Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Secondary Schools Pupil-Teacher Ratio.

29.

asked the Minister for Education if he is aware of the growing concern about the proposed pupil-teacher ratio in secondary schools; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

30.

asked the Minister for Education if he has made an order altering the pupil-teacher ratio in secondary schools; if so, if he will state the effect of the alteration and why it was made.

With your permission, a Cheann Comhairle, I propose to take Questions Nos. 29 and 30 together.

At a time when the numbers attending secondary schools were small and when in order to make available a curriculum providing a minimum number of subjects it was necessary to employ a sufficient number of teachers to cater for these subjects the quota was fixed at one teacher for every 15 pupils. With the very large increase in numbers attending secondary schools a quota of one teacher for every 15 pupils was no longer necessary. I proposed a quota of one teacher for every 20 pupils. After discussion with the various interests I decided that the post of principal and vice-principal in all schools and that of guidance teacher in schools of over 300 pupils should be allowed in addition to those provided on the one to 20 basis. I am satisfied that this revised quota is generous and that it compares very favourably with the position in any other country of which I am aware.

Does this have the effect of reducing the number of subjects that can be provided in quite a large number of schools?

No, it does not.

But is it not a fact that the effect of what the Parliamentary Secretary has said is that unless they have 20 pupils for a specific subject they cannot have a teacher for that particular class? If they have 15, or even 18, they cannot have a teacher.

No. First of all, the Department are talking here of the pupil-teacher ratio in the whole school. It is recognised that at intermediate level, particularly in academic subjects, the ratio is often as high as 1 to 30 and when you take that in conjunction with the ratio in the senior cycle you can, in fact, have less than 1 to 20 operating in certain classes. The Minister answered a question recently in relation to the range of subjects and one has to take the view, I think, that one provides as wide range of subjects as possible within reason. You cannot cover everything.

Could the Parliamentary Secretary say then why certain headmasters have objected so strongly to the reduction in the ratio?

That is something for which I cannot account. I should like to say that consultations have taken place over a considerable period and one of the concerns the Minister obviously has is lest parents and pupils would feel that there is any attempt to reduce the number of teachers, make them redundant or restrict facilities in education. I am quite satisfied that this is not so.

Is it not the case that one of the objections to this is the fact that it was imposed retrospectively? Schools were required to dismiss teachers for whom they had already made arrangements and provisionally appointed for the following year and this, in fact, has made impossible the teaching of certain subjects. Many representations were made and they were rejected despite the fact that the range of subjects had to be cut back as a result. Is not that the position?

The Deputy is well aware that many reasons have been given by different people as to why they object. The Deputy's argument is invalid in view of the fact that this proposal will be phased in over a five-year period.

"Yes" is the answer. That is the position. Secondly, certain arrangements have been made; a review committee have been set up to look at special cases in the event of there being any particular hardship in a particular school so that I cannot see, with the phasing-in proposal and the review committee, and many other factors, why there could be any question of difficulty.

Is the Parliamentary Secretary unaware of the many representations I had to make to the Minister about individual schools, which were told in a circular last May that this was being imposed immediately and there would be an immediate raising of the ratio from 15 to 1 to 20 to 1 and teachers they had appointed for the following year had to be dismissed and the only concession I could get was that one teacher out of three was in a couple of cases allowed to be appointed and, in some other cases, I managed to get the single teacher for whom they were looking appointed? How can the Parliamentary Secretary talk about a phasing-in when it was done retrospectively?

I am talking of the arrangements that have been reached after consultation and this consultation went on right up to December and afterwards. The Deputy can take it that is the position.

But people were dismissed because of this requirement. There was no consultation before this and it is no good consulting after the event.

The Deputy can be satisfied that no teacher became redundant as a result of this and no teacher will become redundant in the future.

The point is they were not allowed to take on teachers whom they wanted to take on and had, in fact, appointed.

Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that this is of particular interest to the people in Mayo where transportation is a big problem? Will he give any special consideration to regions like Mayo before reaching any final decision?

It is a special interest. I should repeat that our pupil-teacher ratio appears very favourable indeed when compared with other countries whose economic resources are far in excess of ours.