Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Tuesday, 16 Jun 1998

Vol. 1 No. 7

Estimates for Public Services, 1998.

Vote 26 — Office of the Minister for Education and Science.

Vote 27 — First Level Education.

Vote 28 — Second Level and Further Education.

Vote 29 — Third Level and Further Education.

On behalf of the select committee, I welcome the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Martin, the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, and their officials. The purpose of the meeting is to consider the revised Estimates falling within the remit of the Department of Education and Science, namely Vote 26 — Office of the Minister for Education and Science; Vote 27 — First Level Education; Vote 28 — Second Level and Further Education; Vote 29 — Third Level and Further Education.

I have circulated a proposed timetable which allows for opening statements by the Minster and Opposition spokesperson to be followed by an open discussion on individual Votes by way of a question and answer session. Is that agreed? Agreed. I now invite the Minister to make his opening statement.

I welcome the opportunity to appear before the committee to discuss the 1998 Estimates for my Department. I look forward to hearing the views of the members of the committee and to responding to members' contributions and questions on the Estimates and the issues arising from them.

The gross allocation from the four Education Votes in the 1998 Revised Book of Estimates of more than £2.6 billion reflects the major commitment of the Government to the education sector. If I was to summarise the Government's objective for education, I would say we want more people to achieve a higher level at every level of the system ranging from pre-school and primary to postgraduate work. This is predicated on the idea that high quality education is central to both promoting an inclusive society and developing a high skills, high pay, knowledge based economy. The priority is to provide resources where they are of most benefit to our students — in the schools and colleges and not in large bureaucratic structures.

In less than a year we have already implemented a range of initiatives which have begun to make a major impact on Irish education. In addition, we have allocated significant extra resources to a range of areas which will underpin the quality of the education provided in schools and colleges throughout the country. As we will consider these Estimates in detail, I would like to address a few significant areas at this point.

In our programme for Government we set out the objective of achieving computer literacy in all our schools. The l998 Estimates make provision for the first phase of the Schools IT 2000 project. This is one of the most ambitious State-funded programmes in the world which has already begun to have a major impact. It is our intention to have a permanent infrastructure in our schools, not just of hardware and software, but also the teaching skills which will put us to the forefront of international developments. This year more than 8,000 teachers will participate in ICT courses. Under the direction of the National Centre for Technology in Education which I established, this programme will help our teachers to put themselves in the front rank of teachers internationally in yet another area.

Phase 1 of the technology integration programme as outlined in Schools IT2000 — A Policy Framework for the New Millennium is also well under way. Under this programme, a total of £13.6 million is being provided in the current year in respect of first and second level schools in the form of grants. What we are achieving through this process is local empowerment, with schools getting actively involved in decisions concerning their information communication technology needs. Through our joint programme with Telecom Éireann, every school in the country will be connected to the Internet by the beginning of the next school year and every school will have multimedia computers hooked up to the Internet.

This is only phase one of the ICT integration process and I hope local communities, which in the past have made a significant contribution to the provision of hardware for schools, will continue to contribute to the equipping of schools. The programme will specifically recognise the efforts of schools, which have already achieved a considerable degree in this area.

The 1998 Estimates also reflect this Government's concern to ensure that the general physical infrastructure of our primary and post-primary schools matches the standards which our children have a right to expect. I acknowledge there are too many schools in our country which have seriously substandard accommodation. Over a long period the resources allocated to renovations and buildings have fallen far short of the needs of our schools and many children have had no adequate school accommodation during their entire time at primary level. Another factor which has arisen is that, in the context of limited resources, schools have often been given the impression that their project will be proceeded with when the money has not been there.

I am determined to end substandard accommodation in our schools and I want to do so through a transparent system of planning and well within the span of this Government. I have already begun work on fulfilling this objective. Last year I obtained additional money in Supplementary Estimates to allow certain projects proceed immediately and in this year's Estimate I obtained a 40 per cent increase in the allocation for primary renovations and buildings over the 1997 budget figure. I have also secured a major increase in second level building funds and have put in place the first ever capital budget for post-leaving certificate colleges.

There is no point pretending all substandard school accommodation will disappear overnight. It will take some time and we must also cater for the needs of areas with population increases. However, this is a strong start and the Government is committed to addressing this issue.

At the same time, we need to put in place an objective system of resolving school accommodation problems. I have, therefore, commissioned a study, which will report shortly, to recommend ways in which we could move to a points based assessment of needs. There will continue to be hard choices and no system will ever be able to rank projects in a strict absolute order. However, I hope we will at least make our decisions more transparent. With increased funding and a new transparent system of allocating it, we will now be able to face into a new era on this issue.

While we have made major advances in the funding of primary capital projects, I have no difficulty acknowledging there is a need for extra resources across the primary system. In the recent budget the overall primary sector was allocated an increase of over 10 per cent versus the allocation in the 1997 budget. As part of the increase, we have raised capitation by 11 per cent. I hope we will be in a position to go significantly beyond this over the lifetime of the Government.

Core staffing issues are also very important. Through the demographic dividend, retained under a policy initiated by the then Minister for Education, Deputy O'Rourke, many years ago, there has been a significant reduction in pupil-teacher ratios in recent years. A particular demand has been for posts to deal with special needs provision in ordinary national schools. That is why my party gave a commitment to retain the dividend within the system before the last general election and the 1998 Estimates provide for the retention of the dividend, which will arise in September 1998.

The area of remedial teaching is one of serious concern. Although we have over 1,200 remedial posts within the system, some schools have little provision and 784 schools have no provision. I emphasise that we are going to address this issue and I want every ensure that every school will have a remedial resource available to it over a reasonable time span. This will take further work on a number of issues and, particularly when dealing with the needs of smaller schools, new approaches may be needed. We must also make sure we are employing our remedial resources to the best effect. The soon to be completed review of remedial teaching will address this and I intend to make sure the teaching methods, training and support issues which require attention are addressed in the interests of the children who rely so much on this service.

The establishment of a national educational psychological service is included in the programme for Government for the simple reason that this service is badly needed. The early identification of individual needs can do a lot towards ensuring children who could drift out of the system are helped to realise their potential. A full report on the best ways to establish the service will be presented to me shortly. We have already begun to take action and, as a first step, 15 new psychologists are currently being appointed to different sections of the country. Funding for the psychologists is provided in subhead F of Vote 27 in the Estimates.

The 1998 Estimates have also enabled a national forum to be held in March this year on one of the key new areas for education policy development, early childhood education. The holding of the forum was a major consultative and planning exercise. One of its innovations was that it addressed the education of children across the age range from birth to six years. This was an important statement on how we recognise that pre-school content and provision are not the only issues. We also need to consider the needs of four to six year olds within the existing primary school system. I intend this process will lead to the publication of a White Paper which will signal the road map for future developments. We will soon begin to implement policies which will ensure that quality early education is accessible to all families.

On taking up office, I identified the adult literacy service as a priority area for funding. An additional £250,000 was secured by way of Supplementary Estimate in 1997. The Minister of State with responsibility for adult education, Deputy O'Dea, announced that the 1998 Estimates provide an additional £2 million for adult literacy, an increase of almost 100 per cent over the 1997 budget allocation.

In January of this year, the Taoiseach announced that, in the context of its strategy on drugs, the Government had decided to inaugurate a programme for young people at risk in this area. The centrepiece of the programme is a young people's facilities and services fund of £30 million to be provided over the next three years to support a variety of capital and non-capital projects in disadvantaged areas. At least £20 million will be targeted at those areas particularly affected by the heroin problem. The Education Estimates for 1998 contain £7.5 million for the youth services fund. This is provided in subhead B.8 of Vote 26. The historic lack of planning in this area and the necessity to ensure spending is properly targeted may circumscribe the ability to spend this fund in 1998, but the Government is fully committed to using this as an opportunity to help young people in some of our most disadvantaged areas to get a new start.

I recently announced a major initiative to target and assist children in the eight to 15 year age group who might be at risk of dropping out of school. Schools and communities in disadvantaged areas are being invited to participate and submit projects for consideration. I am committed to expanding and prioritising the successful outcome of this initiative. Almost £1.5 million is provided for this initiative in the miscellaneous subhead of the Vote for the Office of the Minister for Education and Science.

Before the last election, I gave a very definite commitment on behalf of my party that we would, if returned to Government, introduce maintenance grants for students in the post leaving certificate sector equal to those offered to students in third level. This commitment was included in our programme for Government and has been delivered after only one budget. Because of this, PLC students will as of this September be entitled to maintenance grants. The administrative and technical arrangements for this are receiving active consideration and will be published shortly. This represents a major financial outlay and will cost approximately £15 million in a full year. The cost of the grants from September next has been included in the 1998 Estimates in subhead F of the second-level Vote. It is important to realise that this is a significant administrative undertaking. The number of students who will benefit from this new scheme shows the scale of the task. As I have said on a number of occasions, the method and timing of payments is not yet clear, though our commitments will be honoured in full to post leaving certificate students.

The post leaving certificate colleges will also be major beneficiaries of the scientific and technological education investment fund which will be used to develop technology education at all levels ranging from primary schools to advanced research. The 1997 Act which set up the fund enables the payment by Government of £100 million into the fund in 1998 with further sums totalling £150 million in 1999 and 2000. The £100 million for 1998 is provided in the Estimates under subhead B.19 in Vote 26 — Office of the Minister for Education and Science. The Act also facilitates private donors to make gifts to the fund and where such gifts are made a specific requirement will ensure that the investment account will be used for the purposes specified and not for any other purpose.

The allocation of funds is well under way and the effects are already evident. I have outlined the impact of the schools IT 2000 funding. In addition, I have announced a wide range of projects which will help to revitalise institutions whose capital investment needs were neglected for far too long. These are mainly the institutes of technology. Both domestically and internationally, this major investment by the Government has been welcomed. An example of this can be found in technology companies which I visited in the United States earlier this year. They said that Ireland was clearly showing its commitment to remaining at the cutting edge of technological developments.

The improvement of Ireland's technological skill base has been central to my concerns since I took office last year. We have made great strides towards improving our national position in this regard, but I am conscious that further steps will be necessary in future if we are to maintain Ireland's competitive edge.

As we are all aware, the central role of education and training in social well-being in modern society has been identified time and again. According to the OECD, investment in education is as effective in capital accumulation as capital increases.

Over the past three decades we have witnessed an extraordinary expansion in third-level education, with the total numbers in third-level exceeding 100,000 for the first time. We still have more to do and I am committed to continuing to seek to expand opportunities to participate in third-level education. However, in providing these extra places we must guarantee that we provide appropriate courses and that we maintain the high quality of these courses.

The universities and institutes of technology have an absolutely central role to play in underpinning our economic well-being. The quality of certificates, diplomas and degrees at under-graduate and post-graduate level must continue to be on a par with the best in the world. Critically important is the quality and international standing of our research and development work. The quality of research and development will be crucial to Ireland carving out and maintaining a leadership position in a rapidly-changing economy and increasing international economic integration.

The 1998 Estimates include a current allocation for third-level research of £5 million in Vote 29. Details of the science and technology portion of this were announced recently by my colleague the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy. The objective of the funding is to encourage a more strategic approach within institutions towards their research policy. International experience consistently demonstrates that this approach is necessary to ensure world class standards. At the same time we are ensuring there will be funding for individual research projects. The Minister of State, Deputy Treacy has held a series of meetings with interested bodies and they have welcomed the clarification that we intend to fund both institutional and individual research projects.

I am very conscious of the need to develop an education system which is tuned into and consistent with the State's economic strategy. It was for this precise reason that last year I established a joint education industry task force to draw up an action plan for the expansion of education and training for technicians. As a result of a pilot scheme, the recruitment and training of 300 technicians for high technology industries is already under way. Its first participants have been undergoing a programme since last January both at college and in the workplace before being awarded the national certificate in technology. This initiative has the potential to lead to new ways of interaction between industry and institutions at the level of the individual institution and business.

Another key initiative put in place in recent months is the setting up of a group of business and education training interests. The key goals of this group will be to forecast emerging skills needs, make recommendations as to how they should be met and ensure any necessary measures are speedily implemented. This is no easy task but it is one that must be undertaken to ensure the real demands of our growing economy are identified and met. It is important to realise that certain skills are in short supply everywhere. The crucial thing is that we have put together a major series of initiatives to tackle these shortages. The Tánaiste and I look forward particularly to chairing the business and industry forum which is due to take place in the near future. The Government sees this as a particularly important initiative to promote greater understanding and dialogue between the business, education and industrial sectors.

It is important to allow for a series of technical adjustments in the 1997 figures which slightly distort the year-on-year figures included in the revised Book of Estimates. The Government has already shown its commitment to investing in education and I know it will continue to do so. However, the general economic and fiscal circumstances of the country cannot be ignored. In this context, I repeat the recent message of my colleagues that significant increases in expenditure for other items must necessarily impact on expenditure such as education. The Government has clearly said that it intends to stay within the fiscal parameters which have been outlined by the Minister for Finance. It will fall to all members of Government to do all they can to control expenditure and eliminate waste. This applies to my Department as much as to any other.

The Government is convinced that the economic return from education is significant from the perspective of the individual, who is likely to be better remunerated, and society as a whole. An economically successful society which provides opportunities to people at all levels is a society which will be economically inclusive and socially cohesive. We need to provide all citizens of this State with the means to secure a more economically secure future for themselves and their families. Our responsibility is to ensure the new prosperity of the State is open to all who are willing to adapt themselves and to be educated in ways that will allow them to work for a better future. Access to education for all will bring new opportunities for all, and all of society will reap the benefit.

I am very disappointed at the yawning gap between the priorities set by the Minister before he entered the last general election and the priorities reflected in the Estimates before us. Some very explicit commitments were made in that manifesto, one of which was that teachers freed up by falling population numbers would be retained in schools. I will read that into the record because on several occasions spokesmen on behalf of the Government have tried to rewrite the commitment they made before the last general election. It states it will improve the pupil-teacher ratio by keeping in their schools the teachers who are freed up by falling numbers, thus continuing the policy it adopted in 1988. There is no ambiguity as to which schools they will be retained in. They will not be retained in the overall educational system, but in their schools. There is a demographic dividend of 190; therefore at least 190 schools are losing teachers. This reneges on a commitment entered into by the Minister in the run-up to the general election, when he was in Opposition. One hundred and ninety is a minimum estimate of the number of schools which suffered because of that reneging. Unfortunately, the Department does not know the exact number because it is not able to answer such questions. That is only one of the many commitments which were made.

A commitment was made to one teacher schools, 117 of which were to receive a second teacher. This was a solemn commitment reiterated in the programme for Government, but we have heard nothing about it today.

A commitment was made in the manifesto that 784 schools without remedial teachers — this was the figure given today, although the Minister has given different estimates on other occasions — were to receive a remedial teacher. I accept that this should be a remedial service and perhaps the manifesto was over the top. We have heard nothing about this remedial teacher allocation today.

A five year plan for gaelscoileanna and the provision of a special unit in the Department were also proposed, but they are not mentioned in the Estimates. We heard nothing about the proposed personal development plan for students at risk of dropping out. The grim figures of previous years look set to be repeated, with 8,000 leaving school with the junior certificate and another 6,500 without. There is no measure in the Estimates to address this problem. We were promised a sufficient number of ex-quota career guidance teachers. Extra career guidance or remedial teachers are not mentioned in the Estimates.

The Minister has forgotten about the priorities he set when he was in Opposition. He now has a new set of priorities, some of which are laudable. However, they are not the ones on which he went solemnly to the country and sought a mandate from the people. The programme for Government contains a solemn declaration that primary education will receive priority. However, in the Estimates one can see the additional spend per pupil in 1998, compared to 1997, on the current and capital side. How does primary education fare against secondary and third level education? The figures speak for themselves. The additional spend per pupil for primary education on the current side is £80 while at third level it is £380. On the capital side, the additional spend per primary pupil is £24 while at third level it is £740. The additional spend at primary level is less than one tenth of that at university level.

It is disappointing that this priority the Government saw as summing up its approach to education has melted like snow in springtime. This is not just a political point, although it is important to reiterate that one cannot go to the people, seek support on a platform and then forget about it when one enters Government.

The issue of priorities is important. Educational disadvantage is the greatest challenge facing us. The Department estimates that 130,000 pupils at primary and secondary schools are at an educational disadvantage. Some of those do not even pass basic literacy tests. Yet, in a year when £300 million was found to devote to spending in the educational sphere, not a brass farthing has gone to those who are educationally disadvantaged. This is a serious blot on the Minister's approach to education priorities.

We want IT in classrooms and skills needs to be addressed. We must also bear in mind that 14,000 of the 60,000 cohort leave school each year unprepared to get a job in the modern economy. When one compares their life chances with those of others in the system, they are not getting a fair crack of the whip. These Estimates reinforce their disadvantage.

The Minister, in preparing the 1999 Estimates, will have to look at the priorities which were so clear to him when he was in Opposition. He must dust down his previous approach, which was more correct than the one he is now pursuing in Government. It is unacceptable that additional resources are not being given to any of the schemes designed to address educational disadvantage. A minuscule proportion of the teaching force is participating in these schemes. Some 3.5 per cent is currently deployed in remedial teaching and an additional 2 per cent is assigned to all the disadvantaged areas schemes. Just over 5 per cent of the teaching force is addressing the needs of almost 20 per cent of the cohort with serious educational disadvantage. As a result, more of them become the responsibility of the Minister of State with serious adult literacy problems which are not adequately provided for. It would be better to intervene on a remedial basis earlier in the system, rather than assigning more money to adult literacy, for which I praise the Minister of State. We must address literacy earlier.

The Early Start and Breaking the Cycle schemes are more focused and present a more encouraging approach to educational disadvantage. I would have liked those to be expanded in this year's Estimates. About one in every 300 pupils and one in every 800 pupils receive the advantage of the Early Start and Breaking the Cycle schemes respectively. It is particularly galling that some schools in the inner city may lose teachers at a time when they are supposed to have resources to ensure small junior classes. The Minister will know several schools in the inner city which are losing teachers and will not be able to assign the necessary resources.

I am glad the Minister seems to be having a change of heart and is talking about sending inspectors to these schools to examine their needs. It betrays a deep seated problem in the Department of Education and Science that it was only when a controversy arose that a change of heart was signalled. The Department has seriously underestimated the resources needed to address educational disadvantage. Its research shows that the flagship programme of designating schools as educationally disadvantaged applies more to schools in prosperous areas which can afford to bring in additional resources. The Minister has let down a major section of our community. If this is repeated in the 1999 Estimates, he will not be forgiven for his priorities.

Fault can also be found in other parts of the Estimates. The way in which the Minister of State with responsibility for science and technology handled the allocation of additional money to research is very disappointing. The National Research Advisory Board ran a competition for individually led post-graduate research, for which there were 350 applications. Ninety were selected and an additional 40 were shortlisted for approval under this valuable research scheme. This was done by a board on which the Minister is directly represented. When it came to dispatch the approvals to those who had entered the competition in good faith, the Minister pulled the mat from underneath the board and instead of handing out 90 approvals, as it was led to believe, it handed out only 29 approvals. Many postgraduate students have been given a slap in the face. It rings hollow to hear the Minister talk about the importance of high technology and of educating people to the highest standards when the Minister of State treats people who have entered a competition in good faith with disdain.

I see in today's newspaper that the Minister is scurrying around looking for extra money to try to fulfil these promises. However, that is no way to run a Department. It is also bizarre that his alternative set of priorities is to ask colleges to devise well designed serious research plans which they must submit to the Department by 26 June. It is ludicrous to ask them to come up with the type of research plans which are supposed to put Ireland at the cutting edge of quality science and research development within ten days. The Minister of State has made a complete hames of conducting the research budget. This is particularly disappointing because many people applauded him when he was given the dual mandate for the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Department of Education and Science.

Many people are disappointed with the Estimates and the decisions made recently. In his manifesto the Minister made strong commitments about higher education grants. He promised in letters to the private colleges that higher education grants would be provided to students in such colleges. He has directly reneged on that commitment and is fighting a court case to prevent that happening. He made strong commitments to part-time students to increase the thresholds of higher education grants. However, the announcement last week is an insult to those seeking support.

It is significant that there are only 50 students from disadvantaged backgrounds entering our seven universities this year, particularly when the target was 500. Young students from disadvantaged backgrounds cannot hope to go through college on the current higher education grant. The Minister must adopt the type of support which is provided in some partnership areas to students from disadvantaged backgrounds on a mainstream national basis. I am glad the Minister is visiting the North Side Partnership where he will see a good initiative which has cost a lot of money but which could easily be put on a mainstream basis. I strongly urge him to do that.

My comments must be critical because this is the only time of the year when we get an opportunity to bring the Minister back to the basics. We are on the streets more often than the Minister looking at the real educational issues. I am afraid the Estimates reflect the cosier offices rather than the hard realities on the street. It is important the Minister rediscovers the type of commitment and reforming zeal which undoubtedly inspired him in the past. People will look to the Minister to deliver more than he has to date. While there are many admirable things in the Estimates, particularly in the information technology area, I can only give the Minister a poor four out of ten. He must try harder.

The gross Estimates for the Department of Education and Science amount to more than £2.6 billion which is a considerable amount of money. Recent revelations raise questions about the efficacy of how resources are deployed if we consider some of the results.

As regards the distinction between teaching and learning, Dr. Aidan Moran, senior lecturer in psychology at University College Dublin, is reported to believe that a course in basic learning techniques should be taught as part of the leaving certificate syllabus to provide students with skills to maximise their learning powers. He is further reported to be critical of what he describes as the system's focus on teaching children what to learn instead of also showing them how to learn. He sees this deficit as preventing students from making a successful transition from second to third levels. He also states his concern that nobody in school is teaching students to think for themselves and to ask questions. He believes we do not teach people to think independently and critically. It is worrying that someone of Dr. Moran's eminence should express such emphatic concerns. He describes the leaving certificate as being too much of a memory test rather than a thinking test.

There are also reports of serious deficiencies in English spelling and grammar at third level. It seems there are serious problems in terms of the ability of students at third level to express ideas. This must give rise to grave concern. What urgent measures is the Minister putting in place to objectively assess standards and teaching methods in schools, colleges and universities? Will he put in place whatever measures are required to remedy serious shortcomings in the education system?

Another recent revelation which gives rise to concern is the accidental leaking of leaving certificate honours Irish papers at Schull community college last Friday. A number of serious questions arise in this regard. Is it true that 16 students saw a paper which was not to be released and answered until yesterday and that the period for which they saw it ranged from three seconds to a few minutes? Can the Minister confirm or deny that the 16 students passed on the information to 54 other students who were taking the same paper in other rooms in the college? To what extent did the 70 students pass on the information to students in other colleges and areas? To what extent did rumours that the first paper was to be withdrawn influence students in terms of their late revision? Why was no report received in the Department of Education and Science until Saturday afternoon? At what stage was the Minister informed? Did the Minister agree to the papers being withdrawn? Does the Minister believe that all the students should resit the examination in the interests of equity and the integrity of the examination system?

I am interested in the rights of students with special education needs to every possible chance in the education system. One problem with the provision for special needs students is that the mainstream national schools attended by special needs students receive only £50 capitation. If these students were in special schools or special classes in mainstream schools, the capitation, depending on age, disability and so on, would range from £253 to £426 per pupil. There is no denying that the way in which the capitation payments are framed militates against students with special needs integrating into mainstream schools as the extra capitation required is not being provided. When one considers that students in scoileana na lán Gaeilge are getting a £70 capitation, that further underlines the discrimination against special needs students in mainstream schools.

The Teastas legislation has a bearing on my constituency and that of the Minister. Will the Minister indicate the position concerning that legislation? What provision is made in the 1998 Estimates for the implementation of those aspects of the legislation which can be implemented? Where do the various colleges stand in terms of the move towards the validation of their certificates, diplomas and, in the fullness of time, degrees? This issue has huge implications for Waterford Institute of Technology and the information I am seeking should be available to my constituents.

The Minister stated on many occasions that it is his objective to raise the numbers taking the leaving certificate examination from 82 per cent to 90 per cent and to create more third level places. I spoke earlier about the teaching of English and the ability of students to express themselves. I recently read that many students express themselves in the language of the nightclub. They do not read as much as they used to and their vocabulary and ability to express ideas seem to be causing a problem at third level. A lot can be taught but what matters is what is learned. Have we lost sight of this basic fact in the education system?

I do not want to be unduly critical. The Minister outlined initiatives which have been put in place and to which extra resources have been applied. However, access to education must be the paramount principle. In that context we talk about the kind of education that every citizen needs to realise their full potential. We should not look at this only in the context of the early academic years in college — it continues throughout one's lifetime.

I welcome the National Forum on Early Education which will result in a White Paper. One must analyse, reach conclusions, prepare plans and programmes and then move ahead in the best possible way. However, there is an enormous problem in many schools. For obvious reasons schools are not inclined to publicise their internal problems but there are a growing number of dysfunctional children. When I was in training college, we were told that a child's best ability to absorb a new language is between the age of one and five. If there is no dedicated, pre-school provision for children in disadvantaged areas, the children who are failing today will be mirrored by other children who will follow. Many of these children do not learn sufficient verbal skills — they communicate in a verbal shorthand and this can lead to the language of the nightclub.

The forum is a good idea and the White Paper will be welcome, but this should not be used to prevent action. The Minister should put us firmly in the picture concerning the Breaking the Cycle and Early Start programmes. I have come across at least one case in which it seemed that the Breaking the Cycle teacher had been withdrawn from a school. I have seen reports indicating that this may be happening in other schools. Where stands the Breaking the Cycle pilot project? Does the Minister intend to extend it to other schools?

An educator told me that in subjects other than mathematics and science, it is easier to obtain a higher number of points. This individual expressed the concern that there will not be sufficient people coming through second level with qualifications in science and mathematics to enable us to produce high quality engineers and scientists who depend on such areas of expertise.

What is happening with the demographic dividend? What are the Minister's plans for the provision of remedial teachers where there is a plethora of small schools? The remedial teacher often spends more time travelling than teaching. Are any innovations under consideration to speed up the provision of remedial facilities to all schools?

There are 15 new appointments to the school psychology service. Where will these people be located and what will be their areas of operation? The service is thin on the ground but to what geographic extent is it being extended? Some of the Minister's policies have been to the betterment of education. However, there are still fundamental areas which are not being addressed in a substantive way. The most important of these is educational disadvantage and special education.

We will now have an open discussion on the individual Votes by way of a question and answer session. We are on Vote 26 — the Office of the Minister for Education.

Many people will want to ask about the examinations issue, Chairman, I presume you will be taking that under second level.

That is under Vote 28.

On Vote 26, I want to raise some queries about the staffing allocations. Perhaps the Minister has addressed it in his response. I was surprised to see a steady decline in the numbers deployed in the inspectorate. In 1996, there were 129 in the inspectorate and the number has fallen to just 117.5 — I would be amused to know the assignment of the half person. At a time when the Minister says he is pushing out the boat by setting up the inspectorate on a statutory basis and introducing school evaluation, it seems strange to see a steady decline in the resource. It is also somewhat surprising to see a decline in the psychological service in this Estimate. The Minister may have answered that query by adverting to a primary education subhead.

On subhead A7, I note the Minister is providing for a significant cut in consultancy services. However, is there a pattern in the Department of significantly underestimating the provision for consultancy at the beginning of the year? Is there an element of paring the Estimates, down-stating the provision for consultancy and coming back later in the year with an increase? The same thing happened last year when there appeared to be a small allocation for consultancy but it was later increased.

Another programme which intrigues me somewhat is the programme to promote equality in education for boys and girls, which is under subhead B5, research and development. Last year there was to be a substantial allocation to this programme but in the event it did not happen. The allocation for this programme is being increased this year from £200,000 to £2 million. Is there a research programme which has been difficult to get off the ground? If so, what are the difficulties?

In respect of subhead B8, I want to ask the Minister about the drugs fund. I know he promised before the election that there would be a national co-ordinator and a series of regional co-ordinators to mount a special anti-drugs campaign in schools, but equally there have been clear commitments that the special funds designated for drug activities would be solely in the 11 designated areas, of which one is in Cork and the remainder are in Dublin. Is the money going exclusively to the drug crisis areas or is there provision for his commitment to introduce national and regional co-ordinators and positions of responsibility in schools for an anti-drugs programme?

Those are my main questions on this, but I have a question on the Minister's IT programme. One of the Minister's key commitments was that disadvantaged schools would get preferential access to IT equipment. How is that being implemented? Will the Minister give additional grants to designated disadvantaged schools? How will that work? There is a general feeling abroad, which the Minister will not share, that the announcement considerably ran ahead of the Department's ability to deliver curricular skills to the teaching force in the schools. Come September, there will be equipment but in some cases the schools will not have properly trained people who are able to use the equipment to support the curriculum. Will the Minister accelerate some of the in-service training, particularly that which has a curricular content? Much of what I have seen described as in-service training is simply knowing how to use a machine. I am interested to see the curricular use of IT to support geography, history, languages, etc. The Minister should take steps to bring that forward.

My last question relates to the technology fund. I would be interested to see the details of the funds drawn down to date, the projects which will be funded and the contributions from the private sector. Contributions were invited from the private sector to this fund. What contributions are being made?

I note the substantial increases in subhead B5, equality of opportunity, and subhead B8, the drugs programme. Does the Minister agree that it does not make sense, when we are targeting areas which are desperately affected by heroin, with task forces and special educational programmes for primary schools, that the Government is dismantling the Breaking the Cycle pilot project in one of the communities hardest hit by drugs? I am referring to six schools in Dublin's north inner city covering the areas of Sheriff St., Seán McDermott St. and Hardwicke St. Each of these schools, the central model schools, St. Mary's national school, St. Mary's Place, Dorset St., and the St. Laurence O'Toole's schools, dropped one or two pupils, but despite the fact that they are taking in additional pupils and refugee children in some instances and they will exceed the numbers required in September, they received directives from the Department in the past few weeks stating that they must lose teachers. Having built up relationships, brought committed teachers into the schools and achieved fantastic work with the children in those schools, under the Breaking the Cycle programme in particular, that is effectively being dismantled. I ask the Minister, in the context of the drugs problem and equality of opportunity, to look urgently at the schools in those areas and reverse the decision to instruct those schools that they must lose teachers? The children in those schools have no future without the provision of maximum resources. The greatest effort should be made to ensure the staff are retained so that the children can try to escape the cycle of deprivation which is feeding and fuelling the drugs problem. That is essential.

I welcome the Minister and his officials. The Minister will be aware of the tragic deaths of three students of St. Aengus's vocational school, Mountrath, County Laois over the weekend and that five more students are in hospital. When marking papers, I hope the Department will take account of the difficulties involved for students who are sitting examinations at present, particularly the brothers, sisters, relatives and friends who were attending St. Aengus's School. I thank the Minister for sending his staff to the school today and yesterday. It was a terrible tragedy. I hope we can ease the pain suffered by students and help them over the coming days of examinations. I congratulate the Minister on the first phase of the IT 2000 project. I am pleased he is living up to the commitment he made some months ago. I welcome the provisions for the first phase of IT 2000 and I am delighted that 8,000 teachers will participate in the first round of IT courses. I also welcome the fund of £13.6 million for first and second level grants. I hope schools which have demonstrated their commitment to IT by fundraising for IT hardware will be prioritised on the second round. The commitment of these schools should be recognised. I welcome this programme and long may this funding continue.

I must remind Members that we are in the question and answer session now.

I have never been on "Questions and Answers", Chairman.

I welcome the Minister and congratulate him. He will be remembered for introducing innovative and targeted initiatives. I particularly welcome, in subhead A1, his commitment to school building. He is correct in saying that not every school building can be upgraded satisfactorily in a short time. It is important that boards of management are assured that when a project is given the go-ahead the money is also available for it. In the past, schools have had the unfortunate experience of being allowed to proceed with building programmes when money was not available for their completion. I also welcome the roles given to boards of management to help the Department prioritise works which have been given the go-ahead by the Department.

IT 2000 is probably the most significant initiative by this or any Government since the abolition of second level fees. Unlike others, I believe that in a very short time we will have a highly trained cohort of teachers who will be in a position to implement a wide range of programmes. What programmes are in train for the preparation of teachers for the implementation of the first phase of IT 2000? Will the Minister expand on subhead B5(iii), EU Pilot projects? I, too, welcome the programmes to promote equality in education for boys and girls.

Like other speakers, I welcome the Government's commitment of £30 million for the youth services development fund which is dealt with in subhead B8. Many communities affected by the heroin problem are already benefiting from this. Will the Minister consider expanding some of the programmes outside the drugs task force areas? We must implement as many preventative as curative measures. Many young people, whose parents and youth leaders are working hard to maintain programmes on shoestring budgets, should be assisted. I have in mind organisations such as the National Youth Federation, the Catholic Youth Council, Foróige, the scouting organisations and so on. These organisations run excellent programmes in this area. Will the Minister fund drugs awareness programmes run by such organisations to help young people avoid the risk of getting involved in drugs?

Under subhead A4 I note that, in this age of transparency and accountability, the Minister expects to effect a saving of £200,000 in postal and telecommunications services. How will this be achieved? In subhead A7, a figure of £250,000 is provided for consultancy. To what projects does this refer? I am pleased more money is being allocated to promote equality of opportunity in education. On what projects will this money be spent?

Is the Deputy referring to the £5 million?

I am referring to subhead B5(iv), Equality of Opportunity in Education. There is an increase from last year's provisional outturn of £218,000 to £1,960,000 in 1998.

Could I reply to the questions which have been asked?

Two more Deputies wish to ask questions.

Why, under subhead B6, is there a reduction in the amount put aside for in-service professional development of teachers at first and second level?

I note that part of the remit of Institiúid Teangeolaíochta Éireann is to look at all aspects of language teaching. This would also involve English. Will the Minister ask the institiúid to examine aspects of the teaching of English relevant to the points I made earlier?

Hardware is being provided for the IT 2000 programme. Has provision been made for in-service training of teachers? When can we expect results from the scientific and technology investment fund?

Does the Minister see any possibility of avoiding the prospect of schools losing teachers in the next school year? Does he accept that when a school loses a teacher due to falling numbers, children in the school are severely disadvantaged? In the last census 15 or 16 parishes in one end of my constituency showed a declining population and they are not far from the capital city. The rule, and the agreement the Department made with the INTO, places children in such schools in a disadvantaged position. Would the Minister consider implementing a policy of not allowing children to be educationally disadvantaged because they live in an area with a declining population?

There has been a decrease in the Vote for the inspectorate over a number of years. I do not take responsibility for the actions of previous Ministers, but the Department is currently recruiting 21 additional inspectors. Interviews are taking place.

Subhead B5, Equality Funding, shows a significant increase on last year's outturn. In 1996 £1.27 million was allocated but only £289,000 was spent; in 1995 £776,000 was allocated and only £197,000 was spent; and in 1997 £1.116 million was allocated and only £218,000 was spent. There seems to have been difficulties getting schemes off the ground. I will ensure this year's allocation is spent. It applies mainly to initiatives under the European Regional Development Fund made available to us under the operational programme to be spent in disadvantaged areas and on gender equality programmes in schools — for example to encourage more girls to take up technology. The subhead is aimed at promoting gender equity in education and to eliminate sexism and sex stereotyping. It also covers pre-service and in-service training. We are satisfied that we will spend the allocation for 1998.

The programmes aided by the social fund under the Operational Programme for Human Resources comprise child care services for participants under the VTOS scheme, youthreach, senior traveller training centres, grants to voluntary women's education groups and a project to create awareness of gender issues in single sex boys' schools.

Grants for adult education have been allocated for this year. I was concerned to find that supports for various services which could have been provided for youthreach and traveller centre proposals had not materialised. We have put that right and that explains the discrepancy between what was allocated in previous years but not spent. The allocation will be spent this year.

With regard to the schools IT 2000 project up to 8,000 teachers will be trained between now and December. The programmes will vary in accordance with the skills base of the teachers. No funds were provided for the schools IT 2000 training up to this year. We have provided up to £3 million in the Estimate.

Will all the £3 million be spent on training?

It also includes an amount for the cost of setting up the national centre of technology in education. It is all current expenditure. The capital funding of £13.6 million came from the scientific and technological investment fund and that related to the purchase of computers. It is the first time there has been such a significant spend on information technology equipment and human resources.

I take Deputy Bruton's point about the application of technology to the learning environment. In advance of the schools IT 2000 plan, many schools had purchased computers and had developed an awareness of the issues and, invariably, in every school there are one or two teachers who have developed a certain competence in the use of computers. The IT 2000 programme will complement that and give a solid foundation to the schools' activities. In many schools nothing was taking place.

In the first year of the programme we are attempting to give each school a basic grant of £2,000 plus £5 per pupil. In schools dealing with special needs pupils we will provide a grant of £3,500 plus £20 per pupil. We also provide a £250,000 fund for children with special needs in national schools for the purposes of integration to ensure that any technological equipment required will be provided.

In the second year of the programme we will be more discriminatory in the allocation of funds. For the first year we decided not to distinguish between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged schools. We decided to give every school a basic start-up grant to provide a basic infrastructure in every school. That was the objective of the first year as outlined in the plan. Many schools did not want to be left behind because they had taken certain initiatives themselves.

Many second level schools would have taken on the leaving certificate vocational programme and they would have received additional computer grants for the introduction of that programme. In the 1998 Estimate there is an additional £3 million to fund facilities for second level schools who take on board the leaving certificate vocational programme. That is in addition to the £13.6 million. Taking into account spending on schools' administration, the leaving certificate vocational programme, the £13.6 million and the additional £3 million, the spend on technology is £24 million overall.

The drug task force funds of £7.5 million appears under this subhead but the decisions on its spending will be taken ultimately by the Cabinet subcommittee on social inclusion. This applies to the drug task force areas, not to the general school population. A sum of £20 million will be devoted to the task force areas, 12 of which are in Dublin and the other in north Cork city, and a sum of £10 million will be devoted to other areas.

The proposals of the task forces will be assessed. We will ask the task forces to submit proposals on how the money would be best spent in their areas. This was a recommendation received from groups working in the field and it will ensure the impetus is not from the top down. The proposals will be assessed by a committee and the funds will be allocated on the basis of the Cabinet subcommittee on social inclusion. Similar arrangements will be made in respect of the remaining £10 million.

Historically, the Department's substance abuse provision has been poor in funding terms. In 1996, £150,000 was provided for the misuse prevention project at primary level yet only £28,000 was spent, while in 1997, £150,000 was provided and only £63,000 was spent. We are developing a national plan with regard to substance abuse for implementation at primary and secondary level which will embrace curriculum provision and the provision of additional resources to substance abuse prevention projects. This year £150,000 is provided under subhead F1.

With regard to the comments made on the breaking the cycle scheme and the demographic dividend, the notices are sent out each year to schools which fall below the established pupil-teacher ratio. If schools do not meet a certain figure on 30 September they lose teachers. However, in the context of the schools involved in the breaking the cycle scheme, the cohort of teachers allocated to them under the scheme is not affected. That is to say, those teachers allocated to maintain a junior infant pupil-teacher ratio of 1:15 are not affected.

A school may still lose a teacher if the breaking the cycle component is removed from consideration because numbers are down. In the cases highlighted we will send out inspectors, as we normally do when we receive requests, to assess the situation and the likely impact of the loss of a teacher. Notwithstanding last week's publicity, the bottom line is that one of the schools identified would still have the best pupil-teacher ratio in the country even if it lost a teacher. I acknowledge there are issues to be addressed, but the considerable supports given to those schools in addition to the breaking the cycle supports should have been acknowledged.

The demographic dividend this year is about 190 but we have not made final decisions on the allocation of those teachers. We will deal with the issue of remedial teachers in the context of the redistribution of that dividend. It is accounted for in the Estimates. We will appoint more remedial teachers, additional resource teachers and move on the one teacher school issue. We did not give a commitment to deal with all those issues in our first year in office.

When we came into office, 24 such schools were about to lose a teacher last August as a result of the previous Government's decision. We reversed that decision and managed to secure additional posts to prevent them from becoming one teacher schools. We are now examining the situation and in the next few weeks we will be in a position to make announcements in that regard. We have identified remedial teaching as a key issue in the utilisation of the dividend. It is not as large as last year's dividend simply because of the way the numbers fall this year. However, we will do the best we can within the available figures to allocate in accordance with the priorities we have set ourselves. We are taking a particular look at schools in disadvantaged areas.

The Minister said categorically in his party's manifesto——

May I finish? I have not yet finished.

Let the Minister continue.

I want to deal with a raft of questions which other Deputies have raised, one of which related to research and development. It is a bit rich for Deputy Bruton to criticise this Government, particularly the Department of Education and Science, about research and development. I was the first Minister for Education and Science to secure a subhead of £5 million for research.

The Minister of State showed little sympathy when attacking the Opposition. His first reply was hamfisted.

I take issue with the Deputy's attack on my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, which is unfair. The reply was anything but hamfisted. Up to now, not a single penny or subhead existed to deal with research. In my discussions with Government I made sure priority would be given to this matter. That is combined with a £15 million capital allocation for research and development from the scientific and technological investment fund. It is the single most significant allocation of expenditure on research undertaken by any Government.

In my opinion it is still not enough if the research and development capacity of the State is to become what it should be as we move into the next millennium. However, it is far better than what was achieved previously. We have met some of the parties involved. Perhaps there needs to be greater co-ordination between the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and my Department as well as the sub-agencies. We are making sure there will be no reduction.

The Minister is represented on the board that ran the competition. Some 350 people applied.

There has been a lot of misinformation about that board. The £5 million is additional to what was there prior to that.

The competition was run by a board on which the Minister was represented and it pulled the mat from under the competition.

Is the Deputy talking about measure 5, which is a completely separate issue?

The National Research Support Board ran a competition. Some 350 people applied and 90 were selected. Some 40 reserves were selected and the Minister pulled the funding from under them so they could only approve 29 of the 90 who had been approved.

That is absolutely untrue.

I have seen no indication to the contrary. It has been reported day after day in the press.

It is not true. There is a complete mis-spin on the matter.

Will the Minister give us the correct facts?

There are about two minutes left in which to deal with this Vote.

The in-career development issue was raised by Deputy O'Shea. We have shown an increase of 16 per cent on the 1997 allocations for in-career development which amounted to £6.34 million. That is leaving aside the additional £3 million for IT 2000 in-service development. The outturn in 1997 was £8.612 million which showed additional expenditures. We had to secure a Supplementary Estimate of £2 million prior to December 1997 to pay for programmes in that overrun, particularly the RSE programme which involved a fair degree of wrapping up in terms of the substantial in-service involved. Nonetheless, the actual provision for the 1998 Estimate is £7.716 million which is 16 per cent more than that provided for in the 1997 Estimate.

One can add the IT £3 million to that which represents a fair and significant provision for in-service training. Over the last number of years the in-service career development programme has been made possible by the assistance of the European Union's operational programme. That is the bottom line. Prior to provision by Europe for funding for in-career development in 1994, there was no such provision for such in-career development of any significance for teachers within the system. We can rant and rave about Europe all we like, but that is one of the benefits we have achieved under the EU operational programme which is extremely important. We will continue to seek to improve that provision in the years ahead.

I will interrupt the Minister to call on the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea.

Deputy Pat Carey referred to the youth services and facilities fund and £30 million has been assigned under that fund. Some £20 million of that is for the task forces and the other £10 million can be used for a variety of purposes. There is flexibility in how it will be spent. That would not exclude, and possibly will include, grants for drug prevention programmes.

As regards the consultancy provision, I am not keen to spend a fortune on consultancy if I can avoid doing so, so there is a reduction this year. Some of this is inherited.

Does that include photographs?

Yes, but I am in demand and my colleague is very expensive as regards photographs.

The Minister is making An Institiúid Teangeolaíochta pay for them because its non-paid budget has been cut again.

It is estimated that the provision of £250,000 for 1998 will be spent as follows: computer related consultancy, £80,000; evaluation of financial procedures, £55,000; Public Service Management Act, 1997, £50,000; structures consultancy, £50,000; research in humanities and social sciences, £5,000; research in third level institutions, £2,500; expenditure review of the Linguistics Institute, £2,500; and personnel studies, £5,000. That is a rough estimate. We also have the consultancy on school buildings which we are hoping to engage in this year.

Some Deputies requested a breakdown of the capital investment programme for the scientific and technological investment fund.

The Minister can provide it in writing if he wishes.

To date the following allocations have been made from the fund: £10 million for the acquisition of new and replacement equipment in the Higher Education Authority and technological sectors in 1998; £2.3 million for capital developments at Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology, to facilitate the concurrent construction of phases 1 and 2; and £5 million towards the cost of a new information technology building at Trinity College, Dublin, to cater for 500 additional student places.

In addition, proposals involving up to £24 million have been announced in respect of capital developments at the Cork, Limerick and Waterford institutes of technology, to facilitate early planning of a range of skills needs related projects.

Some £13.6 million has been allocated from the fund for the IT 2000 initiative. At the moment we are assessing a range of other projects, involving institutes of technology and universities, relating to the skills needs initiative. I expect to make further announcements in due course. There is a lot happening but before we make such announcements we must ensure all the plans are in readiness.

I want to return to the issue of primary schools and pupil teacher ratios. I am flabbergasted the Minister is saying the only allocation of teachers will be made from the demographic dividend. He made it crystal clear in his party's election manifesto that schools that lost teachers because of declining numbers would be able to retain them. This was part of his strategy to increase the pupil teacher ratio in primary schools. It beggars belief that the Minister, once in Government, reneged on that commitment and will make provision only out of the demographic dividend.

The Minister seems to be telling us that he has just 190 teachers to deploy. He is clearly not going to honour the commitments made in the manifesto to well over 1,000 schools. He is reneging on these commitments. In the manifesto, the Minister gave a commitment to allow Breaking the Cycle schools to retain teachers that were affected by declining numbers. I cannot understand how he can renege on that commitment to the most disadvantaged schools in the country. As Deputy Gregory said, the Minister is starting to dismantle the priority that was given to these schools. The Minister says these schools have the lowest PTR in the country.

I said one of the schools that was mentioned last week has.

One of them has. The Minister should present the committee with the education performance of those schools and the ability of their pupils to continue to third level education. In that event, the Minister will see clearly that saying they are the best in the country is still not addressing their problems. I cannot understand how the Department could allow him to renege on the commitments to those schools. The Government should increase the allocation to such schools and identify other schools in a similar position.

Apart from the demographif dividend, provision is made in the Estimates for 260 additional teachers. Some 195 have retired, which means 65 additional people are being made available in the primary teaching service. Where will they be deployed?

Regarding subhead C, the issue of capitation grants to primary schools is becoming a hot potato. Why are primary schools expected to run a service on less than one-third of the capitation grant available to secondary schools? Perhaps the Minister would give the calculations the Department has available to it on the cost of running schools at primary and secondary levels because these underpin this continuing payment whereby £50 per pupil is paid to primary schools and £177 per pupil is paid to secondary schools in capitation support. I understand the Department conducted a study of the cost of maintenance in schools and was so shocked at the discrepancy between the findings of the study and its allocation to the schools that it buried the report. Perhaps the Minister might ask for that report to be presented to him because it would prove useful in addressing the concerns of primary schools about their allocation.

I have specific questions about subhead F1. The miscellaneous category under this subhead is the only one with a significant increase in funding. None of the material provided by the Department offers any insight into why subhead F1, item 10, is being increased from £610,000 to £2.272 million. Perhaps this is for the psychologists which were discussed. The Department's presentation of its Estimates is hopeless from the point of view of informing the committee about what is going on. It is very hard to disentangle some of the information. As it is an important area, in future we should return to the type of reports made in the early 1980s by the Department which gave Deputies decent information on which to debate the Estimates. That aside, I would like to know to what the miscellaneous category refers. I would also like to know why the aid towards the education of refugees is being cut. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform informed us there are 5,000 refugees, many with children. I do not understand why this allocation is being reduced.

I wish to raise the issue of specific learning disabilities. There is concern about the level of support for children with disabilities trying to enjoy an integrated education. Many of their needs are not recognised by the Department. There are waiting lists for many services, like those in Temple Street Hospital and the Mater Hospital. When the Department is asked about the waiting lists, it feigns ignorance about the matter. There seems to be an ostrich policy in the Department, if it is not known or not found out, the Department cannot be accused of failing to provide. Given the Minister's new legislation, the Department will have to change its view because he is taking specific responsibility. In the wake of the Education (No. 2) Bill, a better policy on support for children with special education needs in primary classes will be required.

The last issue I wish to raise is that of substitute teachers. I note the cost has increased by 20 per cent in the past two years. I am interested in the cause of this rapid growth. The Minister has been criticised for the extent to which substitute teachers are properly trained. Perhaps he could shed light on the issue. Many substitute teachers have not been trained but have learned in the school of experience. I would be happy for them to be employed once the Minister is satisfied a reasonable test of competence or experience is put in place for them. I would like to know the approval rating before people are employed as substitute teachers.

Regarding the operation of the part-time teaching scheme, will the Minister tell us how the scheme applies to adults? Under subhead A2, the scheme is stated as being for the handicapped, disadvantaged children and adults. I would like more information on that. Are the teachers employed through schools or are they selected in another manner?

Has the Minister any proposals on the issue I raised earlier of the level of capitation paid to special needs children attending ordinary schools? It is unlikely the Minister will be able to make any substantial changes to the Estimate at this stage? Does he accept the principle that, if we are serious about the integration of special needs children into mainstream schools, the absolute minimum would be to provide the same level of capitation as is provided in special classes in mainstream schools or in special schools?

Subhead E deals with grants towards the employment of caretakers in national schools. This is an old chestnut of mine. Caretakers are, to the best of my knowledge, the only group in the education system who do not have a pension scheme. There is no justification for this and it is only administration difficulties which result in the persistence of this anomaly. Will the Minister address the issue?

Regarding what is being discovered in third level in terms of knowledge of basic spelling, grammar and use of English among third level students, does the Minister accept a substantial increase in the library allocation would be worthwhile? Children are obviously not reading as much as they did in the past. Attractive material in local libraries, might be part of the solution to the difficulties I outlined earlier.

Subhead G relates to child care assistants in national schools for the handicapped. Can this be extended to mainstream schools which seek to integrate special needs children? As I read it, it applies to special schools. Can it be extended to mainstream schools which seek to integrate special needs children?

Special services for children in care is a sensitive and difficult matter. Why is there a decrease in this year's Estimate as against last year's outturn? I notice the special education projects are earmarked for Dublin, in the Minister's area and in the Minister of State's area. There are other cities in the country. Why were they not considered for special education projects?

They were in existence long before I arrived.

Does the Minister propose to extend them?

There are different provisions in different areas. These projects grew historically in the areas concerned.

I assure the Deputy that was before I became Minister.

I asked a question regarding the pupil teacher ratio in primary schools in my constituency and the response I received included remedial teacher posts. Some remedial teachers are in some schools for only two hours per day or three to five hours per week as they spend half their time driving from one school to another. When the answer was given a number of irate principals contacted me stating the information supplied by the Department was totally incorrect and unfair as it included remedial teachers who were in schools on a part-time basis. A remedial teacher visiting three schools cannot be full time in any school. The remedial teacher was considered a full time teacher in calculating the pupil teacher ratio in a school, which is very unfair and which resulted in totally incorrect information being provided. I ask the Minister to address this issue, taking into consideration the fact that 784 schools have no provision in the context of remedial posts. There are 1,200 remedial posts in the system, but how little remedial work is being done in schools with remedial facilities in the context of the distance teachers have to drive? How and when will the situation be addressed?

How can the Department justify a capitation grant of £50 for children in primary education as against £177 for those in secondary education? The Minister will say there was an 11 per cent increase this year. I do not mind about the amount of the increase, but having children in primary school, I know children, particularly in disadvantaged schools, who, because their parents cannot afford to make up the difference on a weekly basis, are at a continuous disadvantage. The Department has not addressed this issue over the years, something for which all Administrations should be blamed. What will the Minister do about it? The State is paying £50 for my daughter who is in primary school. Next September, when she enters second level, the State will pay £177. This makes no sense.

I wish to raise the schools participating in Breaking the Cycle. Regarding withdrawal of teachers, the Department appears to be going counter to, if not undermining, overall Government strategy in relation to the drugs problem. There is a Cabinet sub-committee on social inclusion and drugs chaired by the Taoiseach. It has a fund of £30 million and has divided Dublin and one other area into drugs task force areas. It picked out the areas in the State with the worst drugs problems. In my constituency the areas coincide with schools which were brought into the Breaking the Cycle pilot scheme by the previous Government. The resources I referred to and the concentration of strategy and effort in relation to these areas are beginning to come together. At the same time the Department of Education and Science, for reasons we know, is taking teachers out of these areas. Yet education is critical, in the context of drugs, for those children.

The schools in the Breaking the Cycle scheme were selected because they were the most disadvantaged. The areas affected are Sheriff Street, Sean MacDermott Street and Hardwicke Street which are bynames for deprivation. The fact that one of the schools might still have the best pupil teacher ratio in the State is irrelevant. It probably has the highest level of social deprivation indicators in the State. The problems in these areas are horrific. I do not intend outlining them today — we all know them. Given that Breaking the Cycle was a pilot scheme and that the schools are in task force areas which are supposed to be getting additional resources and not a reduction in the most critical of the resources, namely, teachers, I ask the Minister to again look at the issue and leave the teachers in the schools. Those schools are one of the few good things for children in the areas.

A recent reply to a question relating to one of the schools stated the Minister would look at the projected numbers in September 1998 and base action on this rather than on the numbers of September 1997. I ask that this be done, and the schools are hopeful it will be. They have sent in their projected numbers. I hope this is not simply going through the motions and putting them to further upset. I ask that the points I have made be taken into account.

One of the St. Lawrence O'Toole schools in Sheriff Street was left out of Breaking the Cycle. The school felt that when the scheme was extended it would be able to avail of its advantages. However, instead of the scheme being extended the school is losing a teacher, making it even more disadvantaged than previously. The school is asking that the teacher be retained. The other St. Lawrence O'Toole schools in Sheriff Street are participating in Breaking the Cycle. I am not clear about why one was left out. I hope the Minister will take on board what I have said. If he does not do so, the other measures the Government is putting in place will simply be completely undermined by a crazy move to take teachers out of those areas.

I welcome the 2.5 times increase in the substance abuse programme. How it is intended to extend the programme? Under which subhead does the pilot project for the teaching of modern languages, which is very welcome, appear?

I dealt with that matter in my speech.

Under subhead K2 there is a huge increase in the amount set aside for capital building equipment costs for specialist schools for children in care. What projects will benefit from it? The ethos of care regimes has changed and perhaps some of the buildings belong to another era and need upgrading.

I am glad there is an increase in library grants, but we should try each year to have a significant incremental increase in the money made available for libraries, which are an important resource for children.

Deputy O'Shea referred to special education projects in Dublin, Cork and Limerick. Members heard me speak about youth encounter projects, a very significant initiative and important resource in the relevant communities. I am glad to see continued and increased commitment on the part of the Minister to their development at a time when we are trying to devise strategies to combat early school leaving. Like other speakers, I am anxious that the Department would explore the expansion of initiatives along the lines of the youth encounter projects. Will the Minister write to me at a later date on whether the special education youth encounter projects for Dublin, Cork and Limerick can be expanded?

Deputy Gregory spoke about the Breaking the Cycle programme. It is very important to get both sides of the story because we can use very extreme language to describe what has happened.

It is a very extreme situation.

With all due respect, we must also put the issues on the table. Even St. Mary's, which is one of the schools identified, will still have a 13 to one pupil to teacher ratio in the junior infant classes. Breaking the Cycle only allowed for a ratio of 15 to one. Having said that, we said we would look at the situation and we have asked the schools to return to us with their projected numbers. That was a serious request and was not just going through the motions. We are very conscious of the need to fit in with overall Government strategy in terms of focusing on and paying specific attention to these areas.

There are about 156 schools involved in the Breaking the Cycle scheme. There are many schools not involved in that scheme but which are very close to the required level of disadvantage. Up to 318 primary schools have been designated as disadvantaged over the years, all of which have only one additional teacher. Some of them still do not have an additional teacher because the additional schools designated as disadvantaged in 1994 did not even get the concessionary post.

There is a bigger story about disadvantage. All of this was used out of the demographic dividend over the years. The resources attaching to the Breaking the Cycle scheme were not incremental or additional to the demographic dividend which was available to previous Governments. It was a utilisation of existing resources which meant that other schools did not get it. However, having said that, it is a good pilot project and we are awaiting its evaluation.

Surely you can extend it rather than dismantle it.

We are evaluating it first to see how well it is working. There are more important aspects of this programme than the teacher number issue. In my opinion, the in-service dimension of the Breaking the Cycle scheme has been far more important. The feedback we are getting from the national co-ordinator is that the in-service aspect and the change of culture and attitude in dealing with and attending to children in these schools is equally as important as the actual ratios. Back up services, such as psychological services and teaching counselling services, can often be more important that teacher ratios. There is a great deal of international research which is quite sceptical of teacher to pupil ratios being the single determinate factor in terms of student performance at school.

It is the critical factor.

It is not. The Deputy might say that but——

In a disadvantaged area——

——international research says otherwise.

You did not say that in your manifesto.

I did not write about Breaking the Cycle in my manifesto. I wrote about a multi-input approach to disadvantage so that——

You wrote that those schools we are talking about today would not lose their teachers. Let us be very blunt about it.

I just want to make the point——

Not only these schools, but all such schools.

I had to bring in a Supplementary Estimate last year to pay for the demographic dividend which Deputy Bruton's Government failed to deliver.

The Minister is making no provision for primary education.

That is a bit rich from Deputy Bruton.

He is relying on the demographic dividend, despite making commitments to well over 1,000 schools.

I wish to return to Deputy Gregory's issue about pupil teacher ratios and the other issues which were raised. We have raised this with people in the area partnerships and so on. The reason pupil teacher ratio is not the sole determining factor is that many students have other problems which inhibit their capacity to learn.

I am not saying it is the sole factor——

That is all I am saying.

——but it is a critical one. If you take the teachers out you are wasting your time.

I did not say that. I am making the point that we need additional psychological and remedial supports in schools. The concept of teacher counsellors, which has been developed in Clondalkin, is proving to be an excellent one. The home school liaison scheme is also needed. Those inputs are critical and are the approach I am taking to tackling disadvantage. However, we have asked the schools mentioned by Deputy Gregory to return to us and we will respond positively to the situation.

The Breaking the Cycle scheme is being implemented 100 per cent in all the schools concerned. That is the bottom line. We are not cutting back on the Breaking the Cycle component of the teacher allocation to the schools. It is——

That means that classes in schools which are not in the Breaking the Cycle scheme have increased numbers.

There has been an attempt to make a point here that somehow there has been a pulling back on the Breaking the Cycle element of the teacher allocation to the schools. That is absolutely untrue.

It is not. If the Minister talks to any of the principals or teachers——

If the allocation made to those schools under the Breaking the Cycle scheme were taken away tomorrow those figures would still have to be honoured in accordance with the PTR agreements made in previous years and reduced by yet another teacher. That is the point I am making. We did not, in any sense, reduce the Breaking the Cycle component of the staff allocation to those schools. It is wrong and unfair of people to put a negative spin on it and propagandise the situation to the extent they did.

We will face up to any genuine case which is presented to us, taking on board the national strategy and policy, as the Deputy outlined. We will synergise properly with the policy initiatives. However, we do not want unfair and inaccurate spins put out that we are reducing the Breaking the Cycle component.

Call into any of the schools.

In regard to the point raised by Deputy Farrelly, I will review the situation in relation to the pupil teacher issue he raised. That situation has existed for the past decade and beyond. Every year——

Misinformation was given.

I must check that — I do not have that information available to me. I do not have the question in front of me.

It was misinformation.

There was no deliberate misinformation given. If the situation requires further clarification we will gladly do that. I will return to the Deputy on the matter.

In regard to the old chestnut about the comparison between the primary and secondary capitation rates, I am now pulling together the various figures and assessments because there are many misapprehensions about that. We increased the rate this year by £5, there was no increase the previous year. Deputy Bruton was in Government one year ago and sat in a Cabinet which decided not to increase the capitation grant.

One is on the run when one starts attacking the previous Administration.


The Minister should read his manifesto. He will find it very instructive on what he plans to do this year.

We give more than just the £50 capitation rate. Some £10 million is spent on the devolved grant for primary school repairs and buildings, which is additional to the capitation grant. That is a substantial annual grant to primary schools which is never taken into consideration when people talk about £50 versus £177. The IT grants have been very significant this year to many primary schools, particularly schools with up to four teachers which all received £2,000 or £2,500 for the purchase of computer equipment. There has also been a very significant increase in capital expenditure at primary level this year; the provision in 1997 was £27 million whereas the provision now is up to £40 million. That is a very significant provision which will apply to disadvantaged and other schools. We have fulfilled our commitments in year one to an adequate degree. We have acknowledged all along we must do more in relation to capitation rates and we want to improve the situation even further.

Could we request, under the Freedom of Information Act, that the committee be provided with the departmental figures on the running costs of schools which underpin these capitation rates? It has been a bone of contention. If there are figures, let us see them and let us vindicate the Minister.

I was instrumental in getting the Sheehan report, which the Deputy mentioned, published by tabling a parliamentary question when I was in Opposition. That relates to the investigation into funding of first and second level schooling — the report had been suppressed for about two or three years and was then published, under the previous Administration, admittedly, but as a result of a parliamentary question.

Does that deal with the issue of the comparative costs of running primary and secondary schools?

It deals primarily with second level——

It would be useful if the Minister would let the committee have the information he is now pulling together.

Of course. The report to which the Deputy referred dealt primarily with the alleged discrepancies between the funding of voluntary secondary schools, community schools and comprehensive and vocational colleges. The main report was produced by Sheehan and Durkan. If there is another report out there we will find it for the Deputy. However, it is more important to look at the full range of supports given to primary schools and to compare them to the full range of supports given to second and third level colleges, in the context of the objective unit costs of each sector. Figures are being bandied about without any proper analysis.

Undoubtedly, unit costs are more significant in second level because of the initial science laboratories and so forth, and the capital costs at third level are significantly greater than those for primary or second levels. In the interests of objectivity and fairness, regardless of who is in power, it is important that these figures are drawn together. I am starting that process because I am concerned about the lack of genuine comparisons. However, it is still necessary to increase the level of funding for primary level.

Can we conclude this discussion? The Committee must deal with two more Votes

I just wish to deal with the issue of substitute teachers and our analysis of this situation since it emerged during the teachers' conferences. Provision was made last year for an additional 200 intakes into teacher training colleges without any such demand being made. Over the past four or five years the average rate of retirement for teachers was about 400 per annum. Last year that increased to 600 and that appears to be the reason for the significant increase in the number of substitute teachers. I will shortly announce measures to deal with the provision of additional places in teacher training colleges to make up the expected shortfalls in the years ahead and to ensure there is a sufficient number of trained teachers in the system. It will also deal with the issue of substitute teachers.

Deputy O'Shea referred to capitation rates for special needs education. Over the years, the capitation rate for children attending special schools was low and was similar to the rate a few years' ago for children attending national school. The previous Government decided to increase the rate for children attending special schools above the rate for children attending special needs classes in mainstream schools. As a result, there is now a huge disparity between the capitation rate that follows a child in a special school as opposed to that which follows a child who integrates into a mainstream national school. We are examining the matter to see if the level of support for a child with special needs attending a mainstream school can be increased. Obviously, we will not be able to do it in 1998.

We will also examine the pension scheme issue which the Deputy highlighted. I am aware of this problem but for successive years a pension scheme for caretakers of primary schools has not been developed. We will see if we can do something in that regard.

With regard to the library allocation, I have provided £0.5 million under the miscellaneous fund to be allocated to primary schools later in the year to enable them to purchase books for their school libraries. There was a basic increase in the allocation to the library book fund which the libraries themselves distribute to schools around the country. However, I decided the schools might need additional supports to build up their libraries, particularly for infant classes where materials and books are needed more often. The £0.5 million is not a huge sum but this is the first time there has been such an allocation.

The Deputy also raised a significant issue with regard to the provision of child care assistants to mainstream schools. He is correct that it has not been the policy to date to provide them in mainstream schools, they were generally made available to assist children with special needs in special schools. The Department, in co-operation with FÁS, arranged from time to time for FÁS assistance to provide child care assistants in mainstream schools to facilitate integration. The Department and FÁS are currently examining if a new initiative in that regard can be developed to provide for the increasing demand for such assistants. I am conscious that there is growing need in this area and I hope to make progress on it.

Deputy O'Shea also referred to the part-time teaching schemes with regard to children with special needs. That is a demand led scheme whereby the Department receives requests to provide tuition for children with special needs.

To what extent is it provided for pupils in disadvantaged areas or pupils who can loosely be described as disadvantaged?

There are various schemes. The vocational training centres are designed to provide mildly and moderately handicapped adolescents with skills which will enable them to take up employment in sheltered workshops. The Department provides grant aid towards the cost of the instructors' salaries. The centres are funded by the health authorities.

The pre-school for traveller children scheme is also funded. This scheme provides for the funding of tuition in pre-schools for traveller children, of which there are currently 56. The primary function of these pre-schools is to prepare the children for primary school. They are given training in social skills as well as being taught literacy and numeracy skills.

Special subject grants are provided for the provision of special subjects such as PE, art and craft, home economics and so forth in special schools. The range of special subjects has recently expanded to include computers as a result of some special needs students sitting the leaving certificate applied programme.

The Rehabilitation Institute community workshops scheme provides for the funding of part-time teaching services for handicapped people at community workshops run by the Rehabilitation Institute. At-home tuition is provided for children who, because of severe disability, are either unable to attend school at all or are absent for long periods. The scheme was widened in 1995 to include children with special needs who are unable to attend school because of delays in arranging suitable placement.

The Department also provides a scheme under community workshops for the funding of tuition in literacy and numeracy for trainees with mental and physical handicaps in community workshops. There are also Saturday morning remedial schemes to cater for children in need of remedial teaching where, because of the scatter of pupils from a number of schools, it would not be possible to appoint a full-time remedial teacher.

There are remedial teaching schemes and child guidance clinics for children whose problems are more acute than those catered for by remedial teachers in ordinary schools. Many of them suffer from speech-language disorders with consequent emotional disturbance and part-time teaching hours are provided. The residential home for girls scheme provides for the funding of part-time teaching hours in a number of residential homes for girls at risk. Grants are also provided for part-time teaching in small hospitals where the employment of full-time teachers would not be justified.

There was another question about young offenders and Deputy O'Shea asked why there was a significant increase in the funding from 1997 to 1998 with regard to special projects. In previous years there was a slow take-up or spend under these schemes. Even though in 1995, for example, an allocation of £1.25 million was made, only £227,000 was spent. In 1996, the allocation was £1.250 million and only £519,000 was spent while in 1997 only £370,000 was spent of an allocation of £985,000.

I have allocated £1.011 million this year which will provide for 20 extra places for young male offenders at the site in Oberstown, Lusk, County Dublin which is currently occupied by Oberstown Boys Centre, Oberstown Girls Centre and Trinity House, the development of eight to ten additional places for young female offenders at Oberstown Girls Centre and the development of eight to ten places for young male offenders at the site of the present Finglas Children's Centre. The Department will spend money on the development plans for these centres this year. For some reason there was a difficulty in spending or getting plans ready to spend this money in previous years. That is unacceptable and we are determined the money allocated this year will be spent in those areas.

On Vote 28, it would be useful to deal with the examination papers issue in the first few minutes. Is that permissible?

Yes. It is relevant to this Vote.

It would make sense to deal with it as a separate item before moving to the current spending issues.

It was raised earlier by a number of Deputies.

The examination paper leak arises more directly on the examinations Estimate but there is widespread public concern about what happened in Schull. What are the failsafe procedures for preventing the premature release of examination papers? It is hard to understand how a paper which was not due to be sat could be inadvertently released. The system should make that impossible. There should be procedures in place to ensure that papers are well segregated and are not released to the superintendent so that such errors could not occur. Will the Minister outline the present procedures for preventing the premature release of examination papers?

The second issue I wish to mention was also raised by Deputy O'Shea. Has this incident undermined the integrity of this paper? There have been varying reports on the extent to which the information spread through Cork and other areas. Has this incident undermined the integrity of the paper? We have heard varying reports of the extent to which the information spread. Will the Minister give us his appraisal of the extent of the leak and his view on whether a fresh paper should be set? It would not be acceptable to reset the examination in the autumn if discrepancies were found in the marks given. The issue must be resolved immediately so that candidates know precisely where they stand. I wish to raise questions on other Estimates but, in deference to Deputy O'Shea, I would first like to hear the Minister's view on this matter.

I raised my questions earlier. If the Minister has the answers to them I am happy to have him respond at this stage.

I am equally concerned about the possibility of such a situation developing. The strongest protections are put in place, but to err is human and this situation arose because of a human error. The wrong paper was distributed to students in Schull community college. A senior inspector who went to Schull to investigate the incident has given me a full written report. The Department was alerted late on Saturday afternoon although the incident happened on Friday. I was alerted just before noon on Sunday. By 5 p.m. I had the full report at my disposal.

The superintendent opened the packet containing paper two in error on the afternoon of Friday, 12 June and distributed some papers before becoming aware of the mistake. As soon as the mistake was discovered all the papers which had been distributed were taken up. She then sent a message to the vice-principal asking him to get the packet containing paper one. The vice-principal then discovered that the box did not contain that packet. He went to centre 1216 where he discovered that the packet containing paper one was on the superintendent's desk. The correct papers were then distributed and the examination proceeded.

The affair came to the Department's attention through a third party who was an examination candidate in the school. A local inspector in Cork was contacted around 4 o'clock on Saturday. He took steps on Saturday evening to make sure all copies of paper two were secure. The chief inspector ensured an investigation would take place. A senior inspector, Tadhg Ó Síocháin, was sent to Schull with instructions to speak to all the candidates to find out the extent of the possible exposure of the contents of the paper. On Sunday, between 11.45 a.m. and 2 p.m., after prior arrangement with the vice-principal, he interviewed the 16 candidates individually in the presence of the vice-principal. One candidate did not take the Irish examination at all and one other took bun leibhéal. The candidates' parents had been invited to be present but none chose to do so.

The interviews yielded the information that copies of paper two had been given out in error by the superintendent to all candidates for higher and ordinary levels. All but three candidates said they had been given out face down, which is normal procedure. The candidates reported consistently that the papers were on their desks for a very brief period and for no more than a matter of seconds after they had been turned over. This had been done when the superintendent had instructed them to do so and to begin the examination. Many spoke of experiencing a feeling of shock on discovering they had been given the wrong paper, resulting in them looking at each other rather than at the paper. Some candidates said they had seen the title of a story or of a poem or poems but all confirmed that they had not read any actual question. Candidates who said they had seen such titles said they had not spoken of this to anyone other than fellow pupils or family members.

Mr. Ó Síocháin subsequently discussed his findings with the chief inspector and with Peadar Ó Máille, inspector for Irish. The account given by the candidates led the inspector to believe that they had no more than 30 seconds to read the paper, their feeling of shock diverted their attention from the content of the papers. While some thought or knew that certain poems or stories were on the paper, none knew what questions were being asked. The extent of the exposure was not such that the examination should be re-scheduled.

In the light of the advice I received and after full consideration of the matter, on Sunday evening I had to decide whether the examination should be cancelled with implications for the 59,000 students who were due to sit the second Irish paper the following morning. It would have been hugely dislocating to students, given the limited exposure of the paper, to cancel the examination for all candidates. One could argue that it would have been inequitable to do so. Candidates might have claimed that sitting a re-scheduled examination ten days later would have affected their performance. The stress involved might have affected their performance in other subjects and, therefore, I decided not to cancel.

It is significant that between Sunday afternoon and Sunday night no calls were made to the Department, to me or to the media claiming widespread exposure of the contents of the paper. After the conclusion of paper two on Monday the rumour machine began to work and claims were made that contents of the paper had been spread widely. I hope anyone who has relevant information will make it available to the Department and it will be investigated further. I have no difficulty in carrying out further investigations or in releasing any information that is available to me. The reports which are now circulating are not reliable. Someone contacted the Irish Independent this morning but that person will not now come forward. I do not have enough evidence at the moment to justify a decision to re-sit this examination. I am open to receiving additional information or evidence.

Before calling Deputy Bruton could I, with the committee's agreement, ask Deputy Hanafin to take the Chair?

Deputy Hanafin took the Chair.

This is not an issue for reckless or opportunist politics. Those who are likely to gain advantage from such a situation will not be the ones to come forward and volunteer information. The aspect of the question makes it very difficult to assess the evidence. It is unlikely that many people will want to volunteer information in a case such as this. If the Minister is satisfied that there was minimal exposure of the contents of the paper, considering the enormous disruption involved in re-setting the paper his decision is understandable. I accept this would be a momentous decision with all the consequences which would flow from it. The appropriate action was taken and the further information being sought should be investigated. I am concerned about the time gap between Friday and Saturday afternoon. There were 70 students involved, 16 of whom saw the paper.

The report shows that at the time the vice-principal was asked by the superintendent to check where the copies of paper I were, and he discovered they were on the table in the centre. The vice-principal was aware at that stage that the package containing paper II had been opened, but thought it had not been distributed. It was only on the following day at about 2 p.m. that the vice-principal was told by a teacher in the school that copies of paper II had been distributed to candidates in centre 1216. This teacher had been told this by her babysitter who was a candidate for the examination and whose mother was on the teaching staff. The vice-principal met the superintendent in her home at around 4 p.m. They contacted the local inspector in the Department who, in turn, alerted the assistant chief inspector in the Department in Dublin. That Saturday night the local inspector took the keys and established that all copies of paper II were in an envelope in the superintendent's box of papers held in the school. He gave the keys to the vice-principal for safe keeping, pending the appointment of additional superintendents.

From Friday 70 people had some level of information about the contents of the paper. The possibilities of networking that information are very difficult to gauge. This is my major concern. Errors were made and there is no point pursuing the issue. The main point is that the integrity of the paper is maintained. On the basis of the report we have received I am prepared to accept that appropriate action was taken when the information was given to the Department.

Two procedural issues disturb me about this matter. First, how could two envelopes be issued to one superintendent? That breakdown is not satisfactorily explained. The Minister is saying both envelopes, with two separate sets of papers, were issued to the superintendent who had both available in the examination hall and one was issued. Surely there must be a system to protect against this? I am not clear from the account offered as to how this happened but I would have thought there would have to be fail-safe mechanisms. One person cannot collect these envelopes and walk off with them. A minimum of two people must confirm the collection of the envelopes and counter sign for them. In no circumstance could a person head off with two envelopes under his or her arm. I do not understand this aspect of the explanation.

The second issue which concerns me is the apparent lack of appreciation of the gravity of issuing the wrong papers. For whatever reason the superintendent felt this was not an issue worthy of being brought to the attention of the principal or the person in charge. What are the departmental instructions to examiners? These matters should be clear. If something goes wrong there should be an automatic recall system. I cannot understand how a superintendent, based on instructions from the Department, did not understand what was at stake.

We will have to accept the Minister's view that the integrity of the examination is intact. Until he has found otherwise, I am satisfied with his view. Will he specify a deadline before which people should come forward with evidence? When the papers are examined over the next two months, what will be his approach to peculiar results or pockets of high performance? If this occurs, will he reconsider whether students should resit the paper? What will be the view if no one volunteers information that this has spread more widely than we think?

Students are finishing their leaving certificate examinations and a steady approach at this stage is in their interests. I am sure the Minister will give an assurance that procedures need to be reviewed and that whatever adjustments are required following this incident will be made. It may warrant a review of the entire system.

The procedures will be reviewed in the light of this incident. They are detailed — the dates of the examinations are on the boxes and the envelopes. There is a colour coding system and counter signing by two students in the examination hall.

The papers are issued from the safe and——

The superintendent is given the box which can be located in a Garda station near the school or in a safe place in the school. It is difficult to understand how the mistake happened, but it can be attributed only to human error. I take the point on procedure. I will forward Deputies a copy of the procedures relating to superintendents. People are shown videos of how to proceed and instructions are given. We will have to review those procedures in light of what has happened.

This incident occurred in one of 4,400 centres, but it is one incident too many. We are concerned that it has happened and we will come back to the committee with any information arising from further inquiries. We will monitor the marking to see if any of the results are out of the ordinary and we will compare the standard of marks between the two papers and the oral examination. There will be a number of inquiries within the next few days and weeks, I do not want to say much more at this stage. This is an important issue.

We will move on to the Estimate. I suggest that we spend ten minutes each on second and third level and finish the meeting by 5.30 p.m.

As regards teacher numbers, there are 422 extra public service numbers, of which 223 are pensioners. There are 199 extra teachers going into the system. How are these teachers being deployed? Can the Minster confirm the figure of 199 is accurate? Will he reply to the issue of VTOS and the back to education scheme? There is considerable unrest as to the discrepancy between the two. I note from replies to parliamentary questions that the Department is examining this. It is timely now to issue the findings to ensure people are treated equally. People trying to run VTOS courses will be undermined if alternatives become more attractive for financial rather than educational reasons.

Why is there a cut of £1.3 million in the provision for special initiatives to improve retention of pupils from disadvantaged areas? It is difficult to understand why that is happening and it is not something I support if it turns out to be what it appears on face value. Why has the vocational sector lost massively in the allocation of additional building grants? It has a 40 per cent cut in its capital allocation whereas the other schools in the sector have substantial increases. I do not understand the rationale of that. I understood the Minister was scrapping the idea of a further education authority but a provision is made for it in the Estimates. I am unsure of the Minister's position on this.

We have the highest pupil-teacher ratio in the OECD and the ASTI has drawn significant attention to this and the difficulty it creates in classrooms for pupils who face various social problems. The ASTI believes the time is right to look afresh at the ratio. I would like to hear the Minister's response to the campaign for lower class sizes. He has expressed the view that it is not the be all and end all of matters at primary level. What is his view at secondary level?

I was astounded that there was a figure in the 1998 Estimates for a further education authority. While it is something I welcome and which will be very useful in the context of the sector — I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, would also have views on it — the bottom line, however, is why it is included.

Subhead H1(ii) concerns itself with the expenses of Teastas and the NCVA and there is a reduction in the Estimate as against the outturn. With the legislation concerning Teastas coming on stream, surely the opposite should be the case.

Regarding subhead B1, grants for transition year programmes, is it intended to continue the transition year support team for a year or permanently?

My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, will deal with the VTOS and the back to education scheme. The provision of additional teachers relates to the increased allowance made for the leaving certificate applied and leaving certificate vocational programmes. There is also additional non-teaching staff for the community-comprehensive schools sector. By and large, there has been an increase in the numbers sitting the leaving certificate applied and leaving certificate vocational and they enjoy better pupil-teacher ratios than the normal leaving certificate programme. Those programmes are very important in terms of our overall policy of improving second level retention rates to 90 per cent. I am delighted there is an increase in numbers. We are continuing to try to expand the programmes because they have been very successful, are relevant to the needs of enterprise and the workplace and meet the aptitude and needs of many students within the system.

Regarding the further education authority, I have never definitively written it off and have kept an open mind on it. Some of the partners are anxious we develop such an authority. It was included in the White Paper on Education and in my own manifesto.

The Minister is hooked.

I am open to the idea and, given the growth of the sector and the development of the National Qualifications Authority, we are making further research and developments on the issue. There is a possibility we may yet have a further education authority.

In terms of the national qualifications framework or Teastas, the Estimates figure shows a £140,000 reduction on the outturn of 1997 but shows a £100,000 increase on the original provision in 1997. The 1997 allocation was £2.73 million, the outturn was £3.014 million and the 1998 allocation is £2.85 million which is not too out of step with 1997. Regarding the Deputy's questions on the National Qualifications Authority, we will publish a Bill by the end of the summer on the matter. The Government has approved the heads of the Bill and it is now being drafted.

The issue of the pupil-teacher ratio at second level is an ongoing issue of concern to all involved. It has been progressively reduced over the years because of numbers, etc.

It is worse than it was in 1971.

There was not the same uptake in second level education in 1971 as there is today. It was only five years after the introduction of free second level education. The rates of retention are now much higher than they were then. However, that is not to say we could not improve in the area but it is subject to resources.

There is no specific reason the extent of vocational education school building has declined. We do not operate the building programme separately as between the different sectors. We deal with projects on a priority basis, irrespective of the sector from which the projects come, be they voluntary secondary, vocational or community-comprehensive.

I would have expected it to be the other way around.

Many of the community colleges tend to have better buildings than the voluntary secondary schools. Many of them would be more modern and would have been built in recent times. The buildings at second level which are in the worst state are those of the voluntary secondary schools. The vocational colleges in most cases and the community and comprehensive schools are of a more modern vintage, are in good condition and have better sports facilities. The voluntary secondary school sector suffers from antiquated buildings. PLC colleges, which are under the auspices of vocational education committees, will benefit not only from the second level capital fund but also from the £20 million made available under the scientific and technological investment fund.

Subhead H3 relates to a special initiative to improve retention of pupils from disadvantaged areas. That is the home-school liaison scheme. There is a technical adjustment relating to that figure. A higher provision has been made this year than was made in 1997. The allocation was £950,000, the outturn was £2.322 million and the Estimate for this year is £1.01 million.

No one would welcome a cutback in efforts to retain pupils from disadvantaged areas.

There is no cutback.

I will give the Deputy an additional note on the technical adjustment involved in those figures.

A question was raised about the VTOS programme as opposed to the back to education scheme operated by the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs. The latter scheme, as Deputy Bruton rightly adverted to, was more attractive because an individual was not means tested if he or she worked part-time while on it. Furthermore, if one was on a VTOS course one's training allowance was adjusted if one was on a low rate of social welfare whereas the allowance at the beginning of the back to education scheme was maintained throughout. There were also a number of other minor differences. I am glad that as a result of my strenuous representations to the Department of Finance, it has decided to bring VTOS in line with the back to education scheme.

Will the Minister of State take on primary pupil-teacher ratios as his next project or remedial teachers?

I am not fit for that.

I wish to raise the issue of the level of aid to students who receive the higher education grant. If one comes from a low income or social welfare background, the current maintenance payment of £647, increased by 1 to 2 per cent, is not adequate. We can argue about the appropriate level, but there is no doubt there is a need for the Minister to do something special for such families. As I adverted to earlier, many partnership companies have developed interesting programmes in this area. The Minister needs to mainstream those programmes so that additional support is available to students who have difficulty staying on in or choosing colleges.

The 1997 Partnership 2000 report stated that 50 people from disadvantaged backgrounds entered seven universities with special access. That equates to seven people per university, which is not acceptable. The target was 500. One cannot blame the universities exclusively because there is also an income issue involved. This issue of retaining in third level people from disadvantaged backgrounds needs to be addressed. I am not happy that it is being addressed satisfactorily.

I am disappointed the Minister filibustered on the issue of the research project which comes up again under this subhead. Leaving aside what previous Governments might have done on research, there is no doubt 350 people entered a competition in good faith. A total of 90 were approved, 40 reserved places were selected but the budget is not there for it.

That was not a competition.

It was not a Department of Education and Science competition.

It involved a national research board.

It came under the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment Vote.

We were told the Minister of State would co-ordinate what is done.

That is not relevant to this meeting.

There may have been an expectation in regard to applications that were made in a competition organised by Forbairt.

No, it involved a board on which the Minister is represented.

Yes, but that was under a different programme provided under a different Estimate. That situation will be rectified. However, in the context of this Vote, we provided an additional £5 million for the first time towards research.

We do not want to go through history. Today's newspapers suggested the Minister was scrambling around looking from money to make it up.

I am not scrambling. I am endeavouring to meet concerns that have been expressed by people who felt there should be more funding under that Vote for that competition. The Department had nothing to do with organising the competition.

The Minister of State responsible is part of the Minister's Department and he was represented on the board which undertook this competition.

The £5 million allocated under the Vote was not meant for that competition.

They worked on the understanding that it was.

They did not; they are trying to grab some of the £5 million allocated for other areas. I was unhappy with the reaction of members of the scientific community to the £5 million announcement. The Deputy spoke correctly about pupil-teacher ratios and the needs of primary schools, but there would have been a greater welcome for us if we spent the £5 million on primary education or the capitation grant. People in the research sector should realise this is the first time we have managed to secure a £5 million subhead for research. To be attacked for achieving that is outrageous.

It is a pity the Minister of State is not present to account for his stewardship because he has not contested the evidence that has been reported.

Out of the £5 million, we even allocated £500,000 to a scheme under the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment to try and make up the balance. However, in consultation with the Higher Education Authority and agencies involved in the enterprise area, the Department will resolve the issue if it can.

The Minister made heavy play of the fact that part-time students would get access to higher education grants and postgraduate students would get tax relief. There was a substantial expectation that he would do something about the anomalies in the grant system, but nothing is happening. There is an expectation that he will do something and he should start by giving something to those on social welfare or low incomes, for whom the grant is inadequate. The system of supporting those who cannot afford it is not working, as only 50 got through last year.

The issue of access to third level education from disadvantaged backgrounds involves more than just a maintenance plan. In our policy document before the election we said the creation of additional places would be our first priority because one cannot have access to college if there are not enough places in the system. For the first time, we broke the 100,000 mark, with 103,000 participating this year compared with 99,000 last year, not a bad increase in 12 months. Our manifesto stated that any further commitments or priorities would be subject to the availability of resources. We made that point knowing that one could not have all the resources one wanted in year one.

The free fees initiative is a constant expenditure in our Vote which we must meet every year. We never received the benefit of the abolition of the covenant relief. That went straight to the Exchequer whereas the expenditure on free fees is picked up by the Department. To an extent, there is a huge increase in the Department's expenditure profile. I accept the Deputy's point about those on social welfare, etc., but I am concentrating on institutions assisting those from disadvantaged areas. That is the long-term and more sustainable way of dealing with the problem. It means working on second level schools in the immediate hinterland of universities. The hardship fund has been devolved to third level institutions and we have made an allocation again this year to deal with students with special needs who present themselves to the universities.

In next year's Estimate, we will look at further measures in the disadvantaged and hardship funds to try to improve the capacity of colleges and institutions to meet the needs of students in very difficult financial circumstances. The rate of the maintenance grant is not the reason students drop out of college or do not make it initially. The issue is much deeper than that and has more to do with participation rates in the second level system and the attitude and orientation in given areas to participation at third level. Professor Clancy, in his many reports on this over the decade, has identified these issues and has always come to the conclusion that one must start at primary and second levels if one wishes to increase participation in third level ultimately by students from disadvantaged areas.

I accept the Minister's view that the aspirations of parents and students at second level obviously have a bearing on the number entering third level, but also there is a geographic factor. Students who hail from outside university cities must find accommodation which is becoming much more expensive and difficult to obtain. Fine students forego the opportunity to go on to third level university education on economic grounds and that is a sorry situation. There is then a cycle where parents do not have the aspiration for the eldest child and this extends to the younger children in the family. Families see attendance at university outside their capabilities and do not aspire to it.

Under subhead K — alleviation of disadvantaged — the sum is reduced by 12 per cent from £398,000 to £350,000. Students for many reasons run into financial crises from time to time and provision should be made to assist students in such circumstances. I am pleased the Teastas legislation has overcome its first hurdle as the heads have been agreed by Government and the Bill will be published before the end of summer.

In terms of the investment for the various institutes of technology, some have embarked on that road a la the Donnelly report and are ready to go forward to the enhanced status — the objective evaluation of each college. Where does that process stand? Obviously, I have a local interest in this.

I wish to refer to the points I made earlier about the problems that seem to be emerging in the university and institute of technology sector with basic English. The Minister will be aware of a report on the Regional Technical College sector last year. This problem will not cure itself or go away and it must be urgently addressed. In the context of research, when I was in the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, money was put aside for research. It was part of the industry programme and funds were provided for "public good" research. The benefits were available to the industry at large. It is vital that our students are exposed to the frontiers of research. Many students learn by taking part and that is an important aspect rather than a mixture of practical work and study with the emphasis on study. The more students involved in research, the better it is for the economy and the students themselves.

The sum of £5 million for research is to be welcomed. On the other hand, the 1993 Regional Technical College Act allowed for campus companies and I am not sure that it has been successful. I am not aware of many colleges that have succeeded in getting worthwhile research projects. Everything should be done to move this element of third level institutions forward.

The presentation of the higher education budget needs to be addressed. Last year's Estimate allocated £64 million to the free fees initiative. Targeting programmes received £18 million this year but nothing last year. It is extremely difficult to understand what is going on.

It must be done that way from an accounting point of view.

Could I have a proper explanation? Presentation is inadequate. Subhead A1 is unsatisfactory. The Minister has made provision to bring forward payments, but it is impossible for an individual to know whether he is increasing or reducing the provision.

On the question of free fees one cannot accurately estimate how many students will enter each institution next October. Therefore the free fees element of the expenditure is part of subhead B2/11 — £79 million.

Why is there not a corresponding figure for last year?

The outturn shows how it was allocated. The provisional outturn for 1997 was £75.24 million while for 1998 the provision is £52.565 million. One would think there was a major reduction, but the £79 million for free fees is apportioned to each institution. However, I take the Deputy's point and accept a note should have been attached to it.

Access to third level in terms of geography is not home and dry. The Dublin area has many universities and the highest rate of non-participation is to be found in Dublin north-west. The west of Ireland has traditionally had the highest rate of participation and County Mayo in particular has been ahead of the posse. That did not stop the people there seeking their own third level institution. Deputy O'Shea is from the south-east where there has been a lower level of participation relative to other areas and that is why there is significant investment in Waterford Institute of Technology as well as the announcement of a £12 million investment in Carlow for significantly increased facilities which will transform the campus. If we transform those campuses that will make a difference to participation rates by attracting students.

The Donnelly report is going along its merry way. Professor Donnelly's committee is assessing Waterford and Cork simultaneously and any other institute may then apply for its own award status, etc. if they so wish. I do not know when I will receive the report but it should be within a few months.

I accept the Deputy's overall point that we should concentrate on enabling people to learn for themselves and develop their own thought processes rather than base the issue on acquisition of knowledge and learning by rote. That applies at third level and that is why the points commission was established. Many people thought the system only dealt with entry to third level, but it very much determined what was taught and how it was taught at second level because role learning is a by-product of the points system. People feel they must learn off various subjects and tend to regurgitate them. We have even got to a stage where people almost learn off essays to try to be lucky in the exam.

That is not learning or education and is one reason why a points commission was established. One of its terms of reference is to investigate the degree to which it impacts on second level curriculum and teaching methods and distorts them. There is evidence that literacy standards in first year in university are not what they should be. We hear anecdotal reports from tutors of first year university classes who very often spend their time correcting grammar and syntax in essays rather than the content.

There are other issues such as the attention given to the written language in modern society as opposed to 50 or 60 years ago. I recall visiting the Mary Immaculate College in Limerick. It is 100 years old and it has an archive exhibition. I invite people to look at the exhibits on display of the students who attended there in 1912. The finesse and prowess of the handwriting and the English was a revelation. I do not know what has changed people's attitudes to language and writing, whether it is television or information technology. We need to rededicate ourselves at primary and second levels to make sure we concentrate on competency in the language.

It also has to do with the curriculum. I have always said there was too much emphasis on junior and leaving certificate levels. The oral examination and the first paper in Irish account for the majority of the marks. Poetry in paper II of the Irish examination will account for 70 marks out of 600. People panic about poetry and learn off poems whereas if they concentrated more on the quality of the essay they produce and the oral Irish they would do fine. The emphasis must move away from the desire and panic to learn off every poem and drama and we must constantly review the curriculum with a view to lessening that impact. If people are taught to read and write properly, they will manage the literature in time.

The Donnelly report to which I referred covers the institutes of technology.

There is a need for more research and development in that sector.

Under the new allocation, we are inviting the institutes to send research projects and asking universities to link with institutes in their areas for joint projects which will be looked at favourably. The Deputy is correct in that we must develop the research capacity of the institutes. We will provide more funding to the institutes not only in terms of capital investment from the scientific and technological investment fund but also for equipment which will help their research capacity in certain areas.

That concludes the committee's deliberation of the Estimate.