Other Questions

School Curriculum

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

6. Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Skills the way she plans to deal with the overloading of the primary school curriculum. [45099/14]

This is a busy morning. How does the Minister for Education and Skills plan to deal with the overloading of the primary school curriculum?

My Department, in conjunction with the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, has initiated a major reform of the primary curriculum. This reform will examine the entire curriculum, including its structure and content, to identify areas where revisions or updates are required. One of the aims of this reform is to ensure that the primary curriculum is appropriately structured to provide pupils with the necessary knowledge, skills and dispositions for positive educational outcomes without overburdening them or their teachers. Priority has been given to developing a new integrated language curriculum and a new mathematics curriculum, as these are core priorities identified in the national literacy and numeracy strategy. The wider primary curriculum review will be initiated in 2015 with a public consultation process. This will provide all stakeholders with an opportunity to outline their views on the existing curriculum and their priorities for the future.

I welcome that review, including the public consultation process. In recent years, many different organisations and groups have been putting pressure on schools to implement their programmes. Some of these programmes are excellent, including ones for health, child safety and smoking. Special programmes deal with such issues in the primary school curriculum every day but many teachers tell me they find it difficult to fit such programmes into a daily timetable from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

I accept the Minister's point that she is putting a strong emphasis on languages and mathematics, which are important for the country's future development. To go back to the overload, however, teachers are worried that so much responsibility will be put on them that they will not be able to deliver serious aspects of the primary school curriculum.

The current curriculum dates back to 1999, so it is time to review it. However, excellent work is going on in primary schools. I have had an opportunity to visit a number of them in recent days and I saw the great dedication of primary school teachers there. I was in a school in Swords in north County Dublin the other day which was receiving a digital schools of distinction award. I have been to a couple of such award ceremonies. It is great to see how they incorporate IT and use new methodologies to strengthen the way in which they teach core subjects like literacy and numeracy.

However, as the Deputy said, there are many pressures.

People say this, that and the other should be done in primary schools but the important thing is that the curriculum is child-centred and focuses on basic skills like maths and literacy. We must ensure the experience is positive for children. This, essentially, is why the curriculum is being reviewed and why we are having consultations on it.

On reform and dealing with the overload, when we move away from austerity I want to see an end to the moratorium on promotions in schools as this will improve leadership. Teaching principals should have greater release time as this would be valuable in assisting the development of class teachers. Teaching principals perform the roles of teacher, administrator, social worker, security person and, in some disadvantaged schools, bouncer. My point is, overload in this area must be examined now that the economy is seeing better times.

I also welcome the review of the curriculum. While the curriculum has not changed since 1999, some of the teaching methods have changed and this has been very positive. One of the best aspects of this is that we can now identify students with learning difficulties at an earlier age due to changes in the curriculum and how it is taught. Any review should take account of this but it also presents challenges because the recognition of learning difficulties at an earlier age creates the need for resources. My comments complement what the Minister said on the previous question regarding the new model.

On Deputy McGrath's point, my meetings with the Irish Primary Principals' Network, IPPN, and the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, NAPD, have underlined the stressful jobs that principals face. We have worked hard on the recovery of the economy and I hope there will be an education dividend. I will fight strongly for extra resources in the education sector.

On Deputy O'Brien's point, Aistear, the curriculum for children in the range from zero to six years that is used in pre-school and early-years primary school, has brought about significant changes. I compliment teachers because they have been very responsive in adapting to the needs of all children, particularly those with learning difficulties. Primary schools are very inclusive in involving children who may have greater difficulty learning than their peers.

School Funding

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

7. Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Skills the reason funding for primary schools decreased by 15% over the past four years. [45100/14]

This question relates to the need for proper high-speed broadband funding for primary schools and the issue highlights a flaw in the primary education system. Teachers tell me we need to up our game in this area because we have much talent. The Minister earlier noted that many teachers are talented in the area of information technology IT and the same applies to the huge number of highly skilled youngsters.

The Deputy is on Question No. 7.

I apologise, I moved on to Question No. 8 by accident.

It will save Deputy McGrath from making a speech on that later.

The Deputy is running ahead of himself. He is on high-speed broadband.

The Deputy made a Freudian slip. Leave out the incidentals.

I will go back to Question No. 7. I apologise again and ask the Minister why funding for primary schools fell by 15% in the past four years.

Deputy McGrath is very lucky this morning.

He should buy a lottery ticket.

He bought one already.

The Government's focus in recent years has been on operating a budgetary programme that is designed to return the Government finances to a sustainable basis. I appreciate that the measures taken impacted on schools, including the reduction in capitation, and are not sustainable in the longer term. I regard capitation funding as one of the priority areas to be considered for improved funding as the public finances improve on foot of economic recovery.

That was short and sweet. I agree that we must prioritise capitation grants but we must also catch up, given the hits taken by the education sector, particularly primary education, in recent years. The overall hit is 15%. I ask the Minister to focus on three aspects: class sizes, resources for children with disabilities and targeting disadvantage in early education. It has been proved that early intervention works. When I worked in education years ago the Breaking the Cycle programme was initiated by the Minister's former colleague, Ms Niamh Bhreathnach. Huge work was done for schools in disadvantaged areas and the focus was on young children so they would not be lost in the system later. The target must be on educational disadvantage and children with special needs.

On educational disadvantage, we are reviewing the DEIS programme as it has existed for some years. DEIS has done great work but it is time for it to be examined to ensure every element has positive results. Some schools did not qualify for DEIS, particularly schools that did not exist when it was initiated, so the area must be addressed. When I was in Deputy McGrath's position as an Opposition spokesperson I took a strong interest in educational disadvantage and this is an area I will address as Minister.

Broadband Service Provision

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

8. Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Skills if she will provide proper high speed broadband funding for primary schools. [45101/14]

Is this the question on broadband?

Yes, this is on broadband.

The Deputy can press replay.

Now I know how the Minister feels. I ask the Minister to provide proper funding for high-speed broadband in primary schools. I will leave it at that.

I appreciate that quality internet connectivity is essential for good teaching and learning using ICT. While great progress has been made at post-primary level, where every school will shortly have a high-speed connection, I am aware that improvement at primary level is slower and is dependent upon market and technological developments.

Under the schools broadband access programme, my Department provides for the supply of internet connectivity for all recognised primary schools. A new framework involving more providers was put in place in 2012, which will ensure improved solutions are available to schools. In the context of the forthcoming digital strategy for schools, improved connectivity for primary schools will be a priority. In this regard, my Department will collaborate with the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to provide enhanced broadband services.

I welcome the Minister's response because something must be done regarding broadband for primary schools. There are many talented young teachers with great IT skills and a huge number of children are computer literate so the country has a great future in this regard. In the past nine or ten years this has been evident in how young people go on to set up businesses that are important in developing the new Irish economy.

Technology in primary schools for children with special needs is often overlooked. Radical developments have taken place in this area and children with major disabilities find that IT-related services can change their lives.

To give some technical information, the Department is in the process of migrating around 200 schools to next-generation access services that provide minimum download speeds of at least 30 Mbps and up to 100 Mbps, depending on school locations. Speeds are slower in other schools and I acknowledge this. As I said, the strategy will be published shortly. I have seen wonderful things in primary schools; some children can write computer programmes using Scratch, a method of making films and the like. This is all very well when schools have high-speed broadband so we want to roll out the service - it will be fully rolled-out for post-primary schools by the end of this year.

What negotiations has the Minister had with her colleague, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Alex White, following his announcement during the week regarding the roll-out of broadband in areas of the country that will not be serviced by private operators?

The Minister indicated that 200 primary schools will receive higher speed broadband in the near future, but that is less than 10% of all primary schools. Looking at the plan of the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Alex White, it is clear that many primary schools will be waiting until 2020 to receive any serious level of broadband connectivity. Unless we see a serious strategy over and above what he proposes, we will see primary schools unable to avail of the educational opportunities that would be there with broadband.

Class sizes have increased over the last number of years, not just in urban areas but in rural schools also. Has any progress been made to move from a paper-based system in schools to tablets? Some schools are very innovative in regard to that. This matter is more important than broadband as the software can be downloaded onto the tablets in advance of class. The great advantage of tablets is that an academically very bright pupil can proceed ahead in class because the technology allows that. Children who are a bit slower can have the advantage of going at a slower pace rather than to have everyone in the class working at a uniform rate. It can be a huge advantage as a tool for teachers as tablets can facilitate children progressing at different paces. Has the Department made a definitive decision to progress the roll-out of tablets as an education and teaching aid?

I wish to advise Deputy Charlie McConalogue that I will meet the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Alex White, in the next week or two to engage on these issues. Approximately 3.5% of primary schools are still on connections of less than 2 MB, of which approximately half are awaiting the installation of improved services of 8 MB or higher. The other half are the subject of current tenders under the framework. More than 80% of primary school projects will be put out to tender in the first half of 2015 as their current contracts expire. It is expected that this will lead to improved services. We are moving on this albeit I acknowledge that there are schools, particularly in isolated areas and certain parts of the country, where speeds are not as good as they should be.

I note to Deputy Naughten that I would be very encouraging of schools, but we must give them the high speed connections and the resources. We are doing that. I acknowledge that progress has been much better at post-primary level than primary, but it is probably the right approach to ensure that all post-primary schools have high-speed connections as a priority. We are moving in the other area and I have seen examples where school websites are used to communicate with parents and there has been a reduction in paper-based activity. Some schools are doing what Deputy Naughten suggests we should do in all of them.

In an earlier response, I said we hoped to have more resources with the recovery. We have extra funding in education for the first time this year and I intend to ensure that we get more next year. The area referred to by Deputy Naughten will certainly be given attention.

School Absenteeism

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

9. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Education and Skills her plans to share school enrolment data with the Department of Social Protection; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45090/14]

Approximately one in six children misses more than 20 days in school each year. We continue to have a significant problem with truancy. Under the law currently, a parent is not legally entitled to receive child benefit unless the child beneficiary is attending school. I want a tie-up between the Minister's Department and the Department of Social Protection whereby we could threaten to suspend child benefit payments where a child does not attend school. It is a far better use of resources than to tie up the National Educational Welfare Board and the courts in prosecuting parents.

I am happy to have my Department facilitate any request from the Department of Social Protection for data sharing to ensure the effective delivery of public services in a manner which is fully compliant with the requirements of the Data Protection Acts. Earlier this year, my officials met with the Department of Social Protection to explore how data on enrolments could be used for verification purposes in respect of social welfare payments, including for example continued payment of child benefit where children over 16 remain in full-time education. My officials are due to meet further with the Department of Social Protection on this matter.

I note that Deputy Naughten's specific concern is to use this process to address issues about children not going to school. I take that point and will respond further in reply to supplementary questions.

I thank the Minister for her response and I am glad to see that officials from the two Departments are now meeting. That is all well and good in regard to children who are over the age of 16. However, school principals nationally must fill out and return 600,000 letters on a quarterly basis to be issued by the Department of Social Protection to parents asking them to verify that a son or daughter is still within the education system. Would it not make far better sense to use the available technology on school enrolment and the reporting mechanism to the National Educational Welfare Board, or NEWB, where a child misses 20 days from school? Where that could be linked up with the Department of Social Protection, it would eradicate the need to fill out 600,000 letters which constitute enough paper to cover the pitch at Croke Park two and a half times.

Our officials will meet with those of the Department of Social Protection in the near future. Educational Welfare Services, which was formerly known as NEWB, is the statutory body for school attendance and is under the remit of Tusla, which is in turn a body within the remit of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. We are talking therefore about three Departments and perhaps need to engage with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs also. The failure of children to attend school is something the Government feels very strongly about across Departments. We must ensure that there is an effective mechanism to prevent children being deprived of their educational opportunities. My Department is willing to do everything possible in terms of data sharing to ensure that we have an effective system in that regard. I am willing to ensure that the matter is raised in discussions with officials from other Departments.

I thank the Minister for her response. She has hit the nail on the head. The problem is that three Departments are involved - her own Department of Education and Skills, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the Department of Social Protection. Everyone is passing the buck and saying it is an issue for someone else. The fact is that one in six children in our schools is missing more than 20 days a year and some Minister will have to take a leadership role in relation to that. I urge the Minister to take the lead in relation to this. We can make a significant impact on the issue of truancy in the State by linking up the information collected by the Departments of Education and Skills, Children and Youth Affairs, and Social Protection.

All we ask is that the law is enforced and that where parents fail to send their children to school, they are threatened with the suspension of child benefit payments. That is better than to drag them through the courts and ending up in a situation where children lose a year of school before orders can be made to force parents to return their children to the education system.

Educational welfare officers do a very good job to identify these situations and deal with them. Obviously, we have seen court cases and so on. I take the Deputy's point that we must ensure the best possible co-ordination among the three Departments and I undertake to ensure that the necessary discussions are instigated.

Special Educational Needs Service Provision

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

10. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Skills her ongoing provisions and-or proposals to meet the educational requirements of children with special needs at primary and second level; the extent to which adequate places, special needs teachers and special needs assistants are currently provided for and are likely to be augmented in the course of the current year; if her Department has identified any particular deficiencies in areas of population expansion; if urban or rural settings have particular requirements in this regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45092/14]

My question relates to the current and ongoing need for special needs teachers and places and SNAs in schools in both urban and rural settings at all levels.

Expenditure supporting pupils with special educational needs in 2015 will amount to over €1.3 billion, which is equivalent to approximately 17% of the overall allocation for education and training.

These resources have been protected, or in some areas increased, despite requirements to make expenditure savings in other areas. As part of budget 2015, I recently announced that an additional 365 special needs assistant, SNA, posts would be provided in 2015, as well as an additional 480 resource teachers, to take into account increased demand and demographic growth and to ensure that children can continue to have access to additional supports in school. In addition, over 130 new special classes have been established for the 2014-15 school year.

The National Council for Special Education, NCSE, will continue to plan and co-ordinate the provision of education and support services to ensure that the educational requirements of children with special needs can continue to be met in all areas.

I thank the Minister for her reply. Have the Minister or the Department identified the ongoing need in small schools for such facilities, whether special classes or in mainstream classes, in the view of the local authority and community? To what extent does the Minister expect that to be addressed in the context of the budgetary provisions for the current year?

There are 130 new special classes coming on stream and the extra SNAs and resource teachers as I have indicated. The NCSE is consulting on a new model of allocation to ensure that the resources are in the school when the child arrives rather than the parents having to in some cases pay for a diagnosis and wait for the supports to be put in place. We want to ensure that the child is at the centre of this, particularly the special needs child, and that we provide resources, whether in the mainstream class or a special class attached to a mainstream school or, in a small number of cases, in special schools. We have allocated extra resources for this and we will look to provide a more child-centred model.

Do some regions have above average requirements for demographic or other reasons? Will it be possible to address those specifically? I refer to those where there is above average demand for special needs teachers, SNAs, and school accommodation for special facilities.

I do not have figures on the demographics but I can get them for the Deputy if they are available. One area the NCSE is looking to address is to get a sense of the kind of need in a particular area so that schools will be given the resources in accordance with that. It is looking for background data, for example, from the Health Service Executive, HSE, early childhood services where there would be evidence of children with special needs about to go to school who will need certain services. The council will co-ordinate that information to ensure the services are there for the children.

The Deputy is not present to take Question No. 11.

Question No. 11 replied to with Written Answers.

Special Educational Needs Service Provision

Clare Daly

Ceist:

12. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Education and Skills her views regarding whether it is appropriate for special schools to implement a policy of regular suspensions for students with ASD, ADHD and ODD. [45096/14]

All special schools receive enhanced pupil teacher ratios ranging from 6:1, to 12:1, depending on the disability categorisation of pupils attending. These enhanced ratios are provided because pupils attending special schools have very significant special educational needs. Special schools also receive very high levels of special educational needs assistant staffing support.

It is not appropriate for special schools to implement a policy of regular suspensions of pupils. Where a pupil is suspended from a school, a parent may appeal this suspension under section 29 of the Education Act 1998. Where a pupil is suspended from a school for more than six days, or is absent for an aggregate of more than 20 days in the school year, the school is obliged to notify the Educational Welfare Service of the Child and Family Agency of this absence. Advice and support is available for special schools from the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, and the Special Educational Support Service.

I posed this question in the context of a difficult case in my area involving the parents of a young man with severe problems and some behavioural issues who has been to several schools but got a place in a special school. However, because the school did not seem to be able to manage his behaviour, in the parents’ opinion, he was routinely suspended, although the school was supposed to be his place of refuge. The parents have got private applied behaviour analysis, ABA, tutoring for him and have themselves done a lot of work with him and they believe the problem is the way the school is handling him rather than any inherent difficulties in the young man. If a different approach had been adopted, perhaps the results could have been better.

They told me he is an intelligent man in many ways. His learning has been absolutely impacted on by the fact that on many occasions he has been suspended. The idea that it is a school for children with special needs and he has been expelled because of the difficulties arising from those needs does not make any sense. Is that a routine policy? I note what the Minister said about how they may appeal but does this not sound particularly odd in those circumstances?

Parents would be advised to engage with the school in that situation. I presume they have done so. I need to be careful about commenting on a particular case when I do not know its circumstances. In the first instance, the parents would be advised to engage with the school principal and board of management. Under section 21 of the Education (Welfare) Act 2000 the school is required to notify in writing an educational welfare officer where a student is suspended from a recognised school for a period of six days or more or where the aggregate number of school days on which a student is absent from a school during a school year is 20 days or more. On receiving that notification, the educational welfare officer will make all reasonable efforts to ensure that provision is made for the continued education of the child and his or her full participation in school. The educational welfare officer should have a central role in these cases, dealing with the school and possible alternative schools. I referred to section 29 and NEPS is also available. I am not sure whether these bodies have been involved in this case.

The good part of the answer is that suspension should not be the first port of call and should be quite unusual. That reassurance is being sought. The difficulty is that in the opinion of some professionals, which has been sought, regular suspension of a student can demonstrate to him that if he is bold he will get off school the next day which can cause problems. Other penalties such as internal suspension or taking the child out of the immediate environment but keeping him in the school environment and other milder sanctions might be better than leaving him at home with the parents struggling and making it more difficult for them to bring him to school the next day.

We would not like to see expulsion happening easily. That is why there is advice, support and interventions available. I do not know the circumstances of the individual case but if the Deputy wants to engage specifically on that case, we may be able to offer specific advice. As Minister, I cannot comment on it here.

The Deputies asking Questions Nos. 13 and 14 are not present.

Questions Nos. 13 and 14 replied to with Written Answers.

Apprenticeship Programmes

Jonathan O'Brien

Ceist:

15. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Minister for Education and Skills the funding she has allocated to the reform of the apprenticeship system and for introducing new apprenticeship schemes and expanding current schemes. [45119/14]

It is not possible at this stage to accurately estimate the costs associated with the development of new apprenticeships. I have established the Apprenticeship Council which will make a call for proposals, hopefully before the end of this year, from enterprise sectors partnering with education and training providers for the development of new apprenticeships. The amount of financial support required will depend on a number of factors, including the amount of sustainable proposals that come in. We hope that through engagement there will be a lot of interest in this. There is a lot of talk about it and it is up to industry to get involved through the various structures and come back with proposals which will be analysed. That will give us an idea of how many proposals can be moved on to be developed as an apprenticeship model and a fair idea of the costs. As the year progresses, we will get a better idea of this but at the moment it is very hard to project.

We are hoping through engagement that there will be a great deal of interest in this. Certainly, there is a great deal of talk in industry about the need for this development. It is up to industry to get involved here through all the various structures. After it has made its proposals, they will be analysed and dealt with. At that point, we will have an idea of the number of proposals that can be advanced to being developed as apprenticeship models. We will have a fair idea of the costs at that stage. We will get a better feel for this as the year progresses. At the moment, it is very hard to predict how it will develop.

I thank the Minister of State for his answer. The review of the apprenticeship system provides us with huge opportunities. When we discussed this matter at joint committee level, we received very positive feedback from all quarters about the expansion beyond the traditional apprenticeship schemes and targeting of more women, which is also important. I suggest that the focus on secondary skills, such as literacy and numeracy, is the most important aspect of this whole issue. For too long, people who have done apprentice schemes and qualified in a particular trade have suffered as a result of the crash-boom, crash-boom economic cycle in this country. When this country has been in recession, these individuals have been out of a job. They do not have the secondary skills to step aside into a different profession. The focus that is being placed in the new scheme will be of huge benefit. I want to make sure it will be resourced adequately. I think there is huge potential here.

I accept that the Deputy's comments are totally genuine. I think most people are supportive of what we are trying to do here. The Deputy is right. The new design and the new model will cater for that. It will make sure not only that people can build long-term careers on top of their apprenticeship qualifications, but also that much more is covered by the qualifications in the first instance. The costs should not be an issue. It should be possible to cater for numeracy and literacy issues and set the curriculums around the new proposals within the existing budget. We are within that budget at the moment. We are not yet sure of what the cost of the subsequent enterprise engagement will be. It is more than likely that such costs will not come in until towards the end of next year or early in 2016. This system is designed to ensure the other core parts of the education of these people are dealt with through the existing budgets, which are quite sustainable. As the Deputy knows, the budget in this area has been protected. Indeed, there has been a slight increase. It is an area we are focussing on. The idea is that people will not be caught out in the future by virtue of the timing of their skills. It is about having skills that are transferable. The Deputy will agree that the number of apprentices in this country is far too low. I hope this initiative will lead to an increase. I stress that we must see industry involvement here. I think the Deputy will agree with me in this regard. Companies in various sectors are telling us on a weekly basis that they need skills for the future and that they need help. There has to be engagement. Apprenticeships all over the world are based on enterprise engagement. There is a collaboration between education and enterprise. Enterprise must step up in this case.

I concur with what the Minister of State has said. The engagement of enterprise when people are being trained is a critical cog in the success, or potential success, of this scheme. If enterprise comes on board, it will facilitate long-term planning and vision in terms of the courses we are designing. That is critical. We cannot have the system that existed in the past, when people were qualifying in trades that had gone into decline by the time they eventually qualified.

We are seeing an over-abundance of people who are qualified in a particular trade but do not have the necessary secondary skills to transfer to another trade and continue on a progression path in that trade. The engagement of enterprise is critical.

I agree with the Deputy. The composition of the apprenticeship council has been got right. There is a good blend of all the talents on the council. A number of people on the council will have insights into enterprise. They will work alongside representatives of unions and providers, etc. We have the right balance there. I am confident that as a result of all the new reforms and structures - I refer, for example, to the apprenticeship council, SOLAS, the five-year plans and the annual service-level agreements with the education and training boards - the right system is now in place to make this happen. If enterprise is involved in planning and ongoing engagement from an early stage, as Deputy O'Brien has suggested, our predictions should be right and we should no longer be behind the curve from a skills perspective. It is likely that other initiatives will come through from the apprenticeship council model and the call for proposals. Such initiatives might be better suited to a traineeship or some other scheme. We can design and work on that. It is about trying to find out exactly what is needed. We have a fair idea from the work that is going on at the moment. We need to get in the firm proposals. If they are better suited to a different scheme, we will have to tailor them as appropriate. I hope there will be a great deal of interest in this. I hope all the players who have shown an interest in it over the last couple of months will follow through.

I would like to ask a supplementary question on the issue of apprenticeships, which has been raised by Deputy O'Brien. In the past, one of the reasons the semi-State companies were so respected and liked was because they offered a significant number of apprenticeships. Much has been made of the comparison between the development of rural electrification by the ESB and the establishment of Irish Water. The ESB used to offer many apprenticeships. It was an important source of employment throughout County Clare, particularly in Ardnacrusha and Moneypoint. Irish Water does not really offer apprenticeships. As the ESB has become more commercial in its operations, it has not offered the same number of apprenticeships. It does not take on people unless it thinks there is an actual market there for them. Will the apprenticeship council engage with semi-States to see what training opportunities may arise? Even if the semi-State companies do not have a long-term plan to keep those who might be taken on as apprentices, they can fulfil a very important social and educational function by providing apprenticeships. If people have a City & Guilds qualification, it can help them to enter the labour market in Ireland or elsewhere with a view to coming back to Ireland at a later stage.

I am glad to confirm for the Deputy that we have spoken at length about the need to ensure the semi-State companies have a role in this initiative. I remind the House that the new chairman of the apprenticeship council comes from a semi-State body. The chief executive of the ESB is the chairman of the council. That appointment was made to ensure we have the necessary engagement in this area. As I said earlier, we want to make sure all the sectors are at the table when the council is making decisions. That will make them step up to the mark as well. In addition to advancing this initiative through the semi-State companies, we are also trying to see how we can use State contracts to address certain needs. We discussed that at a management meeting yesterday. I refer, for example, to social clauses like that which applies in the case of the Grangegorman site. A certain number of apprentices could be required. I am glad to say that the Office of Public Works started another round of apprenticeships in the last couple of months. In many of these cases, the number of places dried up in the last while. A number of new apprenticeships have been made available in the Office of Public Works. That is a key area for the development of talents. There has been a general increase in apprenticeships in all the trades. Deputy McNamara is right. We will monitor this to ensure the State bodies are involved.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.