National Training Fund

Questions (229)

Catherine Martin

Question:

229. Deputy Catherine Martin asked the Minister for Education and Skills the reserve surplus in the national training fund; the projected reserve surplus year-on-year over the next five years in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44590/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

The accumulated surplus in the provisional accounts of the NTF at the end of 2018 amounts to €473m. The expenditure ceiling for the National Training Fund is set as part of the annual estimates process, having regard to the Government's overall budgetary and fiscal stance, and so the amount available for expenditure in any given year would only be decided as part of the budget process.

While we do not have an overall surplus projection for the next five years, the following table shows the projected surplus up to the end of 2020:

National Training Fund

Surplus for the Year

(€m)

End of year Surplus Carried forward (€m)

2018 Provisional NTF Accounts

473.36

2019 REV

258.19

731.55

2020 Budget

231.12

962.67

The operation of the EU Fiscal Rules and the inclusion of the NTF in my Department's overall annual expenditure ceiling mean that, in the absence of an increased rate of contribution or the availability of additional fiscal space, additional expenditure cannot be sourced from the NTF without a corresponding drop in Exchequer expenditure. Substantial additional NTF expenditure has taken place in 2018 and 2019 and is planned for 2020 as a result of increases in the NTF levy.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio

Questions (230)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

230. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Education and Skills the reason class size ratios vary; his plans to reach a ratio of 20:1 nationally; the measures he is taking to achieve same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44634/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

In the current school year, the numbers employed in our schools have reached the highest ever level. Teacher numbers at primary level have increased by almost 3,500 when comparing the 2015/16 school year with the current school year. Budget 2018 provided a one point improvement in the staffing schedule in primary schools which brings the position to a general average of 26 pupils to every 1 teacher, the lowest ever allocation ratio at primary level.

The Budget 2020 measure of improved teacher staffing levels for schools with four teachers or less will see a more favourable pupil teacher ratio in small schools from September 2020. This improved schedule will apply in two, three and four teacher schools and ensure one less pupil is required to retain/recruit a teacher.

The configuration of classes and the deployment of classroom teachers are done at local school level. My Department's guidance to schools is that the number of pupils in any class is kept as low as possible taking all relevant contextual factors into account (e.g. classroom accommodation, fluctuating enrolment etc.). School authorities are also requested, where possible, to use their autonomy under the staffing schedule to implement smaller class sizes for junior classes.

The latest figures in relation to pupil teacher ratio show an improved ratio of teachers to students from 16:1 to 15.2:1 at primary level when comparing the 2015/16 school year to the 2018/19 school year. Average class sizes at primary level improved from 24.9 to 24.3 in the same period.

Schools Building Projects Data

Questions (231)

James Browne

Question:

231. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Education and Skills the school building projects which are delayed; the longest at stage 2b; when a design team was appointed in each case; when a replacement design team was appointed if applicable; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44641/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

Stage 2(b) Detailed Design is arguably the most complex and detailed of all the stages in Architectural Planning.

In the majority of school building projects, this stage includes the planning application, the application for Fire Cert and Disability Access Cert and the pre-qualification of contractors. It also includes the preparation of complex and detailed tender documents.

There are currently 75 major school building projects in advanced architectural planning and a continuous throughput of projects moving into Stage 2b and onwards towards Tender Stage and Construction. 10 of these projects have been progressing through the stage for 5 years or more of which one project had a full Design Team replacement and three others had one Design Team member replaced. A table is provided at the following link for the Deputy’s convenience.

Where projects take longer than expected to progress through Stage 2b , they have generally experienced planning difficulties due to a complicated or detailed planning application, appeals to An Bord Pleanála, complications around decant arrangements or site issues. In other cases, there have been unavoidable changes to the brief or scope of the project.

Furthermore, in completing Stage 2(b), Design Teams are now required to upgrade design details to ensure that new school buildings are Near Zero Energy Buildings (NZEB) in compliance with the 2017 amendment to Part L of the current Building Regulations. In many cases this has involved a second planning application to allow for the installation of photovoltaic panels on the roof following receipt of the initial planning permission.

The status of large scale projects being delivered under my school building programme is regularly updated on my Department’s website ww.education.ie

School Building Projects

Workplace Relations Commission

Questions (232)

Brendan Smith

Question:

232. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Education and Skills the progress to date in advancing the talks with a union (details supplied) at the Workplace Relations Commission in relation to issues that need to be resolved concerning school secretaries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44643/19]

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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 the 9th of 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.

School Accommodation Provision

Questions (233)

Stephen Donnelly

Question:

233. Deputy Stephen Donnelly asked the Minister for Education and Skills the timeline of required actions to facilitate the opening of a new secondary school for the Greystones and Kilcoole area of County Wicklow by the planned date of September 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44664/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

My Department is currently examining options for interim accommodation to facilitate the opening of this school in September 2020.

Information and Communications Technology

Questions (234)

Alan Kelly

Question:

234. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Minister for Education and Skills the number of computers in his Department that still use an operating system (details supplied) in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44709/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

My Department has been upgrading computers from Windows 7 to Windows 10 and is expecting to complete this task by January 2020. To date approximately 1,000 computers have already been upgraded. The relevant number of computers remaining to be upgraded is contained in the following table.

Operating System

No. of Computers remaining to be upgraded

Estimated Completion Date

Windows 7

450 (approx.)

January 2020

Information and Communications Technology

Questions (235)

Alan Kelly

Question:

235. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Minister for Education and Skills if his Department will not be forced to pay additional premium payments to a company (details supplied) once support for an operating system expires in January 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44725/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

It is not anticipated that my Department will be forced to pay any additional premium payments in respect of support for the operating system referred to.

Information and Communications Technology

Questions (236)

Alan Kelly

Question:

236. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans to protect his Department in the event of a malware attack or security risks as a result of the failure to upgrade computers from an operating system (details supplied) in his Department and the agencies under his remit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44741/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

It is anticipated that my Department will complete the upgrade of its computers from the Windows 7 Operating System to the Windows 10 Operating System by January 2020.

In addition, the Department implements multiple security protocols and measures including User Awareness, Perimeter Security, Anti-virus/Anti-Malware, Email and Web filtering, System Patching, Risk Management, Policies, Regular Vulnerability Assessments/Penetration Testing, Mobile Device Management, Access Management, Incident Management, Event Monitoring, Information Security Governance, GDPR Awareness, Disaster Recovery, Offline Backups, Supplier Management and Encryption.

I will arrange for officials from my Department to request the relevant information from the non-commercial state agencies under my remit that have an annual administrative budget expenditure of €5 million or greater and annual ICT-related expenditure of €100,000 or greater and excluding schools as previously agreed with the Deputy. This information will be compiled and forwarded to you as soon as it is available.

Schools Building Projects Status

Questions (237)

Fiona O'Loughlin

Question:

237. 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 relation to tendering. [44765/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

The major building project for the school referred to by the Deputy has recently completed Stage 2(b) of architectural planning and has been progressed to tender stage.

The Department has recently been in contact with the Design Team and advised it of the need to get the tendering process underway as quickly as possible.

The Design Team Leader has advised that it expects to issue the Invitation to Tender to the shortlisted contractors in the next few weeks.

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

In regard to the site acquisition, good progress is being made and it is anticipated that conveyancing will conclude in the very near future. Both legal teams are working on finalising matters. It is not possible to elaborate on specific details due to commercial sensitivities, however, the Department will continue in its commitment to keep the school appraised of progress in the transaction.

Direct Provision System

Questions (238)

Fiona O'Loughlin

Question:

238. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Minister for Education and Skills if extra supports for children residing in direct provision centres attending local schools will be considered; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44770/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

My Department engages on an ongoing basis with officials in the Department of Justice & Equality in relation to education issues arising from the provision of accommodation for asylum seekers and refugees. For the past number of years, my Department has seconded an official to the Department of Justice and Equality to support the arrangement of education provision for children residing in accommodation centres. This arrangement facilitates close liaison with relevant areas of my Department in relation to education provision. This official is also available to advise schools on specific queries arising, including on the range of supports available to schools and on how to access supports. Tusla Educational Welfare Service (EWS), which is under the remit of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, assists with school enrolment and attendance.

As new Centres are identified, and once the numbers and age ranges of the children are identified, my Department will ensure that where the increase in the numbers of students entitles the school to an additional teaching allocation, this will be provided as soon as possible. Where the enrolment of the children resident in the Direct Provision Centre entitles the school to an additional teaching allocation for English as an Additional Language (EAL), this will be provided as soon as possible.

Where the increased enrolment requires an increase in the school’s special educational needs teacher profile, they will receive, as soon as possible, 5 additional Special Education Teaching hours for every 25 additional pupils who are enrolled, or a proportion of five hours if less than 25, where the number of enrolments are material, i.e. 5 pupils or more. Additional Special Needs Assistant provision is currently provided for identified additional care needs which is contingent upon assessments being carried out.

The criteria used for the allocation of teaching posts is published annually on my Department’s website. The staffing arrangements as set out in Circular 0019/2019 available on my Department’s website operates in a clear and transparent manner. The staffing arrangements also include an appeals mechanism for schools to submit an appeal under certain criteria to an Independent Appeals Board.

Higher Education Institutions

Questions (239)

Jack Chambers

Question:

239. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he is satisfied that the continued activities of institutes (details supplied) do not negatively impact on the activities of universities here; the actions he has taken to ensure same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44817/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The institutes referred to work with Government, business and academia to develop stronger educational, cultural and commercial links between Ireland and China. This is of assistance as Ireland continues to develop its internationalisation strategy for the higher education sector. Courses and programmes related to China and teaching Chinese language also enhance mutual cultural understanding and facilitate the expansion of ties between China and Ireland.

Our universities are autonomous institutions within the meaning of the Universities Act 1997, and the management of their day to day functions are matters for the individual institution which would be overseen by appropriate institutional governance arrangements and associated policies.

School Management

Questions (240)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

240. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Education and Skills further to Parliamentary Question No. 82 of 25 September 2019, the date by which his Department will respond to correspondence from a person (details supplied) which remains unanswered after a month. [44818/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

My Department has received and replied to many items of correspondence from this person.

Inquiries are ongoing in relation to issues raised and when these are complete, a final reply will issue.

School Inspection Reports

Questions (241)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

241. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Education and Skills if a decision has been made on whether to conduct a joint review of services with the HSE at a school (details supplied) following a request by the board of management of the school which was outlined in correspondence from the board to parents dated 27 September 2019. [44819/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

Following an inspection visit by a member of my Department's inspectorate to the school referred to by the Deputy, officials of my Department are due to meet with the school authorities later this month to discuss the recommendations contained the Inspector's report and related matters.

My Department will also engage with other stakeholders involved with the school, including the NCSE, HSE, patron and trustees, to ensure appropriate educational provision is in place for the students in the school.

Departmental Staff Data

Questions (242)

Mattie McGrath

Question:

242. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Skills the number of full and part-time staff employed in his Department; the number of such staff being paid at the minimum wage rate of pay; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44844/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

Presently, there are 1,549 Civil Servants employed at my Department on a full-time basis. There are no staff engaged on a part time employment basis at my Department. The remuneration for staff is subject to pay scales that apply to the various grades which are set by the Department of Public Expenditure & Reform.

No staff members are on a pay scale that equates to less that the minimum wage set at €9.80.per hour with effect from the 1st January 2019.

Departmental Circulars

Questions (243)

Louise O'Reilly

Question:

243. Deputy Louise O'Reilly asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans to review the exceptional circumstances under which school managements are free to commence or cease the procedures set out in circular 0071/2014; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that in some instances employees deemed to have a disability are being excluded from the procedures outlined in the circular; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44855/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

Circular 0059/2009 set out the disciplinary procedures for teachers employed by Vocational Education Committees (VEC). The procedures were negotiated and agreed with the education partners in accordance with Section 24(3) of the Education Act, 1998. Circular 0059/2009 was later superseded by Circular 0071/2014 to account for the merger of VECs into Education and Training Boards (ETBs). The current Circular setting out the disciplinary procedures for teachers employed by ETBs is Circular 0048/2018.

Where an ETB is dealing with performance or conduct issues in respect of a teacher, the use of Circular 0048/2018 is mandatory. The procedures set out in Circular 0048/2018 may be commenced or ceased at different stages by the employer depending on the circumstances of the individual case concerned. The Circular does not set out exceptional circumstances and I have no plans to review this matter. I am satisfied that the procedures (which were agreed with the education partners) comply with all relevant legislation and codes of practice.

There has been correspondence with my Department relating to a case has been considered and ruled upon before the High Court and the Court of Appeal. It would not be appropriate for me to comment on matters pertaining to a specific case involving an individual employee.

Teaching Contracts

Questions (244)

Louise O'Reilly

Question:

244. Deputy Louise O'Reilly asked the Minister for Education and Skills if the terms and conditions of employment of teachers in the ETB sector are determined by or require his consent together with the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. [44856/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

The Education Act 1998 as amended states as follows at section 24, subsection 3:

"The terms and conditions of employment of the teachers and other staff of a recognised school, appointed by the board and who are, or who are to be, remunerated out of monies provided by the Oireachtas, shall be determined from time to time by the Minister, with the concurrence of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform."

School Transport Eligibility

Questions (245)

Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

245. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Education and Skills if a matter with regard to school transport will be addressed (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44874/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

School Transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department. In the 2018/2019 school year over 117,500 children, including over 13,000 children with special educational needs, were transported in over 5,000 vehicles on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country covering over 100 million kilometres at a cost of over €200m in 2018.

The purpose of the School Transport Scheme for Children with Special Educational Needs is, having regard to available resources, to support the transport to and from school of children with special educational needs arising from a diagnosed disability.

Children are eligible for transport where they have special educational needs arising from a diagnosed disability and are attending the nearest recognised mainstream school, special class/special school or a unit, that is or can be resourced, to meet their special educational needs. Eligibility is determined following consultation with the National Council for Special Education through its network of Special Education Needs Organisers.

Applications for transport provision, under the terms of this scheme, should only be completed in circumstances where children are not in a position to avail of standard school transport services.

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

Special Educational Needs Service Provision

Questions (246)

Willie O'Dea

Question:

246. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans for ensuring there are sufficient ASD units in Limerick city, in particularly the northside of the city, in view of the fact that there are no ASD units in mainstream schools for girls in this catchment area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44893/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

The provision of education for children with special needs is an ongoing priority for Government.

Currently, almost 20% of the total Education Vote or €1.9bn is invested in supporting children with special needs. The numbers of special classes, special education teachers and Special Needs Assistants are at unprecedented levels. Nationally, 167 new special classes opened for the 2019/20 school year, which means there are 1,618 special classes in place, compared to 548 in 2011. Of these 1,353 special classes cater for students diagnosed with ASD.

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).

The Council has well established structures in place to plan and coordinate special education provision throughout the country. This includes identifying the need for and establishing special class placements in various geographical areas where they are required. 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 approximately 1% of the school population require the support of a special class, it is not possible or practical that a special class placement would be available in the every school.

Before approaching a particular school to request the establishment of a special class, the NCSE take into account both present and future potential need within the area and must be satisfied that the class is sustainable and appropriately located.

The NCSE has informed the Department that, in general, they are satisfied that there are currently sufficient ASD special class placements to meet existing demand in Limerick.

The NCSE is continuing its work at local level to ensure all children can access a suitable school placement for the forthcoming school year and beyond.

The NCSE team of locally based Special Education Needs Organisers (SENOs) are available to assist parents to identify appropriate educational placements for children with special educational needs and to discuss their child's special educational needs. The local SENO contact details are available on www.ncse.ie.

As the Deputy's question relates to the NCSE planning for special class provision in a particular area, I have arranged for the question to be forwarded to the NCSE, for their attention and direct reply.

Student Grant Scheme Applications

Questions (247)

Jack Chambers

Question:

247. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Minister for Education and Skills if a SUSI application by a person (details supplied) will be examined; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44895/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

The decision on eligibility for a student grant is a matter for SUSI to determine.

In assessing an application for the 2019/20 academic year, SUSI will have regard to the following qualifying criteria for the special rate of maintenance grant:

1. The student must qualify for the standard rate of grant;

2. Total reckonable income, after income disregards and Child Dependant Increase(s) are excluded, must not exceed €24,000; and

3. As at 31st December of the previous year, the reckonable income must include one of the eligible long-term social welfare payments prescribed in the Student Grant Scheme.

The grant awarding authority has confirmed to my Department that there was no eligible payment in place on 31st December 2018 for the student in question. The Student Grant Scheme is a statutory based scheme and there is no discretion to waive this condition in any circumstances.

Grant eligibility is subject to annual review and applicants must continue to meet all qualifying criteria for the relevant rate of grant in order to continue to receive that particular rate of grant.

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 Officer in the third level institution attended. The fund is administered on a confidential, discretionary basis.

Tax relief at the standard rate of tax may be claimed in respect of tuition fees paid for approved courses at approved colleges of higher education. Further information on this tax relief is available from the Revenue Commissioners on www.revenue.ie.

Education Schemes

Questions (248)

Jack Chambers

Question:

248. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Minister for Education and Skills if a case regarding the July provision will be examined (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44897/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

My Departments July Provision Grant Aid Scheme provides funding for an extended school year for students with a severe or profound general learning disability and students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).

The terms and conditions of the July Provision Grant Scheme 2019 are set out in the Department's Information Note on the scheme which was published with the application forms.

Parents and Tutors provide a signed undertaking confirming they have carefully read and understand the terms and conditions of the scheme before the July Provision home tuition grant can be approved.

As tuition takes place outside the usual school structure it is important that home tutors are both qualified to provide an educational programme and vetted in accordance with the regulations set out.

When a child is deemed eligible for Home Based July Provision Grant Aid Scheme a sanction letter issues to the parents/legal guardians, which includes the name(s) of the approved tutor(s), the total hours sanctioned and grant rate per hour.

The Department provides for an appeal process in relation to the payment decisions of the July Provision home tuition grant. Appeals may be submitted in writing outlining the reasons for the appeal, along with supporting documents as appropriate.

In the case referred to by the Deputy an appeal has recently submitted to my Department. My officials will consider the appeal and contact the appellant directly in due course.