St. Gabriel's special school in Bishopstown, County Cork, provides education for 43 special needs children with very severe and profound diagnoses of autism. That includes intellectual disability with autism, probably the most severe and profound condition that is catered for in the education system. These are children who should be our number one priority, but they are being neglected by the Government in their need for a new school building. The parents say they feel forgotten. The existing school building has huge issues. It is substandard. The bathroom is not big enough for wheelchairs to fit, there is no hot running water, the roof leaks, there are no dedicated toilets for children with medical needs, there is a lack of infection control and the sensory room is in a windowless outbuilding. I could go on. The parents are now crowdfunding for €200,000. Parents of a school of 43 children with severe and profound conditions are attempting to raise €200,000 to carry out repairs to make the school habitable.
That school is illustrative of many other schools throughout the country, both special schools and mainstream primary schools. Parents all over the country are raising money for the day-to-day expenditure needed to keep schools going. Quite simply, the capitation grant is not anywhere near sufficient to meet the costs of running a school. According to the chief inspector's report, spending per pupil in Ireland is less than the European Union average or Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD, average. According to a recent Grant Thornton report, the capitation grant now covers approximately 52% of the cost of running a school, depending on whether the school is small, medium or large. In all cases however, we are looking at situations where the capitation is much less than what is actually necessary. The average capitation grant of €46,000 in 2016 was clearly insufficient to meet the average general expenditure costs of about €91,000. This includes the heating expenditure and all the basic operational costs. Voluntary schools at secondary level are in a similar situation. I visited several secondary schools recently. Maintenance costs are a big issue for them. They do not have the day-to-day resources to meet them.
The programme for Government includes a commitment to multi-annual increases in capitation grants and funding for schools under a number of headings, but it has not been implemented. Last year we forced the Government to act on the pupil-teacher ratio as part of the confidence and supply agreement, but the Government was resistant on the issue of capitation for some reason. I would say there are three ways to bring some ease to schools. One is to commit in the next budget to a phased increase in the capitation rate for schools. Second, the minor works grant scheme should be a permanent feature as a non-discretionary payment to schools by the Government and this should be provided for statutorily as an annual payment, not just something that may happen next year or the following year. Similarly, summer work schemes should be annual and should be fixed in order that schools can plan with some degree of certainty as to the income that will help them to meet the day-to-day running costs and repair and maintenance costs.