Other Questions

Teaching Qualifications

Pádraic McCormack

Ceist:

57 Deputy Pádraic McCormack asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills the steps she is taking to ensure that only qualified teachers are working in our primary and post primary schools; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [41346/10]

It is the policy of my Department that schools should only employ people who are on the register of teachers maintained by the Teaching Council. An integral part of the registration process is an assessment of a person's qualifications. Unqualified personnel should not be appointed except in the most exceptional circumstances and then only when all avenues for recruiting qualified personnel have been exhausted. This should only be for quite limited time periods.

Earlier this year my Department directed schools that persons proposed for appointment to publicly-paid teaching posts must be registered with the Teaching Council and have qualifications appropriate to the sector and the post. Only where an employer can satisfactorily demonstrate that every reasonable effort has been made to recruit an appropriately qualified and registered teacher may an unqualified or unregistered person be recruited, pending the recruitment of an appropriately qualified and registered teacher.

In addition, a reminder recently issued to school authorities to prioritise qualified teachers, particularly newly or recently qualified teachers, when making substitute and other temporary appointments. That first call must be given to teachers who are not in work and I appreciate the efforts of those schools who have responded positively to date.

The Education (Amendment) Bill, currently before the House, contains an amendment to section 30 of the Teaching Council Act 2001. Section 30 in its current form prohibits people who are employed as teachers from being paid from public funds unless they are registered with the council. It is not possible to commence the section without the amendment proposed in the Bill, for two reasons. First, there is a legacy issue pertaining to a small number of people teaching in our schools who have acquired employment rights and have a certain permanency within the system. Amending the section will allow for regulations to be made to identify and ring-fence these people. This is also entirely consistent with the approach laid down in the original Teaching Council Act, which recognised the legitimacy of rights of people currently in schools not to be displaced.

Second, we need a practical solution to the situation where urgent and exceptional circumstances may necessitate the engagement of an unregistered person. The Bill will provide for the first time for regulations to limit the engagement of unregistered people and will require schools to prioritise the employment of registered teachers over unregistered people while still ensuring that schools can operate.

I welcome the Minister's statement that it is departmental policy to employ only qualified teachers. However, I ask her how she plans to implement that policy? If I was marking the Minister's card I would say she must try harder because it is obvious she is not implementing the policy. Tens of thousands of qualified teachers have to pay a registration subscription of €90 a year and they are unemployed while up to 400 unqualified teachers are still working. Rather than telling me it is the policy of the Department, what is the Minister doing to address this situation? Modern technology must make it very easy and I am unable to understand how the Minister can say it is impossible to contact qualified teachers. It should be very easy to contact them because they are waiting for the call.

There is currently no regulation and this means that unqualified and unregistered teachers can teach. We are introducing legislation to stop this. Many Members opposite are members of the teaching profession and know that the situation can arise where a qualified teacher is not available at short notice. I am proposing regulations arising from the discussions in the House on the Education (Amendment) Bill which will be time-limited and for use in extreme cases. I issued a circular because I am of the view that the last thing any of us want to see is retired people teaching when so many young teachers have not had the opportunity to do so. I have introduced a system of internship to allow schools take on unemployed teachers, similar to the FÁS graduate programme. This could at least give some people the opportunity to become probationary teachers. Another issue is that many young teachers do not have any teaching experience and therefore cannot apply for a full-time position. The INTO website shows teacher availability and it is incumbent on school principals to use registered and qualified teachers.

I am anxious to move on to the next question.

The Minister is inconsistent because she is introducing legislation that will regularise the employment of untrained teachers while at the same time she says it is her Department's policy not to employ any untrained teachers. I ask her to clarify her intentions in this regard.

Have whole-school evaluations been conducted in any of the schools employing untrained teachers? If so, there should have been a clear warning sign to the Minister and the Department that untrained and unqualified teachers are being used especially when 30% of graduates of University College Dublin were unemployed in 2009 and many of those are teachers. It is unacceptable that untrained teachers are being employed in schools.

It would be very easy for me to sign off on the amendment to the Education Act but I would then have a problem with regard to schools because of the legacy issue of a number of teachers as regards their employment rights——

They are not teachers.

It is not a lot of teachers; it is a number of teachers. This matter will be dealt with through the historical situation——

The Minister is undermining the Teaching Council.

I am not undermining it. I am regularising the situation because it is not currently regulated. I will be particularly specific on the time and circumstances when an unqualified person will be allowed to teach. Every effort must be made to ensure that a qualified teacher is available.

A brief final supplementary question from Deputy McCormack.

I have heard the Deputies opposite say over the years that situations can occur when unqualified persons are employed as teachers. I do not wish to send children home and I am sure none of the Deputies opposite want that either.

The Minister plans to introduce legislation. I question what her Department has been doing for the past ten years when this legislation was not introduced. Is the Minister aware that 400 retired teachers are still working instead of qualified teachers? A total of 100,000 pay days are being claimed by unqualified teachers. What is the Minister doing about this situation? I am one of the few Members on this side of the House who is not a teacher but I have a concern for the situation in which many qualified graduate teachers cannot get work and the Minister's Department is continuing the practice of employing up to 400 unqualified teachers.

It is not the Minister or the Department who employs retired teachers.

The principal or the board of management——

The Minister should instruct them.

I have done so. I have issued a circular. A number of boards of management are not particularly enamoured with my circular that retired teachers, in the main, should not be employed. There is an abatement of their pay. I do not think there is a man or woman in this House who disagrees with the fact that younger teachers who are unemployed should be ——

The Minister should do something about it.

The Deputy is incorrect. The situation is that I have issued a circular to indicate that it is clearly my view and that of the Department that those unqualified teachers and retired teachers should not be an option for classrooms.

School Staffing

Ulick Burke

Ceist:

58 Deputy Ulick Burke asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills the number of teachers who were post holders who retired at primary level and second level; the number of these posts that have not been reassigned; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [41389/10]

Retirements at primary level since the introduction of the moratorium in March 2009 were 458 principals, 386 deputy principals, 211 assistant principals and 343 teachers with special duties posts of responsibility. The equivalent figures for the post primary sector were approximately 159 principals, 132 deputy principals, 1,172 assistant principals and 302 teachers with special duties posts of responsibility. This is based on Department-held data with a pro rata adjustment to include VEC schools.

Unlike other areas of the public service, teaching vacancies continue to be filled in schools. When the moratorium was introduced by the Government, it exempted principal and deputy principal posts in all primary and post primary schools and these continue to be replaced in the normal manner. The impact of the moratorium is, therefore, limited to the assistant principal and special duties allowances payable to teachers on promotion. Vacancies at assistant principal and special duties level arise due to retirements in these specific grades and typically also from the knock-on effect of filling principal and deputy principal posts. What the school loses is the capacity to make a promotion by awarding the additional allowances to another teacher.

The position whereby almost 50% of all teachers have promotion allowances is simply not sustainable. It is a matter for each school authority to re-organise and prioritise the appropriate duties for posts of responsibility holders in the context of implementing this moratorium.

Some further limited alleviation was announced in July for schools that are acutely affected by the impact of the moratorium at assistant principal level. The alleviation arrangements are set out in the published circular 42/2010, which provides some delegated sanction for post primary schools to fill assistant principal vacancies if they fall below certain minimum thresholds. The filling of these posts will be notified by the relevant post primary schools in the coming weeks. At this stage, the Department has been notified in respect of the filling of 39 assistant principal posts. Applications for alleviation in respect of 57 programme co-ordinator posts and 18 director of adult education posts have resulted in 25 of these posts being filled. Applications for alleviation have also been received from more than 120 primary schools and these are currently being examined and prioritised, and the schools will be advised of the outcome in the coming weeks.

Overlooking the situation in regard to principals and deputy principals, in many schools, particularly at second level, there is a huge void in regard to the work that was previously carried out by teachers, not only on a voluntary basis but in a series of areas. For example, a senior post holder always used to act as the co-ordinator for transition year or as examinations secretary. The problem with regard to the examinations secretary does not arise yet but the situation will be serious by February. Many more claims will be with the Department for the reappointment of staff into such posts.

I ask the Minister once more to reconsider the unworkable situation that has developed in many schools. The result is that many senior teachers have left the service altogether and many junior staff are incapable of doing the work that had been done over the years.

As I indicated, many other sectors have a moratorium. We are in a position to replace teachers, including some posts of responsibility, where there is a need for alleviation. A number of schools lost most of their post holders as a consequence of retirements and we had to bring in at least a base where that work needed to be done. Since 2009, there has been a reduction in the number of posts but some 50% of teachers still hold posts of responsibility.

With regard to the second part of the alleviation, consideration must be given arising from the schools opening in September. Between July and September, a situation arose whereby there was a minor alleviation. In September, I gave an undertaking that we would review the situation, in the advent of particular circumstances, so that there might be some flexibility, although it would be very limited. The harsh reality is that we cannot continue to have a situation where 50% of the entire teaching community hold posts of responsibility. The minor alleviation was to address the concerns the Deputy has raised.

It is wrong for the Minister to say a post of responsibility is an advancement in pay and opportunity. She is rejecting the valuable work that was done by post holders over the years, which was an integral part of the operation of the schools. We talk of the importance of liaison between the school and the home but that is dead, gone, finished. How can the Minister justify this kind of change?

The total estimated cost of posts of responsibility is €236 million. I do not take from the valuable work done on a voluntary basis by many who hold no post of responsibility, and who are usually the ones who are enthusiastic enough never to bother about such posts and go out to do the school plays, the music——

The Tánaiste should not load it.

There are plenty of those, which is very good. This is the type of thing we will have to instill in life, in society and in the community as opposed to having people being paid to be a volunteer.

There are other responsibilities which require administrative time, and I do not take from that. However, what we are trying to ensure is that at the least we meet a minimum requirement so the schools can manage the work they need to do.

On an issue not raised in the House, I very much appreciate the view of the TUI in that it has stepped back from its industrial action, which I hope will allow greater work processes to take place within the schools in situations where the principal and deputy principal were left to do everything.

I am cognisant of the issue. I gave an undertaking that I would reduce the administrative burden on the management of schools. It is time we used technology to do away with the practice of re-doing 40 times everything that has to be done in a school term. I have asked the schools to come up with practical proposals, which I will be more than happy to address.

School Books

Terence Flanagan

Ceist:

59 Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills if she will support the exchange of school books as outlined by the not for profit company (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [41334/10]

The acquisition of books, whether through second-hand purchase, as in the website to which the Deputy refers, or through a school rental scheme, is a matter for parents. However, I welcome any initiative which provides an opportunity for parents and students to acquire books, or dispose of unwanted books, in an efficient manner which reduces costs to parents. Apart from a small number of prescribed texts at second level, mainly in the case of language subjects, decisions on which textbooks to use in first and second level schools are taken at school level. There are no plans to regulate this area.

Syllabus planners are conscious of the need to avoid over-frequent changes to textbooks, primarily to minimise increases in the cost burden for parents. However, textbooks have to be changed periodically to enable teachers to keep their students' work educationally stimulating and to ensure that content and methodology are kept up to date. School authorities have been advised that books should be changed only to the extent that is absolutely necessary.

In accordance with the renewed programme for Government, my Department issued funding to schools in June to enable them to provide assistance for school books. Details of the funding were notified to schools by circulars 41/2010 for second level and 43/2010 for first level, which are available on my Department's website. In these circulars, schools were urged to use this funding to establish book rental schemes, as these are the most effective means of lowering costs for all students.

In total, €14.6 million issued to schools. Funding was allocated as follows: €11 per pupil in primary schools; €21 per pupil in primary schools within the Delivering Equality in Schools or DEIS scheme; €24 per pupil in post primary; and €39 per pupil in post primary schools within the DEIS scheme. This funding arrangement affords schools the autonomy to utilise funding in the most effective way based on their particular knowledge of their student needs. The previous system required schools to apply each year to my Department for a book grant, which resulted in a significant administrative burden for schools and the Department. The new funding mechanism is part of a process of moving to a more streamlined system where, instead of several specific grants, schools, which are best placed to know the needs of their pupils, receive one per capita grant that they can assign according to the priorities of the school.

I thank the Minister of State for her reply. I welcome the fact she will, as I understand it from her response, look at the www.schoolbookexchange.ie website, which was a service used by 17,000 people in the past year and is, I understand, a not for profit organisation. Will the Minister of State analyse how the Department could assist with the running costs of this operation?

Given modern technology, we need to move into a new era in regard to school books. It is about time the publishers considered online books. In some states of the USA, school books are online and free to view and one would only pay to print out the workbook. The cost of school books is enormous, particularly with so many people on reducing incomes or unemployed. Will the Minister of State consider the provision by, first, the publishers and, second, by not for profit organisations, or perhaps by a group of teachers or the like, of online workbooks in particular? I understand that changes to workbooks cause the most problems.

The Department is interested in finding new ways of supporting schools, parents and children in the new digital economy. In my own constituency of Carlow-Kilkenny, the Kilkenny Outreach Centre is doing tremendous work with mobile telephone applications for children. There is no question that the website to which the Deputy referred enjoys a significant level of traffic and anything that eases the burden on parents is to be welcomed. As a former academic bookseller, I am up to speed in this area.

Was the Minister of State making a profit?

Booksellers also face problems where schools change books at a rapid pace. However, there is a greater focus on the part of schools on changing books only where it is necessary to do so. Workbooks are being streamlined and some textbooks contain workbook pages, which decrease the expense for parents. I am happy to consider anything, including the Internet, that can cut costs and help parents and schools. Regarding the Deputy's question on America, it is my understanding that some states fund the purchase of books. We are not yet at that stage in Ireland but the Department would be happy to fast-track modern approaches.

FÁS Training Programmes

Kieran O'Donnell

Ceist:

60 Deputy Kieran O’Donnell asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills the position regarding the recent draft European Social Fund audit finding in relation to FÁS; if she will provide those findings; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [41359/10]

In September to October 2009, the European Commission carried out an European Structural Fund audit mission that included an audit of FÁS expenditure. The final report of this mission was issued in February 2010 and raised two areas of concern for the auditors. The first area where issues arose from this audit was in contract extensions and tendering procedures not being properly followed. This involved €20,040 expenditure, or 0.1% of the total FÁS claim. The second and main area was the reconciliation of estimated costs to actual payments for contracted training for the unemployed. This was related to the information technology system used to account for this expenditure and it resulted in an incorrect ESF claim of approximately €165,000, or 0.2% of the total FÁS claim. It is anticipated that new information technology system will be fully operational by 1 January 2011 and will address the European Commission's primary concern in this area, as well as prevent a recurrence of this event in the future. In March 2010, the European Commission auditors carried out a follow up audit on the FÁS issues raised. A draft report on this audit was received by my Department on 25 June 2010 and was responded to within the two month deadline set by the European Commission. The Commission has instructed that the draft audit report be treated as confidential and, as it is not intended for publication, I am not in a position to describe its findings.

The resulting final audit report has not been formally received from the European Commission to date. However, I can confirm that no EU funds have been lost by Ireland on this matter to date and, as it is intended that alternative spending will be substituted for the above amounts in a future claim, it is anticipated that there will be no loss to the Exchequer.

I am not happy with the Minister of State's reply. It is more than one year since the first investigation was conducted into this matter and a number of audits have been carried out since then. Was the request to treat the draft findings as confidential made by the Department or the European Commission? I cannot understand why they are being kept secret because there is no issue if the sum in question is only €165,000. Is it not a fact that the problem does not arise so much from the information technology section as from the absence of documentation or a paper trail? There were estimates but no receipts were produced. Is it a fact that some of this spending occurred in 2000? When does the Minister of State expect to be in a position to respond publicly and transparently to the issues raised?

The European Commission instructed that the draft audit report be treated as confidential and it is not intended for publication. The final audit report will be a Commission document and, as such reports are not generally considered public documents, Commission approval must be received before copies can be distributed. However, I am willing to make a statement on the progress of implementation of the issues raised in the report and my Department has replied to previous questions on this matter. It is anticipated that matters will be finalised by the end of the year. It is not expected that the Exchequer will lose money because of the substitute expenditure and we are implementing measures to deal with these issues.