Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

School Staff

I thank the Ceann Comhairle's office for selecting this issue and I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Breen, for attending to deal with it. While the matter does not fall under his remit, I appreciate the fact that the is here.

This issue relates to Tisrara national school at Four Roads, County Roscommon. Due to new staffing guidelines, the school is in danger of losing a third teacher in September. Tisrara is a DEIS school and one fifth of its pupils are members of the Traveller community. While the schools has a current enrolment of 49, a threshold of 51 will apply for the retention of the existing third mainstream classroom teacher. Losing a teacher would be detrimental to the fabric of this rural school. A threshold of 17 pupils applies for the retention of the existing second mainstream classroom teacher in a two-teacher school. This means Tisrara, which has a projected enrolment of just under 50 pupils for September 2019, will be allocated the same number of mainstream teachers as a school with 17 pupils. It simply does not make sense.

Tisrara national school's parents' association has fought hard in respect of this matter and a petition from parents, school and community members in support of the retention of the third teaching post has been sent to the Department of Education and Skills. I urge the Government to re-examine the position. The extenuating circumstances of Tisrara suggest it should be permitted to hold onto its third teacher or given an extension or grace period in which to increase its enrolment numbers. The loss of a third teacher would be devastating for the community, particularly the children attending what truly is a fantastic school. It would be shocking. The school has 49 students, 13 of whom are in sixth class and will leaving in June. Ten potential new students are due to enrol for the September 2019-2020 calendar year. The community would be very disappointed to lose a teacher based on such a shortfall.

I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Breen, has come across situations like this before. When Deputy Bruton was Minister for Education and Skills, he granted an extension period to a certain school in Roscommon following my request. I am very hopeful that in the circumstances I have outlined, we will be able to do the same in this case. It is much needed.

I thank Deputy Eugene Murphy for raising this important issue. I know how important this school is to the Deputy. As he noted, we have all had many cases like this raised with us in the course of our political careers. I apologise on behalf of the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, who is attending a very important education conference in Washington. While it is important that he attend the conference, he sends his apologies to Deputy Eugene Murphy for not being here this afternoon.

I thank the Deputy for giving me an opportunity to set out to the House the position regarding the staffing of primary schools and, in particular, the staffing of Tisrara national school at Four Roads, County Roscommon.

As he is aware, the key factor for determining the level of staffing resources provided at individual school level is the staffing schedule for the relevant school year and the pupil enrolments on 30 September of the previous year. The staffing arrangements for the 2019-20 school year are set out in Circular 0019/2019, which is available on the website of the Department of Education and Skills. The staffing schedule operates in a clear and transparent manner and treats all similar types of schools equally, irrespective of location.

The appointment and retention ratios for small schools - namely, those with up to four classroom teachers - were increased in budget 2012 and improvements to the staffing of these schools have been made in recent years. Improved retention thresholds for second, third and fourth classroom teachers and the improved appointment and retention thresholds for two-teacher schools situated 8 km or more from the nearest school of the same type of patronage and language of instruction, or both, were introduced for the 2015-16 school year.

Budget 2017 contained two adjustments in respect of single-teacher schools. Where a school is the sole primary school on an island, it can appoint a second teacher. In the context of single-teacher schools with an enrolment of 15 or more pupils generally, a school can apply to the staffing appeals board for a second post where the single teacher has children across six or more class groups.

Small schools have also benefited from the improvements to the staffing schedule introduced in 2016 and 2018. Those improvements brought the teacher allocation ratio in all primary schools to the most favourable ever at primary level. The staffing arrangements include a mechanism for schools to submit appeals under certain criteria to an independent appeals board.

The school referred to by the Deputy, Tisrara national school, currently has three classroom teachers. The school also has a special education teacher. The enrolment required to retain the third teacher, as the Deputy has outlined, is 51 pupils. On 30 September 2018, the school had an enrolment of 49 pupils and is due to have its teaching staff reduced to two in September. The school submitted an appeal to the April meeting of the primary staffing appeals board. In its appeal, the school projected an enrolment of 47 pupils. As this projection is less than the required 51, the appeal was deemed ineligible by the appeals board.

As the Deputy knows, the primary staffing appeals board operates independently of the Department and its decision is final. I emphasise that the primary staffing appeals board will meet again in June, which should be noted, and again in October. Should the enrolment of the school increase to 51 or more, the school may submit a new appeal to the appeals board for the retention of the third teacher. I thank the Deputy again for the opportunity to outline this process in the House.

Some 20% of the current enrolment of the school and the enrolment for the foreseeable future will be made up by members of the Traveller community. Some 37% of the total enrolment of 49 pupils are in receipt of school support, which we estimate to be higher than the national average for a school of this size. I have checked the position in that regard. Some 16 pupils receive school support and two pupils receive school support plus. The Minister of State will understand all of that. I will not go into the various individual supports because I do not want to bring it down to a personal level but they are all there, they are a fact of life.

Classes comprising 25 or more pupils with diverse educational, physical, emotional and psychological needs place a strain on the commitment required for two teachers to manage and teach those involved. It is also worth noting that despite the needs of the school, only one special needs assistant has been sanctioned. That seems unfair and it increases the health and safety risk of the school.

These are unusual circumstances for a school. I hope that what was done in respect of a similar school when Deputy Bruton was Minister for Education and Skills will happen again. I was very grateful to the previous Minister for doing for involving himself, listening to the evidence and acting. The Minister of State will indicate that the process is independent of the Minister of the day. However, I hope the matter will be re-examined and that we will not end up in a situation where a school in these unusual circumstances would lose its third teacher. I thank the Minister of State again for taking time to listen.

We have all come across cases of this nature in our constituencies and we have made representations on behalf of national schools that are in a similar position. As stated, there is a further appeals process in June and another in October. I encourage the board of management of the school or the local community to see if they can attract those extra students necessary to bring the school up to the threshold. I have advised parents and boards of management in my constituency to do that. It has worked and the schools in question reached the magic figure of 51. There has to be a cut-off. I understand from where the Deputy is coming when he states the school has a lot of issues and is, perhaps, a special case. However, the same case could be made for many schools in other rural areas.

In a personal capacity, I suggest the parents and the board of management get together and try to get the enrolment up to the magic number of 51. I accept that it is difficult, particularly in rural areas where there are probably neighbouring schools. If pupils are taken from one school and enrolled in another, it can create an issue. There may be parents who wish to send their children to that school. As the Deputy pointed out, it has a good reputation and is a three-teacher school. Parents sometimes like to send their children to such schools. That would be one measure to consider and in respect of which to make another appeal, if possible. I was disappointed to discover that the numbers have fallen 49 to 47. In a rural area, it would be much easier to attract two extra children rather than four, but I make that appeal to the Deputy. I will bring the sentiments he has expressed to the attention of the Minister, Deputy McHugh, and outline exactly what he stated regarding the circumstances that obtain at the school. Everybody wants to ensure that the existing pupil-teacher ratio can retained because this is probably a good school. The three teachers at the school are doing a good job. I will bring the matter to the attention of the Minister and we will see what can be done. There is a lot the community can do to see if it can increase the numbers in order to reach the threshold. However, I know that will not be easy. It never is easy in these circumstances but that is one aspect that should be examined.

School Placement

I want to raise an issue that has been ongoing for some time in Milltown, County Kerry. I refer to the Presentation secondary school facilities, the Nagle Rice primary school and the lack of places within the former for young children coming out of the latter. They are unable to get places in the secondary school because there are none. All of this goes back to the huge population growth in Milltown and the expansion of the town. Milltown had a population of 401 in 2006, 838 in 2011 and 928 in 2018. There has also been an increase in the number of houses. Some 50% of the houses in the town were built in the period between 2002 and 2011.

The admission criteria being applied mean that those who get into secondary school from the catchment area of Milltown need to have historical ties to it, as well as having an older sibling in the secondary school. The consequences of that are that those coming out of the Nagle Rice primary school who do not have that attachment or who do not have an older sibling in the school have to go elsewhere and attend a secondary school outside Milltown.

Population growth throughout the 18 catchment areas is predicted to be substantial. The population includes many young couples who in many cases come from ethnically diverse backgrounds, primarily Lithuania and Poland. They have the added pressure of trying to find a secondary school in the much wider catchment area, which means that they might have to travel to Killorglin, Fieries or elsewhere in the area to find a secondary school. There is no bus service for those children to bring them to school, which adds cost. It is absurd that a child who studies in Milltown primary school and resides in the area cannot access secondary education in the town where they were born and live. It is a terrible cost and having to pay for a bus service to transport a child to another secondary school, due to the criteria, puts a great deal of pressure on the families. Many of the people come from low-income families, yet they must provide the service.

The solution is to expand the Presentation secondary school by providing additional rooms to allow it to accommodate children from the area. While we wait for that to happen, in the short term the Department has an obligation to provide some form of bus funding for children who must travel outside the area. There is also an urgent need for dialogue with the community. The current issue is creating division, in that children who were born, reared and are starting school in Milltown are unable to secure a place in their local secondary school, while children born far outside the district are given places because of historical connections.

I understand exactly what the Deputy means because even though I am not a Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills, I have taken a real interest in this issue because of a similar situation arising in Ennis. I apologise on behalf of the Minister, Deputy McHugh, who is away on official Government business.

To plan for school provision and analyse the relevant demographic data, the Department divides the country into 314 school planning areas and uses a geographic information system, GIS, with data from a range of sources, to identify where the pressure for school places will arise in various parts of the country. With this information, the Department carries out nationwide demographic exercises to determine where additional school accommodation is needed at primary and post-primary level. Where data indicate that additional provision is required, the delivery of such provision is dependent on the circumstances of each case and as such may be provided through one or a combination of the following, namely, using existing unused capacity within a school or schools, extending the capacity of a school or schools or providing a new school or schools. Using school planning area boundaries within the Department’s GIS allows data within those boundaries, including data for enrolments in schools, child benefit and other relevant data, to be added to the mapping information, grouped and analysed. In most cases, school planning areas were based on traditional school catchment areas, where all primary schools were assigned to a post-primary feeder area, typically a population centre or town, containing one or more post-primary schools.

The school planning areas are used in the demographic exercise as a basis for the assessment of areas of growth and to inform recommendations on the establishment of any new schools required in the school planning area. The question of enrolment in individual schools is the responsibility of the managerial authorities of those schools. It is the responsibility of the managerial authorities of schools to implement an enrolment policy in accordance with the Education Act 1998 and the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018. The Department’s main responsibility is to ensure that schools in an area can together cater for all pupils seeking places. Parents have the right to choose which school to apply to and where the school has places available, the pupil should be admitted. In schools where there are more applicants than places available, however, a selection process may be necessary. The process and the enrolment policy on which it is based must be non-discriminatory and applied fairly to all applicants.

As the Deputy will be aware, the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018, which was signed into law by the President on 18 July 2018, is important legislation that will introduce a more parent-friendly, equitable and consistent approach to how school admissions policy operates for the almost 4,000 primary and post-primary schools and a fair and balanced school admission process for all pupils. The Deputy will further be aware there are three post-primary schools in mid-Kerry, namely, the Presentation secondary school, Milltown, The Intermediate School, Killorglin and Killorglin community college. The Department has no outstanding applications for capital funding for additional accommodation from the post-primary schools in mid-Kerry, which indicates that the schools are able to cater for their current pupil cohort. I will provide more detail in my supplementary reply.

Given that the Minister of State is dealing with a similar situation, I am sure he is aware of the concerns and associated problems. In the area in question, there are three secondary schools - two in Killorglin and one in Milltown. There is no short-term solution; it must be planned and carefully considered. In Killorglin, given that there has been an increase in the population of well over 100% in a short period, with the new Irish who live there and a young population, provisions must be made to ensure that the needs and requirements of the parents and children will be realised. Throughout the area, young children will have to travel to schools outside Milltown but within the catchment area where they can find places. Some type of funding needs to be provided for children who are unable to attend their nearest school. That is the short-term solution. I refer to low-income families, who need such support. There needs to be dialogue with the community and a commitment to listen. The Department, civil servants and so on tend not to listen but they need to listen to the community. There was recently a large meeting attended by hundreds of people, including those from outside Milltown who send their children to the Presentation secondary school because they have historical ties or other children enrolled there, and parents whose children were born and live in Milltown, outside the catchment area, but who are unable to secure a place for them in Nagle Rice secondary school. It is very unfair. The Department needs to meet the community, the parents and all the schools in the area to work out a plan to facilitate the children to attend school in the area where they live.

The current enrolment in the Presentation secondary school, The Intermediate School and Killorglin community college is 606, 494 and 277, respectively. As the Department has outlined, there are no outstanding applications from any of the schools for additional accommodation. Nevertheless, for the benefit of the Deputy, whose point I understand, I appreciate this is a very stressful time for parents and their families, particularly as they await correspondence from secondary schools informing them whether they have secured a place for September. It is a trying time but we have all seen it for ourselves in our constituency offices. It is a terrible time for students and their families, which is why it is important that some plan be put in place to help in that regard. I again refer the Deputy to the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018, which was signed by the President last July. It is important legislation that will begin to relieve the situation and it allows for co-operation among the school boards. I am not sure whether there is full co-operation among the three schools in question but it could be ensured under section 66 of the Act, which relates to co-operation among schools. It allows schools to share information with one another in respect of applications received, offers made and accepted and so on. It would help to prevent a situation where one student might be offered a place in more than one school.

This does happen, as the Deputy knows, and it means people delay making a choice. This is an issue. There could be data sharing between the three schools during the admission process. The schools may argue a GDPR issue would arise but people could sign up to it as part of the admissions process. It would be helpful also because it would give a more even space to students who would know that if they do not take a place, it will go to somebody else. It is happening.

The Deputy referred to accommodation. The Minister has told me the Department will consider any application for interim temporary accommodation should it be required to meet the immediate enrolment needs of any school. My personal advice to the Deputy, because I have been through this myself, is if accommodation is needed, the Department will consider temporary accommodation based on needs. The Deputy's question relates to what I have outlined. The issue of co-operation on school boards is important with regard to data sharing to see who is taking up offers. It might help to alleviate the situation. As I said, no application has been made by the three schools for extra accommodation. Perhaps this is something the Deputy might consider. I thank him for raising the issue. It is not just an issue in Kerry and Clare, it probably affects other areas also.

Industrial Relations

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for putting this matter on the agenda. I will provide background to my question on whether the Industrial Relations Act 1990 needs to be revised. Times have changed since it was introduced, as have working conditions and the strength of unions. How employers treat their workers has also changed. We have bogus self-employment and all sorts of issues being faced by workers.

Tesco is the largest private sector employer in Ireland and for the past four years it has been trying to break its workers' rights to trade union representation, as I highlighted by raising Project Black in the House in 2017 when the Tesco workers were on strike. As part of the campaign, Tesco has targeted 180 of its longest serving workers who were all employed before 1996. They have had pay freezes when everybody else in the company has had a pay increase of at least 8%. The Labour Court has issued three recommendations on this issue and instructed the company to pay those workers the 8% they are owed, which amounts to €1 million or more than €6,500 each. This is a lot of money for low-paid workers, many of whom are suffering financially and are experiencing extreme mental health issues as a result of Tesco's actions. It is also costing the State revenue in terms of expenditure on family income supplement and social welfare support for these workers and in terms of the loss of employers' PRSI, income tax and USC payments.

Why is it that highly profitable companies such as Tesco can make €215 million in profit per year in Ireland alone and can consistently ignore the Labour Court and victimise workers in this way? Will the Minister of State look at this issue in detail? In reply to a parliamentary question I asked on Tuesday, the Minister of State said:

Ireland’s system of industrial relations is based in voluntarism and it has been the consistent policy of successive Irish Governments to support the development of an institutional framework supportive of this voluntary system through which good industrial relations can prosper. In line with the voluntary nature of industrial relations in Ireland, recommendations of the Labour Court made under industrial relations legislation are not binding on the parties although it is expected that the parties involved give serious consideration to the Court’s Recommendation.

Not all parts of the Industrial Relations Act are voluntary. Mandate has a collective agreement with Tesco that places responsibility on both parties to use the WRC and the Labour Court to the best of their ability. Both parties have always agreed to attend the Labour Court through joint referrals under section 26. In recent years, Tesco has refused to engage, forcing Mandate to take the most recent case under section 20. This means the result is binding on the union but the company is free to ignore the recommendations. They are not binding on the company. This shows the company is proceeding with its plan to stop recognising unions. This must be seriously looked at by the committee or the Minister of State. Does he intend to review the legislation in the light of the changes that have happened in the past 20 years?

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. She has always been interested in industrial relations. As I have said in reply to parliamentary questions, Ireland’s system of industrial relations is essentially voluntary in nature and the responsibility for the resolution of industrial disputes between employers and workers rests in the first instance with the employer, the workers and their representatives. It has been the consistent policy of successive Governments to promote collective bargaining through the laws of the country and through the development of an institutional framework supportive of a voluntary system of industrial relations that is premised on freedom of contract and freedom of association. There are an extensive range of statutory provisions designed to back up the voluntary bargaining process. The freedom of association and the right to organise and bargain collectively are also guaranteed in a number of international instruments that the State has ratified and which it is, therefore, bound to uphold under international law.

Since 1946, the Labour Court has provided an industrial relations service whereby disputes that parties have been unable to resolve themselves or with the assistance of the Workplace Relations Commission can be voluntarily referred to the Labour Court for an opinion in the form of a recommendation of the court, which, as the Deputy knows, is not binding on the parties. The vast majority of industrial relations recommendations are accepted voluntarily by the parties. The Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015, which came into effect on 1 August 2015, provides a clear and balanced mechanism by which the fairness of the employment conditions of workers in their totality can be assessed in employment where collective bargaining does not take place and brings clarity and certainty for employers in terms of managing their workplaces in this respect. It also provides strong protections for workers who invoke the provisions of the 2001 and 2004 Industrial Relations Acts or who have acted as a witness or a comparator for the purposes of these Acts. It ensures that where an employer is engaged in collective bargaining with an internal excepted body, as opposed to a trade union, that body must satisfy the Labour Court as to its independence of the employer.

The legislation ensures the retention of Ireland’s voluntary system of industrial relations. However, it also ensures that where an employer chooses not to engage in collective bargaining, either with a trade union or an internal excepted body, and where the number of employees on whose behalf the matter is being pursued is significant, an effective framework is in place that allows a trade union to have the remuneration and terms and conditions of its members in that employment assessed against relevant comparators and determined by the Labour Court, if necessary.

While I am amending the Industrial Relations Act 1990 to ensure An Garda Síochána has access to the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court, I see no case for the Act to be amended regarding the specific issue to which the Deputy has referred.

The final sentence of the reply should be challenged. There is a need for the Act to be amended on the specific issue I am raising. I have said very clearly that Mandate used to use section 26 whereby both parties voluntarily agreed to go to the Labour Court, but Tesco has refused to do this and Mandate has had to use section 20, which is binding on the union but not the employer. The Labour Court recommendation has been issued three times and the company is completely ignoring it. What is in the Industrial Relations Act to force the company to pay the 2% increase year on year? It means the Industrial Relations Act is not working for workers in a fair way.

The Minister of State is saying this is one case but there is an increasing prevalence of employers refusing to engage with workers through their trade union and an increase in an attitude whereby they are ignoring the State's industrial relations machinery. This is the State's industrial relations machinery, namely, the WRC and the Labour Court. In recent years we have had employers such as Tesco, Dunnes Stores, LloydsPharmacy and many other outlets with more than 20,000 workers all ignoring and disrespecting the Labour Court's recommendations. The Minister of State knows employers and their representatives have been blocking joint labour committees from engaging. This is a blatant two fingers to the Labour Court, the WRC and the State's industrial relations mechanisms.

As the Minister of State said, Ireland has always had a voluntarist industrial relations model. A voluntarist model can only work where two parties volunteer. As employers, the group with disproportionate power are now ignoring not only trade unions but the State, is it time for a different model of industrial relations? I ask that the Minister of State, in amending the Industrial Relations Act 1990 to provide for An Garda Síochána access to workplace relations, introduce amendments to deal with some of these issues.

It would be inappropriate to comment on ongoing Labour Court recommendations. As I said, Ireland's system of industrial relations is voluntary in nature. The Deputy will be aware that responsibility for the resolution of all industrial relation issues lies with employers and workers and their respective representatives, as appropriate. It is important to make that point. We are very fortunate in Ireland in that arising out of the industrial relations system we have developed, there has been industrial peace in recent times. It has been the consistent policy of successive Governments to promote the development of an institutional framework supportive of the voluntary system of industrial relations. The Deputy will know there has been consistency among the social partners, and the terms and conditions of employment of workers have been best determined through the process of voluntary bargaining between employers and employees and between employers' associations and trade unions or staff associations. This approach has served us well down through the years, which we have seen in a large number of high-profile industrial disputes.

In general, our laws do not try to impose a solution on parties in a trade dispute. Rather, they are designed to help support the parties in resolving their differences. There will be differences. The State has, by and large, confined its role to underpinning voluntarism through the provision of a framework and institutions in order that good industrial relations can prosper. As I said in my opening statement, the vast majority of industrial relations disputes are settled voluntarily. Where an employer and employee representatives come together and enter a voluntary agreement to resolve their differences, that is a win-win for both sides.

It is not a win-win in this instance.

While I have no direct role in the matter, I stand by the professionalism of the industrial relations machinery of the State, which, as the Deputy knows, are always available to facilitate a solution where both parties are prepared to work in their institutions. I encourage the Deputy to have faith in the Labour Court and the Workplace Relations Commission. They are doing a good job.

The employers are refusing to implement Labour Court recommendations.

As I said, as a Minister of State, I cannot comment on the matter.

Special Educational Needs Service Provision

St. John's special school in Dungarvan opened in 1969 to serve children with a mild general learning disability in the west Waterford area. The school has expanded rapidly in the past few years. It caters for pupils aged between four and 18 years with a mild, moderate and severe to profound learning disability. Many of these pupils also present with additional needs.

The children enrolling in this school have complex needs and most have co-occurring physical, sensory or emotional needs. Many also have various syndromes such as Down's and Prader-Willi syndrome, which are life-limiting conditions, and medical issues. The school serves a broad catchment area which covers Dungarvan, west Waterford, east Cork and parts of south Tipperary. There are 63 pupils enrolled in the school. On the basis of projections and inquiries about enrolments, pupil numbers are expected to increase. I have been informed by the principal that the school building and facilities on offer are no longer fit for purpose. Staff endeavour to provide the best service possible for their pupils and their families.

The school is awaiting final stage sanction for a new extension. The staff appreciate the two extensions provided in 2011 and 2015 but following provision under the current application capacity on the site will have been reached. A long-term solution is needed in order that the school can plan properly for future generations. As I said, current enrolment stands at 63 but, in September 2019, it will be 72. There is a waiting list of six for September 2019 and the school is taking inquiries for September 2020. It is important to make the point that the children on the waiting list do not have the option of applying to another school in the area as their special needs would not be met. There have been eight inquiries for September 2020 and based on the level of interest this year that number is expected to increase. It is anticipated that the number of children seeking to enrol in St John’s school will continue to increase significantly in the next few years. It is difficult to predict numbers coming from mainstream school settings but if the pattern of the past few years continues numbers will increase significantly.

The school is awaiting a decision from the Department of Education and Skills on its application for a third extension. While the staff acknowledge and thank the Department for the two extensions already provided, the current premises will have reached saturation point on the completion of the new extension and a new school will become necessary. One wonders if a third extension is value for money when enrolments are expected to increase.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important matter. I am responding on behalf of the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, who is unable to be here due to other commitments.

The Minister is fully aware of the situation at St. John's special school and, with his officials, he is fully committed to ensuring that the project at the school is carried out as quickly as possible.

In March 2018, the Department of Education and Skills approved a grant for this school for the construction of three mainstream classrooms. The project was devolved for delivery to the school authority. This means that the board of management takes on responsibility to ensure the approved scope of work is delivered and grant limits are adhered to. In July 2018, this approval was subsequently changed and approval was given to build a two classroom special educational needs, SEN, base, which comprises a full suite of accommodation, including a sensory room and a break out room. This type of accommodation is more appropriate to the needs of the school and the board of management accepted the revised accommodation brief.

In February 2019 the Department of Education and Skills received costings and plans for the proposed building from the board of management. The plans submitted included additional floor area and the cost estimate was significantly above the approved grant. What the board of management now proposes is a three-classroom SEN base over two floors. The school's consultant has advised that as the site is restricted it is his opinion that the only viable option is a two-storey structure. It is accepted by the Department that the school site in question is confined in nature. I am pleased to inform the Deputy that departmental officials have reviewed this new proposal, approved the additional scope of work and advised the school to proceed to planning with the proposed design.

I thank the Minister of State for the welcome news that the board of management's proposal for a three-classroom SEN base over two floors has been approved and the project can now proceed to planning with the proposed design. It is important to reiterate that children with complex needs do not have the option of choosing a school. St. John's special school is a fantastic facility, with dedicated staff. However, forward planning is essential.

I welcome the approval for the three-classroom SEN base and appreciate that two extensions have been provided at the school in the past eight years. This new provision will be the third at the school. I reiterate that given the significant number of children presenting to the school with special and complex needs, a long-term solution will have to be put in place in the next five to ten years. I again welcome the news outlined by the Minister of State.

I always like to give the Deputy good news.

As I am always giving her good news with regard to jobs, it is good to give her good news on education in Dungarvan and Waterford. She has outlined a very justified case on the school and its needs. There is willingness on the part of the Department to accept that and to provide the funding required for the extra school spaces. That has been demonstrated by the revised accommodation brief. It is good news for Waterford and everybody concerned. I hope the project can proceed as quickly as possible and that planning can be granted in order that building work can proceed. It will help to alleviate the problem but what else will help pupils and teachers, since it is important that they are recognised, with their educational needs?