Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Before we proceed, I wish to point out that we lost a little time trying to get a quorum this morning. I ask all Members to stick to their time slots. Usually, they are quite good, but I will not allow people to wander all over the place. Deputies have 30 seconds each to introduce their questions, the Minister has a reply of two minutes, there will be a supplementary question from each Deputy, a one-minute response from the Minister, a final supplementary question and then a final answer. I beg Members' indulgence and support so that we might try to get through as many questions as we can.

Schools Building Projects Expenditure

Thomas Byrne

Ceist:

1. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will conduct a review of the costs of school building projects in view of the rapid increase in the cost per square metre of school construction projects in the context of a reduced capital budget in education; his plans to ensure that value is achieved; and if increases in cost have led to delays in tendering under the school building programme. [42699/19]

For the past year or more, I have had serious concerns about the Department of Education and Skills's capital budget ranging from the number of major projects currently out to tender, which is at a record low, to the cost of each school place increasing by 50% and the number of school places being delivered decreasing. It is clear that the education budget is not providing the same outputs as previously. Despite that, a Minister has accepted for the first time ever a reduction in the education capital budget. How does the Minister intend to deliver the projects around the country that he keeps announcing and to meet his previous commitments?

My Department monitors the cost of school building projects on an ongoing basis. School building costs, as reflected in the Department’s published basic building cost limit, fell significantly during the period of the economic downturn and took a number of years to return to a standard level. The Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland tender index also tracks tender levels in the industry.

The basic building cost reduced from €1,230 per sq. m in June 2006 to €930 per sq. m in January 2011 and increased gradually from April 2014 to December 2018 and now stands at €1,490 per sq. m, an increase of €260 over the peak levels in 2006. The bulk of the increase reflects tender prices returning to more sustainable levels compared with those during the period of the economic downturn and improvements in building standards for schools over the period. Improvements in standards include new standards for acoustics and sanitary facilities introduced in 2014, improved costs allowances for standards for roof finishes introduced in December 2018, and changes in Part L of the 2017 national building regulations to reflect the EU directive on the energy performance of buildings, that is, near zero energy buildings, NZEBs, which were also introduced in December 2018.

NZEBs are buildings that have a very high energy performance. The nearly zero or very low amount of energy required should be covered to a significant extent by energy from renewable sources, including sources produced on site or nearby. The NZEB standard will apply to all new buildings occupied after 31 December 2020. For public sector bodies, the standard applies to all new buildings owned and occupied since 31 December 2018. As with previous building regulations, there are transitional arrangements in place where buildings are occupied after these dates but work commenced prior to 31 December 2018.

My Department continues to have a strong roll-out of projects to tender and construction under the national development plan. This will continue to be the case up to 2027, with a ring-fenced capital budget of €12 billion to be spent on school buildings during that period.

The Minister should not insult the intelligence of the Dáil by saying that the capital budget is ring-fenced. At the first opportunity, he cut it. At the very first fence on the racecourse, he fell and let education down by agreeing a cut in the capital budget. I want to know how that happened and how the Minister plans to deliver school buildings. The figure for the capital budget was set out in Government documents, the national development plan and negotiations with my party in October, yet the Minister at some point late on agreed with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, to reduce the capital programme of the Department of Education and Skills.

I cannot see how the Minister, Deputy McHugh, can deliver projects. Recall the WBS fiasco, which I presume the Department is still funding despite having a smaller budget. Consider the demand for school places and other issues that have arisen. For example, the Dunboyne College of Further Education in my constituency has been told that work on a new building will not now proceed. The reason given was a review, but I have no doubt that it is because of the reduced capital budget. As regards the price of sites, the Department continually pays over the odds instead of parking at the dog track and DIT.

Let us be clear about the exact mathematics. In 2016, capital expenditure on the school buildings programme was €530 million. In 2017, it was €532 million. In 2018, it was €547 million. In 2019, it was €622 million, a 14% increase on 2018. Next year, it will be €620 million, some €2 million less. I have publicly stated what my first line of defence in the budget was. As the Deputy knows, it is a no-deal Brexit budget and I wanted to ring-fence special education provision. I did that.

The pressures coming off the capital budget relate to the sale of a property on Kevin Street. The sale closed in August and means that the Department no longer needs to set aside a significant funding element for the Grangegorman development.

This is important, so I will make it my last point. The Kevin Street property sold for €140 million, approximately €60 million above the guide price.

The Minister will have a further minute.

This has reduced the pressure on the 2020 capital budget.

I am glad to see that the Department of Education and Skills is not the only organisation buying above the guide price. Unfortunately, the Department has paid as much as double the guide price several times. That is my problem with this. The Minister has admitted that the budget has decreased by €2 million, but the overall capital budget has decreased by €19 million. During the summer, we in Fianna Fáil tried to shame the Government into action on special education. In truth, however, that action has been a failure already, given that one of the largest single component increases of next year's budget is that of transport for special needs education, which is meant to bring people to schools that are many miles away from their homes. That policy has failed and must end. Instead, the policy must be for children to attend schools in their local areas and for suitable places to be available for them. We cannot keep raising the special needs transport budget year on year when we are not able to provide those children with places in their local areas.

Will the Minister commit to a review of capital spending and identify why these costs are constantly increasing? Just as I asked the previous Minister, Deputy Bruton, will this Minister ask the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, for more money for the capital budget? The Minister, Deputy McHugh, does not have enough.

Since 2016, we have invested €3 billion in the school building programme. We will continue with that. Prior to this budget, I sat down with a dedicated team of my officials in Tullamore. They wanted to continue delivering on the programme. We agreed on rolling out 60 new schools in 2020. That was before the budget. The budget has passed. After the budget, we will still be rolling out 60 new buildings in 2020. Nothing has changed. The €2 million will make no difference to our material plans for next year, under which 30,000 extra places will be provided through permanent and additional accommodation.

I will continue to do that. If we are still standing in 2020, which probably will be the case, we will ensure that we deliver those buildings.

Schools Building Projects

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Ceist:

2. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Education and Skills the status of additional school places for Swords, County Dublin, in view of demand and the growing population; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42730/19]

The population of Swords is almost 45,000 and growing. The town is a great place to live, with a fantastic community, but it is under pressure with respect to school places. I and others in the constituency have raised this issue with the Minister previously, so he is not unfamiliar with it. We have also sought a meeting with him to discuss the matter and I will press the Minister for such a meeting because he needs to hear from the parents. Of particular concern is the waiting list for the Holy Family school. The Minister will be aware of that issue from correspondence and exchanges in the House.

I thank the Deputy who I appreciate has been in direct contact with me, as have colleagues in the constituency, Senator James Reilly and Deputy Alan Farrell, regarding the pressures and demographics in the area. As the Deputy will be aware, in 2018 the Government announced plans for the establishment of 42 new schools over the four years from 2019 to 2022, including two new primary schools to be established in the Swords school planning area. The first of these is a new eight-classroom primary school to be established in 2019 to serve the Swords south school planning area. This school, River Valley community national school, opened in September in interim accommodation. The second is a new eight-classroom primary school to serve the Swords north school planning area. The opening of this school, Broadmeadow community national school, has been deferred until September 2020. In addition, Swords community college, a new 1,000 pupil post-primary school, was established in the Swords school planning area in 2018.

The requirement for new schools will be kept under ongoing review and will have particular regard for the increased roll-out of housing provision, as outlined in Project Ireland 2040. My Department is in regular contact with local authorities in this regard, including Fingal County Council in conjunction with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection in terms of recording and enumerating the level of increased potential demand.

I advise the Deputy that the current status of large-scale projects being delivered under Project Ireland 2040 may be viewed on my Department's website, www.education.ie, and this information is updated regularly. The capital programme also provides for devolved funding for additional classrooms, if required, for schools where an immediate enrolment need has been identified or an additional teacher has been appointed. Details of schools listed on this programme can be found on my Department's websiteand this information is also updated regularly.

Will the Minister meet parents in the area who are at their wits' end? If not, will he give his reasons for not doing so? I and other Deputies in the constituency signed a letter requesting that the Minister meet directly with the parents. These parents want their children to be able to go to school close to where they live, as we all do.

A temporary school will be built on Main Street in Swords to replace a temporary school currently housed in the Riasc Centre. That is not acceptable. The parents have questions they want to put directly to the Minister. I will put them now. Can the Minister confirm that the school will be built as part of phase 1 of the development of Fosterstown, rather than being left to the end, as has been done with other schools? When will the temporary school on Main Street in Swords be ready? Will the Minister meet the parents who want to put their concerns to him directly?

My Department was awaiting final grant of planning permission for the site of the temporary school at 85-87 Main Street Swords and it issued on 27 August 2019. A commencement notice was submitted to Fingal County Council on Friday, 11 October, and it is envisaged that works will commence on site at the end of October. Once works are complete and the building control regulations certification is validated, the school can then move in. My Department will continue to liaise with the school authorities in that regard.

The proposed acquisition of an identified site to accommodate River Valley community national school in the Swords south area is currently being progressed by Dublin and Dún Laoghaire Education and Training Board with the assistance of the Department of Education and Skills. Due to commercial sensitivities, it is not possible at this time to confirm the proposed location for the school. However, I can confirm that the identified site is appropriately located to meet the needs of the community it is intended to serve.

In response to the Deputy's question about meeting the parents concerned, I am inundated with requests to meet parents from every parish around the country. I can organise a meeting between the Deputies and the relevant officials if further clarification is needed.

When will the premises at 85-87 Main Street in Swords be ready? Parents were told it would be a matter of weeks and it now appears it will be a matter of months. There is another temporary arrangement in operation now and the site on Main Street will not be the permanent location of the school either. This is unfair on the parents. The population of Swords is growing. All people see are houses going up all around them. While that is to be welcomed because we need houses, there is nowhere for children to go to school. All the parents want is for their children to be able to go to school locally. I welcome the Minister's statement that we can meet officials. Will he ensure planners from his Department are also present at the meeting in order that we can have a discussion with them? The parents believe they have been forgotten and their children do not matter. They are being moved from Billy to Jack. The children are now being taught in a temporary location and parents still have no idea when their children will be able to move into the other temporary site on Main Street in Swords, much less a permanent school site. Many of the children will be finished school by the time this matter has been resolved. The parents need to know some firm dates.

I understand the sense of urgency and the frustration on the part of the parents who want clarification on the timeframe. The commencement notice was submitted to Fingal County Council on Friday, 11 October and it is envisaged that works will commence on the site at the end of October. Through regular contact with my officials, I will ensure that we prioritise this project and make it happen as soon as possible.

Special Educational Needs

Thomas Byrne

Ceist:

3. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans to ensure each child with a special need has a school place in the 2019-20 school year; and if he will report on the planning under way for special education places in September 2020. [42700/19]

Some of my constituents have contacted me since I asked the first question. I am pleased they are watching proceedings here, but they are also very concerned about the issues raised this morning with regard to the Government's plans for capital spending.

My question is to ask the Minister his plans to ensure that each child with special educational needs has a place in school next September. If I were the Minister, I would not rest on my laurels because we are finally getting some children into school for this year. What planning is in place for next September?

As Minister for Education and Skills, I believe that every child should have an education provided for him or her that best supports the child and meets his or her individual needs. The provision of education for children with special needs is an ongoing priority for the Government. Currently, we spend almost 20% of the total education Vote of €1.9 billion on supporting children with special needs. The numbers of special classes, special education teachers and special needs assistants are at unprecedented levels.

The National Council for Special Education, NCSE, has a statutory function to plan and co-ordinate the provision of education and support services to children with special educational needs. The council has well-established structures in place to plan and co-ordinate special education provision throughout the country. Normally, special classes are established with the full co-operation of the schools in areas where they are required. However, in some parts of the country councils face challenges in getting schools and their patrons to voluntarily agree to provide special class or school places. I know that this has caused much anguish for parents and families involved. As Minister, I have a power under section 37A of the Education Act 1998 to direct a school to provide additional provision where all reasonable efforts have failed. The legislation was used for the first time in April, not July, in respect of the Dublin 15 area. We have made significant progress in a relatively short period with the opening of seven new special classes and a new special school that will provide 88 places for children with special needs. I met the principal of the new special school last week. I acknowledge the work she and her team, in conjunction with the education and training board, have contributed to ensure that the project has progressed. The new places will help these families and ensure that the children concerned have access to education.

The experience of Dublin 15 shows the real and practical challenges that can be addressed when opening new special classes and how we can resolve these challenges by working together and in partnership. The NCSE is continuing its work at local level to ensure all children can access a suitable school placement for the forthcoming school year and beyond.

As Minister, I would much prefer that schools provide places for children in their community. Where that is not the case, I am prepared to use the legislation to ensure that children can access a suitable education.

I acknowledge what the Minister says about Dublin 15. I ask him to confirm that all of those classes and schools are open. He and his Department seem to be under a misapprehension regarding the purpose of the legislation, which gives the power to force classes to open. That is not a tool to plan school places. It is there for a small number of recalcitrant schools that refuse to do their share and provide education for children with special needs in their areas. As stated, that to which I refer is not a planning tool for every school. Planning is about sitting down with the NCSE and the special educational needs organisers and working out what places will be available next September. We are of the view that it should be possible to do it demographically for five years. It is possible with other aspects of special education and it needs to happen. The problem will not be solved overnight. Nor will it be solved if the Minister and Department are asleep at the wheel, as they were for the previous year. This problem seems to have suddenly come upon them when everybody else knew it was an issue. Other parts of the country need urgent attention.

I am happy to provide an update on the seven schools and classes. The situation is fluid, with training ongoing to ensure that teachers and staff are enabled and equipped to carry out these duties. For example, the special school is down to the final checklist to make sure it is ready. The feedback from people involved in the special school was that the training provided to the staff to ensure that they are equipped and enabled to deliver the proper services was of a high standard. There was also feedback about ensuring that we progress in these specific areas and that parents, teachers, staff and principals want to ensure that they have the proper training, capacity-building capability and professional development. I am happy to forward to the Deputy information about how many of them are open. Of course we need a better plan, a better way of doing things and a better way of communicating with parents. We still have a situation where some parents are told about certain schools which turn out to be full. That is not good enough and I have asked the NCSE to work on the matter.

If it was 17 August, it might be appropriate to state that training is being done, that everything is being made ready and that the parents want everything to be right. The latter is something I do not doubt. However, it is 17 October, weeks into the school year, and the Minister is happy to keep telling us about all of this work being done in, I remind the House, the Taoiseach's constituency. What is happening everywhere else? Every child has a constitutional right to primary education, one of the best moves made by Éamon de Valera and the people and parties who voted for and supported the Constitution when it was introduced. The right to which I refer was unrecognised in other constitutions at the time. The 1937 Constitution was visionary. That vision is not being implemented or taken seriously by this Government. We should be here in August, July or June - or a year before, as I suggest in this question, or even five years prior - doing our best to work out the demographic requirements. None of that is happening. Instead, the Minister is acting as if this is an emergency response. Since I mentioned an emergency response, I pay tribute to Dublin Fire Brigade regarding the work it did yesterday.

Charges are being levelled but let us be honest about what exactly is happening. The figures that we have are that, since this time last year, we have an additional 1,064 places in 167 extra classes. That figure has gone up to almost 1,600. I needed to ensure, in the context of the budget, that I protected the extra SNAs. We had 16,000 SNAs before the budget and we now have an additional 1,000. That brings the number to 17,000, the highest ever, a 61% increase in SNAs since 2011. We spend €1 out of every €5 on special education and inclusion education. That is the right thing to do, particularly as we have moved from an education system that was exclusive through to an integrated system and on now to one that is inclusive.

Inclusion means that the child is at the heart of everything. Parents are still struggling to get their young sons and daughters into classes and I am willing to meet that challenge head on.

The Deputy levelled a charge against me in respect of the past year. There are more than 1,000 extra places, 167 extra classes and 1,000 extra SNAs.

I ask for Members' co-operation. I do not want to stop anybody from speaking. They should try to adhere to the allocated times.

Special Educational Needs Staff

Bríd Smith

Ceist:

4. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Education and Skills if funding for additional SNAs and improvements in the pay and conditions of SNAs will be provided for in 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42572/19]

My question follows on from the previous one to some extent. Will the Minister clarify if the additional funding announced for 1,000 SNAs includes the 800 extra SNAs that he announced in May or is it a further 1,000? Will this announcement of extra funding include an improvement of conditions, hours and precariousness under which these workers work? I also want to talk about the pay levels.

Special education is a priority, as outlined in the previous answer. The Department's policy aims to ensure that all children with special needs can have access to an education appropriate to their needs, preferably in mainstream school settings, and where parents have chosen for the child to go to special classes, for which there are 125 facilities in total in the country, that choice is available.

Following the recent budget, €1.9 billion or about one fifth of the overall education budget will be invested in the provision of additional supports for children with special educational needs in 2020. The 800 were part of the previous budget, which brought the number to 16,000. We are now going from 16,000 to 17,000, which is a 61% increase since 2011.

This will include funding for an additional 1,064 SNA posts that will be available for allocation next September. This will support the extended roll-out of the new school inclusion model and ensure that students with additional needs get the right support at the right time as well as supporting the provision of up to 1,300 new special class places.

I am satisfied that the level of provision we have made in recent years has ensured that all children with special educational needs can participate in education and that most children with special needs have been able to be enrolled in the school or placement of their choice.

Remuneration for SNAs is set with the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. SNAs benefit from the increases approved under public service pay agreements. The most recent increase in pay of 1.75% took effect from 1 September. Two further increases are scheduled for January 2020 and October 2020. Other matters relating to terms and conditions of employment, including claims, are managed through the established industrial relations structures.

It is great that the Minister is announcing all these extra hours. The public would state that this is an amazing achievement and that an additional 1,000 on top of the previous 800 is what we need for the children, the parents and to take the pressure off the teachers and SNAs. The difficulty is that many SNAs still work under very precarious terms. They do not know until May what will be their allocation for the following year. Previously, they did not know what the allocation would be until August or September, so that is a bit of an improvement but nevertheless, a person could end up with 0.6 or 0.25 of a post. Often, if the special education needs organiser determines that a child does not need as many hours, then it is a last-in, first-out situation. There is significant precarity and uncertainty in terms of who one is looking after, where one works and the hours one works. There is an outstanding issue of 72 extra hours that the SNA works in each academic year that are flexible within the school. SNAs often clean or photocopy material. They are not cleaners, they are special needs assistants. They are trained and value the work that they do, as, I believe, does the Minister. Can we look at the detail of the conditions of SNAs?

The figures for the collective teaching staff across primary and secondary stand at 71,000. As of September next year, we will have 17,000 SNAs.

I have met with the Ulster branch of the SNA groups up in the north west over the last year and I get the sense of insecurity around future prospects. That is why I am taking the recommendations to have a proper national training authority mechanism for SNAs seriously. We also need to look at how we can have a better mechanism in place for their future sustainability, their future prospects and their career progression, as other people in the system have.

An SNA industrial relations forum was recently established in the Department. It has met once. This has only happened in recent weeks. This forum mirrors those fora operating in other education sectors, such as the education and training board, ETB, industrial relations forum and the institutes of technology forum. The parties to this forum include officials from the Department of Education and Skills, management bodies, and Fórsa trade union. I know the Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union, SIPTU, represents 600 to 900 SNAs as well. I am conscious we need to get proper mechanisms in place. This is not the end game of where I want to go to but tús maith leath na hoibre. It is important we start the conversation.

I want to emphasise it is not just about the future prospects and the possible improvements in training. On the day-to-day level, the experience of thousands of SNAs is the fragmentation and insecurity they experience. There is an idea that there is a 72 hour block in a given year where they are flexible to do what has to be done in the school, whether it is cleaning, washing, taking kids to the toilet or doing office work. That is not what they are there for. We have to take a holistic approach to how we look after our children with special needs. As the Minister knows, and he has often stated he has huge admiration for SNAs, they are mainly female, they are loving and caring and they really mind and care about the children, but for them to be treated as lesser workers with lesser rights leads to demoralisation and insecurity. That fragmentation of their lives is not a good sign of how we treat the package of special needs in school. It is a package. It is done with the parents and children and, crucially, the special needs assistants who look after the children. My question is on the fragmentation of their lives and jobs, the insecurities they face and the 72 wild hours in a year in which they might have to do anything that is requested of them. That needs to be looked at.

I appreciate the extent of the contribution they make. That is important because this is an important issue and an issue I want to work on. I assume the issue of the 72 hours has been raised through the forum that has been set up. I also want to point out that young students do not differentiate between SNAs and teachers. They know now they are part of an all-inclusive school model. Their contribution is something I value. That fracturing and fragmentation is something I want to focus on as well. The Deputy is correct in saying it is primarily a female dominated profession but I am starting to see and meet a lot of men in the profession, and I mention two in particular. One of those men was a butcher and the other was a construction worker. They have moved into training to become SNAs. We are lucky to have a great place like St. Angela's College in Sligo, which the Acting Chairman will be familiar with. It is inspiring to see these men who have gone from traditional sector work into this work. It is transformative and they feel they are in a job that is really important. Words are only words and that is all I am providing today. We have set up a forum and I want to continue to work on the recommendations. Fórsa and SIPTU are the trade union representatives and I know they have voiced a lot of these opinions as well but as I said earlier, we have gone from an education model in this country over the last 100 years of exclusion to one of integration and inclusion. If we are serious about inclusion, SNAs will be at the heart of that.

I want to say to the Minister and to Deputies that there are time slots agreed by the House. I do not mind Members taking eight or ten seconds but Members continuously go over time-----

The Acting Chairman is wile hard on me today.

I know it is an important issue, but at the same time, I have to chair this and the fact that we go over time means that our colleagues are being left out at the end.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

5. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Education and Skills the way in which the allocation for Vote 26 in budget 2020 will impact on class size at primary level or significantly address the longstanding concerns of an organisation (details supplied) in relation to much needed additional personnel and resources for primary education. [42634/19]

The €11.4 billion from Vote 26 and the Estimates for 2020 from last week is welcome. I welcome the improvements that have been made with SNAs and we just heard about 150 extra teachers for demographic reasons, but overall we still have the biggest class sizes in the eurozone and nearly the biggest in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD. A key aim of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation, INTO, and the National Principals' Forum is to reduce these. The Government has not really made progress on this in this year's budget.

We have made a little bit of progress but it is not at the level I would have liked. The budget is not reflective of where I would like to be as Minister for Education and Skills, but it is reflective of where we are at a given point in time. Since we started here today, I do not know where we are in the conversation that is ongoing across the water, but hopefully we will get into a better place.

Despite budget 2020 being prepared in the context of a possible no-deal Brexit and the Government's necessity to plan for the economic impact of such a possibility, since May 2016 we have provided for an additional 3,000 SNAs and over 7,300 new teaching posts, with a further 1,000 SNA positions and 581 teaching posts for the 2020-21 school year as a result of budget 2020. We have cut the staffing schedule at primary level twice, which brought the position to a general average of 26 pupils to every teacher, the lowest ever allocation ratio at primary level. We have to go further with that. The reduction of the pupil-teacher ratio is indicative of where I want to go and that has to be brought across the spectrum of primary school education. We have introduced a more favourable staffing schedule in small schools from September 2020. This budget 2020 measure for improved teacher staffing levels for schools with four teachers or less will see a more favourable pupil-teacher ratio in small schools. This improved schedule will apply in two, three and four teacher schools and will ensure one less pupil is required to retain or recruit a teacher. We have provided 1,300 new middle management positions at primary level and 1,300 new middle management positions at post-primary level. We have increased significantly the number of release days allowed to teaching principals, with a further additional release day to all schools in September 2020. We have increased capitation by 5% in budget 2019 and by a further 2.5% in budget 2020. We have increased the ancillary grant in primary schools by €22 per pupil.

I have taken steps in budget 2020 to build on the steps taken in recent budgets to meet the goals set out in the action plan for education. In the current school year, the numbers employed in our schools have reached their highest ever level at almost 71,000. Teacher numbers at primary level have increased by almost 3,500 when comparing the 2015-16 school year with the current school year, and this has led to a steady improvement in the pupil-teacher ratio. Substantial extra resources for primary education have been gained in the past three budgets and it is through the annual budgetary process each year and future budgets that further progress will be made.

We were promised in the confidence and supply agreement that is now three and a half years old that in each budget we would see an incremental improvement in the pupil-teacher ratio. The Department's analysis in August showed that 350,000, or 63% of our pupils at primary level, are in classes of more than 25. Examples are Scoil Naomh Colmchille in Carndonagh in the Minister's constituency, Scoil Náisiúnta Róis in Taylor's Hill in Galway and Bunscoil Phádraig Naofa in Tuam with classes of 42. I note that Scoil Mobhí in Glasnevin has 32 pupils in eight classrooms. The Government has still not made a decisive move on this in response to the commitments the Government and Fianna Fáil gave to the people back in 2016. Schools across Leinster and in Waterford are more likely to have those bigger class sizes. If the Minister looks at the OECD standings, we come in behind the USA, Russia and a plethora of about 25 countries in class sizes. It is no wonder the Irish National Teachers' Organisation and the National Principals' Forum are very unhappy with the budget outcome in many respects. Did the Minister ask for the extra €140 million or so that would have been needed to reduce the pupil-teacher ratio by one pupil?

To answer the Deputy's last question, I certainly did ask for a lot more money than I got and I battled it out. The line was clear that we were working within a threshold and that is why I wanted to ensure all the front-line services, especially special education, were protected. I am a year in the job this week and I have realised that the primary school sector and the pupil-teacher ratio is an issue that keeps coming up. One of the things I wanted to set out was that if I look at changes for the two, three and four teacher schools, I want to see that pupil-teacher ratio coming down. That is where I want to get to. I know there are legacy posts within DEIS schools for primary schools.

I want to look after them. I do not want to lose them either. I know this is a conversation piece. I want to protect what we have. The Deputy is correct with regard to the pupil-teacher ratio. To give every student a chance, there has to be a smaller numeral, but obviously schools will decide their classroom sizes for themselves. At present, the pupil-teacher ratio is 1:24 and this will continue.

In its analysis in August, the Department said appropriate learning experiences were very hard to achieve in class of more than 25. It is no wonder that in one response to the budget last week the INTO stated classes continue to be super-sized, school leaders are not supported, and capitation is underfunded by at least €46 million. The Minister has read the survey published last year on teaching principals, which stated they were overworked, underpaid and grappling with never-ending administrative work. There are huge problems here, particularly with regard to the pupil-teacher ratio.

I thank the Minister for visiting Scoil Chaitríona Cailíní yesterday, where a terrible fire has destroyed nine classrooms, the library and the hall. The Minister has already sent an architect. I know he will do his very best for all of the children. It is a fantastic school and has been for generations. One Deputy said her mother went there. Accommodation and reconstruction as soon as possible is what we need. It is an iconic school that is very important to our community in Coolock and Artane in Dublin Bay North.

We all sympathise with the community there.

I have met the principal, staff, some of the parents and some of the young people. It was a devastating day and they were still in shock yesterday. Out of the ashes they will rebuild. There was a lot of community fundraising for the new library so it was an especially difficult day. The mother of one of the teachers, Gráinne Campbell, whom I did not meet, sent a message last night to say she was also devastated as all of her teaching materials were gone. They will rebuild and I will ensure it gets proper focus. Yesterday morning, I met the architect from the Department out there and we will absolutely prioritise it.

With regard to what we need to do within the educational system, we have 125 special schools, more than 3,300 primary schools and more than 750 secondary schools. We have a lot of schools that are doing absolutely amazing and incredible work. Obviously, supports in terms of financial bread and butter stuff are very important. The Deputy mentioned capitation. There had been a reduction of 11% and we had an increase of 5% last year. We are now up to 7.5%. We are not there yet. The price of running schools is a big thing. The Deputy also mentioned leadership. One more teacher in the day will take a wee bit of pressure off teaching principals. It is not where I want to be but it is an indication of where I want to go.