Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

School Services Staff

Kathleen Funchion


32. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Education and Skills his views on whether the working conditions and pay of school secretaries should reflect the work they do in view of the role they play in the running of schools; his plans to support the improvement of working conditions for school secretaries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2767/19]

My question also relates to the working conditions and pay of school secretaries and if the Minister believes the pay and conditions should reflect the work done by school secretaries and the role they play in the running of schools, the Minister's plans to support the improvement of working conditions for school secretaries, and if he will make a statement on the matter.

We are in the same space as the previous question on this matter. I will pick out a couple of important elements of the answer but will not go over the whole thing again because I already have put it on record.

Schemes were initiated in 1978 and 1979 for the employment of clerical officers, and caretakers were included in that bundle. These schemes were withdrawn completely in 2008. On foot of a chairman’s note to the Lansdowne Road agreement, my Department engaged with the unions representing school secretaries and caretakers, including through an independent arbitration process in 2015. The arbitrator recommended a cumulative pay increase of 10% between 2016 and 2019 for staff and that a minimum hourly pay rate of €13 be phased in over that period. This arbitration agreement covers the period up to 31 December 2019. We are now at January 2019. My officials have advised me that the Workplace Relations Commission has not been in communication with the representative organisations yet. Obviously, with both Deputies raising the matter in the Chamber today I am sure that will happen sooner rather than later.

I thank the Minister. He will be aware of the Fórsa campaign to support the school secretaries. There is quite an active campaigner in the Minister's constituency who has been on to the Minister regularly. I know that nobody takes the service for granted but the school secretary really plays an integral role in the running of a school. They are the first point of contact for everybody and if there is any sort of an issue the school secretary is usually the first person to contact the parents, and vice versa if a parent needed to come into the school or if there is an emergency or for any sort of general day-to-day issues with the school. I believe we all agree that the person with whom one deals the most is the school secretary.

School secretaries have a huge workload, which is not limited to the daily tasks. They must also take on the task of dealing with parents and dealing with issues, some of which are very difficult. In certain cases there is a two-tier situation and in some schools there may be two secretaries with different working conditions. Some 10% are on the scheme where they are paid directly by the Department and the remaining 90% are paid through the ancillary grant. Obviously we cannot allow this situation to continue. We really need to recognise the vital role they play. Many schools would not survive without them. One would always know if the school secretary had been out for a few days because things can start to run behind a bit.

It is a very important issue and one that has run on for years. We met campaigners on the issue last week and some of them have been involved in the campaign for ten, 15 or 20 years.

Does the Minister agree it is extremely regrettable that in many cases, valuable people in a school such as school secretaries still must routinely go onto social welfare for the summer, Christmas and Easter holidays? They lose their income when the schools are not open. All Members, and especially those who are parents, have experience of the work school secretaries, who are largely women, do. These women have to go on the dole in those situations. Whatever about that happening ten or 20 years ago, it is not appropriate in an Ireland that has now recovered from some of the very difficult economic things that happened - as the Government keeps telling us. Would the Minister agree that he does not want to see any school secretary being forced to lose his or her job and go on the dole during summer, Christmas or Easter holidays and to have no status as an experienced worker, many of whom have given service to schools for decades, as we have heard at the Fórsa presentation?

Without going over what I said earlier, the figure of €8.65 per hour up to 2015 speaks for itself. To get to the rate of €13 per hour in January of this year cost an extra €22.5 million.

Deputy Burton mentioned that there is a break in their contracts in the summertime and that many of them may possibly end up working longer than that during the summer. We all know how committed these people are. The discussion is now being held in the correct place. It has been debated on many occasions in this House over many decades, but we now have industrial relations mechanisms in place and the Workplace Relations Commission's recommendations. Once we receive the invitation to be a part of those discussions, we will be happy to do that.

School Accommodation Provision

Thomas Byrne


33. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans to provide more post-primary spaces in Dunshaughlin, County Meath and primary places in Ashbourne, County Meath; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2722/19]

My question is two-pronged and concerns school provision in my constituency. I have asked about post-primary provision in Dunshaughlin, which the Minister will be aware of because I have mentioned it to him previously. I have mentioned it to his officials and I am sure colleagues from his own party have said it to him too. There is huge pressure on post-primary provision in Dunshaughlin. We still await a decision from the Department about accommodation for Dunshaughlin Community College. A review of the situation in Ashbourne and the possible need for a further primary school there has been under way for some time. I have raised that issue previously, which is why the review is taking place. Can the Minister provide an update on that review?

I acknowledge the Deputy for his creative approach to this question. In April 2018, the Government announced plans for the establishment of 42 new schools over the next four years, that is, from 2019 to 2022. The announcement followed nationwide demographic exercises carried out by my Department into the future needs for primary and post-primary schools across the country.

Where demographic data indicate that additional provision is required, the delivery of such additional provision is dependent on the particular circumstances of each case and may, depending on the circumstances, be provided through either one or a combination of the following options, namely, utilising existing unused capacity within a school or schools, extending the capacity of a school or schools and the provision of a new school or schools.

In addition to the new schools announced, there will be a need for further school accommodation in other areas in the future. Approximately 40% of extra school places are delivered by extending existing schools.

While the announcement did not include a new post-primary school for the Dunshaughlin school planning area, the requirement for new schools will be kept under ongoing review and will have regard for the increased roll-out of housing provision as outlined in Project Ireland 2040.

My Department undertook a review of the position in respect of primary provision for the Ashbourne school planning area in the latter half of 2018. The Department considers that there is a need for increased capacity in the area in the short term and over the medium to long term, taking account of residential development in the area. The Department’s approach to achieving this in the first instance is through the expansion of existing provision, and engagement is ongoing in this regard. The Department expects this engagement to conclude over the coming weeks.

I am very disappointed with the response on the issue of provision for Ashbourne. We have been waiting for this review for some time. The Minister has said that there is a need for more provision. I know that. As I understood it, the review was supposed to decide whether there should be another school in Ashbourne. I know that departmental officials have engaged with principals of schools in Ashbourne. I bumped into them last summer. The truth is that it is virtually impossible to expand the existing schools there. The Minister knows that and it is known that one of them certainly cannot be expanded due to where it is located. I was expecting an answer one way or the other, rather than more engagement on the issue. The engagement happened six months ago.

I received a query to my office today concerning primary school places in Ashbourne from people who received a council house there. Their children go to school elsewhere but their children cannot get a place at a school in Ashbourne. I received another email, on the day this matter arose at the Joint Committee on Education and Skills, from a constituent whose child could not get into a primary school in Ashbourne. It must be said - and perhaps this is why the Department does not seem to be worried about the issue - that this problem often arises for people with eastern European or African backgrounds. These children are Irish citizens, are resident here and are as entitled to satisfaction of their constitutional right to education as anyone else. What is happening here is utter discrimination from the Minister's Department. Because these children generally come from families which do not speak English at home, it does not matter and officialdom does not seem to care about them. That is a fact. If the situation was that children from Irish backgrounds were shouting and screaming about this, we would hear a lot more about it from the Minister. This has to change. There is a particular problem in Ashbourne and the Department is turning a blind eye to it.

I completely disagree with the last part of the Deputy's contribution. There is no evidence whatsoever of discrimination, whether we are dealing with new migrants or Irish people. The measures being used make use of mathematical data and GIS data from Ordnance Survey Ireland, as well as statistics from the Central Statistics Office. We use the raw data and analyse the numbers. There also is an important element of forward planning, and the people holding that information are the local authorities. Meath County Council will know the projected data in terms of planning and residential development. If the Deputy is suggesting that there will be extra demand because of extra residential building, that will be factored into the review, which will be completed in a couple of weeks. I do not know what the outcome of that review will be; I have not been a part of that. Departmental officials have been doing the enumeration in that regard. The Department looks at the broader spectrum of population and I can categorically state there is no two-tiered system for looking after young people in this country.

The Minister will forgive me if I do not express full confidence in his forward planning section. To be honest, until recent months the Department of Education and Skills was only taking into account local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, developments, which were specific developments which received special funding for roads and infrastructure from the Government. It did not take into account all of the planning permissions and rezoning that had occurred in Dunshaughlin, for example. It simply was not working in the correct way. The system was changed subsequently. Meath County Council was quite shocked at the requests it received from the Department. It is a fact that while many children from various backgrounds are affected by the shortage of primary school places in Ashbourne, the majority of those who contact me are people from families whose first language is not English and who do not have access to information. These people, for their own reasons, are not prepared to send their children to a Gaelscoil. I raised the issue of a particular family on television in September 2016. They live in Ashbourne; one parent was Slovak and the other was Polish. They were trying to teach their child English but were offered a place in a Gaelscoil. This is what is happening and it is about time that the Minister opened his eyes to it. If it is happening in Ashbourne, it is happening in other towns as well. We must make sure that everybody, from every background, is afforded proper provision for their education and that the Department knows exactly who is moving into towns so that we can provide a proper education for them. Every time I raise this issue, I am contacted by another person in the same situation, by pure coincidence. This is what is happening on the ground. The demand is there.

I am happy for an official from the Department to make contact with Meath County Council in order to look at the specific areas Deputy Thomas Byrne has highlighted. I assume that conversation is ongoing anyway because the Department is trying to collect the data and projecting building requirements into the future.

One of the most interesting, significant and positive things about this country is the way in which we embrace new communities. We have done it really well. For example, at St. Luke's national school in Tyrrelstown there are many migrant communities which work together in an inclusive way. In my own constituency, I attended a school last Friday in Letterkenny where 32 different nationalities are represented. We have embraced new communities. People are living side by side and communities are working together, and much of the credit for that is due to the school system. The Department of Education and Skills, long before I became Minister, had been working on that to ensure that we provide a totally inclusive education for all young people.

Apprenticeship Data

Fiona O'Loughlin


34. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Minister for Education and Skills the status of his plans to improve the participation of women in apprenticeships; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2732/19]

My question concerns apprenticeships. It is true to say that Ireland is lagging far behind many other EU countries in terms of the scale and diversity of apprenticeships currently on offer here. Traditionally there has been an emphasis on craft apprenticeships. That has changed recently. I am most concerned with the fact that only 2% of the total population of apprentices are female. It is the most unequal gender statistic in the State. What practical action has been taken since Fianna Fáil raised this issue in a Private Members' Bill?

Several reports have highlighted that the number of women employed in craft apprenticeships is low, reflecting the traditionally low levels of female employment in the craft sectors. While SOLAS offers a bursary to craft employers to encourage them to employ female apprentices, the uptake by women is still low. However, in recent years there has been an increase in the number of women participating in apprenticeships overall, mainly because of the expansion of apprenticeship into new areas. Many of the programmes are in occupations that have a greater gender balance in the workplace such as financial services and others. At the end of 2018 there were 341 female apprenticeships registered, more than double the 2017 figure of 151. I accept that the number is still low relative to the uptake of apprenticeships in general. While this is welcome, it remains important to address issues influencing the low level of recruitment of women in the craft sectors. SOLAS has completed a review of the pathways to participation in apprenticeship for under-represented groups, including women. Areas highlighted for action include setting targets for female participation, consideration of extending the craft employer bursary to other apprenticeships that have less than 20% female participation and a specific focus on female participation as part of the generation apprenticeship national promotional campaign. Women now feature prominently in all aspects of the national promotional campaign. In the campaign there is a specific focus on encouraging women and girls to consider apprenticeships as a means of launching and developing their careers. The forthcoming review of career guidance will focus on encouraging the consideration of apprenticeship options by students at all levels.

We launched 17 apprenticeships last year. We must take things in perspective, including the size of the country, from where we have come and the population compared to that of larger countries. We now have 40 apprenticeships. The number of apprenticeships has increased considerably in recent years. The national programme for apprenticeships was launched two years ago and has been highly successful in advertising apprenticeships in all aspects of the workplace. I agree that the number of women participating is low, but there has been a doubling of apprenticeships for women this year compared to last year. The action plan to expand the numbers of apprenticeships and trainees in Ireland in the period from 2016 to 2020 is in place. We are on track considering the size of the economy.

We are not on track with time. We will come back to the Minister of State.

It is good to see some movement on the matter. However, let us compare the statistics with those in our nearest neighbour, England. In 2016-17, 54% of all apprenticeships there were taken up by women, a sizeable number. The number of women starting apprenticeships in England has been higher than the number of men every year since 2010-11. We can learn a great deal from this.

In general, we need to do more in promoting apprenticeships. We saw the results of the survey unveiled recently showing the number of young people leaving third level before the end of first year. The increased emphasis on career guidance and the pathway through apprenticeships should help. We engaged on this issue at the Joint Committee on Education and Skills where Nessa White, the chief executive of Education and Training Boards Ireland, spoke about a video that her organisation had made about a woman who had started an apprenticeship as a welder. It attracted a good deal of interest to the area, but we need to do more to seek out female role models. Without a shadow of a doubt, we need to put more supports in place. When we brought the Private Members' Bill before the House in November, the Ministers were supportive of it. The Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, used the opportunity to promote the grant scheme for female apprenticeships. What practical additional measures will be put in place to incentivise employers and women to take up these positions?

I will give some statistics. Women are strongly represented in the financial sector, in which 45% of the participants are female. The corresponding figures are 60% in accounting and technical services and 45% in auctioneering and property services. One incentive we put in place was the promotion of a bursary. I am unsure whether the Deputy is aware of it, but it incentivised employers to employ women. SOLAS offers a bursary – I gather it is for a sum of €2,666 – to eligible employers to encourage them to employ female apprenticeships in any of the craft apprenticeships. It applies at the relevant education and training board rate of €95 per week. I have asked those responsible to consider increasing the bursary and believe we will do so. As set out in the action plan for apprenticeships and traineeships in Ireland, SOLAS has completed a review of the pathways to participation in apprenticeships. The purpose of the review was to ensure the national apprenticeship system would be more reflective of the range and diversity among the population, but it will take some time. Last year and the year before we had fewer women involved, but we have doubled the number since we put in place the incentives and initiatives mentioned to attract more women into apprenticeships. I am confident that within the next year the number will double again. We are taking a step forward.

I accept what the Minister of State is saying. I am aware of the bursary. I mentioned that it was in place. I accept that the number has doubled and that we are now at a figure of 4%, which is still rather low, given that 96% of apprentices are men. Although we can see progress, far more has to be done. Although the bursary is in place, far more must be done for women who wish to take up apprenticeships. The provision of adequate supports must be facilitated through organisations such as SOLAS and ETBI, as well as the FIT initiative, with which we engaged recently. All of the State training agencies should help the relevant apprenticeship groups that are under-represented. People with disabilities are also under-represented. Only 1.5% of those involved in apprenticeships have a disability. It is important that we look at them as an under-represented group. This is possibly where we need to work with employers to put in place incentives to ensure we will have genuine equity and equality across the board.

We have incorporated the national census question about disability into the apprenticeship registration process as a means of gathering more robust data for participation levels. My Department has now set annual targets for diverse participation in apprenticeships. They include targets for the participation of those with a disability and women. The aim under the action plan is to have 600 female apprenticeships by 2019 and 1,000 by 2020. This is a slow process bearing in mind where we were and the low number of women who were involved in apprenticeships.

It is important to note that when we make a call for apprenticeships, it is done across all diverse groups. We have been taking into consideration the low uptake by females and disability groups in the apprenticeship market, but it is happening and the numbers are increasing. SOLAS, my Department and others, including Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland and all other agencies, are aware that we need to get more women into the workforce. In particular, we need to get more women involved in apprenticeships. I am convinced. My aim and that of my Department is to double the numbers. If we reach our quota of 600 next year, we will have doubled the number of female apprenticeships for two years in a row, which would be a really good step forward.

Schools Building Projects Status

Martin Heydon


35. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Education and Skills to outline the status of and progress on the new school building planned for a school (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2744/19]

I raise a school issue of great importance in south Kildare. St. Paul's secondary school in Monasterevin has a major school building project, of which the Minister will be aware, as I have raised the matter with him since he took up office. As you will be well aware, a Cheann Comhairle, the latest delay in the project occurred in November. The project has been beset by numerous delays, not all of which have been of the Department's making. The latest delay in November was due to a legal challenge to the pre-qualification process. Teachers, parents and pupils in Monasterevin are desperate to receive assurances that the project will proceed as soon as possible. I would appreciate any update the Minister could provide for the House on this important matter.

Does Deputy O'Loughlin wish to comment also?

I will come in afterwards.

I appreciate the frustration on this matter and I will try to reassure the parents and the community. The major building project for this school is at an advanced stage of architectural planning, stage 2b – detailed design, which includes the applications for planning permission, fire certification and disability access certification and the preparation of tender documents. All statutory approvals have been obtained.

The outcome of the pre-qualification process for the main contract has been notified to contractors who expressed interest in tendering for this project. Feedback and issues arising from this have resulted in a legal challenge to the pre-qualification process for the main contact from one unsuccessful contractor. This matter is being handled on my Department's behalf by the Office of the Chief State Solicitor. The Deputy will appreciate that as there is an ongoing legal challenge to the project, it is not possible for my Department to comment further at present. When the pre-qualification process for the main contract and reserved specialists contracts can be successfully concluded, the project will then be progressed to tender stage.

Regarding the site, legal representatives for both parties are working together with a view to concluding the conveyancing. There has been significant progress recently on foot of close and intense engagement from all parties. All parties continue the work to ensure the acquisition completes at the earliest possible date, and at this point it is still not anticipated that the completion of conveyancing will impact on the timelines for delivery of the building project.

The Department met representatives of the school last month to update them on the ongoing legal challenge and the status of progress on the project and will continue to engage with the school. I wish to emphasise that my Department is fully committed to getting the project delivered as quickly as possible.

I welcome the Minister's commitment that this is a top priority. That is what the parents, pupils and staff in St. Paul's want to hear. The principal and the chair of the board of management were resassured after meeting officials from the Department last month. Nevertheless, these are exceptional circumstances. I do not think I have ever come across a school project which was hit by so many delays for various reasons over the years. Just when we thought we could see light with construction commencing in the third quarter of 2019, as hoped, this latest legal challenge, which is outside the Minister's control, has caused further delay. We now need more prefabs in September, but there is no space on the grounds. What was once a hallway is now a classroom. The staff are excellent and there is a great spirit among the pupils in this school but many of these pupils entered first year thinking by the end of their six years, they would see a new school, and are starting to wonder if this will be the case. They require reassurance that this is the Department's top priority and everything will be done to progress it as soon as possible.

I add my voice to this issue. I had a meeting about St. Paul's in Monasterevin with the Minister and the forward planning unit in Tullamore. The situation in which the students and teachers find themselves is deplorable. Were this a private organisation or company, I do not doubt that it would be closed on several health and safety grounds. Some 160 boys have the use of only two toilets for the full day. There are no PE facilities or proper lunch facilities and there is a very bad situation regarding the use of their small hall. This has been ongoing for ten years. While Kildare County Council and the Department of Education and Skills have had to deal with several issues over time, the court date has now been put back three times, with the next date down for 28 January. The Minister can do nothing about that but this is a crisis for St. Paul's. The sod must be turned so that we know that the school building will happen. I understand that the land has not yet been signed over to the Department of Education and Skills and to St. Paul's. I and other Deputies have been reassured that this will not stand in the way of the school progressing, but we need reassurance on this matter.

I thank both Deputies for their interventions. Conveyancing is ongoing but I will outline the chronology of events which has contributed to frustration on this. The Office of the Chief State Solicitor is handling the matter on behalf of the Department of Education and Skills. The first listing of the motion for return before the High Court was on Monday, 5 November 2018. The matter was adjourned on that date at the request of counsel for the Department until 26 November and by consent with the registrar to allow sufficient time to assess all options. On that date, the matter was adjourned for a further two weeks until 10 December, as the Deputies are aware. On 10 December, the matter was adjourned until Monday 14 January 2019. On that date, the matter was adjourned for a further two weeks until 28 January. It is anticipated that further adjournments will not be required, and I hope that is the case. The Department continues to liaise with the Office of the Chief State Solicitor on all options. Most importantly, my officials will remain in touch with the school. I thank both Deputies for raising this issue, which I am sure is also of interest to the Ceann Comhairle.

That is putting it mildly.

I thank the Minister for his response. There is great hope that there will not be further adjournments. There may be legal requirements and we must ensure that the Department's next move is the right one, as there cannot be further delays on this. People get very nervous when matters are in the courts in case they lose control of the process. Hopefully there will be no further adjournment on 28 January and we can get some clarity. It is important that the Office of the Chief State Solicitor and the Department work closely.

I acknowledge the Minister's point relating to significant progress being made recently on conveyancing; however, everyone will relax more when that is over the line. I hope that there will be significant progress on this by the time the Minister is next before the House for ministerial questions. This must remain a top priority because the staff and pupils of Monasterevin do not deserve this. We must work doubly hard to resolve this as soon as possible.

We hope to get things over the line and move on so that we can complete the pre-qualification stage. Then we can move into the tender stage, which takes seven to eight months. I and the Department officials will ensure that it remains a top priority.

Scoileanna Gaeltachta

Catherine Connolly


36. D'fhiafraigh Deputy Catherine Connolly den Aire Oideachais agus Scileanna céard é stádas an phróisis chun aitheantas mar scoil Ghaeltachta a bhaint amach; cén líon scoileanna breise a chuir iarratas isteach chuig an aonad um oideachas Gaeltachta sa Roinn roimh an 1 Meitheamh 2018; agus an ndéanfaidh sé ráiteas ina thaobh. [2664/19]

Tá ceist dhíreach simplí agam i ndáiríre. Cad é stádas an phróisis chun aitheantas mar scoil Ghaeltachta a bhaint amach agus, go háirithe, cad é líon na scoileanna breise a chuir iarratas isteach chuig an aonad um oideachas Gaeltachta roimh 1 Meitheamh 2018? Sin an síneadh ama a bhí i gceist chun deis a thabhairt do na scoileanna iarratas a chur isteach.

Gabhaim buíochas don Teachta fá choinne na ceiste. Tá feidhmiú na scéime aitheantais scoileanna Gaeltachta i mbunscoileanna agus in iar-bhunscoileanna Gaeltachta mar phríomh thiomantas sa pholasaí um oideachas Gaeltachta 2017-2022. Seoladh an scéim i mí Aibreáin 2017 leis an iarAire Bruton agus liom féin chun deis a chur ar fáil do scoileanna i limistéir phleanála teanga na Gaeltachta aitheantas a ghnóthú mar scoileanna Gaeltachta bunaithe ar shainchritéir teanga-bhunaithe a chur i bhfeidhm agus ar an gcoinníoll go mbíonn siad páirteach sna próisis teanga-bhunaithe a bhfuil foráil déanta dóibh in Acht na Gaeltachta, 2012.

Tá 133 bunscoil agus 28 iar-bhunscoil lonnaithe sna limistéir phleanála teanga Ghaeltachta. Tá 106 bunscoil agus 27 iar-bhunscoil ag iarraidh aitheantas mar scoileanna Gaeltachta a bhaint amach trína bheith rannpháirteach sa scéim. I mí na Nollag foilsíodh tuarascáil a thugann achoimre ar thuairimí na scoileanna maidir le feidhmiú na scéime, de réir mar a tuairiscíodh do na cigirí le linn na gcuairteanna comhairleacha chuig na scoileanna. Léiríodh go bhfuil na scoileanna ag glacadh go dearfach leis an scéim.

Níl iarratas curtha isteach ag 27 bunscoil agus ag iar-bhunscoil amháin chuig an Roinn chun páirt a ghlacadh sa scéim aitheantais scoileanna Gaeltachta. Tugadh deis bhreise in Imlitreacha 0021/2018 agus 0022/2018 do na scoileanna nár léirigh spéis sa scéim foirm um léiriú spéise a chur isteach chuig an aonad um oideachas Gaeltachta sa Roinn roimh an 1 Meitheamh 2018.

Níor léirigh aon scoil sa bhreis spéis sa scéim roimh an 1 Meitheamh 2018.

Le déanaí, eisíodh litreacha chuig príomhoidí agus boird bhainistíochta na scoileanna nach bhfuil sa scéim go fóill ag leagan amach na buntáistí a bhaineann le bheith rannpháirteach sa scéim. Tá cuairteanna comhairleacha cigireachta eagraithe do na scoileanna seo ag an aonad um oideachas Gaeltachta, agus tabharfar deis eile do na scoileanna seo spéis a léiriú sa scéim go gairid. Mar iarAire Stáit sa Roinn Cultúir, Oidhreachta agus Gaeltachta, tá an Ghaeilge agus teagasc na Gaeilge inár scoileanna ar fad mar thosaíocht i mo ról mar Aire Oideachais agus Scileanna.

Bhí a fhios againn faoin stair agus faoin gcúlra. Tá a fhios agam go bhfuil an polasaí seo, a d'fhoilsíodh breis agus dhá bhliain ó shin, thar a bheith dearfach. Don chéad uair riamh, tá straitéis chuimsitheach do scoileanna sa Ghaeltacht agus tá fís leagtha síos. Níl mé ag easaontú le haon rud sa pholasaí mar is iontach an polasaí é. Aithnítear sa pholasaí sin go bhfuil stádas na Gaeilge, go háirithe sa Ghaeltacht, thar a bheith goilliúnach. Aithnítear freisin an ról lárnach atá ag scoileanna. Is é croílár na straitéise i ndáiríre ná an ról lárnach atá ag na scoileanna chun an Ghaeilge a sheachadadh don chéad ghlúin eile agus don phobal. Tá díomá orm nach bhfuil aon dul chun cinn déanta ón uair dheireanach a chuir mé an cheist. Thug an t-iarAire an freagra céanna - go raibh 133 bunscoil i gceist agus go raibh 106 iarratas curtha isteach as an bhfigiúr sin, agus go raibh 28 iar-bhunscoil i gceist agus go raibh ceann amháin tar éis iarratas a chur isteach. Tugadh síneadh ama, ach níl aon dul chun cinn déanta ar chor ar bith. Sin é an scéal anois. Níl dul chun cinn déanta maidir leis na scoileanna sin.

Maidir leis an gcúlra, tháinig an scéim seo isteach sa bhliain 2017 agus bhí €1 milliún ar fáil fá choinne na scéime. Bhí suas le €2.3 milliún ar fáil anuraidh agus beidh suas le €5 milliún i gceist i mbliana. Aontaím leis an Teachta maidir le tábhacht na scéime seo. Bhí mé i gcúpla bunscoil sna ceantair Ghaeltachta roimh an Nollaig. Tá siad ag bogadh ar aghaidh agus ag treabhadh ar aghaidh. Níl aon mhíbhuntáiste le feiceáil leis an scéim seo. Tá 27 bunscoil taobh amuigh den scéim. Tuigim na deacrachtaí. Má tá breis comhairle nó sonraí suntasacha de dhíth, tá mé anseo. Tá mé ag iarraidh mo chuid tuairimí agus mo chuid pointí maidir leis na rudaí dearfacha atá le baint amach ón scéim seo a chur in iúl ar na meáin phobail. Ní bheidh mé ag déanamh stiúrthóireachta ar son na scoileanna. Má tá smaointe ag an Teachta faoin bhealach is fearr leis an scéim seo a bhaint amach i gcomhthéacs an iar-bhunscoil amháin agus na 27 bunscoil atá taobh amuigh den scéim, ba mhaith liom iad a chloisteáil. Tá sé thar a bheith tábhachtach agus thar a bheith dearfach go bhfuil daoine óga ag labhairt trí Ghaeilge agus ag déanamh comhrá trí Ghaeilge. Tá dearcadh dearfach agam maidir leis an scéim seo. Tá mise agus mo chuid oifigeach tiomanta nach mbeidh aon rudaí diúltacha i gceist maidir leis. B'fhéidir go bhfuil tuairimí ag an Teachta maidir leis na scoileanna a bheidh i gceist ina contae féin.

Ní féidir liom easaontú. Níl aon mhíbhuntáiste ag baint leis an scéim seo. Níl ach buntáistí i gceist leis an dátheangachas, go háirithe i gcomhthéacs na Gaeilge. Tá díomá orm go bhfuil 27 bunscoil tar éis diúltú iarratas a chur isteach. Níos tábhachtaí, cad atá déanta ag an Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna chun na scoileanna seo a mhealladh i dtreo na scéime seo? Is é sin an rud. Is mór an uimhir é 27. Dúradh linn breis is seacht mí ó shin go mbeadh síneadh ama i gceist. Cad atá déanta sa tréimhse sin? An bhfuil anailís ar bith déanta chun a fháil amach cén fáth an bhfuil drogall ar 27 bunscoil agus iar-bhunscoil amháin iarratas a chur isteach. An féidir leis an Aire tuilleadh sonraí a thabhairt dom maidir leis an achoimre a luaigh sé? An bhfuil sé le fáil?

Bhí mo Roinn i dteagmháil leis na scoileanna chun sonraí breise a fháil uathu, más féidir. Tá an doras oscailte. Tá an scéim oscailte do na 27 bunscoil agus an iar-bhunscoil amháin. Má tá aon fhadhb, deacracht nó rud crua ag tarlú taobh istigh de na scoileanna seo - má tá imní ar an scoil nó ar phobal na scoile - tá mé ar fáil. Tá an cuireadh ginearálta tugtha agam. Níor oibrigh an bata mór san am atá thart agus ní bheidh mé ag úsáid an bata mór ag an am seo. Má tá fadhbanna ann, tá mé sásta plean a chur le chéile le mo chuid oifigeach chun na sonraí a bhaint amach.

English Language Training Organisations

Fiona O'Loughlin


37. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Minister for Education and Skills the position with regard to the provision of mediation for English language school teachers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2731/19]

My question is on the provision of mediation for English language school teachers. Will the Minister of State make a statement on the matter?

I thank the Deputy for asking this question. Before I answer, I pay tribute to her for her work on the Committee on Education and Skills, from which she knows that we are progressing the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) (Amendment) Bill 2018. English language teaching is important to Ireland. It is also important to the students who come here to study the language if we are to ensure that they have a good experience and receive quality teaching.

We want to ensure that teachers are qualified and are treated properly, fairly and consistently by their employers. To this end, I recently appointed Mr. Patrick King, the former general secretary of the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland, ASTI, as a mediator for the sector. He is meeting the employer and employee representative bodies to identify and discuss relevant issues. Recently, I wrote to 119 of the schools in question inviting them to meet Mr. King. His objective is to explore whether there is scope for a set of minimum employment standards that could be agreed for the sector, that is, registered employment agreements, REAs. These efforts complement what I was doing in the Seanad just before Christmas when it debated the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) (Amendment) Bill. A date in early February has been set for returning to the Seanad.

For interested parties that might be listening in, including those to which we have written, we are encouraging them to submit their views on relevant issues. These submissions will assist the mediator in his work. A dedicated email address is now open to receive submissions: elemediation@education.gov.ie.

I wish Mr. King well in his work and I encourage all relevant stakeholders to engage meaningfully with him. It is in all of our interests to strengthen the quality of English language provision in Ireland.

I thank the Minister for her kind words on the work we do at the committee and for her update on the area of mediation. We must acknowledge that the English language teaching sector has been blighted in recent years with some schools closing overnight without any notice impacting on vulnerable students, many of whom were left in a situation with very poor English and having paid very significant fees to those schools. We must also acknowledge the situation of the teachers involved. In early December, in the case of Grafton College, 35 teachers were left without jobs and 20 teachers did not even receive their previous pay into their bank accounts. It is a difficult situation.

The Minister mentioned the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) (Amendment) Bill 2018. I accept that the Bill is before the Seanad but my party is not happy that there is no stakeholder engagement. It came up at the Joint Committee on Education and Skills also that we would prefer that there would be stakeholder engagement on this Bill.

I apologised to the Deputy previously because that was a mistake made with the Department during August. Apologies for that.

I was shocked at what happened with Grafton College and to the students, although they came under the students' assistance fund, but also to the teachers. That is why I, with my officials, whom I thank, really pushed that we put this together. We have now engaged Mr. Pat King and I am confident that at least now there is a mediation process.

I ask those who own the schools to engage. If we have a quality product, that will only help all the various stakeholders. It is embarrassing to see schools go to the wall and fail. We do not want that to happen. As I said, we want to have a quality product for students.

I wanted to ensure that teachers in such schools know that they will be paid and that there are proper financial structures behind them because currently we are not sure of that. All of that will happen under the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) (Amendment) Bill 2018. The Deputy will be aware I am bringing in the international education mark. For a school to get an international education mark, it will have to show its books and the background of the school. As a result, we will be altogether more confident in what is happening.

I agree with the Minister that engagement is crucial. We should have as much engagement as possible to ensure that we have a good Bill which when enacted will protect both the students and the teachers.

I acknowledge the inclusion of a fund in the Bill to protect the pupils of language schools who may find themselves out of pocket as a result of such a closure.

Unite has proposed that a similar teacher protection fund be introduced to protect teachers in the event that a school closes. This would address loss of wages and the loss of employment for teachers in a situation where a school closes, particularly in cases such as Grafton College which closed two weeks before Christmas. This fund would deal with a specific instance where a school has not followed procedure and as a result employees are not able to make an application to the insolvency fund. Has this issue of the provision of such a fund, which would protect teachers as well as protecting students, been examined?

There is a mediator appointed and all the various issues will be looked at to see what we can come up with. It is the first time in this sector that we have sent in a mediator to explore whether there is scope, as I said, in the sector, to put REAs in place. That will transform the sector.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.