That Seanad Éireann, noting that:
the physical condition of many schools is poor, yet the delivery of new classrooms and buildings proceeds at a snail's pace;
30% of children from disadvantaged backgrounds have serious reading problems, three times the national average;
110,000 primary schoolchildren are in classes of 30 or more, with 10,000 of these children in classes of 35 and up, despite programme for Government promises now five years old;
early school leaving remains unacceptably high with up to 60% of young people leaving before leaving certificate in some areas, yet many schools are not served by the National Education Welfare Board, NEWB;
one in five school computers is more than six years old, with more than 5,000 computers being beyond repair or use; and
50% of primary schools still have no access to the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, a vital service for children with special educational needs, even though this service was established in 1999;
believes that this Government has failed children and young people, and that a change in leadership at the Department of Education and Science is long overdue.
I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy Haughey, to the House. Everybody knows that there are basic requirements for the delivery of a good education at all levels. Schools, the physical environment in which children are educated, must be safe, adequate, spacious and properly furnished and resourced. Does the Minister of State acknowledge that children throughout the country are facing these conditions at school?
It is only two weeks since the Minister for Education, Deputy Hanafin, visited St. Catherine's national school in Aughrim outside Ballinasloe where she witnessed the reality of the situation facing many schools. The school is grossly overcrowded and has been waiting 12 years for progress on a replacement. The teachers are frustrated by the lack of progress as they have commitments to the children, yet they cannot educate them properly in the circumstances. When one sees a child with special needs educated in a group of 28 children in a small room, one realises how the inadequacy of the resources.
In the inspector's report on whole-school evaluation there is a list of schools with inadequate conditions. On the Adjournment tonight I will mention another school, in Killimor, Ballinasloe, that has suffered the same consequences of eight to ten years of indecision. A school has been promised but we await a decision.
The report says that in St. Brendan's national school in Clonfert, Ballinasloe, a secretary's office functions as the principal's office, general purpose room and staff room. It is a multi-functional room that is as small as the table before me. The irony is that when all the above schools are taken into account, it is easy to see why at Scoil an Spioraid Naomh in Roxboro, County Limerick, visiting inspectors commented in a recent school report that the school was fortunate to have a permanent, spacious, well-maintained building at its disposal. All children in the country should have access to permanent, spacious, well-maintained building. This is not the case and no progress has been made in this regard.
A Fine Gael Party survey of 79 schools building projects approved more than 18 months ago shows that only 13 of the projects have commenced, a further four are at design stage and no progress has been made in 62 — almost four out of five — of the schools surveyed. Some of the schools were given the green light to proceed with development in mid-2005 but the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government has failed to deliver one additional brick.
In the coming years, 58,000 pupils will enter primary level education. Notwithstanding current overcrowding, what action does the Government propose to take to secure proper school accommodation for these children?
I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Haughey, will inform the House of substantial progress made in tackling educational disadvantage. I welcome the appointment of a large number of special needs teachers at primary level. As I pointed out in the House last week, the change in criteria following the transition from the disadvantaged area scheme — DAS — to the DEIS — delivering equality of opportunity in schools — scheme has resulted in schools with disadvantaged status being penalised for having done an excellent job under the earlier scheme. The additional support mechanisms available to schools under the DAS scheme included provision of additional resources, teaching manpower hours and home school liaison staff, all of which were marvellous. Under the new scheme, schools which made progress under the previous system will have additional resources withdrawn. The only change agreed to by the Minister of State in the House in response to my query was that some of the benefits would be restored. This decision was taken in response to widespread outrage about this issue.
If we are seriously concerned about disadvantage in national schools, we must invest heavily. The Comptroller and Auditor General stated that a poor return was achieved on the large sums spent in this area in 2005. The Department and Minister have not properly planned expenditure. The Minister of State will no doubt indicate that millions of euro have been spent but he should read the Comptroller and Auditor General's report in this regard.
Many schools are experiencing serious problems with overcrowding. Of the 442,000 primary school children in full-time education in the 2005-06 school year, 2,020 were in classes of between one and nine pupils, 60,000 were in classes of up to 20 pupils, 105,000 were in classes of 20 to 24 pupils, 102,000 were in classes of 25 to 29 pupils, 101,000 were in classes of 30 to 34 pupils and more than 9,000 were in classes of 35 to 39 pupils. No Minister could stand over this record. Various Ministers for Education and Science under Fianna Fáil-led Governments have sat on this issue for years. We will hear Senators from the Government side ask about the teachers who have been recruited in recent years. We were promised 800 more teachers and a reduction in average class sizes. Class sizes have fallen by, on average, just one pupil, which is not good enough.