Educational Disadvantage

Questions (32)

John Curran

Question:

32. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Education and Skills the further actions he will take to accelerate the narrowing of the gap between DEIS and non-DEIS schools and further improve the outcomes for those attending DEIS schools; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41421/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The DEIS Programme is my Department's main policy instrument to tackle educational disadvantage. In the 2019/20 academic year the DEIS Programme is available in 891 schools serving over 190,000 students. My Department will invest approximately €125 million this year on the programme and this includes the provision of  enhanced school book grants to all DEIS Schools,  enhanced staffing in DEIS Band 1 Primary Schools, enhanced allocation for dedicated career guidance counsellor in DEIS Post-Primary schools and enhanced National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) allocation time and the payment of a DEIS Grant to all DEIS schools. In addition all DEIS Urban Primary and DEIS Post Primary schools are included in the Home School Community Liaison (HSCL) Scheme. The scheme is delivered by 415 full-time HSCL Coordinators who are teachers in these schools and assigned to HSCL duties either in individual schools or clusters of schools, catering for approximately 156,000 pupils.  Responding to specific actions in the National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy  (NTRIS) and DEIS Plan 2017,  my Department has committed to the assignment of 4 HSCLs, as part of a 2 Year Pilot Programme commencing in the 2019/20 school year in 4 areas to target attendance, participation and retention/school completion for Traveller and Roma pupils.

You may be aware that at the request of my Department, the Educational Research Centre (ERC) has conducted an independent evaluation of the School Support Programme (SSP) component of DEIS in urban and rural primary schools and in post-primary schools. Like the DEIS programme itself, the evaluation is multifaceted, and is attempting to monitor the implementation of the programme and assess its impact on students, families and schools. The evaluation reports are published on the ERC’s website at: http://www.erc.ie/studies/deis/

The latest report on the evaluation of the DEIS programme by the ERC, The Evaluation of DEIS at Post-Primary Level: Closing the Achievement and Attainment Gaps, was published in January 2019. It shows that the achievement and attainment gaps between DEIS and non-DEIS post-primary schools continue to narrow, both in terms of performance at Junior Certificate level and retention rates. It is also encouraging to see a rise in the percentage of students in DEIS schools taking English and Mathematics at Higher Level.

The findings from the latest evaluation report supports the rationale to continue to target resources at schools with concentrations of students from poor socioeconomic backgrounds.  It is important to continue to implement the 108 Actions of DEIS Plan 2017 to address the needs of our most marginalised students. One example of an action we are taking to narrow the gap between DEIS and Non-DEIS is the School Excellence Fund (SEF)-DEIS. SEF-DEIS enables schools to apply for funding to implement innovative programmes which are context specific and are aimed at improving educational outcomes. At the end of May I announced Tranche 3 of SEF-DEIS  and the closing date for receipt of applications has recently been extended to 31 October. Further details on how to apply are available on my Department’s website at: https://www.education.ie/en/Schools-Colleges/Services/DEIS-Delivering-Equality-of-Opportunity-in-Schools-/school-excellence-fund/school-excellence-fund.html

School Curriculum

Questions (33)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

33. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he is satisfied with the new criteria for Irish exemptions as announced on 12 August 2019; the way in which he can address concerns that these new criteria have led to downgrading of Irish as a taught subject in schools; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42345/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

I am satisfied that the new criteria for Irish exemptions as set out in Circulars 0052/2019 (primary) and 0053/2019 (post-primary) do not in any way downgrade Irish as a taught subject in schools.

The new Circulars are underpinned by a review of the policy and practice in relation to exemptions which was carried out by my Department’s Inspectorate in the context of Irish and English being core subjects and in light of the educational policy and social developments that have taken place since the previous circulars were issued.    

A public consultation process was held on the draft circulars and an unprecedented response was received (11,000+ responses).  The responses were very carefully considered and the report of the consultation process, which is available on my Department’s website, indicates broad support for the changes proposed.  The final circulars, which I approved, are being implemented in recognised schools since September 2019 and will be subject to review following two years of implementation. 

Far from the downgrading of Irish, I believe the Circulars support the study of Irish.  An exemption may now be granted only in exceptional circumstances as defined in terms of very clear criteria.  There is no provision for an exemption to be granted other than in these circumstances thus supporting consistency and a non-discretionary approach.  The circulars apply only to English-medium settings thus supporting the Irish language ethos of Irish-medium settings.  

Furthermore the circulars are underpinned by the principle of inclusion, recognising a wide diversity of needs which are provided for in the new Primary Language Curriculum/Curaclam Teanga na Bunscoile and in the Junior Cycle specifications for Irish supporting a differentiated learning experience for pupils and students in an inclusive school environment.  The circulars also restate the importance of language learning and bilingualism and emphasise the curricular frameworks which help teachers to identify a pupil’s stage of language development and plan interventions that support the development of language skills and competences.

School Curriculum

Questions (34)

Thomas Byrne

Question:

34. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans to introduce history as a core subject on the junior cycle. [42526/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

In November of last year I asked the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) to carry out a review of the optional nature of history under the new Framework for Junior Cycle. I also asked the NCCA to identify how we can best promote the study of history in our schools. I received the NCCA's advisory report in July of this year and I am deeply grateful to the council for the work it has done.

I gave careful consideration to the NCCA report, which makes it clear that the new history specification under the Framework for Junior Cycle provides for a better way to teach and learn history than in the past. While I am aware that the subject is due be reviewed in two years' time, I am keen, however, to do something now to ensure that there is no reduction in the number of students studying history. This is why I recently announced that the subject of History is to be accorded special core status in the Junior Cycle curriculum.

I will be requesting the support of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment in working out how best this can be achieved. I am keen that arrangements providing for the special core status of the subject be in place for the start of the next school year, to apply to students starting their Junior Cycle at that time.

Teaching Contracts

Questions (35)

Joe Carey

Question:

35. Deputy Joe Carey asked the Minister for Education and Skills if teaching principals in small and medium schools will be supported in recognition of their administrative responsibilities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42611/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

Since my appointment as Minister for Education and Skills I have met with a number of Teaching Principals and I appreciate the pressures they face. Earlier in the year, I hosted a symposium on Small Schools which gave me an opportunity to restate the Government’s commitment to small schools and to open a dialogue with all the key stakeholders. The purpose of this work by the Department is to develop a policy proposal to help support and strengthen small primary schools throughout the country.

Budget 2020 is the third successive budget to provide for an increase in the number of principal release days.  One additional release day will be allocated to each school with a teaching principal with effect from 1 September 2020.  This will bring the number of release days to 19, 25 and 31, depending on the size of school.  This is an increase from 14, 18 and 22 days since 2015.  In addition, a further four additional release days are allocated to schools with special classes.

There are arrangements in place for schools to cluster their principal release days into a full-time post which will assist teaching principals to more effectively plan their release days for the benefit of the school.

In addition to the increase of release days, the Government lifted the moratorium on middle management posts in 2017.  In total almost 1300 leadership posts have been invested in our primary schools since 2017 which has led to 1 in 3 teachers now holding promoted positions.  My Department has committed to revising the number of available Posts of Responsibility to take account of retirements during the school year.  This ensures that the current level of Posts of Responsibilities are maintained in the school system.

School Curriculum

Questions (36)

Peter Burke

Question:

36. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Minister for Education and Skills the reason for the decision to give history special core status for the junior cycle. [42608/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

In November of last year I asked the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) to carry out a review of the optional nature of history under the new Framework for Junior Cycle. I also asked the NCCA to identify how we can best promote the study of history in our schools. I received the NCCA's advisory report in July of this year and I am deeply grateful to the council for the work it has done.

I gave careful consideration to the NCCA report, which makes it clear that the new history specification under the Framework for Junior Cycle provides for a better way to teach and learn history than in the past. While I am aware that the subject is due be reviewed in two years' time, I am keen, however, to do something now to ensure that there is no reduction in the number of students studying history. This is why I recently announced that the subject of History is to be accorded special core status in the Junior Cycle curriculum.

I will be requesting the support of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment in working out how best this can be achieved. I am keen that arrangements providing for the special core status of the subject be in place for the start of the next school year, to apply to students starting their Junior Cycle at that time.

School Services Staff

Questions (37)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

37. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Education and Skills the way in which, and when, he will ensure that all school secretaries are properly remunerated for the important work they do; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41412/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

I recognise the very important work done by these staff, and the other support staff in the running of our schools.  I have spoken to a number of school secretaries about their employment conditions and understand the issues they have raised.

In Budget 2020 I increased the number of secretaries in certain schools, allowing schools with enrolments of 500-625 to fill secretary vacancies provided they have fewer than 1.5 secretaries, and schools with enrolments of 626-699 will be permitted to fill vacancies provided they have fewer than two posts filled. These measures will take effect from September 2020. 

Earlier this year I relaxed the moratorium for those C&C and ETB schools with enrolments of 700 and more which allow them to employ 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 terms of employment 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 9 April to discuss the status of non-teaching staff.

In May this year officials from my Department 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 issued surveys on the 10th of July to establish the full current cost of the trade union’s claim. This is standard practice.

Officials from the Department met with FÓRSA representatives in September. Management Bodies representing the employers of schools impacted by the action were also in attendance at the meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to further explore the details of the pay claim as presented by FÓRSA and the nature of the industrial action. 

On 30 September FÓRSA requested the Department to agree to use the services of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) to resolve the dispute.  As is normal practice the Department has agreed to use the industrial relations machinery of the state in an effort to resolve this matter.  

In order to address the various issues within the claim and to arrive at a mutually acceptable solution, the Department is in discussions with FÓRSA under the auspices of the WRC.

Student Grant Scheme

Questions (38)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

38. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Education and Skills the discussions he has had with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to ensure comprehensive transport services for a radius of at least 45 kilometres from towns and cities with third level institutions in view of the fact that under 45 kilometres his Department, through SUSI, only pays the adjacent rate grant; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42350/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The student grant scheme, administered by SUSI, provides maintenance grants to students who meet the prescribed conditions of funding, including those relating to nationality, residency, previous academic attainment and means.

Student maintenance grants are payable at either the adjacent or non-adjacent rate. The distance to be measured is the shortest non-tolled most direct route from the student’s residence to the institution attended. The adjacent rate of maintenance grant is payable in the case of students whose normal residence is 45km or less from the approved institution which he or she is attending. The non-adjacent rate of maintenance grant is payable in all other cases.

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.

The measurement of the distances relating to the award of adjacent or non-adjacent rates of student grant is a matter for the relevant grant awarding authority. The distance measurement for student grant rates is governed by Article 27(3)(a) and (b) of the Student Grant Scheme 2019. This provides that the relevant distance will be measured in line with agreed guidelines.

The guidelines require that the shortest most direct route between the applicant's normal residence and the institution being attended should apply. In determining the shortest most direct route, the relevant awarding authority shall establish:

- the method for measuring a route; and

- the factors to be taken into account in establishing and measuring a route.

SUSI has progressively introduced a number of measures that are intended to make the Student Grant Scheme more efficient for students. One of these measures is the introduction of Eircode which has helped to reduce processing times for applicants.

The decision on eligibility for student grant assistance is a matter, in the first instance, for the centralised student grant awarding authority SUSI (Student Universal Support Ireland) to determine. 

There have been no discussions with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport regarding transport services to and from higher education institutions.

If an individual applicant considers that she/he has been unjustly refused a student grant, or that the rate of grant awarded is not the correct one, she/he may appeal, in the first instance, to SUSI. Where an individual applicant has had an appeal turned down in writing by SUSI and remains of the view that the scheme has not been interpreted correctly in his/her case, an appeal may be submitted to the independent Student Grants Appeals Board within the required timeframe. Such appeals can be made by the appellant on line via www.studentgrantappeals.ie   

Apart from the Student Grant Scheme, 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. Details of this fund are available from the Access Office in the third level institution attended. This fund is administered on a confidential, discretionary basis.

Capital Expenditure Programme

Questions (39)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

39. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Education and Skills the impact the cut to the education capital budget will have in view of the 471 schools that are in temporary buildings and numerous other schools promised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42588/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The allocation for my Department's School Buildings programme in 2020 is broadly in line with the allocation for 2019.  In 2019 the allocation was €622m. The allocation envisaged for 2020 is €620m. This €2m reduction will have no material impact on the school building programme.

The Department’s capital budget for 2020 should be considered in the context of an increase of over 26% between 2018 and 2019 (€745m in 2018 rising to €941m in 2019). Also, the value achieved from the disposal by TU Dublin of its Kevin Street property, the sale of which closed in August, means that the Department no longer needs to set aside a significant funding envelope for the Grangegorman development in 2020.  The Kevin Street property sold for €140m which was about €60m above the guide price. This reduces pressure on the Department’s capital budget in 2020.

The allocation for schools will support circa 60 new school building projects going to construction in 2020 delivering in excess of 30,000 school places (permanent additional and replacement places). 

During 2018 and 2019, the capital budget is facilitating extensions and new schools being delivered as part of the rollout of Project Ireland 2040 which involved overall construction activity during 2018 and 2019 of circa 130 large scale projects ranging in value from €1m to projects in excess of €20m.  There was also in excess of 280 projects with a project value less than €1m at construction during this period.  All of these projects are expected to deliver more than 40,000 permanent (additional and replacement) school places and replace circa 600 prefabs.  This will make significant progress in relation to providing modern energy efficient school facilities and the replacement of temporary accommodation. 

My Department's priority is to ensure that every child will have access to a physical school place.  In this regard, it is sometimes necessary to make use of temporary accommodation in order to meet the accommodation needs of schools.  My Department takes an integrated approach with the replacement of temporary accommodation as part of large-scale projects or as part of new projects approved under my Department’s Additional School Accommodation Scheme.

Special Educational Needs Service Provision

Questions (40)

Denis Naughten

Question:

40. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Education and Skills the steps he is taking to support the children identified in the counties of Roscommon and Mayo audiology misdiagnosis within the education system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41801/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

Following the HSE look back Review of Pediatric Audiology Services in Mayo, Galway and Roscommon, officials from my Department and the HSE met in September 2018 to discuss special educational supports for the affected children.

It was agreed that where the affected children had special educational needs due to a hearing impairment, special educational needs supports could be provided in line with the various schemes operated by both my Department and the National Council for Special Education (NCSE).

My Department agreed to review the special educational supports provided to the affected children and to ensure that they are in receipt of supports in line with Department schemes, and that supports provided are based on children’s individual needs.

The HSE sought consent from parents/guardians to share affected children’s details with my Department and the National Council for Special Education (NCSE). To date, the details of 9 children have been provided to my Department.

As a matter of priority, my Department in conjunction with the NCSE, completed its review of the special educational supports in place for each of the 9 children and has now ensured that they are in receipt of appropriate special educational needs supports in line with the terms of various schemes. Supports available include Special Education Teaching support in schools; funding for Assistive Technology such as soundfield and FM systems; and guidance from the NCSE’s Visiting Teacher service on classroom adaptation and school staff training.

All children are in receipt of special educational needs teaching support under the new model introduced in 2017 and revised in 2019. The new Special Education Teaching allocation provides a single unified allocation for special educational support teaching needs to each school, based on that school’s educational profile, to allow schools to provide additional teaching support for all pupils who require such support in their schools. Schools deploy additional teaching resources based on each pupil’s individual learning needs.

No school received an allocation, for the support of pupils with complex needs, which is less than the allocation they had received to support pupils with Low Incidence special educational needs during the 2016/17 school year.

No allocation for pupils made by the NCSE will be removed from schools as long as that pupil remains in the school and whereas schools have greater discretion as to how they can distribute resources under the new model, based on the individual needs of pupils, no reduction in allocations have been made to schools in respect of any pupils who were previously in receipt of a Low Incidence special needs allocation in that school.

The Visiting Teaching Service has assessed the educational needs of all 9 children and made recommendations to their schools.In accordance with the Visiting Teachers’ Service Referral Process and Procedures, children with mild or unilateral hearing loss are placed on the “On Request” caseload and children with moderate-profound hearing loss are placed on the “Active” caseload of the Visiting Teacher.

The Visiting Teachers have assessed the acoustic conditions in the schools and made recommendations to schools to put in place appropriate measures to cater for the children’s needs. Schools may utilise existing funding streams from the Department such as the Minor Works Grant or Grants for furniture and equipment for special education needs, to provide equipment, if these are recommended.

All nine children have received assistive technology, in accordance with the criteria of the scheme.

With regard to teacher training, the NCSE can provide direct support to the schools and individual teachers in as flexible a way as possible. Schools can apply for support through the NCSE’s online application system, available at the following web address: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfO2VyPAZx5T_N0_6AFaeASyTLOrDjjMv621OWpCFBduU4XQ/viewform. 

The NCSE offers telephone advice, school visits from a member of the team, in-service courses for individual teachers, or whole-school training. Whole-school training will ensure that all teachers are equipped to cater for the children’s educational needs, as they progresses through school.

Schools have been instructed to continue to engage with their local SENO and Visiting Teacher with regard to the special education needs of the children identified by the HSE review. Parents/guardians may also contact their local SENO directly to discuss their child's special educational needs, using the contact details available on www.ncse.ie.

My Department has made direct contact with both the schools and parents/guardians and a representative of my Department also met with a group of affected parents/guardians in November 2018 and March 2019. The HSE, Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and NCSE were also represented at those meetings.

My Department will continue to work with the HSE and will review supports as a matter of priority should details of other affected children be supplied by the HSE.

Budget 2020

Questions (41, 43)

Catherine Martin

Question:

41. Deputy Catherine Martin asked the Minister for Education and Skills if additional core funding has been provided for the third level education sector in budget 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42439/19]

View answer

Catherine Martin

Question:

43. Deputy Catherine Martin asked the Minister for Education and Skills the additional funding provided for higher level student supports in budget 2020, in particular for SUSI; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42440/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 41 and 43 together.

An additional allocation of €153 million will be made in higher and further education and training in 2020.  This significant level of investment will be used to respond to demographic pressures and to underpin a range of initiatives in the higher education sector, including key enhancements for teaching and learning, as well as providing skills-enhancing opportunities for those individuals, sectors and regions most vulnerable to Brexit or requiring updated skills in the world of work transformed by technology and automation.

This funding builds on the progress in previous budgets and overall the higher education spend has increased by 25% over the past four years. At €1.88bn, 2020 will see the highest level to date of spend on higher education in a single year. 

This funding will provide: 

- For the launch of the Human Capital Initiative with €60 million in 2020, providing an additional 3,000 student places.

- €19 million to address demographic pressures, accommodating a further 2,700 places. 

- A multi-annual fund of €90 million to assist the development and progression of Technological Universities (TUs).

- Funding of €3.3 million to promote excellence in research. 

- Funding of €2 million for student mental health and wellbeing initiatives in the higher education sector. 

Budget 2020 will deliver an additional 2,700 new undergraduate student places through investment of €19m in 2020. This is reflective of the growing demographic pressures in higher education. This is part of a €60m increase in current funding to provide for increased student numbers over the three year period 2018-2020.

Increased demographic provision will be supplemented by the expansion of places in Higher Education in priority skill areas under the Human Capital Initiative (HCI). Through this fund an additional 1,500 undergraduate and 1,500 graduate conversion places will be provided in 2020.  This equates to a total of 5,700 additional student places in higher education in 2020.

The HCI will be a transformative development for the third level sector. The HCI will invest €300 million in Higher Education over the period 2020 to 2024. Funded from the surplus in the National Training Fund, the HCI will help to realise the objectives of Project Ireland 2040, Future Jobs Ireland and the National Skills Strategy. At €60 million per year over the next 5 years, it will form a key part of our strategic response to addressing the skills needs of the economy,  mitigating Brexit risks, responding to digitalisation and the future world of work, and preparing ourselves for other challenges that the economy may face.

In order to actively address increasing demand on wellbeing, I have announced ring-fenced funding of €2m which will assist institutions in supporting students with their mental health and wellbeing. This is in addition to existing spending, in the region of €7m, by institutions in the area of ‘Welfare and Guidance’ which includes counselling services, health promotion, careers service, multi-faith, racial and ethnic cultural support.

The objective Research Excellence fund is to strengthen the international competitiveness and visibility of Ireland’s research capability.   Excellence in research emerges on the basis of international competition and collaboration, and these are increasingly important, especially in addressing today's global challenges. Ireland's research system is well regarded internationally in relation to factors such as academic freedom, a culture of open intellectual engagement and support for innovation.

As part of a programme of planned reforms of the National Training Fund the levy has increased from 0.7% to 1.0% between 2018 and 2020. The increase in the Training Levy has yielded an additional €190 million for investment in the tertiary education sector over this period. This investment has facilitated the huge growth we have seen in apprenticeship numbers, a 40% increase in participants in Skillnet Ireland programmes, and has led to the creation of the important ETB Skills to Advance programme.

Through Budget 2020 my Department has committed €27m in additional funding to  further the expansion of the apprenticeship programme with over 7,500 new registrations on craft and new apprenticeships. An additional €8 million will support 7,000 additional participants on Skillnet Ireland programmes including a new digital skills initiative and an SME upskilling scheme. The ETB Skills to Advance programme will be supported with an additional €6 million to allow for the upskilling of an additional 3,000 people in the workforce.

Overall, I am confident that this substantial level of addtional investment in third level education will bring significant benefits both for individuals and in terms of enhancing the skills available across the Irish economy to equip us for an ever-changing environment locally, nationally and on the global stage.

School Services Staff

Question No. 43 answered with Question No. 41.

Questions (42)

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Question:

42. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Education and Skills the status of the talks in respect of industrial action being undertaken by school secretaries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42542/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

I recognise the very important work done by these staff, and the other support staff in the running of our schools.  I have spoken to a number of school secretaries about their employment conditions and understand the issues they have raised.

In Budget 2020 I increased the number of secretaries in certain schools, allowing schools with enrolments of 500-625 to fill secretary vacancies provided they have fewer than 1.5 secretaries, and schools with enrolments of 626-699 will be permitted to fill vacancies provided they have fewer than two posts filled. These measures will take effect from September 2020. 

Earlier this year I relaxed the moratorium for those C&C and ETB schools with enrolments of 700 and more which allow them to employ 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 terms of employment 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 9 April to discuss the status of non-teaching staff.

In May this year officials from my Department 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 issued surveys on the 10th of July to establish the full current cost of the trade union’s claim. This is standard practice.

Officials from the Department met with FÓRSA representatives in September. Management Bodies representing the employers of schools impacted by the action were also in attendance at the meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to further explore the details of the pay claim as presented by FÓRSA and the nature of the industrial action. 

On 30 September FÓRSA requested the Department to agree to use the services of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) to resolve the dispute.  As is normal practice the Department has agreed to use the industrial relations machinery of the state in an effort to resolve this matter.  

In order to address the various issues within the claim and to arrive at a mutually acceptable solution, the Department is in discussions with FÓRSA under the auspices of the WRC.

Question No. 43 answered with Question No. 41.

Schools Site Acquisitions

Questions (44)

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

44. 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. [41413/19]

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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.

A number of site options are currently being pursued and I wish to assure the Deputy that officials in both my Department and Donegal County Council are actively engaged in this process to deliver a solution for the schools at the earliest possible date.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio

Questions (45)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

45. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Skills the degree to which he expects class sizes and student teacher ratios to improve in 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42553/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

Budget 2020 provides the fourth successive year of major reinvestment in our education and training system as we continue to implement the Action Plan for Education, our plan to make Ireland’s education and training service the best in Europe by 2026.  In 2020, the budget for the Department of Education and Skills will increase by €360 million, a 3.4% increase on last year.  In total, the Education budget will have increased by almost €2 billion compared to 2016.

Over 580 additional posts in schools will be funded to cater for children with special needs, growth in student population and small schools. 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 and Budget 2019 which provided over 1300 additional posts in schools.

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 15.2:1 at primary level and 13.8:1 to 13:1 at post primary level when comparing the 2015/16 school year to the 2018/19 school year.  It is expected that these ratios will further improve when the statistics for the 2019/20 school year are published.

Capitation Grants

Questions (46)

Joan Burton

Question:

46. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Education and Skills his views on the limited increase in the capitation grants in view of the number of schools which struggle to cover their running costs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42582/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

I fully recognise the need to improve capitation funding for schools.

I am pleased to have been able to provide for a further 2.5% increase in standard capitation funding for primary and post-primary schools that will apply from the start of the 2020/21 school year.  This builds on last years 5% increase in budget 2019.

In addition to the increase in standard capitation, the enhanced rates of capitation payable in respect of students with Special Educational Needs will be increased by 7.5% from the start of the 2020/21 school year.  The combined increases given in 2019 and 2020 mean that circa 40% restoration will be achieved. 

It is my intention to seek funding for further capitation increases in future budgets.

State Examinations Data

Questions (47)

Joe Carey

Question:

47. Deputy Joe Carey asked the Minister for Education and Skills the number of students who have availed of bereavement arrangements since the pilot scheme was introduced in 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42612/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The State Examinations Commission has statutory responsibility for operational matters relating to the certificate examinations.

In view of this I have forwarded your query to the State Examinations Commission for direct reply to you

Schools Site Acquisitions

Questions (48)

Martin Heydon

Question:

48. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Education and Skills the progress in identifying possible sites for the proposed new school building for a school (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42597/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

As the Deputy is aware, a new site is required for the replacement building for the school in question and my Department has commenced the site identification process. In line with protocols for the use of State property assets, my Department has written to the Department of Defence enquiring if the Department is in a position to provide a site that could be suitable. My Department has also been in liaison with Kildare County Council in regard to identifying a potential site.  

Due to commercial sensitivities surrounding site acquisitions in general, I cannot comment further at this point in the process, though I can assure the Deputy that my Department is making every effort to progress the matter.

While a site acquisition process is underway, given the commercial sensitivities associated with land acquisitions generally I am not in a position to comment further at this time.

Capital Expenditure Programme

Questions (49)

Joan Burton

Question:

49. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Education and Skills if the €19 million drop in capital spending arising from his post-budget statement will affect school building projects in the Dublin 7 and Dublin 15 areas, in particular for schools (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42578/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The Department’s capital budget for 2020 should be considered in the context of an increase of over 26% between 2018 and 2019 (€745m in 2018 rising to €941m in 2019). Also, the value achieved from the disposal by TU Dublin of its Kevin Street property, the sale of which closed in August, means that the Department no longer needs to set aside a significant funding envelope for the Grangegorman development in 2020.  The Kevin Street property sold for €140m which was about €60m above the guide price. This reduces pressure on the Department’s capital budget in 2020.

The allocation for my Department's School Buildings programme in 2020 is broadly in line with the allocation for 2019.  In 2019 the allocation was €622m. The allocation envisaged for 2020 is €620m. This €2m reduction will have no material impact on the school building programme.

Special Educational Needs Service Provision

Questions (50)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

50. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Education and Skills if his Department receives feedback from principals of secondary schools regarding the need for special education classes, including those schools already taking students from ASD schools at primary level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41411/19]

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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.

This includes the establishment of special class and special school placements in various geographical areas where the NCSE identifies need.

The NCSE have well established structures to consult with school Principals to ensure that advance planning is in place so that schools in an area can, between them, cater for all children who have been identified as needing special class placements. Planning covers both primarty and post primary levels.

The NCSE team of locally based Special Education Needs Organisers (SENOs) are available to assist and advise school Principals to plan for special class provision and to address issues in provision that may arise from time in time at local levels.  

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.

In this regard, the NCSE local SENO will consult with the Principals of individual schools in areas where special classes will be required to enable the timely planning of special class provision in the area.

The NCSE also hosts annual CPD events for the Principals of schools with new and established special classes.

Guidelines for Boards of Management and Principals of Primary and Post Primary schools contain information on setting up and organising special classes, including information on resources which may be provided to schools to establish special classes are available to download from www.ncse.ie.

School Services Staff

Questions (51)

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

51. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans to include school secretaries in full-time year long remuneration with full rights and employment entitlements as enjoyed by others working in the public sector. [39523/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

I recognise the very important work done by these staff, and the other support staff in the running of our schools.  I have spoken to a number of school secretaries about their employment conditions and understand the issues they have raised.

In Budget 2020 I increased the number of secretaries in certain schools, allowing schools with enrolments of 500-625 to fill secretary vacancies provided they have fewer than 1.5 secretaries, and schools with enrolments of 626-699 will be permitted to fill vacancies provided they have fewer than two posts filled. These measures will take effect from September 2020. 

Earlier this year I relaxed the moratorium for those C&C and ETB schools with enrolments of 700 and more which allow them to employ 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 terms of employment 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 9 April to discuss the status of non-teaching staff.

In May this year officials from my Department 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 issued surveys on the 10th of July to establish the full current cost of the trade union’s claim. This is standard practice.

Officials from the Department met with FÓRSA representatives in September. Management Bodies representing the employers of schools impacted by the action were also in attendance at the meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to further explore the details of the pay claim as presented by FÓRSA and the nature of the industrial action. 

On 30 September FÓRSA requested the Department to agree to use the services of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) to resolve the dispute.  As is normal practice the Department has agreed to use the industrial relations machinery of the state in an effort to resolve this matter.  

In order to address the various issues within the claim and to arrive at a mutually acceptable solution, the Department is in discussions with FÓRSA under the auspices of the WRC.