 1st September this year, and to 26 weeks from 1st September 2020.

To give effect to this increase, my officials are currently preparing a commencement order to be signed by Minister Flanagan in the coming weeks.

Private Security Authority Membership

Questions (79, 81, 82)

Seán Fleming

Question:

79. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if consideration will be given to including patron or consumer representatives on the board of the Private Security Authority; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27213/19]

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Seán Fleming

Question:

81. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the reason the profile of membership of the board of the Private Security Authority is predominantly composed of representatives from the security and hospitality sector in view of the fact that the aim of the authority is to be one in which consumer interests are protected; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27229/19]

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Seán Fleming

Question:

82. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his views on whether the board of the Private Security Authority can be considered transparent in view of the absence of a consumer or patron representative; his further views on the perception that the authority is self-regulating; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27274/19]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 79, 81 and 82 together.

The Private Security Authority (PSA), an independent agency under the remit of my Department, is the regulatory body with responsibility for regulating and licensing the private security industry in the State. The Private Security Services Act 2004 (as amended) sets out the security services licensable by the Authority. I have no involvement in the day to day operations of the PSA.

The membership of the Board is set out in Section 7 of the 2004 Act (as amended). Section 7(1) provides that the Authority shall consist of not more than 11 members. Section 7(2) provides that the members of the Authority shall include:

(a) at least one person who is a practising barrister, or practising solicitor, of not less than 5 years’ standing

(b) 2 persons each of whom the Minister considers to be representative of private security employers,

(c) 2 persons each of whom the Minister considers to be representative of employees of such employers,

(d) the Commissioner of the Garda Síochána or such other member of the Garda Síochána not below the rank of Assistant Commissioner as the Commissioner may nominate on that behalf,

(e) an officer of the Minister,

(f) a representative of any other Minister of the Government who, in the opinion of the Minister, is directly concerned with or responsible for activities relevant to the functions of the Authority, and

(g) one member of the staff of the Authority elected by secret ballot of the staff of the Authority in such manner: -

(i) if notice of the holding of the first such election is given before the day on which the Authority is established, as the Minister directs in writing, or

(ii) in any other case, as the Authority, with the agreement of the Minister,

In making Board appointments, regard is also had to the guidelines on appointments to State Boards where the specific statutory provision does not prescribe the nominated officers under Section 7(2) of the 2004 Act, (as amended), as well as provisions in the Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies. I will keep the issues raised by the Deputy regarding the appointment of patrons or consumer representatives in mind if/when vacancies, which are not prescribed to be filled by nominated groups, arise on the Board or following the expiry of the current Board’s term of office in November 2021.

The Authority’s mission is to regulate the activities of those involved in the private security industry to ensure that the interests of consumers are fully protected through the establishment, promotion, monitoring and enforcement of appropriate standards. The Authority holds public consultations and meets representative bodies to discuss the regulatory impact of licensing on their sector which includes ensuring that consumers receive quality regulated services.

The Deputy may also wish to note that the licensing decisions made by the Authority are subject to appeal by the Private Security Appeal Board under Section 40 of the 2004 Act (as amended).

My Department also has an annual governance oversight agreement with the Authority which, inter alia, sets out key objectives and targets to be achieved on an annual basis.

Immigration Status

Questions Nos. 81 and 82 answered with Question No. 79.

Questions (80)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

80. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality further to Parliamentary Question No. 111 of 13 June 2019, if an appeal by a person (details supplied) has been received; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27221/19]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

I am informed by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) of my Department that the person concerned is the subject of a Deportation Order signed on 29 September 2017. This Order requires the person to remove themselves from the State and remain outside the State. The enforcement of the Deportation Order is a matter for the Garda National Immigration Bureau.

As previously advised, representations were received from the person concerned, pursuant to the provisions of Section 3(11) of the Immigration Act 1999 (as amended), requesting that the Deportation Order be revoked including information regarding her marriage. Following the detailed consideration of the information submitted in support of the request, the Deportation Order was affirmed and notified to the person concerned by letter dated 27 November 2018. There are no outstanding applications or appeals for this applicant.

Queries in relation to the status of individual immigration cases may be made directly to the INIS of my Department by e-mail using the Oireachtas Mail facility which has been specifically established for this purpose. This service enables up to date information on such cases to be obtained without the need to seek information by way of the Parliamentary Questions process. The Deputy may consider using the e-mail service except in cases where the response from the INIS is, in the Deputy's view, inadequate or too long awaited.

Questions Nos. 81 and 82 answered with Question No. 79.