Other Questions

Vocational Education Committees

Gerry Adams


9 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Minister for Education and Skills if his attention has been drawn to the fact that County Louth Vocational Education Committee will see a 200 student increase in its first year post-primary classes in September 2011; if his further attention has been drawn to the work being conducted by the VEC sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9836/11]

Michael Colreavy


11 Deputy Michael Colreavy asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans for the vocational education committees. [9834/11]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 and 11 together.

County Louth VEC has informed my Department that it projects an increased enrolment of 216 students in September 2011. My Department has therefore given provisional approval for an additional 11 teaching posts, which will be subject to confirmation of the actual enrolment in September. All vacancies and any additional teaching posts should, where possible, be filled through the redeployment of surplus permanent teachers.

Devolved funding for nine additional mainstream classrooms was approved by my Department in 2010 for schools that operate under the management of County Louth VEC, in order to cater for their immediate accommodation needs. The classrooms are currently in construction and should be ready for occupation in September 2011.

I appreciate the record of accomplishment of vocational education committees throughout this country in delivering a high quality education. The VEC system has made a significant contribution to the development of our education system. It has a tradition of providing high quality education and of placing a particular emphasis on meeting the needs of the most disadvantaged in our society.

As the Deputy will be aware, the previous Government decided to reduce the number of VECs from 33 to 16, and on the merger of particular VECs. I want to ensure that progress is made in bringing about a reduction in the number of VECs. I invited the Irish Vocational Education Association, IVEA, to submit alternative rationalisation proposals, as it had expressed concerns on the configuration of the proposed new entities. I am informed the IVEA will respond shortly. I have made clear to the IVEA that while I am open to considering proposals on alternative configurations, the invitation does not mean the process of rationalisation will be slowed or diminished.

In considering the submission from the IVEA regarding particular mergers, I will seek savings and to ensure that the new structure will involve a substantial reduction in the number of individual bodies, but with each remaining one of greater scale than currently. I am confident that this merger will ensure an even higher quality educational service for students and the public alike.

Regardless of the final shape of the reconfiguration, there will still be a requirement for co-operation and joint endeavour between all of the new local bodies. The current work on arriving at a single grant awarding body for the student support schemes is a good example of avoiding duplication and achieving improved public service delivery.

Is there a timescale for the rationalisation programme? I presume the thinking behind the rationalisation has to do with cost savings. What cost savings will there be as a result of the amalgamation of these services? Different changes have been proposed over the years for this sector by the various parties, but to a large extent the system as it exists has worked and there have been successful outcomes for students. Why is the system being tinkered with now when the savings that will be made are minimal? Why are we going ahead with amalgamation of these VECs? The VECs have been democratic, open and accountable bodies, but we are talking about reducing their number. This will be harmful to students and I do not see the logic behind the plan for reducing the number of committees.

I am informed that the original estimate of the savings that might be obtained is of the order of €3 million. I hope that when we get into the detail of the amalgamation the savings will be even greater. The configuration and structure of the VECs reflect an Ireland that no longer exists in terms of transport, access and communications and there is a wide discrepancy in the scale and operation of the different VECs. The one with which the Deputy is familiar, County Dublin VEC, is an enormous operation with a vast number of post-primary schools, not to mention an array of support services for further education, adult education and literacy. In contrast, other VECs have very small budgets and turnover of less than €15 million, as against €50 million. We hope to achieve savings and sensible rationalisation, having regard to modern communications and transportation contacts.

With regard to the timeframe, I expect to hear back from the IVEA within the next ten days or so. I will then bring a proposal to Government that will set out the proposal for proceeding with the rationalisation and for legislative reform in the context of the VECs, their entitlements and the possibilities. Eight Acts since 1930 cover the operation of the VECs. This legislation needs to be consolidated so that we can provide clarity for the sector. I look forward, with the co-operation of the House to debate here and with the Oireachtas committee on the issues. I hope we will have certainty by the end of the year and that the legislation may be enacted by then. I know from previous experience that the worst thing that can happen to any organisation is for a pronouncement of change to be made and for that to be followed by uncertainty with regard to the timeframe and the delivery. That puts everybody on the defensive and the uncertainty compounds the difficulties. Drawing from previous experience, I am determined to avoid that outcome.

Has the Minister decided on which areas he intends to amalgamate?

No. I met the IVEA before becoming Minister and subsequently and informed it that if it could come up with the same type of savings, and the same kind of configuration of 16 bodies I was open in principle to considering it. I have not set my heart on a particular configuration. There are alternatives, but I will wait to see the IVEA suggestions. I gather the central council has come up with a set of recommendations, but these must still be signed up to by the individual VECs. The matter lies with them and as soon as I receive the proposals, I will move forward.

Special Educational Needs

Joan Collins


10 Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Education and Skills his views on his decision to maintain the cap on special needs assistants implemented by the previous Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9891/11]

The programme for Government clearly states that education will be a priority for this Government and that we will endeavour to protect and enhance the educational experience of children, young people and students. We will endeavour to protect frontline services in education. However, the fiscal position is extremely difficult.

It is necessary to ensure that educational services are delivered within the resources available. I intend to prioritise and support special educational services. However, I cannot revisit the previous Government's decision to place a cap on the number of posts available under the special needs assistant scheme. This number is 10,575 whole time equivalent posts. This is a significant number of posts and, unlike other areas of the public sector, vacancies are being filled up to this number. It also represents continual increases in the number of SNAs over recent years. It is considered that with equitable and careful management and distribution of these resources, there should be sufficient posts to provide access to SNA support for all children who require such care support to attend school, in accordance with departmental criteria.

The National Council for Special Education, NCSE, is responsible, through its network of local special educational needs organisers, SENOs, for allocating resource teachers and special needs assistants to schools to support children with special educational needs. The NCSE operates within my Department's criteria in allocating such support. This now includes a requirement for the NCSE to have regard to an overall cap on the number of SNA posts.

The NCSE has issued a circular to all schools advising of the allocation process for the 2011-12 school year. A key feature of the amended scheme will be to provide for an annual allocation of SNA support to eligible schools. The NCSE has asked schools to submit all applications for SNA support to them by 18 March 2011 and intends to inform schools of their annual SNA allocation as soon as possible in advance of the coming school year.

My Department and I will be glad to consider any suggestions from school management or parent representative organisations as to how the allocation of SNA resources can best be managed within the context of the overall limit on SNA numbers established. In this regard I am committed to making whatever improvements are possible to the resource allocation system.

We need to understand the legacy of economic mismanagement which the last Government gave to this country. We have in effect lost our economic sovereignty and every Member of this House continually needs to understand that.

I thank the Minister for the standard reply. The last Government's decision to cap the number of SNAs in schools was disgraceful. Even heretofore it was difficult to get their children assessed, to get them into schools and to get the SNAs that are needed. Now they are being told that because of economic constraints their children may not and will not have that support in the future. The Minister might put a cap on the number of SNAs but he cannot put a cap on the number of children being born every year who will have special educational needs in the future. I heard the Minister's speech to the INTO conference, which did not mention resource teachers or SNAs once.

Can we have a question please?

The Minister has choices like everybody else. The cost of employing the required 2,000 SNAs would be €60 million, of which €40 million would be saved on social welfare payments. Really it would cost €20 million to employ 2,000 more SNAs, which is a drop in the ocean. The Minister should consider that alternative. The cost of subsidising private fee-paying schools teachers is €100 million.

The Deputy will not get an answer if she does not give the Minister a chance to reply.

Will the Minister not stop paying these teachers in private fee-paying schools and put that €100 million into employing resource teachers who are absolutely needed?

The framework of spending for this year has already been decided, and implicitly and explicitly confirmed by this House. There will be no changes for 2011. I will consider what to do in 2012 in the light of what resources are made available to me in the context of where the country is at the moment.

I cannot accept that. The Minister has a choice and can stop paying teachers in fee-paying schools, thereby saving the State €100 million, which could be put into providing badly needed SNAs and resource teachers. The choice is between protecting people and keeping privileged schools going.

The programme for Government makes no such proposal. We are operating in very constrained circumstances and we will work within that framework and not outside it.

Does the Minister accept that the growth in SNA numbers has happened because children are now educated in mainstream schools as opposed to special schools?

Does the Deputy have a question?

Yes. The SENO system does not appear to provide cover for maternity leave and I am concerned that children are not being properly assessed. I asked the Minister about St. Raphael's and am still awaiting a reply.

Is there any scope for covering maternity leave in order that there can be an adequate assessment?

A number of parents of children with special needs are in the Gallery today. Can the Minister give them any hope? Some of their children have very severe special needs requirements. One child, Aisling McEniff's five-year-old son, is unique in the world. He has been in intensive care eight times and has had two heart operations. He has Down's syndrome and——

The Deputy will not get a reply if he does not——

He has been approved for a special education place but because there is no sanction for another SNA, her child cannot get into school. Can the Minister offer them any hope or is he telling them there is no hope because we have to pay off the IMF?

Special schools such as the Holy Family school in Cootehill in my county or St. Raphael's in Celbridge, which has already been mentioned, cater for pupils with very complex and severe physical and intellectual disabilities. Are those schools exempt from the cap on their total SNA allocation?

The National Council for Special Education is the professional body which through its locally based SENOs assesses individuals referred to it and comes to a professional conclusion whether a particular child qualifies for support. It is not the function of the Department of Education and Skills in order to prevent it becoming open to manipulation and abuse as we have seen in the past with other schemes. The professional assessment is not made by politicians or by civil servants who have a generalist education and do not have the necessary expertise. The number of SNAs has increased by almost 1,000% since they were established.

If the Deputies ask a question they get an answer.

The growth seemed to be exponential. The previous Government against the background of economic constraints, which still exists, decided to cap it at the level I mentioned and investigate ways in which some degree of internal prioritisation can be made. It would be easy for me to tell Deputy Boyd Barrett that I would review the specific individual application, but I will not discuss individual cases in the House as it would be wrong.

Question No. 11 answered with Question No. 9.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh


12 Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Education and Skills the date on which he will publish a plan for the full implementation of the EPSEN Act 2004. [9852/11]

The programme for Government sets out that education will be a priority for the Government and that we will endeavour to protect and enhance the educational experience of children, young people and students. To that end, we are committing — during the tenure of the Government — to the publication of a plan for the implementation of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 to prioritise access for children with special needs to an individual education plan. The priority will be to move to a system where necessary supports follow a child from primary to second level and to achieve greater integration of special needs-related services.

The Deputy will know that a number of sections of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act have already been commenced. As required under the Act, the NCSE made recommendations regarding the implementation of the provisions of the Act and suggested additional investment over a period of years of up to €235 million per annum across the education and health sectors. My Department's opinion is that the level of investment required would be greater than that envisaged in the NCSE report.

In the light of the very difficult economic situation and these significant costs, the previous Government deferred the full implementation of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act. It is my intention to prepare a plan to implement the Act in line with the programme for Government, subject to the serious financial constraints which we have inherited from the previous Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government. All parts of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act, which have not been commenced to date, will need to be considered during this process. The Deputy will appreciate that commencement of individual aspects of the Act in isolation is difficult because of linkages across the various sections. Given the extent of the considerations required and also requirements to consider a number of other priority policy areas regarding the education of children with special educational needs, it is not possible to advise a specific date for the publication of this plan at this early stage of the Government's term in office.

Many parents are concerned that they are not getting speedy assessments. When the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act was passed by this House it was supposed to provide supports for those families, but we increasingly find that the families need to make up the shortfall. We have no timescale for when the Act will be fully implemented. I listened to what the Minister said about difficulties with funding and so on, but these families and their children are suffering. Does the Minister not accept that families will need to go back to the courts again to try to get the resources and supports needed for their children's educational needs? It was very positive to move children from special schools into mainstream ones, but without those supports there is no alternative for families. Increasingly, families must make up the shortfall themselves. It is a case of them borrowing from the credit union or other families and communities having to organise fund-raising functions because the State is not supplying the basic resources to which children are entitled under the Act.

I share the Deputy's concern and acknowledge his genuine commitment in this area. The reality is that when the EPSEN legislation was introduced, no one appreciated fully the extent of support that would be required, or the cost of that support, as indicated in my initial reply. Therefore, it is understandable the decision outlined was taken. When the level of growth had expanded by virtually 1,000% in ten years, there had to be a review. There is a cap. This area has not been subject to a reduction in numbers, as is the case in other areas of the public service. Officials are considering ways to maximise the effectiveness of the very substantial resource already in place.

Let me give an example based on the predicament of a family in a certain school. The child in question is being dismissed from school because, from 21 February to 11 March, there was an unmet requirement to supply psychological support, psychiatric support, occupational therapy, speech and language therapy and social worker support. The family is supposed to come up with the goods in the knowledge that the child will be dismissed from the school if it fails. That is the pressure families are being put under owing to the lack of resources. What does one say to a family whose child faces dismissal from school? The chances of having the child enrolled in another school are nigh on impossible. That is the pressure that has been placed on just one family in recent weeks. This is crazy. I do not know how the State can respond. I outline but one example; I do not know how many others there are. What I have outlined is a microcosm of what is happening to other families. I may revert to the Minister on this case.

As I do not know the details of the individual case to which the Deputy referred, I will not prejudice any outcomes. Clearly, the response from the school is one that the family should query with the special educational needs organiser with a view to determining why the school is adopting what seems to be such an extraordinarily demanding stance to which an ordinary family must respond. I do not know if the special educational needs organiser was involved in mediation between the school and parents in this case. If the Deputy has the details, I will certainly examine the case, but I cannot make any commitment.

School Transport

Michael Creed


13 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Education and Skills when the review group established to evaluate value for money in the school transport system was established; the reason no representative of school patrons, parents or teachers was included in the review group; if he considers it an acceptable or desirable outcome that arising from its accepted recommendations that individual members of the one family may be obliged to avail of school transport to different schools; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9755/11]

I am responding on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Ciaran Cannon.

The review group was established in January 2009. The review was carried out as part of the 2009-11 round of value for money reviews approved by the previous Government and conducted in accordance with the criteria for such reviews set out in the Department of Finance's Value for Money and Policy Review Initiative Guidance Manual. The emphasis in such reviews is on the efficiency and effectiveness of the programmes under examination to assess value for money in their delivery.

The composition of value for money review committees can vary. In this instance, membership of the steering committee was drawn from my Department and other relevant Departments and included an independent chairman, namely, Mr. Willie Soffe, former county manager of Fingal County Council, and two independent experts.

All external stakeholders, including school patrons and parent and teacher organisations, were given an opportunity to make their views on the school transport scheme known. The process included a call for submissions on a range of specific issues which resulted in 85 submissions. In addition, following an assessment of these submissions and in order to give stakeholders a further opportunity to present their views, a day-long consultative forum was organised in October 2009 by the steering committee with a combination of individual sessions and an open forum discussion with the chairperson and committee members. In this way, it was considered by the steering committee that all stakeholders were afforded a further opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to the review process.

I am taking it that the Deputy is referring to the issue of the cessation of the closed school rule, CSR, as it relates to primary school transport eligibility. This change was announced in budget 2011 by the previous Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government and derived from a recommendation in the published value for money review of the scheme. To put the matter in context, the review showed that the unit cost of primary school transport was €1,020 per child. Furthermore, the four year national recovery plan requires savings of €4.5 million to be made through operational efficiencies and other savings measures in the school transport budget in 2011, rising to overall full-year savings of €17 million by 2014. The aggregation of the measures being implemented arising from the value for money review will be an important element in achieving these savings.

It is important to stress there are a number of dimensions to the cessation of the closed school rule. The first of these which will be implemented from September involves the uniform application of the distance criteria to all pupils travelling under the primary transport scheme, including those travelling under the closed school rule. This means that children residing less than 3.2 km from the school of amalgamation will be deemed ineligible for school transport. In such cases, the children concerned may apply for concessionary transport.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

The second element of the change is scheduled to take effect in September 2012 and will apply only in the case of pupils commencing their primary education from that date. This second element will restrict school transport eligibility for those pupils entering in September 2012 to pupils who meet the distance eligibility criterion and are travelling to their nearest school. Available statistics, based on sampling undertaken as part of the value for money review, indicate that the impact of this change will be limited as the majority of pupils categorised under the closed school rule are, in fact. attending their nearest school. Therefore, the majority of these families will not be affected by this change.

Before implementing this second main change which is proposed for 2012, my Department has requested Bus Éireann to conduct a detailed analysis of the on the ground impact for individual schools and the rural communities they serve. This analysis will be based on the most up-to-date information available on current school transport usage patterns and I expect to have the information available to me this summer. I will then have an opportunity to carefully examine the likely effect of this change well in advance of the 2012 implementation date.

The Minister of State is correct that this is a legacy issue. The devil is in the detail. I urge the Minister of State, in consultation with the Minister and his colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills, Deputy Ciaran Cannon, to tread very carefully. On the alleged savings, while the Department has stated the impact will be minimal in terms of pupil numbers, there will be a disproportionate impact on small schools in respect of two matters. The first concerns the change in the number required for the establishment or retention of a school bus service from seven to ten. In small schools which are predominantly but not exclusively to be found in rural areas, increasing the number from seven to ten to retain or establish a bus service will in many circumstances mean that from 20% to 40% of pupils will need to be using school transport. This will have very severe consequences for the viability of the schools in question.

The second matter is that the closed school rule could mean that members of families will be sent in two directions. I suggest a solution that the Minister of State might consider. The catchment area of a closed school should be treated as a single catchment area for the future. Therefore, the entitlement would relate to the central school——

The Deputy is eating into the Minister of State's time.

I ask the Minister of State to consider this matter in greater detail before proceeding.

I concur absolutely with the points the Deputy is making on the basis that I have received representations from families who are fearful they will be split as a result of the implementation of this mechanism. I am aware there is a further review taking place and that it will conclude at an unspecified date some time this summer. It should take a deeper look at exactly how many will be affected. I am also aware of the potential for certain parishes to be affected adversely, whereby an amalgamated school may, ironically, have reduced numbers in the future. There is no question but that a number of issues arise from the implementation of the initiative. However, I ask the Deputy to give us some time pending the outcome of the review which will result in a closer examination of the exact effect on families. I hope it will give rise to a further set of public utterances by the Minister on how some of the issues could be tackled.

Residential Institutions Redress Scheme

Sandra McLellan


14 Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he has begun negotiations with the 18 religious orders cited in the Ryan report for the transfer of school infrastructure; the criteria that will be used to zone them for educational or other purposes on their transfer. [9850/11]

I intend discussing the commitment in the programme for Government to negotiate the transfer of school infrastructure currently owned by 18 religious orders cited in the Ryan report, at no extra cost to the State, with my Cabinet colleagues in the near future. This discussion will take account of my Department's engagement with the congregations regarding the potential use of the various property offers made to date and their acceptability to the State and the congregations' potential to augment their offers, so as to realise a 50:50 sharing of the costs of the response to residential institutional abuse.

Against this background, the formal transfer, without cost to the State, of schools infrastructure could help achieve the 50:50 target. The schools transferred will continue to be used by the religious congregations and/or their successor trusts with the same patronage arrangements as prevail today. The difference would be that the Irish taxpayers, through the State, would be the owners of that educational infrastructure which would continue in use for educational purposes and the issue of change of use would, therefore, be unlikely to arise in the foreseeable future. There will be further engagement with the congregations involved following the Government's consideration of the matter.

Everybody would accept that the original deal on this matter was a bad one from the point of view of the State and redress. The reason I put this question down was to find out the timescale for this. The Minister says it will go to Cabinet shortly. What will the procedure be after that? Will the Minister return to the Dáil to make an announcement on it? There was concern that many of these properties would decrease in value, particularly with the collapse in the property market. Some of this involves the direct transfer of schools but there was also talk of additional buildings being transferred. Can the Minister outline when this will happen? Have the discussions about it concluded?

When will that happen? The Ryan report was produced in 2009 and it is now 2011. When will we have a timescale for this?

I am anxious to proceed with this matter as quickly as possible in the interests of equity. In this specific proposal we are not talking about getting extra cash. It is about equity. The religious teaching orders have already given a great deal and many of the valuations they had on their properties have collapsed, as has happened to the many people who are in negative equity. They have not contributed to the desired target of 50:50, which is still the policy of this Government.

I have told the religious teaching orders who own property that they could make good the balance to get as close to 50:50 as possible, and the figures are in the public domain, if they were to transfer the ownership of the schools that they currently possess and operate or which are operated by trusts on their behalf, with the clear assurance that the patronage arrangements of those schools would continue until such time as the schools in question decided or chose to change the patron. However, the Irish taxpayer would be clearly given the legal ownership of those properties, so they could not be sold in future generations. They would remain within the education system.

I initiated this idea when I was a Member of the Opposition. It was an attempt on my part to understand the constraints and pressures being experienced by these aging religious teaching congregations. Every Member of the House is aware of the cost of health care for the elderly, and in many, if not all, cases these congregations do not have a new generation coming through to support them, as would be the case in secular or civilian life. The offer I suggested at the time, which is now part of Government policy, was to enter negotiations and to point out to the trusts or religious congregations that they are short of the 50% target that was set by the previous Oireachtas. One way of meeting it is to hand over the keys and ownership of the properties, on the clear understanding and assurance that they would continue to operate those schools and that the patronage arrangements currently in place would remain in place for such time as they wished. It is up to them if they wish to change them.

Until what date does the Minister envisage those discussions taking place? What is the cut-off date?

I have been in office for less than eight weeks——

Is it within the lifetime of the Government?

We are talking about early in the lifetime of the Government. We will initiate those discussions quite early. The proposal is already in the public domain and the people involved are well aware of my sentiments. I have expressed them more extensively elsewhere. They know what is expected and they are aware of the safeguards. They also know that the property market at present does not offer an alternative for them. The expanding school population suggests that we need the schools anyway. My suggestion is that one way to respond in lieu for what has happened is to symbolically and physically transfer the ownership at no cost.

School Patronage

Michael Moynihan


15 Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Minister for Education and Skills the financial support provided by the State to different patronage bodies at primary and second level. [9881/11]

As a matter of policy, my Department does not fund patrons or patron bodies. My Department provides annual grants to the recognised management bodies at primary and post-primary level to assist them in providing management support to the schools in their sectors.

Management bodies such as the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association, CPSMA, Educate Together, Church of Ireland Board of Education at primary level or at second level the Joint Managerial Board/Association of Management of Catholic Secondary Schools, JMB/AMCSS, the Irish Vocational Education Association, IVEA, and the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools, ACCS, provide important support services for schools on employment, legal, financial and other matters. The individual management bodies' remit reflects the particular patronage of the schools which they serve, for example, the CPSMA provides support services to primary schools under Catholic patronage and it is a similar position in relation to each of the other management bodies. The core funding to the management bodies at primary and post-primary level amounts to a total of about €1.4 million per annum.

I am not sure if the Minister mentioned the patron body for the Gaelscoileanna, which I believe is An Foras Pátrúnachta. Is support given to the general management body that works with the boards of management of Gaelscoileanna?

I am not sure if I have that information. I assume An Foras Pátrúnachta is in the same situation, but I do not know. I will find that information for the Deputy.

State Examinations

Brendan Smith


16 Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will detail the specific timeframe he is working to in relation to reform of second-level examinations; and if his proposals for junior certificate reform will include the commitment to make science a compulsory subject at junior certificate by 2014. [9877/11]

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, has been asked to review the junior certificate and advise on the scope for reform which would cater for the promotion of understanding, creativity and innovation, and which would provide appropriate evidence of learning. Concerns have also been raised about curriculum overload and rote learning. As I await advice on this matter from the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment setting out the detail of its proposed reforms, it would not be appropriate for me to spell out a definitive timeframe for implementation at this stage. I expect this advice this summer, after it has been discussed with the partners in education through the council's consultative structures. I will then to be in a position to consider more fully the implementation issues which arise.

I would like to see movement on this for students entering second level in September 2012, but detailed implementation will need to be considered in the context of the proposals being presented and the resources available, and the need to prioritise the national literacy and numeracy strategy. In 2010, 88% of the 56,088 candidates sat junior certificate science. In other words, nearly 90% took science on a voluntary basis. I do not wish to pre-empt the advice of the NCCA on whether this should be a compulsory subject. A total of 90% is not a bad statistic in the first instance.

The Minister will agree that curriculum reform should result in a more active learning experience. A new post-primary junior cycle programme is required to reinvigorate the junior certificate. I hope the Minister will be able to move on these important issues as quickly as possible. I mentioned previously the need to complete the roll-out of project mathematics. Will he confirm that this is his intention?

There is general acceptance in the education sector that the secondary level, in the junior and leaving certificate cycle, must be reformed. However, the calls for reform have come from the third level sector, particularly the universities. There is not much point in reforming the junior and senior cycles and, by extension, the leaving certificate and the Central Applications Office, CAO, unless there is buy-in from the third level sector. In that context, I met the heads of the seven universities — I have yet to meet the heads of the institutes of technology but I will be doing so — in order to involve them in the process with the NCCA so that we might reach an agreed understanding of the kind of educational inputs, formations and structures which would be appropriate in respect of the type of learning outcomes to which the Deputy refers and which would be put in place at second level. We must also arrive at an agreement regarding how this will be assessed and how it will be interacted with at third level in order that there might be a progression through second level and into third level. In that context, whatever system we put in place must meet the needs of the universities.

There has been a disconnect in this area. The reform of the junior certificate cycle is proceeding and I am awaiting the reports relating to it. However, we must, at the next stage, integrate whatever changes take place with entry to and passage through third level and further education.

Depending on the form they will take, I will certainly welcome any reforms that are put forward. Will the Minister include in the study the position of dyslexic children, many of whom are intelligent but who struggle to deal with examinations? Prior to the conclusion of the work relating to the report, will the Minister instruct the Department to ensure that children who had access to readers for their junior certificate examinations will continue to have access to them for the leaving certificate? I understand that this service has been requested in a number of cases but that it has not been made available. Some children will be very disadvantaged by the withdrawal of the reader service.

I thank the Deputy for his observations. I do not know what is the current position but I will obtain information in that regard and revert to him.

Special Educational Needs

Richard Boyd Barrett


17 Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Education and Skills the number of children, that have been recommended by the National Educational Psychological Service, that are being denied access to resource hours due to the current review being carried out under the employment control framework for education; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9893/11]

I wish to advise the Deputy that the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, is responsible, through its network of local special educational needs organisers, SENOs, for allocating resource teaching hours to schools to support children with special educational needs. The NCSE operates within my Department's criteria in allocating such support. It is not the practice of National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, psychologists to recommend specific numbers of resource teaching hours. NEPS psychologists assess children's needs. The SENOs determine the hours to be allocated in accordance with departmental policy and taking account of reports such as those provided by NEPS psychologists.

In respect of the allocation of resource teaching hours, the Department of Education and Skills is required to ensure that the overall allocation of teaching posts does not exceed the targets set out in the Government's employment control framework. The Department had planned for a certain amount of increased growth in teacher numbers across the school sector in 2011 in line with increased demographic growth. In respect of resource teaching hours for children with special educational needs, allowance was made for growth in 2011 over and above normal demographic increase levels. In 2010, the total number of whole-time equivalent, WTE, posts provided for resource hours teaching — including under the general allocation model — was approximately 9,600. By comparison, approximately 9,950 WTE posts have been provided for 2011. The Deputy will note that this represents an increase in the number of WTE posts available for the year 2011.

My Department requested the NCSE to provide data on the numbers and rate of application for additional resource teaching hours to date this year so that this information can be considered in the context of the Department's employment control framework obligations. The NCSE has also been asked to pause sanctioning additional resource teaching support hours to allow for collection and consideration of this data by the Department in conjunction with the NCSE. It should be noted that this is a temporary suspension of the allocation process in order to allow for consideration and analysis of this issue prior to any decisions being made. The NCSE issued a circular to schools advising them that the final date for submission of any outstanding completed applications for resource teaching supports is 13 May next.

The Minister wrote to schools in March and instructed them to stop allocating resource hours to pupils on foot of the review of the numbers employed in the area of education which was demanded by the IMF. This means that children who have been lucky enough to receive assessments from NEPS and who are obliged to wait months for such assessments will not now get what they are due. The stress that parents and children undergo while awaiting assessments and in dealing with the results thereof will be further exacerbated by the Minister withdrawing children's rights to resource hours.

The Minister stated that it is child abuse not to read to children. Is it not even worse abuse to deny some of the most vulnerable and needy children in society the educational resources they require? It is estimated that approximately 400 additional resource teacher posts will be needed by the end of the year and that 300 of these could go unapproved at a cost of approximately €13.5 million per year. I understand the Minister has recently been made aware that the costs associated with dealing with parents who are fighting legal cases relating to their children's entitlements amount to €14.5 million.

The Deputy must conclude as the time for questions is exhausted.

Would it not make more sense to give these children the resources they require?

I will direct that an inquiry be held in respect of the points made by the Deputy. I will consider the results of that inquiry and revert to him in due course.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.