Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

It is proposed that we reverse the order of Questions Nos. 1 and 3. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Autism Support Services

John Lahart

Ceist:

3. Deputy John Lahart asked the Minister for Education and Skills the position regarding to the provision of autism spectrum disorder, ASD, services in education in the Dublin 6, 6W and 12 areas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11265/19]

As we begin the season of Lent, a period that we associate with sacrifice, I want to bring to the Minister's attention the sacrifice of parents in the Dublin 6, 6W and 12 areas in respect of the provision of places in autism spectrum disorder, ASD, units for their children. The Minister is a caring, compassionate and kind man. I call on all of those qualities to assist those parents this morning. He is on the record, as are previous Ministers, in saying the policy of the Department is to ensure that all children with special educational needs can be provided with an education appropriate to those needs. That is the context for my question this morning.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta fá choinne na ceiste. Beidh an t-ábhar seo iontach tábhachtach. Aontaím leis an Teachta maidir leis na príomhspriocanna atá i gceist. The National Council for Special Education, NCSE, an independent agency of my Department, is responsible for planning, co-ordinating and advising on education provision for children with special educational needs. That includes taking account of the flow of students from primary into post-primary education. The council ensures that schools in an area can, between them, cater for all children who have been identified as needing special class placements.

Individual school boards of management are responsible for the establishment of special classes. It is open to any school to make application to the NCSE to establish a class. In deciding where to establish a special class in an area, the NCSE takes account of the current and projected demand and the available school accommodation both current and planned. In that regard, the special educational needs organiser, SENO, may approach individual schools to discuss the matter with a view to finding the optimal location in terms of convenience and sustainability.

When the NCSE sanctions a special class in a school, the school can apply to my Department for capital funding to reconfigure existing spaces within the school building to accommodate the class or to construct additional accommodation. SENOs, who are locally based, are available to assist and advise parents whose children have special needs. Where parents have been unsuccessful in enrolling their child in a school, they should update their local SENO to inform the planning process. SENOs are also available to assist and advise schools on special education supports and planning.

The number of ASD special classes in County Dublin has increased from 66 in the 2011-12 school year to 197 in the 2018-19 year, which is a threefold increase. There are 15 ASD classes in the areas referred to by the Deputy: two early intervention classes, eight primary classes and five post-primary ASD classes. I am conscious that the level of demand in many areas throughout the country is increasing.

There is so little time to discuss this matter. The parents who have come to me and my colleague, Deputy Thomas Byrne, have given us a list, based on the Department's figures, for enrolment in ASD classes in 2018. In the Dublin 6 area there are no ASD places in scoil náisiúnta Stratford, Rathgar national school, St. Joseph's boys national school, Terenure, Zion Parish primary school, Sandford Parish national school, Gaelscoil Lios na nÓg, Kildare Place national school, Clochar Lughaidh Cailín, and Ranelagh multindenominational school.

In Dublin 6W. there are no ASD places or no ASD unit in Scoil Mológa, Harold's Cross national school, St. Pius X boys' national school, St. Pius X girls' national school, Bishop Shanahan national school and Bishop Galvin national school. In Dublin 12, there are no ASD places or units in Drimnagh Castle, Our Lady of Good Counsel boys' senior national school and Scoil Mhuire. The list of schools that have neither an ASD class nor an ASD place goes on. There are six places in Muire na Dea Coirle girls senior national school. This is nothing short of a scandal. Despite what the Minister said in terms of the response, could he intervene with the relevant authorities and talk to the boards of management about the provision of classes? The situation is at a critical stage. Parents are at their wits' end. One parent has applied to 26 schools looking for a place for a child with special needs.

It is important to point out the progress that has been made, although I know that is no consolation for a parent who is trying to facilitate a child. There is a process and a clear mechanism based on the NCSE, which is an independent group that works through SENOs in conjunction with a board of management. The prerogative is on the board of management to make the initial application. Following that, a decision is made on whether a special class is sanctioned. One must look at the trajectory in this regard. In 2011 we had a total of 548 special classes in this country and now we have upwards of 1,500 special classes. This year, we are spending nearly €1.8 billion of the budget of the Department of Education and Skills on special educational needs. There has been a change in the admission to schools policy. Deputy Lahart asked me if I could intervene in the process. Since 3 December 2018 a change was introduced. There is a provision in the Education (Admission to Schools) Act, following the completion of the process, that is, the consultation, the engagement with the SENO and with the school and if a board of management makes an application, for the Minister to compel a school to provide an extra class.

However, this is after all areas have been exhausted in the meantime. The ultimate process, the first step, is that the school must make the application. Once that process has kick-started, I will be very vigilant to see where it goes afterwards.

Fianna Fáil secured that under the supply-and-confidence agreement, but I have listed 37 schools in which this just is not happening, including schools in which there were new developments recently and no ASD unit was included. A parent wrote to me:

Thank you [that is, Deputy Thomas Byrne and me] for meeting with us ... My son Dylan is currently at home without an education since December. ...

I applied to 26 schools for 2018/2019 (3 special schools, 22 mainstream schools with ASD classes and one other mainstream school .... [These are all outside of this area.] He has had 3 tutors start and leave since September .... A tutor agreed to teach him in early February but changed her mind on the fourth day. We are currently paying a childminder 5 mornings a week to mind him while a tutor who has agreed to teach him is sanctioned. ...

I have had many meetings with our local school principal to discuss the possibility of enrolment there. I have chosen to keep Dylan out of mainstream education until September as sufficient resources would not be available for him to spend the full school day in school until that time.

This requires an intervention from the Minister for Education and Skills. He has considerable power. Something is breaking down here that I can list 37 schools in three postal districts in which there is neither an ASD unit nor provision for the educational needs of children on the spectrum.

The Deputy and I are on the same page on the importance of this issue. Stepping outside the political arena for one second, we are serious in this country and as a society about having inclusion at the heart of our model. Whether this be people coming from different countries or people with special educational challenges, behavioural or otherwise, or autistic children. This is relevant not just to the geographical issues the Deputy listed, but also to Cork, Galway and Donegal. We are meeting the challenges head-on in terms of weighing up resources and weighing up what can be done within a fixed period. If the Deputy looks at the increase in funding from 2011 and the increase in the number of classes, he will see that the commitment is there to build on this.

To answer his question as to what role I can play, my officials work very closely with the NCSE. The SENOs are tasked with the responsibility of engaging with the board of management. If the board of management makes the application, a process is entered into.

What if it does not?

If it makes the application in the first place-----

What if it does not?

The Minister without interruption.

There is a provision within the Education (Admission to Schools) Act from 3 December last year that compels the Minister if there is a demand, if there is an issue and all areas have been exhausted. However, we must also spread the good news that in the schools that have requested special classes and really looked at this inclusion model, it is working. I was at a small school just on Monday in my home county. There are 35 students, including five autistic children, in the school and a new unit is being built there. It is an incredible story.

Go raibh maith agat, a Aire. Caithfimid dul ar aghaidh anois.

We must spread the good news, just as we did with DEIS in the past.

Táimid beagnach trí nóiméad thar am. Ós rud é gur Seachtain na Gaeilge atá ann, iarraim ar na Teachtaí beagáinín Gaeilge a labhairt más féidir leo. Bainigí triail as.

Autism Support Services

Kathleen Funchion

Ceist:

2. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans to address the acute shortage of ASD classes for post-primary school students in County Kilkenny; the measures he will take to address the shortage in order to prepare for the high number of children with autism in primary schools in County Kilkenny who will finish primary level in the coming years and who will need a place in an ASD class at post-primary level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11159/19]

My question is to ask the Minister what his plans are to address the acute shortage of ASD classes for post-primary school students in Kilkenny and what measures the Department will take to address the shortage in order to prepare for the high number of children with autism who are currently in primary school in Kilkenny, who will obviously finish primary school in the coming years and who are in need of a place in an ASD class at post-primary level. I ask the Minister to comment on the matter.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta fá choinne an cheist seo. Is léir go bhfuil an cheist iontach práinneach, agus ba mhaith liom m'aitheantas a ghabháil leis an Teachta fá choinne na ceiste a tharraingt anuas.

The National Council for Special Education, which is an independent agency of my Department, is responsible for planning, co-ordinating and advising on education provision for children with special educational needs. This includes taking account of the flow of students from primary into post-primary education. The council ensures that schools in an area can, between them, cater for all children who have been identified as needing special class placements.

The NCSE has informed my Department that it is satisfied that there are sufficient post-primary autism special class placements in Kilkenny to meet identified need for the forthcoming school year. The conversations I have had with the Deputy in recent months tell a different story.

Yes, very different.

The Deputy is picking up different messages on the ground, so we must look at meeting areas where there are weaknesses according to the anecdotal evidence and the feedback from my officials.

For the 2018-19 school year, 160 new special classes have been opened, which means that there are now 1,459 special classes in place, compared with 548 in 2011.

The number of special classes in County Kilkenny has increased from five in 2011-12 to 26 in 2018-19. Of these, 22 are autism special classes: two autism early intervention classes, 13 primary autism classes and seven post-primary autism classes.

Individual school boards of management are responsible for the establishment of special classes. It is open to any school to apply to the NCSE to establish a class. In deciding where to establish a special class in an area, the NCSE takes account of the current and projected demand and the available school accommodation, both current and planned.

The Minister referred to the fact that I have raised this issue on a number of occasions. As a result, I have met even more parents. Every time I speak about this, more people contact us. These parents do not want to have to come into my office of an evening to tell their stories and they should not have to do so. Obviously, however, there is a very serious issue here. There is definitely some major breakdown with the NCSE because time and time again, it tells us there are enough places. There clearly are not enough places. I think the Minister may have said there were seven post-primary places, if I heard him correctly. There are not. There are not seven schools at secondary level offering ASD classes to students. If they are, they are obviously hiding somewhere. What happens if a secondary school tells a parent and his or her child that there is no space in a school for the child? People who progress very well in an ASD class at primary level are then forced into a mainstream secondary school, often not even having the assistance of a special needs assistant or resource hours, and then they completely fall through the cracks of the education system. It is absolutely not good enough, and I ask the Minister to meet the parents in Kilkenny about this because I do not accept what the NCSE is saying. It is not the first time I have raised this issue, and we consistently get the same response. It does not reflect the reality on the ground.

I thank the Deputy once again. With every new school build, there is provision in the new school build, and even for major additional capital expansion of a school, the general trend is that there is an in-built provision for autism classes, special classes, within those new schools. I am aware that with a cohort of 4,000 primary and secondary schools in the country, there are many old buildings and buildings that are challenging from the point of view of provision of this service on site. There is an opportunity for schools and boards of management to decide to make provision for special classes. They can look at reconfiguring existing spaces. This is a difficulty because many of our schools are already at capacity, they are maxed out, but there is a provision to construct additional accommodation as well. I re-emphasise and reiterate that if the board of management comes forward with the idea and suggestion of looking at providing for a special class, the NCSE and the SENOs will meet the board. I meet the NCSE regularly, and this might be helpful in this instance. At this stage what I would like to do is meet the NCSE on this specific issue regarding Kilkenny, and I would be happy to organise a meeting and have the Deputy included in it.

I would appreciate that. I met the NCSE last year and it said there are enough spaces when clearly there are not. I would appreciate it if the Minister would arrange a meeting but I again appeal to him to meet with the parents in Kilkenny so he can see at first hand what they are dealing with.

What I hear is that it is completely up to a board of management to decide it needs an ASD class. What happens in a situation where there is a clear demand and a board of management perhaps does not want to deal with the issue? That is another reality we have to accept, although many people do not want to say that. There are some excellent schools and excellent teachers but some do not want to know about it and do not want to have an ASD class. What happens in that situation? What do we say to the parents coming in to us, desperate because they do not know if their child is going to secondary school in September?

At this time of year, children who do not have an additional need are taking their entrance exams for secondary school but that is not an option for children who need an ASD class because they do not even know if they are going to have a school, let alone an entrance exam. It is not acceptable that we continuously say they can have a different education system. We have created a two-tier education system. I am calling on the Minister to change that, given he is relatively new in the brief and I feel he has a genuine interest in this. Again, I ask that he would meet the parents in Kilkenny and perhaps arrange that parent representatives would speak directly to the NCSE.

The Deputy has been very constructive and we will certainly organise that and see how it pans out. We have a duty in this House, as legislators, to get the good message out. The Deputy is no different to me in that she visits primary schools and secondary schools. The schools that have special classes and that are embracing the social model of inclusion by ensuring the inclusion of people with special and challenging conditions, whether dyspraxia, dyslexia or autism, are the schools and learning environments that are the richer for it. We can feel the harmony and the learning that is going on, and the schools that embrace the special classes are the ones I feel energised by when I go to visit.

The message has to go out to other boards of management that there is an opportunity to ensure we are providing for children with all forms of disability and challenges, from complex medical needs to different and challenging behaviours. Those are the students who are going to enrich the school environment and they become the leaders within that school, along with the people around them, such as SNAs and others working within that inclusive atmosphere to provide the learning environment we all aspire to.

Why do they even have a choice and an option about this?

No interruptions, please. The time has elapsed for Question No. 2.

I did not hear the question.

Why do the boards even have a choice about this and why is it not compulsory?

Order, please. The time has elapsed.

The Deputy is a big advocate for choice.

No, I am not. I am in favour of provision of education, not choice for boards of management.

There is no provision for supplementaries. I call Deputy Thomas Byrne on Question No. 1.

School Accommodation Provision

Thomas Byrne

Ceist:

1. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Skills the reason fewer additional school places in both primary and secondary schools are predicted to be provided in 2019 despite increased funding; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11266/19]

Although the capital budget for schools has increased by €83 million for 2019, which we welcome, the information provided by the Department of Education and Skills in the Revised Estimates for expenditure shows that, last year, with €83 million less, 18,900 school places were replaced or provided, whereas the Department is forecasting that 18,850 places will be replaced or provided this year. What this means in practice is that, for €83 million more, it gets less bang for its buck. The question seeks to find out the explanation for that.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta fá choinne na ceiste. Caithfear a rá go mbeidh an infheistíocht chaipitil níos tábhachtaí. My Department’s capital allocation for the school sector in 2019 amounts to €622 million while the allocation last year amounted to €539.6 million. Overall targets for the delivery of school places set out in the Revised Book of Estimates 2019 are on a par with 2018. The breakdown between additional places and replacement places can vary from year to year, depending on the nature of projects and the particular priorities relating to demographics and refurbishment.

Construction activity in 2018 and 2019 will involve over 130 large-scale projects and approximately 280 smaller-scale projects under the additional accommodation scheme. These projects enable significant progress in delivering some 40,000 school places, including additional and replacement places, and the replacement of over 600 prefabs, which is a key element of our prefab replacement programme. There will be enhanced sports facilities through the construction and modernisation of 48 PE halls at post-primary level and 82 general purpose rooms at primary level. In addition, the enhancement and modernisation of PE facilities in schools also will facilitate community usage of these facilities. There will be delivery of over 200 modern science laboratories, which will support the delivery of the reformed science curricula and the roll-out of computer science as a leaving certificate subject.

In addition, under the summer works scheme my Department is funding a total of 307 school projects, with projected expenditure of €40 million in 2019. This will benefit schools as they upgrade windows, meet curricular requirements and make fabric improvement to buildings. A total of €117 million has been allocated to date under the current summer works scheme in respect of categories 1 to 9, which has resulted in the approval of 942 school projects.

This issue comes about when we consider outputs for the money spent. We accept the Department of Education and Skills has got more money than in previous years but it has got less for its money. It is a complex area and there seem to be a number of drivers for such changes. Famously, there is the issue of land costs, for example, the €28 million paid for Harold's Cross dog track, the scale of schools being built, the areas in which they are being built - all of which relates to the value of land - the change in the nature of schools, the way in which schools are being built and construction inflation. There are also the costs that have been run up due to the Western Building Systems, WBS, scandal, on which I presume the Department has had to pay something, even though it has not yet achieved anything in court against WBS.

I raise this because it is up to us to ensure the Department is getting best value for money and that the money it is spending and the taxpayer is providing is achieving results. I am worried it is actually getting fewer school places this year. The Minister talked about 48 PE halls and 200 science labs but how many of them are not part of large-scale building works? When the Minister calls out the figures, the impression is given that this is 48 new PE halls or 200 science labs that people could somehow apply for. How many of them are stand-alone PE halls or are they all part of large-scale building projects, which would mean the Minister is double counting?

The Deputy has answered the question with regard to why we are in a different position. To clarify, the cost of Harold's Cross is €23 million. I understand the point the Deputy is making, however, which is that this is indicative of the increasing cost of land, which puts pressures on the budget. We are also looking at the 2014 regulation which changed the specification and at the 2017 change with regard to NZEB - the nearly zero energy building standard - which is working towards more environmentally efficient buildings. I am very conscious that we have to get value for money from the taxpayers' point of view and, while there is construction inflation, that we do not just accept there will be increased costs and allow that to carry on. We build in a detailed design element to the schools and, by having a detailed element complete prior to tender, we get fixed-price contracts, which ensure the price and ensure that whoever wins these contracts sticks within that. It is a question of efficiency and value for money. We are still going to be delivering over 40,000 places from 2018 to 2019 and there are still many buildings under construction. However, I appreciate the Deputy's point in terms of being vigilant to ensure we get value for money.

I do not tend to criticise the Department's building unit that much, other than the fact it does not have enough money. Would it be worthwhile for the Minister to commission a short, focused review of school projects to ensure the State is getting best value for money? I do not know if any external person has looked at this issue such as, for example, the Comptroller and Auditor General. I presume, although I am not certain, that it would be within his remit. In my constituency, I think of schools like Lismullen national school, Dunboyne senior and junior national schools, St. Peter's, Dunboyne, and the new school proposed for Dunshaughlin.

A large number of projects need funding in order to be built. My worry is that there is not enough in the capital budget and the Minister has acknowledged that there is construction and land cost inflation, with more regulations also adding to the cost. As I am worried that these projects will be left on the back burner, I take the opportunity to remind the Minister of the crucial importance of such projects. There are similar projects throughout the country.

If there are external ways of ensuring we do things efficiently and get value for money, I am open to considering them. The National Development Finance Agency is doing great work and at the heart of these projects. Now that we have a ten-year capital budget and trajectory, we will work within that fixed budget. There are constraints and it keeps on the pressure to ensure we try as best as we possibly can to keep costs down. For example, we are looking at methods such as the Accelerated Delivery and Architectural Planning and Tendering programme, about which I will speak later. A project manager is brought in to do the job at a very early stage in order that we can be as efficient as possible. The most important factor is the quality of the product and the safety of the building when finished. A strong message coming from young people, within both the primary and secondary school sectors, is that there should be nothing less than environmentally friendly construction. They raise concerns about such matters as solar panels and achieving efficiencies. I am conscious that they have these concerns. The nearly zero energy building standard will ensure new and additional buildings will meet those concerns.

Special Educational Needs Service Provision

Ruth Coppinger

Ceist:

4. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he has received a report (details supplied) on the provision of autism-specific education in the west Dublin area; if he will meet parents in the area to discuss the need for an autism-specific school; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10963/19]

It is interesting that four of the five Priority Questions today relate to autism and autism spectrum disorder services provision. At all times it is the parents who have to push to get the services right for their children. My question specifically relates to the position in Dublin 15 and Dublin 7 in the Dublin West constituency. A survey of primary and secondary school principals by a group of parents and professionals demonstrated that 68% of principals surveyed believed students were in an inappropriate educational setting. The group that has carried out the research is the ASD15 committee and its members are seeking an autism-specific school in Dublin West.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta as an cheist. Aontaím leis an Teachta. Is ceist iontach tábhachtach í a tháinig suas anuraidh agus ag tús na bliana. I am aware of the demand for additional special class and special school placements in the Dublin area, including Dublin 15. I have asked the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, to provide my Department with a report on current and future identified need in the area in question in order that evidence-based decisions may be made on the development of the necessary placements in the area in the short, medium and longer term. In preparing the report the council will meet parents and other groups. It is also engaging with officials in my Department on the work they are undertaking. As this process is ongoing, I have no plans to meet groups at this stage. The NCSE is an independent agency of my Department with responsibility for planning, co-ordinating and advising on education provision for children with special educational needs. The council ensures schools in an area can between them cater for all children who have been identified as needing special class placements. A working group chaired by the NCSE has been established to put in place a new working protocol to ensure there is effective proactive planning and timely delivery of specialist educational places for students.

There are two matters arising for parents of children with autism. The first is securing a place for them in special units that have been set up in some schools and about which we heard in dealing with previous questions. That is a problem. Moreover, many children cannot cope or function in these special units because their needs are much more complex. They are specifically the children with whom the group is concerned. This is a unique case as a major public meeting was held about this issue and parents and professionals are united on the need for a special school. All of the Deputies, councillors and other public representatives in the area are also united on it. As a result of the demographics and specific age profile, Dublin West is the place where it must happen first. Parents have found a potential patron and the education and training board has indicated that it would be willing to be the patron of such a school. They also have two potential sites, one of which could possibly be provided by the education and training board. All they need is the provision of funds to allow the project to happen.

As there is a job of work ongoing, it is important to consult all stakeholders, including parents. I am confident that this work will be done in a comprehensive way and completed in a timely fashion. We will then be in a position to make decisions on the back of it. The Deputy has her own anecdotal advice and feedback from public meetings. She has felt the pressure on the ground. There are no better people for having antennae than Teachtaí Dála, but I need to be methodical in how I go about dealing with this issue. The NCSE must be allowed space to deliberate and consult, while listening to the people who matter most, specifically the parents. I ask the Deputy to allow the people who are in the process of coming to a conclusion the time to complete that work. We will then be in a position to make decisions.

The parents and professionals who teach these children have conducted much research. They have found that at least 54 children are either on reduced hours - they are not receiving an education - or have applied for home tuition grants. In many cases parents receive a phone call after an hour asking them to collect their child because the school cannot cater for his or her needs. That is only a drop in the ocean and I am sure there are many such cases. We have the potential to provide a unique school with all of the specialist training needed. Jonix which has provided much research and advice in the past is on board and the education and training board has expressed a willingness to support the project. We really need the Government to recognise that this is a need in Dublin West and potentially many other areas. Children have a right to an education. This could happen in September 2019 if temporary accommodation was to be used on the site at the back of Riversdale or another. I ask the Minister to move as quickly as possible.

It is a priority. The Deputy's constituency colleague in the Chamber today, as well as my colleague and the Deputy's other constituency colleague, the Taoiseach, are anxious that it be given the prioritisation it requires. I can guarantee that it will continue to be given such prioritisation.

Schools Administration

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

5. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will meet an organisation (details supplied) about the administrative workload of teaching principals, the need for administrative release for teaching principals, the restoration of primary teacher supply panels and other matters of concern; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10964/19]

Principals are the leaders of the national primary school system. With other Deputies, I have heard many complaints about the increasing and massive workload principals must undertake, particularly since the economic crash. Chonaic mé fógra 0019/2019, dealing with release time for principal teachers in primary schools, issued last week. There was one additional release date per week for some teaching principals, but the Irish National Teachers Organisation does not consider it is enough to address the additional work teaching principals, in particular, must undertake.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta fá choinne na ceiste. Aontaím leis an Teachta maidir leis an bhrú atá ar na múinteoirí agus príomhoidí uilig sna bunscoileanna. Tá dualgais agus freagrachtaí orthu agus bíonn an ról ag athrú i gcónaí. Tuigim an fhadhb agus na deacrachtaí.

I have engaged with the relevant stakeholders and I am fully aware of the concerns of school principals. I do not intend to meet the group in question as the issues of concern to the group are being addressed in my ongoing engagement with the primary education forum.

The primary education forum was established in September 2018 and aims to support the planning and sequencing of change in the primary school sector and to exchange information on the intent and impacts of the actions in the Action Plan for Education in order to look for synergies and opportunities to streamline implementation and address workload issues. Through adopting this approach, my Department and partners already have agreed to make several changes to the pace and sequence of planned reforms.

In budget 2019, school leadership was again supported, with an additional release day for teaching principals in primary schools and a further four additional release days for teaching principals in schools with special classes. Building on the number of release days provided in recent budgets is one of my priorities as Minister.

Having listened to the Irish Primary Principals' Network, IPPN, which brought to my attention the issue of having a second adult present in one-teacher schools during the school day, my Department is making available additional resources where gaps are identified to ensure that there are two adults present for all of the school day. There is currently no temporary replacement panel to recruit short-term replacement teachers. However, following from the action plan for teacher supply, my Department is currently undertaking an analysis of the potential for a supply panel scheme for primary schools.

I understand the pressure faced by principals, especially teaching principals, and I was delighted to meet principals to discuss this issue when I recently spoke at the IPPN conference. Working towards making progress and addressing this issue is a priority. Some principals could not attend the conference because they could not get substitute cover. I am very aware of the acute problem and that of teacher supply.

It is it is disappointing that the Minister cannot meet representatives of the National Principals Forum. It produced a major survey entitled This is How Bad Things Are. Approximately 1,200 principals were surveyed. Approximately 60% of them were teaching principals. The striking point is that a shocking 95% or 96% said they were stressed by the workload. Two thirds felt that work was unsustainable. Something like 96% felt there was inadequate release time and that this presented the major challenge. Two thirds had considered stepping down as principal as a result of the intense pressure from all the additional requirements. If one is in a principal's office, one will see the reports, notices and departmental fógraí coming in week after week outlining additional tasks that must be undertaken. The announcement in the Minister's recent notice is welcome but the INTO was looking for a day per week for teaching principals in order for them to address the administrative work. I am aware that the Minister attended the workload forum but some teaching principals, in particular, believe he did not take on board the severity of their workload.

The message, which I am getting individually from members of the group the Deputy mentioned, is quite consistent in terms of initiative overload and the extra pressures. We introduced middle-management leadership at both primary and secondary levels to provide the mid-range leadership posts. The reality is that people in public leadership positions are finding it increasingly difficult. There is a feeling of being judged and of being in a constant 24-7 cycle of work. The old regimes of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., or 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the secondary school system, and of working from Monday to Friday do not exist any more. Principals are taking calls on a Sunday and in July and August. It is about trying to make it easier. Let me give an example of how. Principals have to become construction experts if they have summer works programmes. In a few weeks, I will be opening the summer works programme for summer 2020 to give the principals time, rather than having them rush under pressure in the course of a few months. I have paused the mathematics curriculum change. I have also considered introducing sequencing into the admissions to schools legislation. There are ways in which we can remove the pressure from the principals. I am in that space and hear the concerns of those individuals. I have great confidence and faith in the primary forum, however. It is a great example whereby we do the sounding, checking and testing of various initiatives or other developments coming down the track. The primary forum is excellent for this.

I ask the Minister to reconsider and meet the members of the National Principals Forum and examine the up-to-date research they have on the workload, especially that of teaching principals, who comprise 75% of principals. The Minister mentioned in the circular that there can be a cluster of ten schools in order to share a teacher to allow more administrative release. That is welcome. The Minister's predecessor, Deputy Bruton, talked a lot about restoring the supply panels but he did not take action. That, again, is a major issue for both teaching principals and administrative principals. The number of retired teachers covering substitute needs last year was noticeable. The number is growing year by year. Was this not an important aspect before the crash era? Could the Minister not just go ahead and restore the supply panels? I would like the Minister to meet the principals.

I am happy to read the research. Principals have a great way of getting in contact with politicians directly. A number of principals have been in contact with me directly and I value their input. I would certainly be happy to read the research but, to be honest, I feel the primary forum is the place to do the collaborative work. I have great confidence in that mechanism.

I am committed to addressing the issue of supply panels for substitute teachers. I have already raised it publicly and I certainly will ensure that the officials continue to prioritise it to try to have some mechanism in place in the not-too-distant future.