Chapter 6.3 — Superannuation Schemes.

Ms B. McManus (Secretary General, Department of Education and Science) called and examined.

We will discuss value for money report No. 54, educational disadvantage initiatives in the primary sector. We will also discuss the 2005 annual report of the Comptroller and Auditor General and Appropriation Accounts: Vote 26 — Department of Education and Science, specifically chapter 6.1 — payment of salary in lieu of untaken annual leave, chapter 6.2 — Institiúid Teangeolaíochta Éireann, and chapter 6.3 — superannuation schemes. I am opening all these together for the benefit of members who wish to ask questions across the agenda.

Witnesses should be aware that they do not enjoy absolute privilege. The attention of members and witnesses is drawn to the fact that, as and from 2 August 1998, section 10 of the Committees of the Houses of the Oireachtas (Compellability, Privileges and Immunities of Witnesses) Act 1997 grants certain rights to persons identified in the course of the committee's proceedings. These rights include the right to give evidence; the right to produce or send documents to the committee; the right to appear before the committee, either in person or through a representative; the right to make a written and oral submission; the right to request the committee to direct the attendance of witnesses and the production of documents and the right to cross-examine witnesses.

For the most part, these rights may be exercised only with the consent of the committee. Persons invited to appear before the committee are made aware of these rights and any persons identified in the course of proceedings who are not present may have to be made aware of the rights and provided with a transcript of the relevant part of the committee's proceedings if the committee considers this appropriate in the interests of justice.

Notwithstanding this provision in the legislation, I remind members of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. Members are also reminded of the provisions in Standing Order 156 that the committee shall also refrain from inquiring into the merits of a policy or policies of the Government or a Minister of the Government or the merits of the objectives of such policy or policies.

I invite Ms McManus to introduce her officials.

Ms Brigid McManus

With me are Mr. Jim O'Donovan, assistant principal officer, and Mr. Paddy McDonagh, assistant secretary general in the Department dealing with the social inclusion unit, which includes issues such as educational disadvantage. With me as well are Mr. Martin Hanevy, assistant secretary general, Mr. Brian Duggan, principal officer, and Mr. Alan O'Neill, assistant principal officer, who deals in the financial area. Ms Ann McDonnell deals with personnel, Ms Ruth Carmody deals with third level matters, including Institiúid Teangeolaíochta Éireann, and Mr. John Feeney deals with teachers' pensions.

Will the representatives from the Department of Finance introduce themselves?

Ms Ann Nolan

I am with the Vote section and sectoral policy division. I am accompanied by Mr. David Denny from administration budgets, Mr. Nicholas Meehan from the section dealing with terms and conditions of employees, and Ms Breda Byrne, who deals with pensions.

I ask Mr. Purcell to introduce value for money report No. 54, and the 2006 annual report of the Comptroller and Auditor General, Vote 26, chapters 6.1 to 6.3, inclusive.

Paragraphs 6.1 to 6.3, inclusive, of the Comptroller and Auditor General's annual report for 2006 read:

6.1 Payment of Salary in Lieu of Untaken Annual Leave

Annual Leave Regulations

Rules for the regulation and control of annual leave allowances for civil servants are set out in Department of Finance Circular 27/03.

These rules allow payment to be made to civil servants for untaken annual leave accrued at the date of cessation of employment i.e. resignation, retirement or death. Payment in respect of each day of untaken annual leave should be calculated on the basis of one fifth of the normal weekly salary, irrespective of whether staff are paid on a weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis.

The Circular sets out rules to be applied where it is not possible because of work requirements to allow staff to avail of annual leave in excess of the statutory minimum. Any such untaken leave may be carried over to the following year on the basis of a three-year cycle. However, leave carried over at the end of year two of the cycle is forfeit if not taken during the third year. Under the provisions of the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997, Departments are obliged to ensure that an officer takes his/her full statutory minimum annual leave entitlement within the year in which it is accrued or, with the employee's consent, within six months of the start of the next leave year. This allows for limited carryover of the untaken statutory balance into the new leave year.

Audit Findings

In the course of a payroll audit of the Department of Education and Science it was noted that the Department made payment for untaken leave of 120 days to a senior official who had recently retired. The gross amount of the payment made was €77,586.

As I was concerned that some of the untaken leave for which payment was made in this instance breached the regulations on carryover set by the Department of Finance, I asked the Accounting Officer for details of the untaken leave for which payment was made in this instance, the circumstances which gave rise to the payment, the extent of payments made by the Department for untaken leave in the past five years and the number of instances where the regulations regarding carryover of leave had been breached by the Department.

Accounting Officer’s Response

Specific Case

The Accounting Officer stated that in this case, the untaken leave had accumulated over the period since 1994. She informed me that the official was unaware that this payment was not consistent with the Department of Finance Circulars. He had been informed by the Department's Personnel section at the time of his retirement that he was entitled to be paid for any untaken leave and had been requested to forward details of leave taken so that Personnel section could make the necessary calculations and arrange payment. When the matter was brought to his attention recently, he immediately indicated that he wished to repay to the Department the amount inadvertently received in respect of days in excess of those allowable had the Department implemented the provisions of Finance Circular 27/03 (and its predecessor 26/99) in relation to carryover of annual leave. If the circular provisions had been implemented he would have been paid for 37 days not 120. The gross overpayment was €53,664: the net amount worked out at €29,570 and arrangements are in train to repay this amount to the Department.

Department’s Practice

The Accounting Officer informed me that it had been the practice in the Department to allow staff to carry over annual leave in excess of that allowed under Department of Finance Circular 27/03 and pay staff upon retirement for untaken leave. While the Department informed staff of the terms of the Circulars, in practice it had allowed the carryover of leave in excess of that allowed under these Circulars due to various pressures over a number of years.

She stated that in the late 1990s, the Department had serious concerns as to its capacity to deliver the range of educational services required of it in an increasingly demanding environment. A major programme of structural reform was recommended by a Task Force chaired by a former Secretary General of the Department of Finance. This led to internal reorganisation of the Department, the creation of a network of Regional Offices and the establishment of the State Examinations Commission and the National Council for Special Education. All of these reforms contributed to a significant turnover of staff in 2003. This was followed by Ireland's Presidency of the EU from January to June 2004, which also gave rise to additional pressures. As a result of these pressures, the Department took the position that staff should not suffer loss of untaken leave.

She confirmed that the Department had not sought the approval of the Department of Finance to set aside the provisions of Circular 27/03.

Extent of Payments for Untaken Leave

The Accounting Officer informed me that approximately €392,000 had been paid to 64 officials in the last five years on foot of untaken leave on cessation of employment. In respect of 16 of these (excluding the payment in the specific case), approximately €69,000 was paid in respect of untaken leave estimated to be in excess of that which would have been payable if the Circulars had been implemented by the Department over the period concerned. Payment for untaken leave ranged from as little as a half day to 151 days, with 22 payments in the period exceeding €5,000.

She also informed me that over the same five-year period the Department had permitted staff to exceed the maximum allowable carryover of annual leave in 137 separate instances.

Recovery of Amounts Overpaid

The Accounting Officer informed me that the Department had not sought repayment of any amounts paid in respect of untaken leave in excess of that which would have been allowed had the Department implemented the provisions of Circular 27/03 and its predecessor in relation to carryover of annual leave.

However, she stated that she was considering the position regarding the approach to be adopted in the cases where overpayments had been made.

Revised Procedures

The Accounting Officer stated that, following an analysis of the position, the Department intends to put in place a range of measures designed to bring about compliance with Circular 27/03 for all staff on a phased basis and at the same time minimise the circumstances in which individuals receive payment in lieu of untaken leave.

Views of the Department of Finance

As the issues arising in the Department of Education and Science also have relevance for all other Departments and Offices, I sought the observations of the Accounting Officer of the Department of Finance on the matter.

He informed me that the day-to-day implementation of the Circular was a matter for Departments and Offices. He confirmed, however, that under the rules any untaken leave in excess of that allowed to be carried over by serving staff under a three year cycle provided for by the Circular was lost and that there was no provision for payment to be made in such circumstances. He informed me that separate arrangements under the Circular allow for payments to be made in respect of untaken leave accrued at the date of cessation of employment within the context of the three year cycle and, where appropriate, the provisions of the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997.

It was his view that Departments and Offices should as a matter of course consider recovering any overpayments that arise. He also indicated that it was a matter for Departments and Offices to consider whether it is possible or appropriate to pursue repayment in light of the circumstances of each individual case.

He also informed me that the Department of Finance was not immediately aware of other Departments or Offices where the provisions of the Circulars were not applied in recent years. He added that, in the light of my enquiries and the response of the Department of Education and Science, his Department had recently asked Departments and Offices to review their files to identify any cases where the annual leave carryover rules had not been properly applied and to rectify the matter. The Department of Finance had also advised all Departments and Offices of the need to apply the rules and procedures in the relevant Circulars and instructed them not to make any payments in respect of accumulated leave other than those set out in the Circular to cover the arrangements which apply on the cessation of employment.

6.2 Institiúid Teangeolaíochta Éireann

Institiúid Teangeolaíochta Éireann (ITÉ) was established in 1972 as a company limited by guarantee without share capital. Its primary objective as set out in its Memorandum of Association was: “to initiate, promote, commission and carry out studies, research and experiments on language, language behaviour, language acquisition and the teaching of languages, such work to be primarily concerned with the Irish language, with promoting its development and extending its use”.

In recent years a value for money report and an independent consultant's report made recommendations in relation to the reorganisation of ITÉ. However, no progress was made in implementing these recommendations.

Due to some internal difficulties in the company the Director agreed to stand aside from his duties as Director in the first half of 2002. An Acting Director subsequently resigned in November 2002, citing personal reasons. The then Chairman of the company resigned his position in January 2003. At this stage the company was without a Director or Chairman. In January 2003, two members of staff served legal proceedings against the company.

The Department met a delegation of members of the Executive Committee of ITÉ in May 2003 and, having considered the history of discord in the company and the difficulties that members would have in trying to run the company, agreed that the prudent course would be to wind up the company. The Department's desire was that the winding up process would be orderly and achieved without undue delay.

An Extraordinary General Meeting of ITÉ, held on 18 July 2003, agreed to initiate a process of voluntary liquidation. At a meeting of the Executive Committee of ITÉ on 5 December 2003 a timetable for appointment of a liquidator was agreed. The liquidator was subsequently appointed on 9 January 2004. The company agreed to issue redundancy notices to staff in advance of the liquidator's appointment.

I have certified final accounts of the company to 9 January 2004. At that date ITÉ had total assets of €395,000, of which €393,000 was cash.

I noted that funding continued to be provided from the Vote for Education and Science during the liquidation process –€1.480 and €1.304 in 2004 and 2005 respectively (this compares with funding of €1.764 and €1.985 provided in the previous two years). I also noted that after two years the liquidation had not been completed and a further €889,000 has been provided for 2006 to meet expenditure on payroll, office expenses and liquidation fees. I asked the Accounting Officer to outline the reasons for the delay in finalising the affairs of the company.

The Accounting Officer informed me that the Department gave a commitment to provide every assistance to the company in giving effect to its decision and had been working closely with the liquidator since his appointment in this regard. This included exploring possible arrangements for the continuation of certain research activities previously carried out by ITÉ and, in the interest of assisting with an orderly wind-up, facilitating appropriate re-deployment or other appropriate arrangements for staff in line with public service policy in these matters.

The period of notice of redundancy for staff at ITÉ had been periodically extended by the liquidator to take account of the ongoing process of pursuing re-deployment options and of the interim operational needs of the company during the wind-up period. The entitlements of those employees for whom appropriate re-deployment arrangements were not made would be determined in accordance with the terms of their contracts. She stated that by the end of December 2005 seven of the original 26 staff remained in the employment of ITÉ; three of these left early in 2006. It was anticipated that by August/ September 2006 all of the four remaining staff would either be redeployed or have been given their statutory notice to leave ITÉ.

She provided me with examples of the type of work carried out by ITÉ during the liquidation period. These included projects in the areas of Sociology of Language, Psycholinguistics, Modern Languages and Structural Linguistics.

Another factor in the delay was the need to surrender leases on property occupied by ITÉ. ITÉ's interest in a property owned by the Office of Public Works would soon be transferred to the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies; the Liquidator handed back another premises in April 2005, taking advantage of a break clause in the lease; while following lengthy negotiations, two further leases on a subdivided property were to be surrendered under a Deed of Surrender awaiting the landlord's signature. The need to deal with two separate legal actions taken against ITÉ also contributed to the delay.

The Accounting Officer provided details of the costs incurred since the start of the liquidation process in January 2004 as shown in Table 28.

Table 28

To end 2005

Jan — May 2006

Pay

2,152,115

170,821

Rent

479,800

-

Other Non-Pay

409,257

34,754

Liquidator Fees

80,504

-

Liquidator Expenses

167,645

-

Total

3,289,321

205,575

The Accounting Officer also informed me that when the remaining staff have left ITÉ a number of relatively minor items would remain to be finalised (mainly by the Department rather than the Liquidator), principally

· Future publication of ITÉ reports

· Relocation of ITÉ archives,

· Settlement of Litigation

· Transfer of ITÉ copyright.

She expected the liquidation would be completed in 2006.

6.3 Superannuation Schemes

In my 1995 and 2004 Annual Reports I drew attention to the failure of the Department of Education and Science to ensure that there was up to date legislative authority for amendments to superannuation schemes of teachers.

In the course of the 2005 audit, I noted that the Pensions Section of the Department had discovered, in April 2004 while reviewing another matter, that the terms of an agreement between the Department and teachers representatives contained in Agreed Report 4/87 had not been implemented. The intention was to bring certain provisions of the teachers' superannuation schemes affecting teachers who retired on ill health grounds or who died in service, into line with other public service schemes, but this had not occurred. As a result, these pensioners and their spouses were paid less than their full retirement benefits.

I asked the Accounting Officer to outline thecircumstances that gave rise to this failure to pay the proper benefits to the pensioners concerned.

The Accounting Officer informed me that the Agreed Report was worded in such a way as to be open to misinterpretation and that the difficulties of interpretation were the subject of correspondence between the Pensions Section and the Conciliation and Mediation Section of the Department from October 1988. However, the matter had not been clarified at the time of transfer of the Pensions Section from Dublin to Athlone in 1991 and appeared to have been overlooked following the extensive staffing changes that occurred at that time.

The matter rested so until April 2004 when, in examining the file of Agreed Reports, the Pensions Unit identified a parallel between the intent of the Agreed Report in regard to primary and secondary teachers and the corresponding Local Government provisions in another scheme applicable to vocational teachers.

The Accounting Officer assured me that the terms of the Agreed Report have been correctly applied on an ongoing basis to primary and secondary teachers who have retired on ill health grounds or died in service since May 2004. A review of ill-health retirement cases and cases where teachers had died in service since the beginning of the 1986/87 school year had also been undertaken. A total of 655 awards had to be revised. In 428 cases arrears payments totalling €1.65m were made in 2005, a further 85 payments amounting to €98,000 have been made to date in 2006 while work is ongoing in the remaining 142 cases. It was expected that the total cost would be somewhat less than the €2.2m originally estimated. The payments include a cost of living compensation payment where, through no fault of the beneficiary, a delay of more than a year has arisen in paying superannuation benefits. The payments were in accordance with procedures sanctioned by the Department of Finance.

The Department was satisfied, as a result of the checks it had carried out, that the provisions of other agreed reports and approved changes are being correctly implemented for schemes for which it has operational control.

The Accounting Officer was of the view that the problem in this instance did not arise from the failure to update the statutory schemes but was due to the combination of circumstances outlined. In this regard she informed me that she had assigned an officer of the Department to the Pensions Unit on a full-time basis with the sole task of updating the statutory pension schemes, commencing with the Secondary Teachers' Pension Scheme. Updated drafts of three Spouses' and Children's Schemes for Secondary Teachers have already been forwarded to the Department of Finance for consent and to the Parliamentary Counsel. Work is continuing on the drafting of the updated main Secondary Teachers' Superannuation Scheme.

Mr. John Purcell

I will start with value for money report No. 54, which records results of an examination of educational disadvantage initiatives in the primary sector. We took the school year 2003/2004 as our base year for the study. In that year, we estimated that nearly €62 million was spent specifically on measures to combat educational disadvantage in primary schools.

We found the schemes to tackle disadvantage had evolved over the past 20 years, resulting in a variety of schemes based on different eligibility criteria. One of the outcomes was that resources were spread quite widely, with nearly three quarters of all schools benefiting in one way or another from measures. Nevertheless, the bulk of funds was directed towards supporting schools with the highest concentrations of disadvantage.

However, there appeared to be some inconsistencies in how funds under the various schemes were allocated, with the result that a number of schools with high levels of disadvantage were not included in particular programmes. This suggested that some of the data being used to inform decisions on funding were either inaccurate or out of date. We found that to be the case.

Funding provided under the measures was mainly used to employ extra teachers to reduce class sizes. The Department informed me that putting the money into additional human resources is in line with the generally held international view that smaller classes were an effective way of countering disadvantage. Nevertheless, there seemed to be scope for targeting a higher proportion of the cash grants given to schools on individual disadvantaged pupils.

The examination found many examples of innovative and successful approaches to tackling disadvantage at school level and recommends that more could be done to apply successful interventions on a more widespread basis, especially where they had resulted in increasing literacy levels and improving attendance. Generally, there was a need for better co-ordination between the various players involved in combating educational disadvantage, including the schools, the National Educational Welfare Board, the National Educational Psychological Service, the home-school-community liaison scheme and, in certain cases, the Health Service Executive.

With all the money going into tackling educational disadvantage, it is clearly important we have a good idea of what is or is not working. Overall success in addressing impediments to the achievement of a pupil's educational potential is primarily gauged from literacy, numeracy and attendance levels. It follows that the Department, to be in a position to monitor and evaluate progress, must track the trends in these three areas at both national and school level.

We found plenty of room for improvement in developing and implementing appropriate performance measures and indicators at both those levels. From the information we have at national level, it appears we are not making inroads into the scale of the problem of low reading standards in disadvantaged areas, despite the injection of considerable targeted resources and a general increase in recent years in the financial allocations to the primary sector.

Data on numeracy attainment are less well-developed, but from recent data it is unlikely that the picture is any brighter in that sphere. With regard to poor attendance, the National Educational Welfare Board is beginning to get to grips with the problem, but I suspect it will be some time before we experience its full impact on attendance patterns.

Looking to the future, the Department has changed its approach, with effect from this year, with the introduction of a new Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools action plan. The plan is intended to shift the emphasis away from individual initiatives by adopting a more holistic and integrated approach. This should help address many of the key issues identified in our examination and, to be fair, also by the Department, through its work via the Educational Disadvantage Committee.

The changed approach may be seen in some examples. A standardised system for identifying levels of disadvantage in primary and second level schools has been initiated and should result in improved targeting of resources to those most in need. A single cash payment grant to schools participating in the new schools support programme has been introduced, together with guidance on delivering benefits to those pupils most at risk of exclusion. I will leave it to the Accounting Officer to elaborate on these and other changes being implemented under the new plan.

Turning to chapter 6.1, in the course of auditing the payroll of the Department, my staff noted an unusually large payment of arrears of salary to a recently retired senior official. On further examination we found that the payment was for untaken leave of 120 days that had accumulated since 1994. The Department had not applied the rules governing the carry-over of annual leave. It transpired that this was not an isolated case and that the Department had permitted staff to exceed the maximum allowable carry-over of annual leave in 137 separate instances in the past five years. As a result of this practice, there were 16 other cases in that period in which incorrect payments were made to employees on foot of untaken leave on cessation of their employment.

While the overpayments are not large in the context of the Education Vote, €53,000 in the case of the senior official and around €69,000 in the 16 other cases, I was concerned that such an irregular practice had been allowed to continue over a long period, apparently with the approval of the Department. After I brought the matter to the attention of the Accounting Officer she informed me that the Department intended to introduce a range of measures for all staff designed to bring about compliance with the rules on a phased basis while, at the same time, minimising instances of individuals receiving payments in lieu of untaken leave.

In the case of the retired senior official it should be recognised that once the error was brought to his attention he immediately indicated his intention to refund the amount overpaid. I can confirm that he has since done so. The Department is considering its position regarding the approach to be adopted in the other cases.

In view of the risk that the irregular practice was not confined only to the Department of Education and Science, I brought the matter to the attention of the Accounting Officer for the Department of Finance. That Department has contacted other Departments and offices to establish their position on this matter. The representatives of the Department of Finance may amplify the responses to their inquiries to the committee later this morning.

Chapter 6.2 outlines the background to the liquidation of Institiúid Teangeolaíochta Éireann and sets out the circumstances in which the liquidation is taking so long to complete. The decision in summer 2003 to liquidate was taken against the backdrop of a history of discord in the company and at a time when it was without a director or chairman. There were 26 members of staff employed at the institute and appropriate arrangements had to be made for them in line with public service policy in such matters. Most were redeployed to third level educational establishments in 2004 and early 2005 but there were delays in finalising arrangements for others. Another factor impeding the prompt completion of the liquidation was the need to surrender leases on property occupied by the institute.

The report shows that €3.5 million in costs was incurred from January 2004, when the liquidator was appointed, to May 2006. While worthwhile work was being carried out in the institute during this period, as outlined by the Accounting Officer in the chapter, which might, partly, justify that level of expenditure, it is clear that the taxpayer was not getting value commensurate with the money put in by the State. In these circumstances it is imperative the liquidation be finalised without further delay.

Chapter 6.3 draws attention to the underpayment of pensions in respect of teachers who retired on grounds of ill health or died in service. The change in the way reckonable pay for pension purposes was calculated for such teachers was agreed in 1988 but was not implemented at the time because of uncertainty regarding interpretation of the terms of the agreement. The matter had not been resolved by the time the pensions section of the Department was transferred from Dublin to Athlone in 1991 and it appeared to have been overlooked following the extensive staffing changes that occurred during that move. To be fair, the oversight was spotted by an official in the pensions section but, unfortunately, not until 2004.

The Department set about paying out the arrears, including a cost of living compensation payment during 2005. A total of €1.65 million was paid out that year with the remainder disbursed, and still being disbursed, in 2006. This chapter illustrates the risk inherent in replacing key staff at times of internal reorganisation and the possible repercussions for the public. In this case the fact that the pension schemes were not kept up to date did not help, an issue to which I have referred in previous reports.

Ms McManus

I thank the committee for the opportunity to make an opening statement and, in particular, to address the Comptroller and Auditor General's value for money report on educational disadvantage initiatives in the primary sector and chapter 6 of the 2005 report of the Comptroller and Auditor General.

The report on educational disadvantage initiatives raises a number of significant issues regarding the targeting of resources both in terms of schools and pupils, the need for a more co-ordinated approach among the agencies and personnel involved in addressing disadvantage and the need for a systematic approach to target setting, measurement, data collection and evaluation. The report reflects concerns which were shared by my Department, the Educational Disadvantage Committee in its work, and the Minister for Education and Science. The new Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools programme, DEIS, launched last year aims to address these issues, as well as providing for increased investment.

Over the years, no fewer than eight separate schemes for disadvantaged primary schools have been put in place. The DEIS action plan represents a shift in emphasis away from individual initiatives, each addressing a particular aspect of the problem, with the new plan adopting a multi-faceted and more integrated approach. The action plan provides for a standardised system for identifying levels of disadvantage and a new integrated school support programme.

The Educational Research Centre carried out a survey of all primary schools last year. The analysis of the survey returns informed the process of identifying the variables that collectively best predict achievement. The variables include the percentage of pupils in various situations including where the main income earner is unemployed, local authority accommodation, lone parenthood, travellers, large families and where a free book grant is paid. Applying the variables, 320 urban and 320 rural primary schools were identified for inclusion in the new school support programme. After allowing for school amalgamations and closures and following the appeals process a total of 670 primary schools have been included in the DEIS programme.

While the report under discussion today relates to initiatives in the primary sector the DEIS programme also covers second level. Selection at this level was based on medical card data for junior certificate candidates, junior certificate and leaving certificate retention rates and junior certificate exam results aggregated to school level. Following the initial identification and an appeals process 203 post primary schools have been included in the programme.

The school support programme will bring together and build upon existing interventions, including those in the primary sector covered in the value for money report, in schools with a concentrated level of disadvantage. The plan is being implemented on a phased basis over five years and will involve an additional annual investment of some €40m on full implementation. Roll out of measures under the action plan has commenced.

While the Comptroller and Auditor General's report acknowledges that overall schools were applying resources in an innovative fashion and that individual schools had found certain interventions successful, it is disappointing, as stated in the report, that reading standards in designated disadvantaged schools have not improved and the same lack of improvement in numeracy is evident in the recent report of a national survey of achievement in mathematics.

A high priority will be given under DEIS to specific measures and supports to improve literacy and numeracy outcomes, with a particular emphasis on early intervention at primary level. These measures include a new advisory service at primary level and access to initiatives such as Reading Recovery and Maths Recovery which enable intensive, individualised teaching to be provided for the lowest attaining pupils at an early stage when intervention can be most effective.

Central to the success of the action plan will be an increased emphasis on planning at school and school cluster level, target-setting and measurement of progress and outcomes to ensure the increased investment is matched by an improvement in educational outcomes for the children and young people concerned. A tailored planning template is being developed for implementation, through the school development planning initiative, in participating schools. This will facilitate the development by schools of their own individual three-year action plans. School action plans will be developed on the basis of an assessment of the school's current status, involving self-evaluation by the school and the input of the Department's inspectorate. The finalised plans will include locally developed targets under each of the agreed indicators.

The report highlights the importance of improving school attendance. The National Educational Welfare Board which came into operation in 2004 has targeted its resources at the schools with the highest levels of disadvantage and the greatest attendance problems. Preliminary attendance data show an improvement of 4% in attendance levels in the schools where the board is focusing its resources. Annual national data gathering on attendance facilitates the board in planning initiatives, targeting resources and evaluating over time the impact of attendance strategies at national level. The board is developing guidelines for schools on school attendance strategies.

In tackling educational disadvantage and other objectives where a number of services are involved it is important that we maximise effectiveness by good working arrangements. A working group to develop protocols for collaborative working between the Department's staff and various agencies has been established. It includes representatives of the National Educational Welfare Board, the National Council for Special Education, the National Educational Psychological Service, the visiting teachers service for the hearing and visually impaired, the home-school-community liaison scheme, the school completion programme, the visiting teacher service for Travellers, as well as the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals and the Irish Primary Principals Network. The group is developing protocols for collaborative working between staff on educational inclusion programmes and staff within various bodies under the aegis of the Department. We have a major challenge to tackle in reducing the level of educational disadvantage. I hope that as we implement DEIS we can address the issues identified in the value for money report and support schools, families and communities in improving educational outcomes for students.

Chapter 6.1 of the Comptroller and Auditor General's annual reportrefers to the Department’s procedures for paying staff on retirement or resignation for untaken leave due to them from the Department. As the report indicates, it has been the practice in the Department to allow staff to carry over annual leave in excess of that allowed under the relevant Department of Finance circulars. There were considerable work pressures in the Department over the period, resulting in staff not taking their full holidays and carrying forward untaken leave, thereby allowing some of these pressures to be addressed. Under the relevant Department of Finance circulars, payment for untaken leave is allowed on retirement or resignation. Payments were made by the Department in respect of total untaken leave, including carried over leave.

Measures are being put in place to comply with Department of Finance rules for the future. This current leave year is the first in a three-year cycle. With effect from the current leave year, staff in the Department will only be permitted to carry over untaken leave in accordance with Department of Finance provisions. Given the Departmental practice up to now, some staff have considerable amounts of untaken leave from previous years. Staff will be expected to use this accumulated leave over the three-year cycle and will forfeit any excess accumulated leave at the end of the three-year period. Staff retiring or due to retire are being informed that the Department will not pay salary arising from untaken leave and that such leave must be taken before retirement.

The report makes specific reference to one senior official. As it states, he was informed by the Department's personnel section that he was entitled to be paid for untaken leave. When the matter was brought to his attention, he repaid the amount related to leave carried over which exceeded that allowed under Department of Finance provisions.

Chapter 6.2 of the annual reportdeals with the liquidation of Institiúid Teangeolaíochta Éireann which is now drawing to a conclusion. Last month the liquidator issued the four remaining staff members with notice of statutory redundancy. When they leave ITE, only relatively minor items will remain to be finalised with the liquidation, including agreement on the future publication of ITE reports; transfer of copyright to appropriate parties; relocation of ITE archives and destruction of records; completion of legal agreements to reflect settlement of litigation; and application to the High Court to strike out legal action. Much of this work will be undertaken by the Department rather than the liquidator. The Department is committed to the completion of the liquidation as soon as possible.

Superannuation arrangements change from time to time as new provisions are introduced and existing provisions are improved. Chapter 6.3 of the annual report of deals with a delay which occurred in implementing revised provisions for certain national and secondary teachers who retired on grounds of ill-health or had died in service. These provisions concerned the introduction of a new method of determining, through averaging, the amount to be reckoned in final remuneration of each pensionable allowance held at retirement. As a result of the delay, it has been necessary to pay arrears of superannuation benefits to the teachers in question. A total of 655 awards had to be revised. In 2005 a total of 428 payments were made. So far this year, a further 171 payments have been made. The balance, 56 payments, is expected to be finalised before the end of the year. In the main, the remaining payments are those where moneys are due to be paid to the personal representatives of deceased beneficiaries. It is, therefore, necessary to establish the personal representative entitled to receive the payment. All arrears paid include a cost of living payment, calculated using the consumer price index.

The individual arrears varied from amounts as small as 52 cent to an amount of over €26,000. The average payment to date is €3,010. The total amount paid to date on foot of the review is €1,803,202.64, with the balance due estimated at some €90,000. The delay in implementing the revised provisions on averaging did not arise from the absence of a statutory scheme but was due to a combination of circumstances, the initial difficulty with interpretation of an agreed report on superannuation improvements happening to coincide with changes in personnel ahead of the relocation of the pensions sections to Athlone in 1991. When the delay came to light, my Department checked the position on the application to schemes for which it has operational control of the provisions of all agreed reports and other approved changes. On foot of this, it is satisfied that the approved provisions are being correctly implemented and also satisfied that the delay in implementing the averaging provisions arose from a combination of circumstances that applied uniquely in the case of the agreed report in question.

When I appeared before the committee last January, I set out the steps that I had initiated in my Department to update the relevant statutory pension schemes. I informed the committee that a staff member had been assigned to the pensions unit with the sole task of updating these schemes. The current position is that updated drafts of the various spouses' and children's pension schemes for secondary teachers have been forwarded to the Department of Finance and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. Work is continuing on drafting the updated main secondary teachers' superannuation scheme and, taking into account progress to date on this very complex and time-consuming task, it is expected drafting will be completed by year end. Work on updating schemes will then continue with the national teachers' superannuation scheme. The next task will be to update the other statutory schemes for which my Department has regulatory responsibility, after which the non-statutory schemes will be updated. It is hoped this work will be completed in the next two to three years.

I thank Ms McManus. May we publish her statement?

Ms McManus

Yes.

Thank you.

The representatives are all welcome to this session of the committee. The public takes justifiable pride in our education system dating back to the 1960s when participation rates in second level grew and an increasing number engaged in third level studies. This shift is often identified as being partly responsible for the emergence of the Celtic tiger. It demonstrated that so many of our young people could engage, compete and produce results comparable with the best in the world. Notwithstanding all this, not everything in the garden is rosy. Significant sums of money have been spent to deal with educational disadvantage and a raft of new initiatives put in place such as the designated area scheme, the home-school-community liaison scheme, Breaking the Cycle, Giving Children an Even Break and the school completion scheme. While there are positives in the report that show many principals and teachers do heroic work and go beyond the call of duty in trying to cater for disadvantage, it still spells out telling messages that the targeted and hoped for response of making things better has not been forthcoming.

The report states that 84,000 children under the age of 16 were missing from school for at least 20 days, with 34,000 missing for more than 40 days. It does not make any difference what scheme is going on in the school, the degree of interest on the part of the teachers, or the remedial resources in place if the child is not at school and misses so many days. We all know the impact that has and how hard it makes it to catch up, and the disconnection from the system that can result.

As far as the National Educational Welfare Board is concerned, what progress is being made in this area and what are the causes? We hear of unemployment and other social problems but employment prospects for many people have been greatly enhanced and one would imagine there would be singular improvements as a result. What can the schools do? Should there be more contact with the home, with co-ordinators getting closer to the children to ensure they get to school?

Ms McManus

I fully agree, if a child is not at school for a long time, the educational outcome is affected. The national statistics cover a number of factors. There will always be a certain percentage of children who miss a lot of school because of illness or similar reasons and home tuition exists to fill that gap. There is another category which people will be aware of from NEWB publicity material where children are taken out of school outside of holidays and the numbers include them.

The attendance pattern at disadvantaged schools is poorest. The schools would claim, and the NEWB is researching this, that erratic attendance has a more severe effect on the performance. Missing a Monday and a Friday, not a large body of time taken to go on holiday, can be very harmful. It may reflect a certain level of disadvantage or disinterest in the home or another factor. The NEWB concentrated its resources on RAPID areas and there was an improvement of 4% in attendance in 2004-5 compared with 2003-4, a significant statistic. We would need to look at a longer period, however, to check that effect.

The measures that one can take depend on the different groups we are dealing with. The Traveller population experiences a particular problem with attendance. We now have a visiting teaching service for Travellers that forms a link with the community and as part of this work, a protocol agreement has been developed between the NEWB and the visiting teacher service for Travellers on how to target this area. There has been a degree of success in Rathkeale, from an admittedly low base.

If we look at other groupings, attendance is due to a variety of social factors. Case studies include drug addiction and other social problems in the household. Often the work involves working with agencies such as the Health Service Executive. In other cases it can be a school factor, with a difficulty that arises in the dynamic between the school and the child or there can be psychological issues for the child. The NEWB is trying to put different strategies in place for different groups.

The VFM report pointed out that the home-school liaison group did not see attendance as something it should focus on, although it pointed to a good example in a school where the group had been involved. Instead, when the NEWB was established, people saw it as responsible for attendance. That is true at the end of the process when there are prosecutions but there is a lot to be said for home-school liaison teachers calling to a house and inquiring at an early stage where attendance is poor before a pattern is established that would trigger an NEWB response. It is a difficult area and will take time.

To what extent does the Department see these matters as requiring co-ordination between the different agencies, such as the HSE and the local authorities, to give better support to these families so the children can participate?

No one wants to designate any particular group as creating any more problems than another but it is as plain as the nose on my face that numeracy and literacy problems are more prevalent in certain areas. When there is disconnection from a normal lifestyle and engagement in other activities which require curative action, to what extent do these groups feel a collective responsibility to get behind some of these problems? When looking at expenditure and the raft of initiatives taken, and then looking at the results, we must ask if continuing down this road is worthwhile. I accept the targets set and the co-ordinated role for the future, but to what extent do the groups see themselves as part of the solution?

Ms McManus

I freely admit that with many new agencies in the education sector there was a concern that people worked on a collective basis. Resources are scarce enough without duplication and we must minimise gaps. The group I mentioned has existed since March and the fact it is talking about these issues helps to tease out a collective approach.

As part of the protocol there is a general requirement for a regular meeting of people at a local level. This is helped by the fact that sometimes our regional offices have the same groups of people and they are talking to each other about cases at local level on a regular basis. There is due respect, however, for confidentiality of information given in certain circumstances. Our focus is to get all the elements collaborating as well as we can, whether in school-based initiatives we fund and co-ordinate, or in our agencies, or in services within the Department. There has been considerable progress in that regard.

For certain cases the HSE is a key player, for example our education and welfare officers would see cases where there is a social worker assigned or where the attendance problem will reveal the need for one. Agencies such as Barnardos may be involved too in providing support. The welfare board presented a case to us in which, to help a transition back to school, we funded home tuition but Barnardos provided it because there were problems in the home setting. We probably need to do more to ensure that those links function at local level in all cases but we are working on that. One of the ideas behind the Office of the Minister for Children is to bring those matters together in one setting and improve the links between the HSE, the Department of Education and Science, and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, where necessary.

These problems are both urban and rural although disadvantage is more concentrated in city areas. Between 70% and 80% of the primary schools and their pupils benefited in some way from all those schemes. Does that not suggest the resources are too thinly spread?

Ms McManus

Under some of the schemes aimed at disadvantaged pupils many schools received a certain amount of money per pupil which was not significant. The concentrated resources in the disadvantaged scheme went to fewer schools. The others focused on the number of pupils. There was a view at the time that resources should be aimed at individual pupils because most schools have some such pupils, thus the resources are spread over several schools. We take the view that the resources were too thinly spread and it is necessary to concentrate them. That is why the approach in the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools, DEIS, scheme was to consolidate the initiatives and focus them on the more disadvantaged schools.

The research shows a continuum such that where there are concentrated levels of disadvantage the educational disadvantage is worse. It is not easy to say that it is proportionately worse at the top, or that there is a threshold. It is a linear relationship. Research shows that the effects of the socio-economic factors in a rural setting do not necessarily produce the same level of educational disadvantage. There is also some evidence to show that boys in disadvantaged areas do proportionately worse than girls. Boys perform worse than girls in general at school. The tenor of DEIS was that the resources had been too thinly spread and the schemes too dispersed.

The comparison between different years in reading English is staggering. Apart from the educational system and the resources devoted to disadvantage, there are many other means of raising communication skills, for example through the media and television, yet disadvantaged pupils show no improvement in reading English.

Ms McManus

It is disappointing. In the regular PISA study of OECD countries, we average sixth place out of 29 countries and in a different study we are placed seventh out of 40 countries. The proportion of those who performed at or below level one, the basic literacy level, here was 11%, whereas the OECD average was 19%, which shows that literacy problems are not unique to Ireland. It is difficult to tackle the problem. There are problems with numeracy too.

In the new scheme we are trying to be more concentrated. We have taken on cuiditheoirí, specialised people, on the in-service side for literacy and numeracy, to work with the disadvantaged schools to improve the teaching methodology. Initiatives such as reading recovery, which is intensive one-to-one work for younger children, have yielded good results. We are trying out that programme. When one considers the resources in education and the reduction of class sizes, and the resources committed to disadvantaged schools it is disappointing that our performance has not improved, either at average level or among those scoring badly which is worse in the disadvantaged areas. There has not been as great an improvement nationally as we would like.

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment is developing a pilot for standardised literacy and numeracy testing. The aim is to have this at certain points for all students at primary level. It is not intended to score schools but without that type of definitive information within the classroom to set targets for improvement it is difficult to know what is happening. Many schools do this anyway. We want to intensify our focus on that.

The new curriculum showed reasonable improvement. The inspectorate reviewed the impact of the new primary school curriculum which emphasised certain areas for example, the teaching of English, and changes that could be made to the curriculum and teaching practice that might help to deal with the literacy problem. While we rate well internationally we would like to be much better.

I realise that this problem is not unique to Ireland. Most of us take literacy for granted but the problems facing an individual who is not literate, throughout his or her life, afterwards are very different from ours. Considerable work is being done in adult education and people are courageously choosing to admit they have this problem. It is difficult to go back to learn at that stage and I congratulate those who avail of second chance education and so on and declare their problems openly, and look for help. They should be helped but it is much easier to grasp the problem at the initial stages of learning.

Has the Department set national targets for literacy and numeracy levels for pupils in schools? There was a target for school completion.

Ms McManus

We have targets but not specific numeric targets. There are targets in the NAPs strategy to reduce the incidence at level 1 reading and in respect of adult literacy. Our focus is on setting targets at school level in the context of, say, the DEIS programme, to seek an improvement in standardised literacy that would be assessed for a school and seek an improvement over a period. In many instances, we do not have baseline targets. With the DEIS programme we are trying to halve the number of pupils from disadvantaged communities with serious literacy difficulties. That is the bottom 10%.

Are 10% of children in seriously disadvantaged schools leaving school with inadequate literacy and numeracy levels? It is difficult to judge what the figure is from the Comptroller and Auditor General's report and the Secretary General's introduction. What is the extent of the problem of children who cannot read or write or do simple sums?

Ms McManus

From what the Department defines as serious literacy difficulties, for pupils in disadvantaged areas it stands between 27% and 30%. We aim to reduce the level to 15% by 2016.

Some 27% of boys and girls in our most disadvantaged areas leave school without being able to read or write or do simple sums. That is a shocking statistic. The statistic may have been better under the British.

Ms McManus

We are not saying they cannot read or write but that they score poorly in such tests. We regard them as not meeting the standard at which we expect to see children at that level, not necessarily at school-leaving level but at third and fifth class. This has implications for their literacy at the point when they leave school. I would not say starkly that they cannot read or write.

Some 30% of children in disadvantaged schools finish primary school or reach fifth class unable to function in a normal sense in reading notices, filling in a form or an application for an employer. How do they make the transition to second level schools?

The Comptroller and Auditor General's report suggests 42% of the time of people involved in the school completion programme is taken up with administration. Several schools in my area are in such a situation. The teachers, dinner ladies and those involved in breakfast clubs do a fabulous job in difficult circumstances but they have many forms to fill in. Whatever way the programme is structured, it involves much form-filling. The Department's response, which is fair, is that much of the form-filling involves profiles of children. The skill of those involved is to be with and work with children, not to fill in forms.

Ms McManus

There are two issues involved. We are examining simplifying the school payment system in order that each school will receive a single payment. There is an increased administrative burden if a school is claiming payments for four or five schemes. Target-setting is the very thing people will argue increases bureaucracy. I agree with the Deputy that the people in question are doing great work. However, international evidence on improving literacy results and from our inspectors' LANDS survey shows that those schools getting good results have very specific information on the children, specific targets for what they want to achieve and are measuring them regularly. Unfortunately, this does require a certain amount of paperwork. We have the same issue with special needs. Individual education plans require measuring and the keeping of records. Whether it is described as educational work or administration, I argue that it is part of the education programme. I will partly accept administrative work could be reduced if a single payment system replaced the different ways of operating various schemes.

The Comptroller and Auditor General's report contains a list of abbreviations: BTC, Breaking the Cycle; DAS, disadvantaged areas scheme; DEIS, delivering equality of opportunity in schools; EDC, educational disadvantage committee; ERC, Educational Research Centre; EWO, educational welfare officer; GCEB, Giving Children an Even Break; HSCL, home-school-community liaison; HSE, Health Service Executive; JLO, juvenile liaison officer; NAER, national assessment of English reading; NCCA, National Council for Curriculum and Assessment; NEPS, National Educational Psychological Service; NEWB, National Educational Welfare Board; RAPID, revitalising areas by planning, investment and development, and SCP, school completion programme.

As I have much experience in this area, I recognise many of the programmes and institutions. However, it is hard to deal with the plethora of 16 institutions and programmes. In a school in Blakestown those involved in these programmes meet once a week in an attempt to pull all of them together. Has the Department got a grip on these 16 sets of initials? In the school completion programme, if a school retains pupils, it loses out the following year, since it will be penalised for having succeeded. Administratively this system is very hard on teachers and others working in schools. Is there any hope that it might be co-ordinated?

Ms McManus

I have sympathy regarding the initials. It took me quite a while after moving to my current post to get to grips with all the initials in the education system.

Of the list of bodies about which we are talking, some probably never have any impact on a school in practice, for example, the Educational Research Centre, ERC. Some cover the operational side. Quite a strong part of DEIS and the work that we are doing in the protocols group is to achieve good co-ordination, not only at central level but also locally. In other words, groups would meet within the school cluster with links to local groups, at regional level, and nationally. That is very important if we are to achieve the maximum effect from what is put in.

If one considers the different objectives in the education system and the total landscape that we cover, it will become apparent that it is inevitable that several different agencies deal with issues. We have certain bodies because it was identified that the structure of what was done by the Department or the school was not necessarily sensible. We hope to get rid of some of the initials with the advent of the new school support programme. We are now trying to group all those initiatives in that, but I fully agree on the Department's commitment to have more co-operation, at the level of school cluster, regionally and nationally, so that we avoid duplication and, as far as possible, gaps. That is one of the reasons that two representative groups of school principals are involved in our work. We also received the message from schools that the new landscape was confusing.

What about the perception that schools that do well on the school completion programme lose the following year because they have kept more children at school?

Ms McManus

I do not think that they lose the next year, but an issue has been raised with us regarding the selection of schools for DEIS. If one decides it objectively, schools that would have been disadvantaged but have worked with their pupils and therefore have good outcomes are penalised because of their success in tackling the problem. The issue from the Department's perspective is that, if we target educational disadvantage, at a certain point one must say to oneself that those are the schools which, judging by a combination of socio-economic factors and the educational results achieved, are doing worse than others and therefore require help.

If schools over a period achieve good educational outcomes, perhaps as good as the average, that begs the question of whether one should target resources at them. It is a debate that will always be present in the system. However, we are conscious of a balance between issues raised in the Comptroller and Auditor General's report, spreading resources too thinly and concentrating them too much. As people improve and are no longer disadvantaged by our selection criteria, there must be a transition. There is an issue at a certain point if one is tackling school retention rates. If a school's retention rates are as good as those in other schools, should the Department be targeting its resources at it? Some schools may feel penalised by that. I can check, but I am not aware of our removing funding from one year to the next.

Breaking the Cycle was introduced in about 1996 for urban areas of high disadvantage. Has the Department conducted any follow-up study of the children who received help? Some may be aged 14 or 15 by now. Second, in areas such as my own in Dublin West, we now have very significant cohorts of international children. The current rule is that one gets one English-language support teacher and English-language support for two years for a pupil. For 28 pupils, one gets two. In exceptional circumstances above that number, one gets three.

I can point to one school in Tyrellstown in Dublin West that has been operating for two years. It has an enrolment of 200 pupils, of whom approximately 180 are international children. Most schools in Dublin West now have far above the requisite number of international children but cannot receive extra language support. Irish children that might have educational difficulties or a degree of dyslexia cannot receive support in such schools either. The teachers are doing a fabulous job, however, and we can be very proud of their work.

Has the Department recognised the importance of the issue for Irish children that might have a specific need for support and for the very significant number of international children in the classes that need language support, perhaps for longer than two years?

Ms McManus

There are many issues regarding non-national children. The Deputy raised the specific issue of the cap of two language support teachers, of which we are very conscious. We carried out a review and consultation, and several schools that the Deputy mentioned are important in that respect. We are in the process of removing the existing cap of two language support teachers. I understand that in the case of schools with very large numbers, permission has been granted to appoint additional language support teachers.

As part of that process, we are anxious to ensure that language support teachers be deployed on the basis of real language need. There is a difference between the raw number of non-national students and the portion that requires language support. How long they need it and what their level is are also issues. Integrate Ireland Language and Training, a subsidiary of Trinity that we fund, developed an assessment kit. In disbursing resources for language teaching, one wishes to be sure that they are going to those schools that have an assessed need for language support. We envisage that the language teacher issue will be dealt with in that manner. However, as a temporary measure to deal with some especially difficult schools with very large numbers before roll-out of the assessment, short-term arrangements are being made.

Principals in the Dublin West area would be most interested. As recently as two or three days ago, they were not aware that the Department was to change its policy. This is a very welcome announcement, and people will wish to hear the details. For instance, the village school in Blanchardstown, which the Comptroller and Auditor himself may have attended, is more than 100 years old. In the girls' school from junior infants to first class, more than 50% of the pupils are of international origin and the language issue is of major concern. Many of these pupils are very bright. The problem is their capacity as regards English. There are also serious questions about the Irish pupils in such classes who may need some support, not as regards English, but perhaps in relation to learning. This is a very important issue.

Ms McManus

I fully accept it. We have, at the moment, I believe, 800 teachers in the system teaching English. Another 550 are provided for in the 2016 provision that was adopted, so there are considerable resources.

What are the numbers of international school children in the Irish school system, at present? Is an analysis available on a school by school basis?

Ms McManus

I do not know whether we necessarily have an analysis on a school by school basis, but the total for newcomer children at present is estimated to be 20,000 at primary and 12,000 at post-primary levels. On the basis of CSO forecasts we expect that approximately 8,000 newcomer children will enter first and second level education annually over the next ten years. If one takes the 2005 cohort, we estimate that about 60% will require language support. Obviously, there will be English speaking newcomer children who will not need language support.

Does Ms McManus agree there should be an incentive for principals and teachers, to attract and retain them in the most disadvantaged schools and areas of the country?

Ms McManus

We have provided for sabbaticals in the DEIS programme for teachers and principals in disadvantaged schools, recognising that they are perhaps in a more difficult position than their colleagues in other schools. One might regard this as an incentive as such. If that is accepted, then the Department recognises it.

If the Deputy's question is about differentiated salary scales because of people working in different schools or areas, that would give rise to a whole range of difficult public service pay issues, and we would probably be reluctant to go down that route. The question would then arise as to whether allowances should be paid for different areas because housing costs might be different and whether other factors should be recognised as well as disadvantage. The single salary scale has served us well in that regard. However, there is a retention element in that a teacher must have served two years, I believe——

Is there a problem as regards the attraction and retention of teachers in severely disadvantaged areas?

Ms McManus

There is a higher turnover and a greater percentage of unqualified teachers in those areas, which is an indication of a retention problem.

Does Ms McManus agree the primary objective of the education system is to improve the literacy and numeracy of the pupils being trained? Is the question of the health and welfare community aspects of these children not being looked after by other bodies that should do it to allow the Department to concentrate on and focus more on what obviously has been a failure with the education system over the years? Since 1980, literacy levels have not improved and as Ms Manus said, numeracy levels have not improved either. Should the health and welfare sectors be taking greater responsibility for those areas while the education sector focuses more on achievement of outputs?

Ms McManus

If one is looking at educational outcomes, these will always be influenced by factors that are not just educational issues. So families——

The outcome I am looking at is in respect of a school in my area where children are getting, say, 300 points. Equally good children are getting 550 points if they go to the Institute of Education or other cramming high fee paying schools. Pupils in my area do not get into UCD or Trinity, while those in other areas do so. There is no difference in the intelligence levels.

Ms McManus

The Deputy is asking whether there are things other people should be doing, if I understand him correctly, and whether there is a wider issue to be considered.

I am, but is the Department doing things that others should be doing so that more time could be spent on improving the outcomes for those in the 203 post-primary schools classified as disadvantaged?

Ms McManus

One of the components of literacy which is a major factor is the simple issue of reading within a family. A child who is a member of family that reads to him or her will do much better at school than one who is not read to, given the same level of intelligence. We can perhaps do something about that through family literacy programmes we run. The health service can, perhaps, also do something about it in terms of the nurses who visit homes with small children. There are educational areas that can be helped by other services.

However, welfare, housing policy, income distribution and employment are all issues which feed into educational outcomes. We can address one aspect of social need. Are we doing too much in certain areas? One finds, sometimes, where there are gaps with agencies, some of our people end up compensating for those. Some agencies might argue that they have to compensate for our gaps. There are times when an educational welfare officer finds himself or herself dealing with matters that at other times might be dealt with by a social worker because a child might not have one assigned to him or her. We are aware of such cases. Probably there are social workers who end up trying to deal with issues that arise in the educational system because of gaps in our services.

Educational outcomes depend on a great deal more than what my Department or the agencies related to it can do. If employment levels continue as they are, hopefully we will have fewer issues to deal with in this regard. However, that involves a more co-ordinated approach. In some of the areas we work in it is probably very difficult to draw a precise line indicating where the education agency is relative to the local development body or the health agency. Probably the only way this can be dealt with is through good protocols, good co-operation and by talking and working together.

Should not the Department's job be to educate the children? Is too much reliance not being placed on the community and welfare part which should be the responsibility of others? Is there not a blurring of hoped for outcomes? Are we not reducing the outcomes to the lowest common denominator if the education system is not seeking to achieve high literacy and numeracy levels without placing too much emphasis on matters which are not its responsibility?

Ms McManus

Let us take the example of school attendance or home-school liaison, which are probably two of the agencies to which the Deputy refers when he speaks about special zones. There is a policy, backed up by legislation, that school attendance is dealt with by the National Educational Welfare Board. That falls within the education domain as school attendance is very important. It is very hard to tackle school attendance without looking at the factors that cause it. It is difficult to argue that school attendance is not something about which this Department should be concerned, and it is also hard to argue that trying to tackle it does not bring us into the social space referred to by the Deputy. If one was to define education as just that which happens within the school and not within the community, it would not be a good thing for educational outcomes.

I would like to see more emphasis on numeracy and literacy. That is the point I wished to make.

I represent Dublin South-Central and about 100,000 people live in Dublin 8, Dublin 10 and Dublin 12, so I expected to see about ten exhibits from the schools in the area at the Young Scientist Exhibition. However, there was not one single exhibit. The school in Synge Street is in Dublin 8, but it is not in my constituency. It was terribly disappointing. I remember a school in the constituency where the science teacher told me that he took a picture of the science lab in Beaufort to show the kids in his school how the experiments are done elsewhere. That is an indictment of disadvantaged areas and their level of science education, be it the facilities, the teachers or whatever. I cannot blame the pupils for that.

Ms McManus

We provide sponsorship for the Young Scientist Exhibition, but I must say that places like Synge Street have many exhibits. I do not know of the breakdown of exhibits and I do not know whether the pattern to which the Deputy refers is general across disadvantaged areas. We can ask the schools about the extent to which they participate.

I think Ms McManus should look at that. It is very important that the scientific education of those in disadvantaged areas is given an extra leg-up.

There are quite a few disadvantaged schools in my constituency and some of them have brilliant principals and teachers who are doing a great job. The role number for one of these schools is 19662 and this school has requested money under the DEIS scheme. The programme which the school has set out for the projects is first class and I would like to make a representation to the Department on behalf of that school.

Ms McManus

We will note that.

Under the term "International", there is an outturn of €3.671 million for the year. Does that include the Advisory Council for English Language Schools in Ireland?

Ms McManus

I am not sure. We can check it in a minute.

Is the advisory council part of the Department of Education and Science?

Ms McManus

Yes, it is funded by the Department.

Does the Department supervise how that works?

Ms McManus

Yes. The chairperson of the advisory council is a principal officer of the Department of Education and Science.

Do any of the senior personnel here, such as the assistant secretary general, have responsibility in this area?

Ms McManus

Mr. Paddy McDonagh has responsibility for that.

This should be a vital body in the Department of Education and Science because of the abuse of foreign students by a number of language schools. I brought this issue up a year ago. I had a specific complaint concerning a gross abuse of a number of nurses brought by a particular institution. I have been trying to get a response since last April from ACELS — I will not name the official to whom I address letters — but nobody has come back to me. If I get treated like that as an elected representative, what chance have foreign students in seeking accountability from the Department on how they should be treated?

Mr. Paddy McDonagh

I think we have a similar case in mind, but I would prefer not to utter any names just in case I am wrong. We recently had a further intervention in that case and there was a communication with the college in question. We had previously laid down that there was a need for arbitration and we insisted on independent arbitration to resolve the issues. In certain instances, that arbitration had taken place. Some people involved in nursing had come to English language schools and we later found out that they had not been dealt with. The college in question put that down to a misunderstanding on its part as it felt that the arbitration only applied to a certain set of people and not to others. I made it very clear that I intended the arbitration to apply to all the cases.

I would like to deal with this in detail at a later stage, due to time constraints.

Ms McManus

We will certainly follow up on lack of replies to the Deputy on the issue.

I am being generous today and am not naming names or institutions.

I taught English 30 years ago in a vocational school in the inner city. Children of 12 and 13 years of age came to me with reading ages of seven and eight. It is really disappointing that 30 years later we still have such acute literacy problems. I would like to follow on from Deputy Burton's point. In the areas of growing population, where there is now a mix of international and Irish children, it is critical that extra resources far beyond that currently made available are put in now. Otherwise, we will have an even worse problem down the line.

Ms McManus

I accept fully the concerns expressed. Better outcomes in literacy and numeracy must be a core objective for the Department. There is an issue about the need for resources in growing areas, as outlined by the Deputy and by Deputy Burton. However, the lesson from the VFM report and from some of our existing schemes is that we actually need to look at where we are getting the best results from the resources, where we are not getting results and why that is the case. We have reduced class sizes in some of these schools and we have put the additional supports in. While much work remains to be done in this area, the evaluation work already carried out would seem to indicate that a large measure of the success results from how the extra resources are managed as much as from the extra resources themselves. That is not to suggest the DEIS programme provides more resources for disadvantage. There is clearly a need for more resources for English language teaching, which will be a growing issue if the demographic forecasts are correct.

There will always be a case for, and every Secretary General will probably argue for, more resources for his or her own area. It is important in the area of literacy and numeracy that we focus on how the resources are used to achieve the required outcome.

On the question of the financial management and the payment in lieu of leave time, was it policy in the Department to deliberately ignore the Department of Finance regulations in this regard? For example, who authorised what was by any standards a sizeable payment to the former head of the Department?

Ms McManus

It was not a mistake in the sense that, with regard to the general circular, staff were aware of the Department of Finance rules and a decision was made, due to the particular circumstances, to allow carryover of leave in excess of what was allowed. This was leave which, had we had different rules, staff would otherwise have taken. In other words, staff had an entitlement to holidays but did not take the full entitlement.

There are rules that allow a certain carryover of such holidays. The Department authorised staff to carry over more leave than the Department of Finance rules would allow. I am not suggesting I would be happy for this to continue but, on the other hand, it was understandable given the serious difficulties the Department faced. Given that staff were under pressure and it was known they had not been able to take their holidays due to the work pressures we, as an organisation, were putting on them, it is understandable that agreements were reached with the unions to allow a carryover.

On a wider question, how does the Department control, check and balance expenditure? Is the personnel section responsible? How does it work?

Ms McManus

With regard to the individual cases listed in the report, the carryover was allowed but it was in breach of the circular. The Department of Finance rules allow us to pay a staff member for leave not taken at the end of the period when they are——

I am sorry to cut across Ms McManus but I must do so because of time constraints. Ms McManus stated she more or less made an in-house decision to ignore the Department of Finance in this circumstance to get over difficulties. I am asking a wider question with regard to auditing generally within the Department. What is the procedure and structure of this?

Ms McManus

The point I was making was that at the time staff were paid, the payment was probably correct in the sense that they were being paid for what was untaken leave from that period.

The structure within the Department for financial control is governed by the normal procedures laid down in the general provisions. The Department has an internal audit unit which maintains controls, as happens in any Department. The level at which expenditure is authorised and the level at which decisions are taken on any payment will tend to vary with the area. Some areas, for example, our building unit, will have specific sign-offs for particular levels of projects. There are other areas, such as with regard to the Higher Education Authority, where the amounts are at a lower level.

On the specific payment about which the Deputy asks, to the best of my knowledge it was signed off at either assistant principal or principal level.

Does the auditing unit comprise auditors trained in this field?

Ms McManus

They are general civil servants. It comprises a principal officer with staff under that officer. They did specific training in auditing. The principal officer in charge of the internal audit is not a professional accountant. I have professional accountants in the higher education area, for example, and professional accountancy advisers——

Does the unit make reports to Ms McManus every year?

Ms McManus

The internal audit unit makes a report on specific audits it carries out. Those reports are made initially to the individual area where the audit was carried out. They then come back, with the comments of the individual manager, and ultimately come to me and the internal audit committee, which is chaired by an auditor.

Would it prepare an annual report on what it found generally within the Department, which controls an enormous budget?

Ms McManus

It would prepare a report if specific issues arose but would do so as a business planning-type programme. If specific audits give rise to general issues that must be raised, it will report on those specific issues. From time to time, annual reports have been made as such. There were times when — I can think of one occasion for my Department — an audit gave rise to general issues. The unit then prepared a report which raised issues which it felt had application outside the narrow area in which they carried out the audit.

In the past four or five years did the audit unit throw up areas of concern, fraud or otherwise? Can the committee have sight of those reports for the past four or five years?

Ms McManus

If the internal audit unit is doing its job properly, it will always throw up issues of concern — that is the nature of an internal audit function. We have had one serious fraud this year, which is in the public domain and which the internal audit unit investigated.

Internal audit reports are prepared as a tool for the management. I would be concerned if issues arise in a report that may give rise to further issues regarding how we carry out our business. Our audit reports are subject to freedom of information legislation but there are audit reports we would withhold on the basis that they contain sensitive information. I do not know of the specific issues to which the Deputy refers but it has not been the practice to make all internal audit reports in a Department available to this committee.

I will take the matter up further with the committee and perhaps we will——

Ms McManus

I do not know the general procedure in this regard or whether there is one.

The point is that Ms McManus referred to some information coming into the public domain. I was anxious to know, for example, whether there were irregularities of which this committee should be aware that have not come into the public domain. I will pursue the matter with the committee and perhaps the committee will pursue it with the Department in the normal procedure.

Ms McManus

We report frauds annually to the Comptroller and Auditor General, who would normally deal with them in his report.

I ask Mr. Purcell to comment. I will return to Ms McManus.

Mr. Purcell

In carrying out our annual audit we take account of the work undertaken by the internal auditors and have reasonably close liaison with them to ensure there is no duplication and so on. We also evaluate the quality of the internal audit and include any comments we may have in this regard in the end of year "management letter" we issue on completion of the audit for a particular year.

With regard to irregularities, I take the view that the discovery of a serious irregularity is an indication that the internal audit has done its job correctly. I would not necessarily refer to this in my report to Dáil Éireann. I would, however, include in my report instances where I believed the internal audit's findings and recommendations which had been accepted as valid measures to rectify incorrect procedures which had financial repercussions for the State and the taxpayer were not being implemented or not implemented in a speedy fashion. If I believe a fraud is symptomatic of a broader issue rather than an isolated case, suggesting a broader internal control weakness in a Department that has not been addressed in a timely manner, I will make reference to this in my annual report. There have been several such cases. There were instances, for example, in regard to the Office of Public Works and the Department of Social and Family Affairs where I believed not enough had been done to prevent the occurrence or recurrence of fraud.

I thank the Comptroller and Auditor General for his response. My final question is on the capital services budget which relates to expenditure on school sites and buildings. Does the Department of Education and Science have contingency plans to deal with what is now an absolute crisis in terms of the need for new schools in areas where the population is rapidly exploding? In particular, how does it plan to deal with what I can only call the stranglehold of developers of school building plans in the way that they control the sites needed for schools? As an example, Tyrellstown, County Dublin, a new community of 2,500 homes, will need three or four primary schools in the next six or seven years. The Department, however, has been unable to purchase a single site from the developer in question. The latter will agree to discuss sites only on condition that he secures rezoning for the construction of another 1,500 houses. This is what he requires before he will agree to sell the land at an enormous price. Children are being carted all over Dublin city because there are no schools. This is incredible. What contingency plans does the Department have to break the stranglehold of these individuals who seem to have no concept of social responsibility to the communities from which they have already made masses of profits through selling houses? It is a major crisis and one about which I am extremely concerned. It is a situation faced by other residents in similar areas where the population is growing.

Ms McManus

There are several issues relating to the provision of schools in developing areas. We must work within the planning and legislative framework that applies to purchasing and planning issues. However, we have been active in trying to anticipate schooling needs by developing a planning process for areas where there is rapid growth such as that to which the Deputy referred. As part of this, we have looked at the possibility of developing partnerships with local authorities, whereby sites can be identified. For example, we have signed an agreement with Fingal County Council, whose jurisdiction covers an area where we have identified a need for 20 new schools, primary and post-primary. The plan is that the council will source the sites. The money we save on the purchase of sites because they will be owned by the council will be ploughed back into community facilities. We will aim for a campus approach where we will provide common facilities for primary and post-primary schools, as well as the community.

We are trying to plan ahead in the areas the Deputy has identified. However, it may occasionally arise that we have difficulty purchasing sites or, in this instance, Fingal County Council may have difficulty doing so. On the question of contingency plans, our aim is to get ahead of the game by developing good relationships with local authorities that will allow for school building and planning to be integrated into the overall planning and development process.

I should declare that I was chairman of the board of management of a post-primary school until July 2002. I am aware that many of its feeder primary schools benefited from these projects, although I was not there when the value for money assessment took place. I wish to record that interest.

In regard to how the programmes are developed, is it the case that pedagogic values are determined first? Is the case made, for example, that students will benefit to a defined degree if a certain number of teachers are employed and class sizes are set at a certain level? Alternatively, is it the case that the overall budget is determined first and the Department then decides how that funding is spread among the various schools in various communities? The report seems to indicate the latter approach.

Ms McManus

Does the Deputy refer to the total departmental budget?

I refer to the budget for schools in disadvantaged areas.

Ms McManus

In terms of the development of the delivering equality of opportunity in schools, DEIS, scheme, we started from the perspective of what was needed. Given the resources previously available, we asked ourselves what we needed to do. We then produced costings and there were the usual negotiations with the Department of Finance and between the respective Ministers.

There is a programme of measures that have a certain cost based on what we believed schools would need. We have ended up with somewhat more primary schools than was originally envisaged because of appeals. This means that some of the measures such as the provision of smaller class sizes will have a greater cost. Moreover, there was an estimation difficulty because we did not know how many of the qualifying schools would already be recipients of supports; it costs us more to bring schools not previously receiving any supports to a certain level than those which are already beneficiaries to some degree. Our strategy in devising the DEIS programme was to plan on the basis of what was needed, while remaining conscious of the resources we were likely to secure.

Did the Department take note of any international programmes that had worked in other countries to achieve the same results?

Ms McManus

The Educational Research Centre provided us with data from other countries. The reading recovery and maths recovery programmes are adapted from a New Zealand initiative.

Did those programmes have identifiable inputs and results?

Ms McManus

Yes, usually.

Why was the Department unable to learn from that experience? The results produced to date in this regard appear to demonstrate singular failure.

Ms McManus

The Department's Reading Recovery programmes have just started. It conducted two reading recovery pilot programmes beforehand in which the outputs were measured.

Several areas are being tackled here apart from literacy, including social disadvantage, numeracy and a range of successful international experience on which the Department could and should have drawn. If the Department has had the benefit of such experience, why does it not appear to have been applied?

Ms McManus

It has been applied to the scheme with which we are now going. If I understand the Deputy correctly, he has asked why we did not apply it earlier. Is that correct?

That is one of the questions. In the first instance however, the value for money report raises a question regarding the Department's actions, which did not provide any appreciable benefits. Standards have not improved. Although much money has been allocated, there does not seem to be any measurement of the Department's inputs, in terms of achieving its initial targets. Was that not a failure on the Department's part?

Ms McManus

I would not like to state there was no benefit from what was put in. Even the Comptroller and Auditor General's report accepts there were benefits at individual school level. It is a question of the lack of an improvement in the overall literacy performance in most of the disadvantaged schools. To judge by the international statistics available to us, this is probably an area in which it is quite hard to get results.

I refer to the reason we did not carry out better measurement in the manner of some other countries that have been ahead of us in respect of measurement and evaluations. Perhaps there has not been the same culture of measurement. Quite an amount of measurement and evaluation is undertaken at national level, if one considers national or OECD surveys. However, at school level we may not have quite the same tradition as have other countries of carrying out, for example, standardised literacy and numeracy tests, which are only being introduced this year.

In fairness, there is also concern within school communities that such evaluation and measurement should be done and used as a tool to achieve better educational outcomes and not to create league tables through inspectorate reports. For example, the latter is certainly the perception in the United Kingdom. The provision of tools that allow people to measure and produce better outcomes is a sensitive area within school communities. Everyone wants to do this without being seen to penalise disadvantaged schools by highlighting that they do not achieve the same results as others. This is a sensitive area and always has been in Ireland and that may be one factor.

While most of these programmes have been developed since the mid-1990s, some have been in place since the mid-1980s. This constitutes more than 20 years of experience of intervention on the Department's part. As part of its present measurements, does the Department measure those people who are coming into continuing education and the adult literacy systems and who may have been through programmes at a primary or even post-primary level? Can the Department measure to any appreciable degree the fact that the State is allocating further resources to tackle problems that should have been tackled in the first instance?

Ms McManus

We have 35,000 adult literacy places this year. To the best of my knowledge, we are not capturing data, measuring, or examining where the people involved might have come from or how they may or may not have benefitted beforehand.

Does Ms McManus think there may be some value in so doing, in respect of the input the State has already provided towards education for citizens?

Ms McManus

In terms of measurement and evaluation, I am anxious to focus on monitoring and adjusting what we are doing at present to ensure it produces results, rather than going back. While I am unsure whether the Department could carry out the kind of study mentioned by the Deputy, it is something we could consider. As part of its work on disadvantage, the Educational Research Centre has suggested certain areas in which it believes further research would be beneficial and we are happy to fund such studies. While I am unsure whether the area raised by the Deputy is being considered, we can ask the centre. However, I am anxious to focus on the people who are in the system at present to ensure the current schemes are producing results for them.

A number of years ago an OECD report stated that Ireland had quite high levels of functional illiteracy, that is, the ability to read signage or to engage in activities such as basic form filling, simple arithmetic and making shop change. Some of Ms McManus's previous answers appeared to indicate that we may no longer be performing so badly. Have more recent statistics been produced or are we still as bad as we were in that report?

Ms McManus

I quoted from the PISA study, which measures 15 year olds across the OECD every few years. The data to which the Deputy referred pertained exclusively to adults. My memory of those figures is that an age breakdown points significantly to the older age group in Ireland. In 1997, 25% of the population, or approximately half a million adults, scored at the lowest level. This is the figure to which the Deputy referred.

They are not directly comparable.

Ms McManus

No, the PISA study to which I referred pertains to 15 year olds.

The National Educational Welfare Board is one of the agencies referred to in the report. The last time Ms McManus appeared before the committee, she noted it was not yet up and running fully in a geographic sense. What is its present status?

Ms McManus

I stated that some counties did not have an educational welfare officer. However, a service was being provided for everyone for high incidence cases. While I will try to provide the figures on a county basis, I do not believe that any county lacks a service at this stage. We will forward the figures to the Deputy. To the best of my knowledge, a service is accessible within every county. We have five regional teams and in addition, the National Educational Welfare Board has provided an intensive service within the RAPID areas. The new partnership agreement, Towards 2016, provides for additional National Educational Welfare Board staff and psychologists.

My final question is similar to that of Deputy Joe Higgins. However, it differs in that while he referred to a newly developing community in which no educational infrastructure is in place, the difficulty faced in my constituency is that the existing infrastructural capacity is being exceeded. I refer to primary schools in Passage West, Rochestown, Ballygarvan and to the delays in respect of Gaelscoil Charraig Uí Leighin. Do the criteria applying to the addition of facilities or replacement of facilities differ from those outlined in Ms McManus's explanation to Deputy Higgins regarding areas in which the original infrastructure has not been provided?

Ms McManus

The same priority criteria apply to delivery where there is a need for school places. In that instance, one might have a site acquisition issue, which would probably depend on the schools in question. If one needs to acquire additional space, the issues might be somewhat more difficult than in Deputy Joe Higgins's constituency, because the means for so doing might be much more limited. The problems associated with building on existing space are probably different to those expressed by Deputy Higgins, as one will probably encounter planning issues.

However, in our listing such projects would certainly have the same priority for the delivery of capital. Some of them would be dealt with under the permanent accommodation initiative, where only one or two classrooms are needed and a lump sum will be given to provide them under our the permanent accommodation initiative, which is a faster system. I suspect that the requests referred by the Deputy relate to major extensions rather than a few additional classrooms.

Could Ms Nolan or one of her colleagues tell the committee if they have inquired as to whether there were other incidents of payment in respect of annual leave not taken which were outside the parameters of the circular issued?

Ms Nolan

I will pass this question over to Mr. Nicholas Meehan.

Mr. Nicholas Meehan

We wrote to 30 Departments and offices on 7 July 2006 and received some replies. A letter signed by our Secretary General was sent yesterday to the Comptroller and Auditor General, although I am not sure whether the committee has been made aware of this.

Mr. Meehan

Perhaps I could read the reply?

Could Mr. Meehan let the committee know the contents of the letter?

Mr. Meehan

The letter is as follows:

Dear Mr. McGlynn,

I refer to your letter of 2 October 2006 seeking certain information on responses that were received to this Department's request to Government Departments and Offices to review their files on annual leave carry-over rules.

The Department of Finance contacted Departments and Offices on 7 July 2006. We did not contact the Department of Education and Science as your Office had been in contact with that Department about the matter.

Although we are awaiting one response the exercise indicates that the number of instances where issues arise is very limited. In a very small number of Departments/Offices some payments were made to retiring officers (circa 20) which may have been in excess of what is formally allowed for in Circular 27/2003.

I am not in a position to give precise details at this stage of payments that were made which were inconsistent with the formal rules or without Department of Finance sanction. Some issues arise in connection with the circumstances in individual cases e.g. people on extended sick leave, which have been brought to the attention of the appropriate Secretary General or Head of Office for clarification. When the information is clarified I will contact you further.

Your letter to me of 2 October 2006 was circulated to Personnel Officers on 4 October 2006. I attach a copy of the original email sent on 7 July 2006 asking Departments and Offices for information and the email sent on 18 July 2006 asking Departments and Offices to adhere to the annual leave carryover rules as provided for in the Annual Leave Circular 27/2003.

I thank Mr. Meehan. Does Mr. Purcell wish to add anything?

Mr. Purcell

I received that letter yesterday evening. It was not very conclusive in that, as Mr. Meehan suggested, certain issues still need to be clarified. I noted an article in the Irish Examiner which seemed to provide more information. Perhaps the Department of Finance which seemed to be the source of this article might be able to clarify it. The article stated that of the 28 Departments and other Government offices that have replied so far to the Department of Finance, there were eight reported payments in excess of the carryover rules amounting to almost €70,000. A spokesman from the Department of Finance said the information needed to be treated with caution as some of it related to officers who had been on extended sick leave before retiring, which may have been on health grounds. The spokesman also said the position in respect of some cases is still being clarified so it cannot be said definitely how many of the total payments were inconsistent with the rules. This information is more extensive than the information I received yesterday evening.

Since the statements were attributed to a spokesman from the Department of Finance, have either of the two gentleman here had any contact with the Irish Examiner?

Do they know who the leaker is?

I do not think it was a leak.

Mr. Meehan

It was not a leak. It was a formal inquiry from the Irish Examiner on 2 or 3 October 2006 and the information was given in that context as we had anticipated that we would give information to this committee. When we checked some of the information we received, which we received quite late, it was discovered that the information may not have been correct. It certainly needed to be clarified and we have undertaken this exercise since then. When it came to replying to the Comptroller and Auditor General’s letter, our Accounting Officer took the view that he could not stand over the information and wished to make further clarifications before he produced a formal and final reply. What has been revealed is that there are very limited numbers and a very limited number of Departments involved.

Mr. Meehan is probably aware of the practice that certain grades of civil servants work extensive amounts of overtime for which they are not paid because overtime is not paid to higher grade civil servants. It has been the practice to give leave in lieu of payment in certain offices. If that leave is deferred and not paid for subsequently, it appears unfair. Does the Department treat that type of deferral of leave in the same way as deferrals of annual leave?

Mr. Meehan

No, there is no formal provision for that type of leave but there may be informal arrangements locally where officers are forced to work additional hours, over and above their conditioned hours. However, we would take the view that in terms of their salary, this is also reflected in the fact that they are paid on a seven-day week so some additional attendance would be expected of them.

I understand this but it is not the point I am making. Somebody works overtime but cannot be paid for it because of the rules. There is an arrangement whereby he or she gets leave in lieu of payment but because the office is overburdened, he or she continues to work all the hours God gives, including overtime, and cannot take the leave. Then, the arrangement to give him or her the leave dies in accordance with the terms of the Department's circular. It appears that this leave should be treated differently to annual leave. If the additional leave is intended to compensate people for additional hours worked, irrespective of whether it is formal or informal, they should be able to be paid for this if they are not in a position to take the leave. Will the Department examine the circular and make it more focused so that it only catches what it was intended to catch?

Mr. Meehan

I accept what the Chairman is saying. As I stated previously, there are no formal arrangements so the issue must be looked at. There are arrangements for overtime grades who can be paid either overtime for additional attendance or leave in lieu for that additional attendance. I accept what the Chairman is saying and will certainly do that.

In respect of the sites issue, I presume the Department of Education and Science is very familiar with it since it entered into a bilateral arrangement with Fingal County Council but the same applies to most local authorities which have a remit over urban areas. The Department appears to be very late in dealing with the issue. The horse has bolted once the local development plan goes through the elected members and they have produced their zoning arrangements. If a site is zoned for residential or commercial use, all the cards are held by the developer and the local authority or the purchasers of the site, namely the board of management with the Department, must pay the market rate. Unless the site is zoned for educational use at the point of the development plan, all the Department's arrangements are idle. I understand that the next round of development plans is two or three years away. Unless the Department gets in at the zoning point, there is no handle or lever to influence the market. In my experience, sites zoned for educational use are coming in at possibly one-third of the price of sites zoned for residential use. Most of the time, the persons responsible for building schools in the community are looking at sites that are usually zoned for residential use and they have no negotiating position. This is the major problem so the Department must get in earlier.

The Department might take up another issue with local authorities. Zoning for educational use frequently has another leg attached to it, which is "educational or community purposes". In some local authorities, community purposes are now being defined for developments such as nursing homes. No one could deny that nursing homes are community facilities. However, they are tax-driven. There are tax breaks for nursing homes so the value of a site on which a nursing home will be built will be considerably higher than the value of a site on which a primary school will be built. The Department must talk to either the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government or the local authorities to ensure that if a site is zoned for educational use, it is educational simpliciter and there are no other bells and whistles attached which allow the developer into a different negotiating position as is happening at the moment.

I do not have a question. If the Department is drawing up protocols with local authorities, this range of issues should be taken into account because it is in that respect that difficulties arise. I have received a number of representations regarding Ionad Náisiúnta Oideachais Gaeilge Baile Bhuirne. In June 2000, the then Minister dug the sod on the site, but nothing has happened since. Located on the grounds of the old Coláiste Íosagáin, it is a facility for the national institute for education through Irish. There is a hold up, but every party to the agreement is pulling in its favour. Is there a demarcation excuse or do some people not want to live in Ballyvourney? Otherwise, I cannot explain the delay.

Ms McManus

While the partnership model in Fingal is new, it does not mean that we have not been doing other activities with local authorities. I am not saying that our planning was as ahead of the game as it should have been in terms of trying to get areas zoned as educational. For example, the high profile Laytown case was zoned as educational. There can still be problems, but the Chairman is correct in that we must work a great deal with local authorities. We hope to develop the Fingal model with some of the other local authorities. It is a specific model to get something better for both parties' investments. The Chairman referred to the community issue and other matters that might arise, on which we will follow up.

In conjunction with the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, the Department of Education and Science is examining the Ballyvourney matter, but there are a number of issues. It was found that some of the functions of the body that examines the development of Irish material for use in schools were being carried out by commissioning others to do them, but the opinion in respect of Ballyvourney is that much of the work can be done in-house. When the project went to tender, the construction costs were deemed excessive and the project was re-examined to find a less expensive means of producing its work.

On the teacher education side of what was envisaged for the centre, matters have moved on. People are trying to deliver teacher education more locally instead of centrally, but there is a benefit in having activity in Ballyvourney. With the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, we carried out a consultation process and got different views from the various bodies involved. In June 2006, the two Departments met all of the interested parties, including education bodies and Údarás na Gaeltachta. We are examining proposals for the centre's use to put to the Minister for Education and Science.

Will Ms McManus write to the committee to give it an outline of the Department's intentions and attach a timeline?

Ms McManus

We will certainly write to the committee.

Over the years, I have submitted a number of questions to the Department of Education and Science regarding school sites, particularly in Dublin 15. Would the Secretary General be prepared to tell the committee the highest price per acre paid by the Department for a school site in west Dublin? The Department says that it normally cannot identify the builders involved for reasons of commercial confidentiality, but what is the average price sanctioned?

Ms McManus

I do not have the information to hand, but I would be happy to write to the Deputy. We may need to examine whether there are issues concerning commercial confidentiality, but there should not be a problem with the information on the average price.

Regarding the proposed school in Tyrellstown, where 2,100 houses are completed and occupied, are local suggestions true that the developer is demanding between €2 million and €4 million per acre for the designated site? My colleague, Deputy Joe Higgins, mentioned that the school is located in a new prefab in a dangerous area and is constantly subjected to vandalism. A designated school site is located in the plans for a new shopping village and so on, but there is a stand-off between the Department and the builder concerning the price. Alternatively, the builder may negotiate if he or she gets sanction for another 2,500 houses.

Ms McManus

I do not have the information on particular negotiations, but I will happily determine what can be supplied to the Deputy after the meeting. When examining the information, one must bear in mind negotiating positions and what we are prepared to offer in individual cases.

I accept what the Secretary General says, but being given a prefab where there is joyriding and stone-throwing every other night is unbelievable for parents who are mortgaged above their necks after buying houses in areas where reserved school sites were clearly advertised. While the teachers and staff of the school are excellent, there is a feeling that the school is not in the proper environment.

Does the Department have standards regarding the amount of space per child in primary schools? I will give two examples from Dublin 15. In its partnership with Fingal County Council, the Department tabled a proposal to locate two primary schools on a four-acre site. One would be an Educate Together school called Castaheany Educate Together national school, which has been operating on temporary premises in recent years, and the other would be a new Catholic parish school called St. Benedict's, a daughter school of the Mary Mother of Hope national school. The site will include the community facilities to which the Chairman referred.

St. Benedict's will be a 1,000-pupil primary school and Castaheany Educate Together will have 16 classrooms, indicating that there will be approximately 1,600 pupils in total. The site will hold a community hall and an all-weather pitch in the Ongar area where thousands of homes have been built. We are undertaking a national anti-obesity campaign, but how will the children be able to stretch their arms and get some exercise?

The Department is building three-storey schools in west Dublin. The school at which the Minister launched the welcome partnership with Fingal County Council is three-storeys tall and has two small areas for open air activities. It is a lovely school with great staff but an application has already been made to build a 16-room extension on one of the spaces. As is the case with most schools in west Dublin it will increase to accommodate 1,000 pupils. How will the pupils, particularly boys, run around and kick a ball? It is essential that children, particularly boys, have freedom. We cannot forbid children to move faster than a brisk walk because of insurance costs and crowding.

Deputy Burton might take that matter up on the Adjournment.

I have done so many times.

Ms McManus

We have standard specifications for classroom space and for the space of sites we consider. I can provide the Deputy with these later. The school Deputy Burton refers to, St. Benedict's, is intended to be a 24-classroom school. The other one, at Castaheany, is a 16-classroom school.

There will be 2,000 pupils on a four-acre site eventually.

Ms McManus

There will be 1,200 pupils. We can provide the Deputy with details of the plan. With regard to Deputy Burton's questions on standard specifications and whether they are adequate, we have adequate standard specifications. We must also consider whether to buy more than we need for what we estimate to be a standard specification project in order to allow for expansion. These situations must be judged on a case-by-case basis. We try to anticipate where we will need space but we must also achieve value for money given the price of land. This involves considering what we will realistically need and sometimes we make mistakes. I recall defending a Cork school project at a meeting of this committee because it was over-designed. We must decide what space we will need in the future, which is more difficult than deciding on the standard specification.

The census clearly shows that the population growth in Dublin 15, and in the area to be served by the new St. Benedict's school, the Castaheany Educate Together project and the well-named Mary Mother of Hope school, is extraordinary by world standards. Some 8,000 homes have been built in this area yet the Department is questioning whether there will be children. This is a case of planning gone crazy. One does not need to be a mathematician to work out that if 8,000 homes are built, children will grow up there. The designated school site at Ongar has been cut in half in order to fit two schools on a smaller site originally intended for one school. Ms McManus stated that this was done for cost reasons. Various people at Government level and the chief executive of the National Treasury Management Agency, NTMA, Mr. Somers, stated that resources are available. How will children be able to participate in the physical education curriculum?

Ms McManus

Perhaps my response was not clear because Deputy Burton is stating something I did not intend to convey. I stated that we have standards specifications for classroom and other space when we purchase sites.

Does that include space for movement and play, and green space?

Ms McManus

Yes. We can provide the Deputy with the specifications. People may believe we should allow more space. We recognise that the area to which Deputy Burton refers is growing rapidly. For that reason, and to get a better mix between planning, housing and schools, we have an arrangement with Fingal County Council. In any purchase of a site, should we speculate that growth will be greater than current predictions? Buying additional space as a contingency site must be considered against the need to make the best use of resources. If a school needs space, we would not suggest that it should be treated any differently to another school for cost reasons.

I apologise for being late because I was speaking in the Chamber. On a completely different topic, the last paragraph of the submission refers to superannuation schemes. The Department is examining the schemes, after which non-statutory schemes will be updated. What are these schemes? I presume primary, secondary and third level schemes are statutory.

Ms McManus

The scheme for special needs assistants is non-statutory. Certain schemes are prescribed in legislation. The statutory schemes are major schemes such as those concerning national, secondary and vocational teachers. An education sector superannuation scheme deals with institutes of technology, non-teaching staff and VECs. The superannuation scheme for clerical officers in primary and secondary schools, non-teaching staff in schools, special needs assistants and the superannuation education scheme are non-statutory.

Our goal is to move all groups into one scheme rather than having a proliferation of schemes. We also have a contributory pension scheme for full-time, non-teaching employees serving in community and comprehensive schools. There are two non-statutory colleges of education superannuation schemes for which we have regulatory responsibility only. A range of schemes in bodies under the aegis of the Department are non-statutory, for which we also have regulatory responsibility. These have not been updated, so no one document displays the entire set of schemes.

The superannuation scheme for clerical assistants under the heading "Appropriations in Aid" involves a small amount, €150,000. A small amount is also provided for clerical assistants in secondary schools. A total of €5.1 million is included for contributions to superannuation schemes for special needs assistants in national schools. I know it is a relatively new area but I am concerned that €5 million is being collected, but not on a statutory basis. Is any risk posed to the people involved? It is probably done on an administrative basis. The numbers increased significantly in that area in a short space of time, with an increase of more than €5 million in the past year alone.

Ms McManus

As I understand it, there is no obligation or policy which states schemes must be on a statutory basis. Some schemes in the public service are provided for in statute and others are only a matter of contract law whereby a scheme applies to a person as an employee. Perhaps our pensions expert can confirm that. The issue raised previously by this committee was a requirement for an updated statutory scheme to be laid before the House. An equally good argument can probably be made for administrative reasons that for any of our schemes we should have an updated document that consolidates everything. It is not that those are schemes we have on an administrative basis that we intend to put on a statutory basis. Those schemes are schemes that operate as non-statutory schemes. I understand in the public service-----

Ms Breda Byrne

It is true not all schemes are statutory. The big schemes such as those for established civil servants and teachers are statutory. The scheme for unestablished civil servants is non-statutory. That being said, it would be ideal to consolidate them because employers have obligations to provide people with information on their pension entitlements. At present, many schemes are amended by circulars.

Ms McManus

It is not necessarily on a statutory basis but is administrative.

Ms Byrne

If there are statutory obligations, a scheme must be provided. However, if there is no statutory obligation, it can be agreed or negotiated to provide a scheme.

On this topic, I notice the costs of superannuation were under-estimated by €35 million for first level teachers and €38 million for second level teachers. I am amazed the amount for second level teachers was at least 25% out. Of all the figures a Department must predict, pensions should be one of the easiest. One figure contains 101 more teachers than anticipated. I cannot understand the figure of €30 million in each case. It is a total under-estimation of €60 million. The explanation in this report is on the juvenile side. It does not explain anything and is too simplistic. Without including too much information, will the delegation give the big picture as to why it is the case?

Ms McManus

Regarding pensions, in recent years we had difficulty with the estimated and actual number of retirements. The number of retirements this year is higher than that provided for by our estimate. It is easy to predict the number of pensions for people who will reach the age of 65. The variability occurs in the area of early retirement. We experience a jump when a particular pay event occurs and this is followed by a decline. Perhaps we expected that people would wait until after benchmarking, after which the numbers would decrease. If the numbers are out, a small number of people can make a significant difference because of the size of the lump sum payment.

What is an average lump sum for 100 or 200 extra teachers?

Ms McManus

It is approximately €100,000 each.

If 100 more people than anticipated went, it would amount to €10 million. We are still discussing a figure of €38 million in each category. Allowing for that does not go halfway to explaining in global terms the figure of €38 million. The lump sum could be €10 million. First year pension entitlements for an extra 100 or 200 people would amount to another €5 million. It is a long way off the figure of €38 million. Perhaps it is not a matter on which Ms McManus expected to be asked.

Ms McManus

We do not have the figures. I understand it is due to a numbers issue. I will check and revert to Deputy Fleming.

Will the Secretary General send a note? It does not need to go into the detail but I would like to see it. I thought the figure was predictable.

Ms McManus

We have agreed with the Department of Finance to conduct an in-depth study on whether we can better predict the voluntary figure.

Does a 25% underestimate occur every year or is this a once-off? Did it happen last year and the previous year?

Ms McManus

It happened in three years. I cannot remember the exact years. In one year we over-estimated and experienced a major saving. We significantly underestimated in three years.

Will Ms McManus provide us with a figure on those two main headings?

Under the appropriations-in-aid heading is a figure for a handling charge involved in making certain deductions from teachers' salaries. The Department had an Estimate of receiving €15,000 but approximately €260,000 was received. What is that for and what is its background? Is it for AVCs? Again, the figures differ massively. From where did the approximately €250,000 come?

Ms McManus

Normally, the handling charge is where we charge people. If I remember correctly, we introduced a charge for some of the schemes.

I accept it is not union dues.

Ms McManus

No, it is insurance companies. We changed the system and now have an annual handling charge given to us by the companies instead of a percentage deduction. I am not sure exactly what difference that would have made to the figure. I will get more details for the Deputy.

What type of organisations are involved?

Ms McManus

Canada Life, New Ireland Assurance, Irish Life——

It is probably connected to AVCs. In appropriations-in-aid, the figure for superannuation receipts from first level was €86 million and from second level was approximately €55 million. They are large amounts of money. Will Ms McManus include in her note the contractual arrangements with the companies. I know it is on behalf of teachers. Does the Department have any responsibility on how those schemes operate given that deductions are made by the Department?

Ms McManus

I can cover that in the note. Anything we collect is at the request of the employee for his or her convenience. We do not take any responsibility for the regulation or propriety of those schemes. Presumably, they are regulated by the Pensions Ombudsman or the Financial Regulator.

I am aware of several people working as untrained teachers for at least ten years. I am tired of asking parliamentary questions because the Department does not seem to know it has them. I know they are being worked out of the system because there are more trained teachers but I ask the Secretary General to tell us where those people are now. They were effectively working on behalf of the State for at least ten years but they do not seem to have any employment rights. At what point is that issue and is a resolution imminent, particularly in terms of employment rights?

Ms McManus

The Deputy is correct that we only give rights to qualified teachers. The issue is under discussion, in the industrial relations process, in the context of the Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term Work) Act. Efforts are being made to sort out how whole subsets of teachers are dealt with, who were employed on a temporary basis. We have a fairly complex process under way with Ms Janet Hughes, who is the rights commissioner. She is acting as a facilitator in an attempt to reach agreement between the various management bodies and the unions.

I understand the Deputy's concern for people who have been working in the system for a long time. However, we are concerned about the issue of unqualified personnel, given that our general policy instruction to management bodies is not to employ unqualified teachers now that we have a greater supply of qualified teachers. We are also concerned about regulating the area in a way that accepts, as a general rule, that one might have unqualified teachers but——

I wish to clarify the last point. The Department accepts that these people probably have some employment rights. Ms McManus has just said that the Department has a policy of only giving rights to trained teachers. Surely the legislation supersedes any Departmental policy in that regard.

Ms McManus

I am not saying we accept it. I am saying it is an issue that is under discussion.

Is the Secretary General saying the Department does not accept that people who have worked for ten years on a continuous basis have some employment rights?

Ms McManus

No, I am simply saying that the issue of precisely what rights they have is still under negotiation. The Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term Work) Act is quite complex.

Are there many people involved?

Ms McManus

I do not know the exact numbers involved. There is a difference between primary and second level. I can obtain the figures for primary level. However, the issue is far more complex at second level because the question of what exactly constitutes a qualified teacher, particularly in the vocational sector, is a bit of a nightmare. Is the Deputy interested in the figures for primary or——

Primary level, yes.

Ms McManus

I can provide that information for the Deputy.

Ms McManus said that the Department is negotiating with the unions but the latter are wholly unsympathetic towards this group of workers because they are not qualified INTO members. I hope the Department is also discussing the matter with people who have an interest in the plight of untrained teachers and not just with the INTO.

Ms McManus

Certainly, we are not just in talks with the INTO. Under the facilitation of the Rights Commissioner, who has a particular expertise in the area of employment law, we are attempting to come to some arrangement consistent with the legislation. There will be nothing in any agreement reached that will remove the right of appeal of any individual. The intention is that rather than have hundreds of cases going through the courts, we will come up with a formula that the Rights Commissioner deems to be reasonable under the law.

On the question of the purchase of school sites. I hope Ms McManus will forgive me for saying this but I do not think she really understands the urgency of this. It is clear that the Department of Education and Science is chasing the game and is way behind in this area. The situation at Laytown made that blindingly obvious.

The genesis of this problem does not lie with the Department but with the fact that the land developers and speculators have a veto over the provision of school sites. With the obscene levels of money they demand for land, they are exercising this veto to get their own way and the educational needs of children in the communities are suffering drastically.

It is incredible that with the development of 2,000 homes and apartments, one can instantly have a pub and a bookies' shop and other facilities, but a school does not come until years later. In the meantime, the new residents are carting their children all over the city of Dublin. I am sure the same is happening in other urban areas. That is an incredible situation and the Department must direct its fire at it. I am extremely worried because there are numerous negative consequences of this. It can cause friction between various elements within the community. When there is a limited number of school places locally, some children gain admittance while many others do not. It does not take too much imagination to work out that tensions can rise to the surface in such situations.

I know I have been referring to Dublin 15 a great deal, but it is the fastest growing area in Europe. In Littlepace there are three schools on one site, that is, the permanent school and two temporary schools — an Educate Together school and a school for Ongar. There is an enormous mix of children in there with very little space. At the same time, there is a one and a half acre site lying fallow that was part of the original school site, but the developer will not hand it over. He wants millions of Euro for it. The children are looking at a scrap of land behind a wire mesh but they cannot get at it. The teachers and the principal desperately need that land. What will the Department do? How will this be resolved?

I appreciate that Government policy has allowed developers, for aeons, to have this kind of blackmail control over a critical community service. That is accepted but how will it be resolved? How can the children of Tyrrelstown be given their education on a site within walking distance of their homes, when the developer is playing a blackmail game? He wants further rezoning of land for thousands of houses before he will even talk about the provision of educational needs.

Ms McManus

I do not know the specific issues of that case but on the general point——

I acknowledge that the arrangement between the Department and Fingal County Council is quite sensible. However, the Secretary General must be very clear that the council does not have the land required. It may have one or two small sites, here and there, but in most cases it does not have the land needed. Therefore, the fact that the Department has an agreement with Fingal County Council does not advance the problem I have raised. The negotiators in the county council are coming up against a solid wall.

Ms McManus

Without saying what the Department or Fingal County Council might do in a particular instance, ultimately there is the power to effect a compulsory purchase order if a site for a school is needed.

Perhaps Deputy Joe Higgins could talk to Ms McManus after the meeting. There are obviously specifics involved here. Has the Secretary General have a few minutes to spare to speak with the Deputy?

Ms McManus

Certainly.

We can do that but the Chairman must agree that this is an issue of general national interest.

Absolutely, but we have had a good discussion on the matter with Deputies Joe Higgins and Burton. I do not think we can take it any further now.

A figure of €950 million is listed for the contingency fund for the Residential Institutions Redress Board, which appears to be a sum over and above the €377 million already spent. Originally we were quite disturbed when we were presented with an overall figure of €1 billion but now it looks like the total will be €1.4 billion, with an infinitesimally low number of rejections. Surely the hard cases in this area should come first and the lesser cases should be expected to be doing less well. Am I right in saying that the overall figure estimated by the Department is €1.4 billion?

Ms McManus

The figure is actually €1.3 billion, when the various elements are added together.

Yes, but one way or the other, it is more than €1 billion.

Ms McManus

When we were doing the accounts, a figure of up to €1.3 billion was arrived at, based on a total of 14,541 applications and an average award of €76,000 at the end of 2005, with legal and administrative costs of approximately 20%. While I would not disagree with the Deputy, I thought it prudent for the purpose of a note to the account to take the average award at year end. Since then, the trend in awards has continued to decrease, so the average for the first six months of 2006 is €63,000 and the cumulative average is €72,000, bringing the total exposure closer to €1.2 billion.

Why would Ms McManus want to show her hand by projecting such a figure? What audit rule requires such a step?

Ms McManus

The Comptroller and Auditor General required us to include contingent liability.

Does the Department jump whenever the Comptroller and Auditor General asks it to jump?

Ms McManus

We try to do so.

In my view, it makes no economic sense to project such figures forward, especially in the context of an increasingly litigious society. The Department is a big spender, so surely the Department of Finance did not need the leftover €100 million. I could provide a long list of schools which could spend the money.

Ms McManus

The Deputy spoke about the size of the pension and salary subheads. Even with accurate estimates, small amounts across several subheads add up to a lot. We were reasonably accurate, although I have not worked out the percentage.

I expected to find that to be the case in the building area, where one cannot predict exactly when bills will arrive, but it seems to be flattened out.

Mar gheall ar Institiúid Teangeolaíocht Éireann, is mór atá ráite cheanna féin agus é ag druidim go mall chun an deiridh. It has been a slow procedure thus far but are we anywhere near the cemetery?

Ms McManus

Most of the staff have been redeployed and the rest have been put on notice of statutory redundancy, the last of which expires in the first week in December. The leases and accommodation are more or less resolved and we hope to deal with remaining issues, such as archives and copyright, by the end of this year or early next year. Once the staff have left and the accommodation issues are resolved, we can do the remaining work ourselves, so the payments to the liquidator should not be large.

Beidh sé scriosta ón gclár.

If I recall correctly, provision was made in the legislation underpinning the redress board compensation scheme to allow consideration of applications made after the closing date for compensation in certain circumstances. Are any such applications under consideration at present?

Ms McManus

To the best of my knowledge, there were no exceptional applications but I can check with the redress board and revert to the committee on the matter. The overall numbers decreased after the closing date but that was probably due to invalid applications.

Mr. Purcell

I can assure Deputy Michael Smith that the Department does not always jump when I say "jump". In this instance, the committee and I took the view that a contingent liability should be included but that it could be refined as much as possible as time passed. At this stage, €565 million has been paid out under the redress scheme, including legal fees and administrative expenses, which work out at approximately 20% of the overall awards. A total of 14,541 applications have been received and, as of 25 September, awards have been made in 6,527 cases, so we are getting a better feel for what is involved. I agree with the Accounting Officer that the average award amount is decreasing. The most recent 2,000 awards averaged out at €62,000 each. If I was put on the spot — having been put on the spot previously and having in retrospect been vindicated, if I may use the word — I would estimate a total cost of between €1 and €1.1 billion.

What percentage of cases fail?

Mr. Purcell

Of the applications received thus far, of which half approximately have been processed, 151 have been withdrawn, refused or given a nil award. The Accounting Officer might be able to offer further clarification but, as far as I remember, fraud was suspected in only one case.

Ms McManus

Although I do not have the relevant information to hand, I believe there was only case of suspected fraud. The others involved errors or uncertainty about the accuracy of the information.

The whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Mr. Purcell

Deputy Higgins referred to the advisory council for English language schools, which is met under subhead B16. The council received €226,000 in the year of account. The Vote for the Department of Education and Science has contained a great deal of material since the former Votes were amalgamated. Previously, there were separate Votes for the office of the Minister and for first, second and third level education. The Vote has become quite a monster in terms of getting to grips with it.

There is little to add in respect of today's main business, value for money on educational disadvantage initiatives. The Department and I have common cause with regard to what could be done better and agree that resources were being spread too thinly and that the assistance provided was too dispersed.

We have tried to get behind the matter in detail. We visited 20 schools and five school completion clusters and an advisory board was established, chaired by a professor from Trinity College Dublin, on which the Department was represented at a senior level together with the CEO of a VEC. I offer my thanks for the guidance provided by the board.

I have an input into the reports that I sign and, having considered the matter in terms of value for money, I had to ask whether improvements had been made in literacy, numeracy and school attendance, particularly in disadvantaged areas. I rarely use a word like "disappointed" in a report but I was genuinely disappointed to find the programme did not have the impact expected of it. While there is a lot of merit in the new action plan, as the Accounting Officer noted earlier, we need information in order to find out what works because information is power. By that I mean getting behind some of the information. For example, while it is fine to talk about absences and patterns of absences, one needs to know if they are down to illnesses or people taking holidays early and the like. When people are ill one cannot do much about it from an education attendance point of view. With quality information one might begin to address the problem and have a real impact.

The witnesses withdrew.

We note Vote 26 and the value for money report. Is No. 54 agreed? Agreed? May we dispose of chapters 6.1, 6.2 and 6.3? Agreed. There is no other business. The agenda for our meeting of Thursday, 19 October 2006 at 11 a.m. is as follows: 2005 annual report of the Comptroller and Auditor General and Appropriation Accounts, Vote 30 — Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, chapter 9.1 — Irish national seabed survey, and chapter 9.2 — payments to the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland.

The committee adjourned at 3 p.m. until 11 a.m. on Thursday, 19 October 2006.