Written Answers. - Teaching Hours.

Paul McGrath

Ceist:

219 Mr. McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of days tuition annually which students in primary schools and second level schools receive each school year; if days taken for in-service training, tours and school trips abroad and so on are included in those tuition days; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5109/02]

The time in school circular (M29/95) stipulates that the minimum number of teaching days per school year in post-primary schools is 167. It is stressed that this is a minimum number that must be adhered to by all schools.

A typical school day comprises six hours of instruction. Any day on which the pupils receive instruction for less than three hours may not be registered as part of the 167 days minimum. Any day on which the pupils receive three hours but less than six hours of instruction will be regarded as a half school day and may be registered only as a half day for purposes of compliance with the minimum school year requirement.

Notwithstanding the above paragraph, schools may have a weekly school half-holiday subject to compliance with the requirement of a minimum of 28 hours of instruction per week.

Wherever possible, training courses are organised in such a way as to minimise disruption to the pupils, their parents and the school. However, given the large number of ongoing developments in the school curriculum, it is not always possible to avoid having some courses occurring during term-time. Many training courses do, in fact, take place during the school holidays. For example, in 2001 more than 750 teacher training courses were held in July and August.
The question of when parent-teacher meetings are held is a matter for each school. While schools are entitled to conduct these activities within the 167 days, I encourage schools to hold the meetings at times convenient to parents. The actual structure of the parent-teacher meetings themselves is, similarly, a matter for each school.
At post-primary level, as far as possible, educational visits should be arranged to take place during school holiday periods. If this is not possible, then schools must seek permission from my Department to allow the days be included for the purpose of calculating the minimum number of days which a second level school is required to open in an academic year. This permission, if granted, is subject to adequate arrangements being made for the conduct of the classes of teachers during their absence on the tour, without extra cost to my Department.
At primary level, the current position in relation to the length of the school year and other related issues was also outlined to schools by circular in 1995. School authorities are obliged to ensure that schools adhere to the prescribed minimum number of teaching days per annum. At primary level the minimum number of teaching days per school year is 183.
A full school day comprises a period of not less than five hours and 40 minutes of instruction. Any day on which the pupils receive instruction for less than two hours and 50 minutes may not be registered as part of the 183 days minimum. Any day on which the pupils receive two hours and 50 minutes but less than five hours and 40 minutes of instruction will be regarded as a half school day and may be registered only as a half day for purposes of compliance with the minimum school year requirement.
Schools are permitted to reduce the school day by one hour for children in infants and first class and the time required for a half attendance may be reduced by one half hour. The decision to apply this concession rests with the board of management. Such decisions should be dictated by the educational interests of the children. Certain school related activities such as parent-teacher meetings and school/curricular planning may be conducted within the 183 days provided that: the time spent on these activities accords with that specified in relation to the length of a full day and a half day and the school authorities certify the time spent on these activities.
In addition, primary schools may close on the day of an educational tour and reckon such closing as an exceptional closure provided that not less than one quarter of the pupils enrolled at the school take part in the tour. Alternatively, the board of management may require the school to be kept in operation on the day in question and the participation in the tour may be reckoned as attendance at school.
For educational visits of more than one day's duration, schools must seek permission from my Department to allow the days be included for the purpose of calculating the minimum number of days which a primary school is required to open in a school year. This permission, if granted, is subject to adequate arrangements being made for the conduct of the classes of teachers during their absence on the tour, without extra cost to my Department.