Skip to main content
Normal View

Tuesday, 14 Dec 2021

Written Answers Nos. 401-417

Schools Building Projects

Questions (401)

Joe Flaherty

Question:

401. Deputy Joe Flaherty asked the Minister for Education the status of the planned development of a new Gaelscoil in Longford town (details supplied). [61456/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

The project to which the Deputy refers has been devolved for delivery to Longford & Westmeath Education and Training Board (LWETB).

The brief for this project is the provision of a 12 classroom Primary school on a Greenfield site at Abbeycarton, Longford.

The Pre Stage 1 Report has very recently been submitted to the Department where it is currently being reviewed by the Professional & Technical Section. It is envisaged that the first Stage meeting will take place early in the New Year.

Following Departmental approval of this report, the next step for the ETB's Design Team will be to progress to Stage 2a (Developed Design) and subsequently during Stage 2b, obtain the statutory planning approvals. When these approvals are in place, the project can proceed to tender and construction. It is not possible at this stage to provide a timeline for the completion of the project.

Departmental Programmes

Questions (402)

Neale Richmond

Question:

402. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Education the supports that are provided by her Department to encourage exchanges between Irish secondary schools or students and continental colleges; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [61460/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

The main instrument to promote exchanges between Irish and other EU schools is the Erasmus+ programme which supports schools that want to organise learning mobility activities for school pupils and staff. In 2020, over €7m in EU Erasmus +funding was provided as support for both primary and secondary schools in Ireland.

Mobility activities provide learning opportunities to individuals and support internationalisation and institutional development of schools. School staff can undertake activities such as Job-shadowing, Training Courses and Teaching Assignments whilst the Learner mobility option enables pupils to spend periods abroad to study at a partner school.

Léargas as the National Agency for Erasmus+ programme in the school sector provide a suite of supports to applicants and participants such as information sessions and a Public Relations (PR) kit for teachers. In addition Léargas manages support initiatives for schools such as eTwinning. This is a free secure online platform linking a community of more than one million teachers across Europe and supports teachers to find partners and work on joint projects in any curricular area. To-date, a total of 1,890 eTwinning projects have been registered with Irish teachers involving countries from the forty-four participating countries in Europe and beyond. Approximately 1,100 of those projects involved secondary schools.

However, the acquisition of European language competency by students plays a key part in the success of such mobilities and exchanges. The Deputy will be aware that Languages Connect is Ireland’s Strategy for Foreign Languages in Education which aims to increase and diversify the range of languages taught and learned. The Department of Education, through Post Primary Languages Ireland (PPLI) provides funding for the School Exchanges Scheme. Under the Scheme, up to twenty schools annually have been provided with €15,000 in funding over a three year period. The funding can be used towards exchange costs such as flights, to offer scholarships to students who would not otherwise be able to participate, or for other needs that the school identifies as contributing towards language learning on the exchange.

Special Educational Needs

Question No. 404 answered with Question No. 403.

Questions (403, 404)

Denis Naughten

Question:

403. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Education her plans to amend the minimum qualification required for appointment to the role of special needs assistant; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [61585/21]

View answer

Denis Naughten

Question:

404. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Education if she has sought expert opinion on the campaign to change the minimum qualifications required for appointment to the role of special needs assistant; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [61588/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 403 and 404 together.

Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) play a huge role in helping to ensure the inclusion of pupils with significant care needs in education and in school life. This was acknowledged in the Comprehensive Review of the Special Needs Assistant Scheme (SNAs) published by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) in 2018.

The Review made a number of recommendations regarding SNAs including referencing the training needs of SNAs. In this regard, the NCSE recommended that a new national training programme at Level 5 of the National Qualification Framework be developed for existing SNAs who do not have the requisite level of training and for new SNAs on appointment. The NCSE also recommended that training tailored to the specific complex needs of some students being cared for by SNAs would also be provided.

The policy advice has been considered by the Department. It was decided that priority should be given to the development of a training programme for SNAs who may not have had a recent opportunity to access a training programme tailored to their role. The new first national training course for SNAs provided by UCD aims to enhance the knowledge, skills and expertise of SNAs whose work is central to the inclusion of students with additional care and complex needs in school life. The programme is fully funded by the Department and delivered at no cost to the SNA.

This is the first national training programme for SNAs employed in schools and is tailored to their needs. As this is the first programme, it is appropriate to take the time to review outcomes which will inform the future approach to ongoing training and professional development of SNAs. Part of that consideration will include accreditation.

Raising the minimum qualification for appointment as a special needs assistant has been referred to the Workplace Relations Commission and the Department has been engaging in that process.

The recruitment and appointment of Special Needs Assistants is a matter for the individual school authority and the Department's circular 36/2020 and 51/2019 sets out the current educational requirements for appointment as a Special Needs Assistant (SNA). In addition, the actual requirements for a post will vary depending on the specific needs of the children and the school to which the SNA is to be appointed. The Department does not believe that the existing minimum qualifications has impacted on the calibre of person appointed and it is also the case that people with experience and/or higher qualifications than the minimum are often the successful candidate in competitions held by schools.

However, having considered the claim and, in particular, the period of time since they were set, the Department is open to reviewing the position. However, the Department is not yet in a position to indicate when that review might take place but is of the view that the forthcoming review of the SNA contract proposed as part of the Building Momentum national pay agreement should be carried out and implemented first.

Question No. 404 answered with Question No. 403.

Special Educational Needs

Questions (405)

Violet-Anne Wynne

Question:

405. Deputy Violet-Anne Wynne asked the Minister for Education the number of children who are currently awaiting assistive technology for zero to six, six to 12, 12 to 18 and 18 plus months by county in tabular form.; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [61614/21]

View answer

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.

All equipment provided under this scheme support children with more complex disabilities who, in order to access the school curriculum, require essential specialist equipment.

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.

Although equipment is sanctioned under the Assistive Technology scheme for use by particular students, it is the property of the school, and the school’s management authority is responsible for maintenance, repair, and insurance of the equipment.

It is the responsibility of each individual school to purchase the equipment after the grant is sanctioned. My Department does not hold a record of the average wait time from start of application to the time a student receives their assistive technology. However, I can confirm that 3,370 applications have been forwarded from the NCSE since January 2021 to date, with 350 applications currently on hand. In addition, all applications for audiology supports for children with hearing impairment and equipment to assist children with visual impairment are fully up to date and there are currently none outstanding.

In relation to the specific wait times requested from date of application, I have referred to the NCSE for their direct reply.

School Staff

Questions (406, 408, 422, 423)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

406. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Education the reason very few of the 467 teachers on secondment that would be available for substitute work have become available to schools (details supplied); if these teachers have been deployed temporarily to the substitute panels across the country; if not, if she will ensure they are added to the substitute panel and that this panel is made available to all schools; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [61650/21]

View answer

Kathleen Funchion

Question:

408. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Education if the approximately 467 teachers on secondment that were to be made available for substitute work have made themselves available to schools given schools continue to report failing to find substitute teachers to cover classes in view of the fact they do not know the way to contact these teachers; the reason the teachers were not deployed temporarily to the substitute panels across the country; and the measures that will be put in place in order that they can be easily accessed by schools. [61655/21]

View answer

Gary Gannon

Question:

422. Deputy Gary Gannon asked the Minister for Education the mechanism in place for school principals to contact teachers on secondment who have been released in order to be available for substitute work; and the reason these teachers were not deployed temporarily to the substitute panels across the country. [62003/21]

View answer

Gary Gannon

Question:

423. Deputy Gary Gannon asked the Minister for Education if he will address the issue of principals not being able to contact teachers on secondment who have been released in order to be available for substitute work by placing these teachers on the substitute panels in order they can be easily accessed by schools; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [62004/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 406, 408, 422 and 423 together.

As the Deputy will be aware, my Department recently contacted schools to outline a wide range of new additional measures to increase the availability of substitutes teachers.

In respect of one of these measures, the Teacher Education support services funded by my Department have made arrangements to release teachers who are on secondment to provide substitute cover in schools. As outlined in the notice to schools, arrangements have been made for available teachers from these services to register on the SubSeeker portal which is available to all schools. Principals can access available substitutes using this portal.

Those staff working in the Teacher Education support services also continue to support schools through their work in the support services when they are not called to provide substitute cover. A number of secondees have also been retained to continue to support the system by delivering planned priority CPD relating to reforms in Senior Cycle examinable subjects and some limited provision at primary level (e.g. Reading Recovery). All other CPD at both Primary and Post Primary, where substitution is required, will be deferred until after the February 2022 mid-term break. The temporary suspension of CPD will not affect the completion of the Droichead process for Newly Qualified Teachers whose contracts are due to end prior to the mid-term break in February. It is intended that this deferred CPD will be re-scheduled in the period following the February 2022 mid-term break.

This is just one of a number of measures to increase the availability of substitute teachers in schools, including of course the flexibility being provided by Higher Education Institutes to enable students teachers to support schools up to the end of term.

School Management

Question No. 408 answered with Question No. 406.

Questions (407)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

407. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Education if her attention has been drawn to the decision of the patron body of a school (details supplied) to disband the board and put a single individual in charge, despite the fact that four persons were willing to serve on the board; if she has requested an explanation for this decision; if she will request the patron body to restore the board with the members that are available to serve; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [61651/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

In accordance with the provisions of the Education Act 1998, the appointment of a board of management of a school is a matter for the relevant school Patron. Under the provisions of this Act, where a Patron determines that the appointment of a Board is not practicable, the Patron may appoint a manager or managers to perform the functions of the Board.

In the case of the school in question, the Patron has informed the Department that the three year term of office of the Board came to an end on 15 October 2021. The Patron has also determined that the appointment of a Board is not practicable at this time and, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Education Act 1998, appointed a single manager to manage the school. The Deputy will appreciate that the appointment of a board of management is solely a matter for the relevant school Patron and that I have no role in this regard.

Question No. 408 answered with Question No. 406.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Question No. 410 answered with Question No. 409.

Questions (409, 410)

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Question:

409. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Education the estimated cost of one HEPA filtration device. [61662/21]

View answer

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Question:

410. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Education the estimated cost of providing a HEPA filtration device to each primary and secondary school classroom in the State. [61663/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 409 and 410 together.

Managing ventilation is just one of a suite of public health measures in place to keep our schools safe. Updated guidance for schools on Practical Steps for the Deployment of Good Ventilation Practices in Schools was provided at the end of May following the work of an expert group that carefully considered the role of ventilation in managing COVID-19.

A copy of the guidance is published on the Gov.ie website.

The Expert Group in its report notes “very good advice is contained in the Department of Education’s Practical Steps for the Deployment of Good Ventilation Practices in Schools”.

And that “It must be emphasized that ventilation should be delivered as part of a layered strategy of protective measures to control the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.”

The over-arching approach in the guidance is for schools to have windows open as fully as possible when classrooms are not in use and partially open when classrooms are in use.

The Expert Group also note “consider using a portable carbon dioxide (CO2) monitor to identify areas of the school with inadequate ventilation. The Departments guidance outlines CO2 monitors can play a part in providing a useful general indication that areas/rooms may not be adequately ventilated. They can enable occupants to become familiar with the impacts of activities, outdoor weather and window openings on levels of good ventilation. The provision of portable CO2 monitors provides schools with the flexibility to focus their use to those rooms where most beneficial to inform strategies for optimising ventilation in the school.

In excess of 36,000 monitors have been delivered to schools nationwide at a cost of circa €4 million.

A dedicated team has been established in the Department to support schools that may have concerns about ventilation. Officers are also available to contact schools where required, walking through the steps the schools should take to deploy good ventilation practices etc. Where it is not possible for a school to access the expertise of an engineer or architect, and where necessary, a technical assessment to assist the school can be facilitated through the Department.

Schools that identify inadequate ventilation in a room can utilise their minor work grant (for minor improvements) or apply for emergency works grant assistance to address ventilation enhancements on a permanent basis.

The Expert Group also notes the potential use for air cleaners “consider using stand-alone high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter devices to further reduce airborne virus in poorly ventilated spaces”.

The Departments Guidance is clear that where the recommended measures in the Practical Steps and poor ventilation continues to exist in a particular room/area, air cleaners may be considered as an additional measure in conjunction with other methods of ventilation that are available. This is line with Expert Group guidance which identifies that in areas with poor ventilation that structural interventions and measures to increase natural ventilation should be completed. Where such structural interventions or measures are not possible in the short term, that consideration should be given to using stand-alone HEPA filter devices in poorly ventilated spaces pending the completion of structural interventions.

There is no one solution that fits all scenarios, each application requires bespoke analysis and selection of the appropriate unit(s) matched to the specific room size and volume. If, following consultation with a supplier a school feels that its individual space may require specific technical specialist advice then the assistance of a Chartered Engineer or Registered Architect can be sought.

The requirement for air cleaners in schools will depend on advices provided to schools by their Architect/Engineer.

Question No. 410 answered with Question No. 409.

An Garda Síochána

Questions (411)

Kathleen Funchion

Question:

411. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Education the efforts that have been made to streamline the Garda vetting process for substitute teachers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [61669/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

The National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Acts 2012 to 2016 (the Vetting Act), which was commenced in April 2016, put in place statutory requirements for the Garda vetting of persons involved in working with children and vulnerable persons.

The Vetting Act applies not just to schools but to any relevant organisation that employs, contracts, permits or places a person in relevant work with children or vulnerable persons. The Vetting Act provides that vetting is conducted by the National Vetting Bureau on foot of an application by a relevant organisation that is registered with it. The vetting legislation and the vetting procedures operated by the National Vetting Bureau fall within the remit of the Minister for Justice.

The Vetting Act provides that a relevant organisation must, other than in certain limited circumstances, obtain a vetting disclosure from the National Vetting Bureau prior to commencing the employment of an employee to undertake relevant work with children or vulnerable adults.

The Department of Justice has recently established an inter-departmental group to undertake a review of Garda vetting arrangements and legislation. The group will make recommendations for amending the legislation and strengthening the Garda vetting process.

School Enrolments

Questions (412)

Patricia Ryan

Question:

412. Deputy Patricia Ryan asked the Minister for Education her plans to address the shortage of school places in south County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [61679/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

The Department is aware of some local pressures and demand for additional post-primary school places in a number of school planning areas across the country including South Kildare.

However, it is important to note that where enrolment pressures arise, it may not be as a result of lack of accommodation but may be driven by the following factors:

- Duplication of applications – pupils have applied for a place to a number of schools in the area.

- School of choice – pupils can’t get a place in their preferred school while there are places in other schools in the town/area.

- Some towns/areas have single sex schools and while places are available in the school they are not available to all pupils.

- External draw – pupils coming from outside the local area.

My Department is working to establish the true extent of any capacity issues through ongoing discussions with the relevant school authorities/patrons. In that context, similar to the process adopted in advance of the current academic year, the Department is engaging with school patron bodies/school authorities to identify particular capacity requirements for the forthcoming year(s) which may necessitate action including, where required, the provision of modular accommodation solutions.

There are over 500 building projects in train for post primary schools around the country. This includes projects for 19 new post primary schools which have been announced to be established since 2018. Additionally, these building projects include a project to provide a new 1,000 pupil school building that will replace and expand the existing Curragh post primary school. This expansion is intended to assist in addressing the post primary school place requirements in the Kildare and Newbridge areas.

The other projects currently underway in South Kildare include projects at:

- Cross & Passion Kilcullen

- Patrician Secondary School Newbridge

- Ardscoil Rathangan

- St. Conleth’s Community College Newbridge

- St. Paul’s Secondary School, Monasterevin

- Holy Family Secondary School Newbridge (application recently received)

My Department's engagement with Patrons/school authorities is ongoing and is focussed on ensuring that the start of the 2022/23 school year operates as smoothly as possible for all schools and their students.

Special Educational Needs

Questions (413)

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

413. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Education when she expects the National Council for Special Education to complete and submit its policy advice on education provision in special classes and special schools first commissioned in September 2018. [61740/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

In September 2018, the then Minister for Education and Skills requested the NCSE to advise on future educational provision for students in special schools and classes and to make recommendations on the provision required to enable them to achieve better outcomes.

The NCSE strives to ensure that its policy advice is informed by robust and wide-ranging consultative and research processes. Its policy advice is always informed by international best practice.

A lot of work has been done and NCSE published a progress report in November, 2019. At that stage, NCSE had reviewed existing educational provision in Ireland, conducted a detailed literature review, consulted various stakeholder groups and visited a number of Irish schools. NCSE had also looked at fully inclusive schools and practice in Canada and Portugal.

The report found that no evidence to show that one type of special education placement is better that another. It also stated that any decision to move towards greater inclusion would require careful consideration and planning. It is not something that could be achieved in the short term.

Since the publication of the progress report, NCSE has conducted further research and analysis, engaged in a public consultation survey and has received further submissions and expert inputs. It has also examined the implications arising from the UNCRPD.

Before the advice is finalised, every effort is being made to ensure that NCSE has consulted widely with a view to developing shared understandings on the critical issues involved and proposed solutions.

The policy advice is expected to be completed in early 2022.

Covid-19 Tests

Questions (414)

Pádraig O'Sullivan

Question:

414. Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Education if antigen testing will be extended to post-primary schools and not just primary schools; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [61846/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

Ensuring that schools can remain open and continue to operate safely has been a key priority for the Department of Education. The Department has always been guided by public health advice in relation to appropriate COVID-19 infection prevention and control measures in place in schools. These measures protect students/pupils, their parents and school staff and are very effective when adhered to.

The Department of Health and the HSE, working in collaboration with the Department of Education recently announced a programme in which antigen tests will be made available to children in primary schools. These arrangements for students and staff in post primary schools are identical to those in place for confirmed cases and close contacts in the wider society.

Schools are still required to undertake the two most important actions to prevent the introduction and spread of Covid-19 (and other respiratory viruses), by ensuring no-one with new acute symptoms attend class, and that all recommended infection prevention and control measures are in place in line with school Covid response plans.

Public Sector Pay

Questions (415)

Francis Noel Duffy

Question:

415. Deputy Francis Noel Duffy asked the Minister for Education further to Parliamentary Question No. 274 of 26 November 2020, if the upgrade of the payroll system has been completed; when the online payslip option will be available; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [61859/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

As the Deputy will be aware, my Department provides a payroll service to primary, post-primary, non-teaching and retired staff. The service has some 130,000 users and is managed by my Department’s Payroll Division in Athlone.

The payroll system is an electronic system and a number of processes are already highly automated. For instance, the submission of claims for payment through the Online Claims System (OLCS).

I am pleased to be able to advise the Deputy that my Department has concluded the upgrade of the school staff payroll software systems, as planned, in 2021. The primary purpose of this upgrade is to receive continued support from the Department’s vendor and to upgrade payroll software systems.

I can also advise that following the completion of this upgrade, that my Department is now progressing a project to deliver access to electronic payslips for all users in 2022.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Questions (416)

Louise O'Reilly

Question:

416. Deputy Louise O'Reilly asked the Minister for Education if funding will be provided for CO2 monitors for a school (details supplied). [61931/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

The Department’s ventilation guidance for schools is very clear and practical on the steps to be taken by all schools to manage ventilation levels.

Managing ventilation is just one of a suite of public health measures in place to keep our schools safe. Updated guidance for schools on Practical Steps for the Deployment of Good Ventilation Practices in Schools was provided at the end of May following the work of an expert group that carefully considered the role of ventilation in managing COVID-19. A copy of the guidance is published on the Gov.ie website.

The over-arching approach in the guidance is for schools to have windows open as fully as possible when classrooms are not in use and partially open when classrooms are in use.

The guidance outlines that Carbon Dioxide (CO2) monitors can play a part in providing a useful general indication that areas/rooms may not be adequately ventilated. They can enable occupants to become familiar with the impacts of activities, outdoor weather and window openings on levels of good ventilation. The provision of portable CO2 monitors provides schools with the flexibility to focus their use to those rooms where most beneficial to inform strategies for optimising ventilation in the school.

In excess of 35,400 monitors were dispatched in the initial delivery phase. In excess of a further 1,500 have since been dispatched to schools who requested and were approved for additional CO2 monitors.

St Teresa's National School Balbriggan received nine CO2 monitors as part of it's original allocation. To date the Department has not received a request from the school for additional CO2 monitors.

School Enrolments

Questions (417)

Louise O'Reilly

Question:

417. Deputy Louise O'Reilly asked the Minister for Education if additional resources will be provided for a school (details supplied) to allow for an increase in the student population specifically in order that additional first year students can be taken in for the 2022 academic year. [61932/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

The Department is aware of some local pressures and demand for additional post-primary school places in a number of school planning areas across the country including the Swords school planning area.

However, it is important to note that where enrolment pressures arise, it may not be as a result of lack of accommodation but may be driven by the following factors:

- Duplication of applications – pupils have applied for a place to a number of schools in the area.

- School of choice – pupils can’t get a place in their preferred school while there are places in other schools in the town/area.

- Some towns/areas have single sex schools and while places are available in the school they are not available to all pupils.

- External draw – pupils coming from outside the local area.

My Department is working to establish the true extent of any capacity issues through ongoing discussions with the relevant school authorities/patrons. In that context, similar to the process adopted in advance of the current academic year, the Department is engaging with school patron bodies/school authorities to identify particular capacity requirements for the forthcoming year(s) which may necessitate action including, where required, the provision of modular accommodation solutions.

As the Deputy is aware, a new 1,000 pupil school building was completed in 2020 for the school in question to assist in addressing the post primary school place requirements in the Swords school planning area.

Other projects currently underway in post primary schools in Swords include extensions and refurbishments at :

St. Finian's Community College - extension to provide for a long term projected enrolment of 1,000 pupils.

Loreto College - extension and refurbishment to cater for a long term projected enrolment of 1,000 pupils.

My Department's engagement with Patrons/school authorities is ongoing and is focussed on ensuring that the start of the 2022/23 school year operates as smoothly as possible for all schools and their students.

Top
Share