Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

State Examinations

Kieran O'Donnell

Ceist:

61. Deputy Kieran O'Donnell asked the Minister for Education her priorities for the reform of the leaving certificate; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57336/21]

Alan Farrell

Ceist:

66. Deputy Alan Farrell asked the Minister for Education her priorities with regard to the reform of the leaving certificate; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57129/21]

I want to raise the issue of the leaving certificate and of having certainty about what the leaving certificate will be about going forward. I note that the Minister has received the advisory report from the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA. When does she expect to make a decision on it? We saw that the hybrid model worked in the last academic year but it had the consequence of points going up. When will we have certainty around this area? Students need to know from first year on what they will be facing.

As the Deputy may be aware, the NCCA carried out a review of the senior cycle between 2016 and 2020, leading to the advisory report the Deputy has referenced. The review covered a number of areas, including the question of the overall identity and purposes of senior cycle education; how to establish continuity and progression with the new junior cycle; and the range of learning programmes and pathways available to students at senior cycle. In addition to this, the review considers: how best to improve flexibility and choice for students; the alignment of key skills with the needs of students; and the appropriate arrangements for assessment and certification in senior cycle.

The NCCA review involved a broad range of research, consultations and communications with a wide variety of stakeholders, including students, on all aspects of review and redevelopment over a number of phases over the period of the review. In particular, the second phase, which took place over 2018 and 2019, involved a school review and national seminar series. Teachers, students and parents in a representative cross-section of schools nationwide took part in a review of the existing senior cycle. Review feedback was then analysed and emerging themes and areas for further exploration were identified. The third phase of the review also invited individuals and organisations, including students and student representative organisations, to participate in a public consultation process, leading to the publication of a public consultation report in December 2019. This consultation included 4,300 responses to an online consultation survey, as well as focus groups, meetings and the receipt by the NCCA of written submissions.

The NCCA also commissioned external expertise to support the process, including the ESRI and the OECD.

As I have mentioned, the NCCA submitted its advisory report to my Department. My officials and I have been considering the report carefully, with a view to delivering a senior cycle programme that meets the needs of the students of today and the future.

While I do not wish to pre-empt the conclusion of that consideration process this evening, my priority in considering the report is to deliver a senior cycle for all guided by the goals set out in the programme for Government which place the needs, experience and success of learners, educators and the community at the heart of the approach.

Does the Minister believe that the hybrid model for the leaving certificate in June of 2021, which involved calculated grades along with students being able to sit the examination, was a success and does she believe that is the type of future model that will be laid out when she issues her direction in respect of the advisory report she has received?

When does the Minister expect to come to a conclusion on it? At this point, students of all age groups in secondary school, and more particularly, their parents, need certainty.

I am taking Deputy Alan Farrell's question.

The question I would like to ask the Minister is just how radical she is willing to be in this area. The reality is that memory retention, which is at the heart of the leaving certificate, is distorting teaching and learning. The OECD has reported it is creating a second-rate qualification for our students.

We are more than five years on from the start of this reform process and it sounds like it is being pushed further down the road. This is urgent. We need to have equity of respect for different pathways and the present leaving certificate simply does not offer that.

In the first instance, as I referenced earlier, the senior cycle review is just that. It reviews all of senior cycle. That is important because it includes leaving certificate established or, as we would call it, leaving certificate; the transition year programme; leaving certificate applied; and leaving certificate vocational programme, LCVP. It is very much a holistic look at all that is on offer currently at senior cycle. It proposes to address the key questions of the overall identity and purpose of senior cycle, how to establish continuity and progression with the existing junior cycle and the range of learning programmes and pathways available to students at senior cycle.

The review has taken more than four years to complete. As the Deputies will appreciate, as a consequence there is a substantial body of work in it. Therefore, it demands substantial consideration on my part. I previously referenced clarification, whether it is with the State Examinations Commission, SEC, or whatever the case might be. It is my intention in the shortest timeframe possible to publish the report.

As a parent, and having put four through the leaving certificate in recent years, it is a hugely significant examination for students.

In the past year, there was the hybrid model. While people may accept the point about memory retention, I believe there is scope for both. People have to be able to perform in an examination but, equally, they must be judged on their continuous assessment. Does the Minister consider the most recent leaving certificate, that hybrid model, a success and is it something that will feed into the process outside of everything else?

It is a significant examination. For someone at 17, 18 or 19 years of age, one has to ask if it is catering for all skills. At the same time, it is an equitable examination that the public have faith in. I like the fact of people going to an examination and putting their number at the top of the page. It does not signify who they are. I like that aspect of it and it is something that I value. We should not lose that.

I have two short supplementaries. Could I have the assurance of the Minister that it will not take another five years to implement the changes when they do come out because that would be bitterly disappointing for people who want to see change? Does the Minister agree that the ceiling did not fall in when teachers undertook to assess their own students and that we need to be courageous in advocating and implementing change that allows modern learning and teaching to happen in our schools?

It is important to point out that all learnings from Covid are important, not only within the education sector but in all of society. Specifically, in relation to the questions the Deputies raise here in terms of senior cycle, all of what we have learned through Covid is an important consideration. All of what we have learned and experienced prior to Covid also will inform this report.

Deputy O'Donnell quite correctly referred to leaving certificate, as we are focused on leaving certificate, as being a very significant examination. It is a very significant examination and it holds a considerable status within this country. Equally, wider society is clearly of a view - I am absolutely committed to this - that there is a need now to do a complete review of the leaving certificate in its entirety.

The Deputies referenced methods and means pertaining to assessment and certification. I absolutely acknowledge that. I also acknowledge that we need to be innovative in our thinking in terms of the pathways we offer people and that there should be every possible opportunity for students to progress from junior cycle straight into senior cycle and then onwards to whatever pathway that they might wish to pursue.

I want to be clear to the Deputies that I am entirely committed to the senior cycle review providing opportunities in terms of senior cycle education for all where every young person's ability and every young person's potential and capability is maximised, and that is the objective here. As I have said, I am committed to that and delivering on that.

Questions Nos. 62 and 63 replied to with Written Answers.

School Enrolments

Mark Ward

Ceist:

64. Deputy Mark Ward asked the Minister for Education if she will report on plans to increase secondary school places in an area (details supplied) to meet the demand of the growing population; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57022/21]

My constituency of Dublin Mid-West has an area of huge population growth. Can the Minister report on any plans to increase secondary school places in Clondalkin, Lucan, Rathcoole, Newcastle, Palmerstown, Saggart and Brittas to meet the demand of this growing population?

I thank Deputy Ward for his question. I wish to advise the Deputy that the Department is aware of increasing local pressures and demand for additional post-primary school places in a number of school planning areas, including the mid-west Dublin area.

However, it is important to note that where enrolment pressures arise, it may not be as a result of lack of accommodation but may be driven by a number of different factors, as the Deputy will be aware. In some instances, it could be duplication of applications where pupils may apply for a place to a number of schools in the area; pupils cannot get a place in their preferred school or school of choise while there are places in other schools in the area; some towns or areas have single sex schools and while places are available in the school, they are not available to all pupils; and there is the external draw, with pupils coming from outside the local area. I reference these as sometimes causing specific issues.

The Department is working to establish the true extent of any capacity issues through ongoing discussions with the relevant school authorities. In that context, similar to the process adopted in advance of the current academic year, my Department is engaging with patron bodies, including those of schools in Dublin Mid-West, to identify particular capacity requirements for the forthcoming years which may necessitate further action to that already in train.

Under Project Ireland 2040, the Department continues to make progress to increase the infrastructural capacity in the schools sector, in order to meet demographic and other demands. It is expected that the enrolment pressures in this area and others will reduce in the short term as such planned additional capacity comes on stream and as demographic demand moves past its peak.

The capital programme details the school projects that are being progressed under Project Ireland 2040. The current status of large-scale projects being delivered under Project Ireland 2040, including projects in the school planning areas in question, may be viewed on my Department's website. In addition, a list of large-scale projects completed from 2010 to date may also be viewed on the website.

The capital programme also provides for devolved funding for additional classrooms, including accommodation for pupils with special educational needs, if required; and for schools where an additional enrolment need has been identified or where an additional teacher has been appointed. Details of schools listed on this programme can be found on the website.

Duplication of applications is a symptom of the problem. Parents in my constituency are finding it increasingly difficult to find a secondary school for their children. Dublin Mid-West is facing significant population growth.

There are areas in the constituency that have seen major development in recent times. For instance, Adamstown and the Adamstown extension have seen a increase not only in their general population but also especially in their youth population. The areas known locally as "the four districts", namely, Rathcoole, Newcastle, Saggart and Brittas, are some of the fastest-growing areas not only in the constituency but also in the State. Clanburris will bring an additional 8,500 homes to our area. Parents usually contact me in the summer looking for assistance to find their children secondary school places, but they are already contacting me now. It is not even Christmas.

Are there any new plans to increase capacity of existing schools in the area?

I mentioned some of those points because they can cause specific issues at different times. Under Project 2040, €8.9 billion will be invested by the Department of Education in the school building programme. On additional school accommodation being made available in Dublin mid-west, it is intended that the following building projects will provide additional capacity in these areas: at St. Joseph's College there is a project for extension, refurbishment to cater for a long-term projected enrolment of 1,000 pupils. It is at stage 3 now. The project at Lucan Community College is for extension refurbishment to cater for a long-term projection of enrolment of 1,000 pupils and two SEN-based classrooms. It is at stage 2B. There is a project for a new school building at Griffeen Community College to provide a long-term projected enrolment of 1,000 pupils and four SEN-based classrooms. There will also be projects at Holy Family Community School and in City West and Saggart, Collaiste Pobal Fóla.

We welcome the initial capacity building because it is really needed. A school that the Minister did not mention - I had hoped she would - is St. Kevin's Community College on the Fonthill Road. For the purposes of disclosure, that is my old school. When we first moved to the area, there was no secondary school. We had to be bused up to Lucan to a building that was not fit for purpose. It had mould and damp. Parents and pupils got into activism. They went out to the media to campaign for a new school. There are concerns in the area that the school has had to fight for everything it has. It is a really good school. There are plans to increase its capacity from 300 pupils to 1,000, as far as I know. We are asking that does not happen on an ad hoc basis, where modular buildings are dropped in here and there but that there is a comprehensive plan for the school so that the students can get the best education possible and the teacher can have the best facilities possible to deliver that.

There are further large-scale projects which will also provide additional school accommodation in the Dublin mid-west area, including at Moyle Park College, Clondalkin, Collinstown Park Community College, Coláiste Cois Life and the school in which, I appreciate, the Deputy has a particular interest, namely, St. Kevin's Community College. St. Kevin's was provided with additional general classroom, specialist subject and ancillary accommodation under the Department's 2021 modular framework to meet additional needs in the current academic year.

All the issues raised by the Deputy in respect of Dublin mid-west are kept consistently under review. Where further resources are needed, we will not be found wanting.

Special Educational Needs

Pauline Tully

Ceist:

65. Deputy Pauline Tully asked the Minister for Education the reason a response was never received to an expression of interest made in March 2020 by a school (details supplied) to assist with planning in respect of the requirement for special class provision; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57284/21]

Milltown National School in Belturbet, County Cavan expressed an interest in having an ASD unit in the school but has not received a reply. What is the status of this request?

I understand that the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, has contacted the school on the request. It is a matter I take seriously as Minister of State with responsibility for special education. It is important to look at the growth in special classes. In 2011 there were 508 special classes and now there are 2,118, an increase of 386%. This year alone, we opened 269 special classes and will open 287 next year, with 1,700 special class places. That is the context. There has been rapid growth in special classes but that is not to say that we do not need more. The NCSE looks at current and projected demand and current and projected accommodation when it considers whether to open a special class.

I understand that the school has not yet made an application to the Department for special class accommodation but has applied for a special class. I am informed that there is already sufficient special classes in that school planning area, as there are three special classes in the Beltubert special planning area. That could change. If there is a review with new information and additional resources are required, the NCSE will consider that seriously. I commend Milltown for looking into opening a special class voluntarily. Not every school is as forthcoming. I appreciate it and it is something that we will consider.

It was a parent who contacted me about this matter. She is anxious that all her children attend the same school. One of them is on the autism spectrum. From her conversations with the principal in Milltown, she knew the school was interested and had made an expression of interest in having an ASD unit but that it had not heard back. On foot of her query, I submitted a parliamentary question and the response was that there had been no application. That is why the principal was taken aback - there had been no interaction after he had expressed an interest.

This week, the special educational needs organiser, SENO, was in contact to say that they would consider taking it further because there may be a need for more places in that area, and the school is delighted to hear that. The school has been sanctioned for additional classrooms. It is a growing school and it has additional teachers-----

I am sorry, the Deputy will have another chance to come back in a moment.

I understand that is was recently approved for additional mainstream accommodation and resource teaching. The NCSE is engaging with the school. We are putting about 360 additional special education teachers and 620 SNAs to all the special classes. The NCSE says there are sufficient places within existing special classes now but that is subject to change. The ongoing engagement between the NCSE through its SENOs with the school will be pertinent.

As the Minister of State indicated, not all schools are volunteering to have ASD units put in place. The numbers of people being assessed as having autism are increasing. Not all will need to be in an ASD unit or special class. Many are in mainstream schools and classes and are thriving. Schools might need more information. The principal had asked if additional finances would be provided for the ASD unit. If the unit was sanctioned and came on stream, would temporary accommodation be provided, for example, if it came on stream for next year, if there was demand in the area? The school is using the school hall as a classroom now. The principal had hoped that they would use that as the unit but now they need a lot more space as their numbers have increased.

It is good to see schools volunteering. There are many schools that do not want to have a unit and students have to be bused out of their areas.

I commend the school on taking the initiative to contact the NCSE in the first instance. If the NCSE agrees in future to open a special class, if there is demand, it and the Department give funding either to reconfigure accommodation or to provide new accommodation. It is also important to stress that when a school is opening a special class, there are additional grants. There is a start-up grant of about €6,500, there is an ICT grant that I think is €6,700, and there are a number of other grants as well. We are always encouraging schools to open special classes. All new schools from this year will automatically provide SEN facilities, so we will not be having a conversation like this in years to come. It will be automatically worked out. A better forecasting model is now in place so we can see where the future demographic growth will be and where that demand will arise in future.

Question No. 66 answered with Question No. 61.

School Facilities

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Ceist:

67. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Education the steps she is taking to ensure all schools have access to appropriate physical education and school hall facilities. [57261/21]

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us the importance of having adequate facilities, crucially space, in our schools. In September 2018 a significant monetary commitment was made to ensure all secondary schools would have access to physical education, PE, facilities. This was reiterated in the national development plan last month. However, schools are not seeing any changes, with some waiting years for crucial school hall facilities. When will these be delivered?

I wish to confirm to the Deputy that the majority of schools have a general purpose room or physical education hall and practically all schools have outdoor play areas. In addition, many schools use adjacent local facilities, including community halls, public parks, playing fields and swimming pools.

Investment and expenditure on PE halls is an element of the overall expenditure and investment in the school building programme. The provision of PE halls and outdoor hard play areas such as basketball courts form part of the accommodation brief for all new school buildings or where a major building or refurbishment project is being delivered for an existing school. The Department provides general purpose rooms and PE halls with the construction of all new primary and post-primary schools, respectively. These facilities may also be provided where a major building or refurbishment project is being delivered for an existing school. In addition, the Department’s design guidelines for all new schools provide for outdoor multi-use games areas, in other words, hard play areas, and the level of play space provided varies with the size of the school. For example, a new 24-classroom primary school with special educational needs classes is provided with three ball courts, two junior play areas as well as a secure hard and soft play area and a 100 sq. m sensory garden. In respect of new post-primary schools, a new 1,000 pupil post-primary school is provided with six ball courts and a 200 sq. m secure hard and soft special education play area.

The main focus of resources over the past decade and, as the Deputy will appreciate, for the coming period is on the provision of additional capacity to cater for increasing demographics, particularly at post-primary level and for special educational needs provision. The Deputy will appreciate the immediate priority of the Department is providing new and replacement school places each year to ensure every child has a school place. However, the second half of the national development plan period will see an increasing focus on the upgrade and refurbishment of the existing school stock. This will include a PE hall build and modernisation programme to ensure students in all post-primary schools have access to appropriate facilities to support PE provision. The ancillary accommodation needs of primary schools, such as general purpose rooms, will also be considered. Details of large-scale projects being delivered under the school building programme may be viewed on the Department's website. In addition, a list of large-scale projects completed from 2010 to date may also be viewed on the website.

I thank the Minister but many schools throughout the country have no access to school hall facilities at all. Many talented students want to study leaving certificate PE but cannot access it as their school does not have the facilities. This is not good enough. It creates a real inequality. What will the Minister do to ensure all students who wish to study PE at leaving certificate level will have the same opportunity to do so and that their school will be provided with the resources to facilitate this? It is my understanding the Department is currently only focusing, as the Minister said, on school halls for new builds or where schools are undergoing significant renovation. This means schools operating in older and existing buildings are losing out. Is it the case the Department is not allowing applications for hall facilities for existing school buildings? Will the Minister reverse this policy decision to allow all schools have access to adequate PE facilities as committed to under the national development plan?

As I have previously outlined, the Department has a significant pipeline of projects to be delivered over the coming years to meet capacity need managed under the large-scale capital programme and the additional school accommodation scheme. This involves in excess of 1,200 school building projects across various stages of planning, design, tender and construction. The current delivery status of these projects is listed county by county basis on the website, as I have said to the Deputy. There are currently 377 schools, or 338 projects, listed on the large-scale capital programme, which would be expected to provide new PE halls at post-primary level where none already exist, or general purpose halls at primary level where none exist. Under Project Ireland 2040, the education sector will receive a total of approximately €4.4 billion in capital investment over the period of 2021 to 2025.

The Deputy is correct the focus at present is on new builds and where there is a significant refurbishment of a school but equally I appreciate the importance of this area of provision. It is part of our plan going forward.

The challenge is that schools are obviously operating in real time. We must allow enough flexibility for the older schools to be able to have these facilities as well. Otherwise we are creating a real inequality. We must work in real time and in the here and now, in the same way as we do in terms of ventilation, having clean air in schools and all of those things. The problem in general with the approach of the Minister and the Department is that everything will be okay in time to come. However, teachers are at the coalface and have to meet the challenges here and now. They have to ensure there is equality within their own schools and between schools as well to meet the real needs of the students who are there currently.

I want to be very clear to the Deputy there is an absolute commitment from the Department to provide all the necessary provision and opportunities necessary within the education sector. It is true to say we have presided over the single greatest investment in education in the most recent budget. Equally, there is a breadth of vision for education with respect to the provision of new builds, senior cycle reform as discussed earlier and the provision for special educational needs referred to by the Minister of State, Deputy Madigan. There is an enormous breadth of vision for education and indeed enormous investment in education by the present Government. Specifically with new building and the refurbishment of existing buildings, there is a particular concentration at present on the provision of places for all students, but an equal emphasis is being placed on the provision of appropriate facilities and resources for students also.

Disadvantaged Status

Jennifer Murnane O'Connor

Ceist:

68. Deputy Jennifer Murnane O'Connor asked the Minister for Education the status of plans to include a school (details supplied) under the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools, DEIS, programme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57292/21]

I appreciate being given the time to raise this very important issue. I am hopeful of an update on plans to include schools in my constituency, namely, Scoil Mhuire gan Smál in Carlow and Scoil Mhuire Lourdes in Tullow in the DEIS programme. Schools that fall outside the DEIS support system are struggling. The sooner schools that qualify for DEIS are identified, the sooner these funding structures can be put in place.

I thank the Deputy. I appreciate her taking the time to raise the question. Budget 2022, as the Deputy is aware, has provided for an allocation of €18 million for 2022 and €32 million for 2023 to extend the DEIS programme to further schools with the highest levels of disadvantage. This represents an increase of over 20% in funding for the DEIS programme and will enable an expansion in 2022 of the programme to further schools.

This year the Department will spend in the region of €150 million on providing supports for schools in the DEIS programme. The programme supports 884 schools and more than 180,000 learners. The Department's investment includes providing for in excess of 400 home school community liaison co-ordinators, in the region of €16 million in DEIS grants, additional posts for DEIS band 1 primary schools, curriculum supports, enhanced book grants, and access to the school completion programme. This year's package follows an extensive body of work that has been undertaken by the DEIS technical group on the development of a model to identify the concentrated levels of disadvantage of schools.

This work involved an initial process of consultation between the Department and the education partners on the technical aspects of the model. The purpose of the consultation is to ensure that, as far as possible, the refined DEIS identification model can provide an objective and independent means of identifying schools serving high concentrations of pupils at risk of educational disadvantage and to ensure there is a full understanding of the refined model and its potential application.

Under DEIS plan 2017, the DEIS identification process is based on an objective statistics-based model to determine which schools merit inclusion in the programme. An extensive body of work has been undertaken by the DEIS technical group on developing the defined model. The key data sources used in the DEIS identification process are the Department of Education primary online database, the post-primary online databases and Central Statistics Office, CSO, data from the national census of population as represented in the Pobal HP deprivation index for small areas, which is a method of measuring the relative affluence or disadvantage of a particular geographical area.

I am aware of the DEIS review that is being undertaken, but I want Carlow and Tullow to be included in it. The problem is that families are moving from schools which do not have the programme, which includes hot meals, to schools that have it. That is a major issue. Scoil Mhuire Lourdes is in Tullow, but there are no DEIS schools there, while Scoil Mhuire gan Smál, the school I attended in my home town, has been looking for DEIS status for years. It is becoming a major issue because school completion programmes and hot meals are only allocated to DEIS schools. Schools on the cusp of being identified as DEIS must fight locally to access anything like that support. DEIS is delivering results. Data indicates that schools that are introduced into the DEIS programme continue to improve over time. The issue is the timescale for DEIS schools. I have contacted the Minister, and she has always come back to me, about these two particular schools that are struggling and urgently in need of DEIS status.

I acknowledge that the Deputy is particularly invested in this issue. I would venture to say that the vast majority of Deputies are also invested in it, but she has been a particularly strong advocate for the schools she referenced and for the roll-out, enhancement and extension of the DEIS programme. She does not need to tell me - I am well aware of the importance of the DEIS programme. It is for that reason I am particularly pleased that during budget discussion and engagement I secured an additional allocation for the programme of €18 million for 2022, rising to €32 million in 2023, which will allow an extension of the programme as we go forward.

It is important to note that schools are not required to apply for inclusion in the DEIS programme and that all schools will be considered under the refined model. It is also important to note that educational outcomes do not play any part in identification of schools for inclusion in the DEIS programme, either at primary or post-primary level.

I welcome the fact that the Minister secured the extra funding. From talking to different principals, especially in the two schools I mentioned, Scoil Mhuire gan Smál in Carlow and Scoil Mhuire Lourdes in Tullow, I am aware that our towns and villages are changing. The review process needs to be furnished urgently so that children do not fall through the cracks in their academic year, especially now, as the Minister knows, when we have public health guidelines and everybody is trying to social distance and mind themselves.

The Oireachtas children's committee discussed child poverty today. One of the issues that came out of that was the school meals programme and how important it is to schools and to the children that benefit from it. I know this is in the remit of the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, but I believe she and the Minister should work together on it. We need to look at school meals programmes in schools, especially for schools that keep applying for DEIS status and just have not got it. I welcome the review that is going on. I ask the Minister that Scoil Mhuire gan Smál in Carlow and Scoil Mhuire Lourdes in Tullow get DEIS status.

I appreciate the case the Deputy made. She is correct that the hot meals programme for schools does not fall within my remit but she will be aware that the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, made some very positive announcements about it this week. I also acknowledge the other additional supports available to schools outside of the DEIS programme, notwithstanding its importance and the supports it provides and, as I said, the expectation that we are now looking forward to rolling it out even further. For example, I referenced previously the Covid-19 learning and support scheme, CLASS, which is a provision of up to €52 million for extra teaching hours that is being made available to all schools. This is another significant resource that is going into schools, specifically this year, to meet the challenge of Covid, not just from an academic and learning perspective but a holistic perspective, where children and young people will have opportunities to experience socialisation and all that goes with it.

State Examinations

Kieran O'Donnell

Ceist:

69. Deputy Kieran O'Donnell asked the Minister for Education if she is considering arrangements for a hybrid leaving certificate for 2022; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57335/21]

This matter follows on from the issue of leaving certificate reform. I liked the hybrid model used for the 2021 examination. The Minister will be aware that I conducted an online survey of parents in Limerick prior to the leaving certificate. They were very much in favour of this model and I think it has worked. I know the State Examinations Commission is due to report but will the leaving certificate for this current year be the same type? Points went up slightly last year and it is critical there is certainty.

On 30 June 2021, I announced that adjustments would be made to the 2022 leaving certificate and junior cycle examinations. As in previous years, adjustments were developed in conjunction with the leaving certificate advisory group, which is important. This group includes representation from students, parents, teachers and schools. Details of these adjustments were issued to schools in August 2021 to ensure that students and staff could familiarise themselves with any changes. These arrangements acknowledge the disruption faced by this particular cohort of students because of the Covid-19 pandemic. I consider that these arrangements are proportionate to the students’ experience and loss of learning and are educationally appropriate. The adjustments ensure that the overall structure of exams remains intact but allows for greater choice for students. The level of adjustment will be similar to that applied by the assessment arrangements for junior cycle and leaving certificate examinations in 2021, as announced in December 2020.

As part of the adjustments for the 2022 exams, I also announced that an alternative set of leaving certificate examinations will be run in 2022, shortly after the conclusion of the main set of exams. These exams will be limited to certain students who are unable to sit the main set of exams due to close family bereavement and certain other categories of serious illness, to be determined with due regard for the principles of equity, fairness and integrity, which govern all aspects of the exam system.

The State Examinations Commission will issue further details regarding the 2022 examinations, guided by prevailing public health advice, which is an important consideration. There will be further engagement with stakeholders through the advisory group on planning for the State examinations, and with other stakeholders as appropriate, in advance of any detailed announcement.

The Minister might just give us her view on the hybrid model that was in place for the 2021 leaving certificate examination. What did we learn from that? I believe in that combination of continuous assessment and written exam for those students. I like the aspect of anonymity in the latter, but we have to give certainty to students. What did the Minister and the Department learn from the hybrid model of calculated grades combined with written exams used for the most recent leaving certificate?

I acknowledge that the provision of an opportunity, in the midst of a pandemic, for students to avail of the accredited grades process and written exams was a remarkable achievement for the education sector. I acknowledge school leadership and school communities who, in a very difficult and challenging time, really pulled together to ensure that the classes of 2021 and 2020 would have an opportunity to find a pathway forward to sit a final State exam.

One of the most interesting learnings from the process was the fact that there was such a high uptake for both options. There was a high uptake for the written exams, on which an element of doubt was cast originally. It was very interesting to see that students opted to maximise their potential. There are learnings from that but, equally, also from all we have known and experienced of senior cycle, in particular, prior to Covid.

Little did we think that two years after, we would still be very much living with and having to deal with Covid. We may have to do so for a number of years. Does the Minister believe the hybrid model that was adopted last year will be sustainable during any Covid period?

Clear guidance has been given to schools on how the exams will operate for 2022. This has been formulated via the advisory group, which includes parents, teachers, students and school management and, therefore, it has been the widest engagement of consultation. Those amendments and their offering of a wider choice has been communicated to schools. Students are now very familiar with that opportunity. Equally, I was clear in making the decision that a second opportunity for taking the leaving certificate exams would be made available as close as possible after the first sitting of leaving certificate. We continue to operate currently and going forward on the back of public health advice, and any contingencies that might be required as a consequence of that advice will be put in place.

Educational Reform

Mick Barry

Ceist:

70. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Minister for Education the measures she will take in the assessment of the leaving certificate course to eliminate undue stress for students; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57289/21]

The leaving certificate is the most stressful exam for young adults anywhere in Europe. It is a complete outlier. Nowhere else are young adults forced to jump through hoops such as this. Yet, the Minister is asking 60,000 young people to do this exam next summer, despite the fact these students have missed months of classroom teaching time at the start of this year. Some students and teachers are missing school now with Covid and students, to boot, are sitting in freezing classrooms. I ask the Minister to comment.

Having worked for many years in the classroom, I appreciate that exam time and most notably, leaving certificate exam time, can be a stressful time for students. Of course, the pandemic has added to the additional challenges faced by all in the school sector. The decisions taken by Government on leaving certificate 2021, in the context of the impact on teaching and learning of the Covid-19 pandemic, were taken with the best interests of students in mind.

The NCCA's advisory report on the senior cycle review has been submitted to me for consideration and will be published once that consideration is complete. Those considerations are being progressed with the best interests of students in mind.

The advisory report maps out, in broad terms, an ambitious programme of work, which would enable the development and construction of the components that would make up a framework for senior cycle and will involve further ongoing stakeholder engagement and consultation. The voices of students have contributed to the advisory report and will again be heard in those further engagements and consultations.

With regard to the 2022 examinations the Deputy referenced, adjusted assessment arrangements for students taking leaving certificate examinations next year were issued last August in advance of the school year beginning. These arrangements are designed to take account of the disrupted learning experience of students during the Covid-19 pandemic, by incorporating adjustments in a manner similar to the initial adjustments that were made for the students taking examinations in 2021.

Like departmental officials, I am keenly aware of the significant impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on our education system over the past two years, including its impact on students who were due to take their leaving certificate examinations in those years. I expect that the lessons to be learned from the pandemic will be considered and, where appropriate, will assist in informing the redevelopment of senior cycle and reducing undue stress going forward.

I am conscious the Deputy referenced the 2022 exam and for that reason, I highlight the measures currently in place have been agreed by the advisory group and are being made available to schools.

The adjustments are minimal and would barely be noticed. I asked the question in the context of students having missed months of direct classroom teaching time at the start of the year. Many students and teachers are missing school with Covid and students are sitting in freezing classrooms. It is wrong to ask students to do a traditional leaving certificate next summer. There needs to be an alternative. I would support an open access policy with investment and guaranteed places in third level. What is the Minister suggesting? It does not cut it to say these minuscule adjustments are sufficient compensation for the class of 2022.

It is important to point out, as I have said previously, that within the education system, we have operated successfully on the basis of partnership and inclusion. The advisory group is advising on the examinations and how we would progress and was supportive and helpful in finding a pathway forward for the classes of 2020 and 2021. This group comprises students, parents, teachers and school representatives and, collectively, they agreed a process for the accommodations that would be made for 2020, 2021 and indeed, 2022. Those accommodations are in place and have been advised to schools. There is also a provision for a second sitting of the leaving certificate examination. Of course, we operate under the guidance of public health. Should there be any change in public health information or guidance, we will pivot and put in place other additional contingencies that might be required.

Mr. Paul Crone, director of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, said today that many secondary schools are struggling to find enough teachers to provide cover. Schools will, of course, prioritise to provide the maximum cover for leaving certificate students, but teacher shortages can impact all students, leaving certificate students included. I am aware the Minister brought in a package of emergency measures to provide cover earlier. However, will she continue to maintain visits to schools by school inspectors? If so, why, in the middle of a crisis such as this, would she continue to use fully-qualified teachers for such a role? Does she propose to keep them in that role or will she deploy them to provide the cover so desperately needed in schools?

I want to be clear that there is a mechanism in place in terms of the measures we bring in for accommodations, such as those for leaving certificate 2022. We work with the advisory group, which is a representative group. Significant measures are also in place. If there is to be a change in any public health advice to require any additional measures, we will keep everything under review. The measures introduced earlier are quite comprehensive and add to previous measures in place. We have made clear CPD, in the form of substitutional CPD, will be deferred until after the mid-term break. All those teachers and those who have been seconded to the Department for that work will be released and made available. All other avenues, in terms of other personnel, will also be kept under review.

Questions Nos. 71 to 75, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.

Departmental Staff

Ruairí Ó Murchú

Ceist:

76. Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú asked the Minister for Education when staff waiting for summer provision payments will receive same; the reason for the delays; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57215/21]

The question is on summer provision, which is a vital service. However, it has come to our attention that there is some element of delay in the payment of staff who have worked in this service. What is the position on that? We all accept just how vital it is.

The summer provision is extremely important. This year, we doubled the funding, from €20 million last year to €40 million. Some 81,000 children are eligible along with 4,000 schools. A total of 939 schools participated this year, in an increase of 72% on last year, which is considerable.

We had 36,672 pupils, which is an increase of 60%. We recognise the risk of regression, which we said we were concerned about from the start of the pandemic. We wanted to mitigate against that, which is why we wanted expanded, enhanced summer provision this year, which we have achieved. That is on the back of the supplementary provision in Easter of this year, and the Covid learning and support scheme, CLASS.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.