Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Thursday, 24 Apr 2008

2008 Annual Output Statement.

Apologies have been received from Deputy Brian Hayes and Deputy Ulick Burke will replace the Fine Gael spokesperson at this meeting.

I welcome the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Mary Hanafin, and her officials. Our meeting is to consider Vote 26, Revised Estimate for 2008 and the output statement from the Department of Education and Science. A timetable has been circulated for the meeting. It allows for an opening statement by the Minister and statements from the lead Opposition spokespersons. An open discussion on the revised Estimate and output statement by question and answer session will follow. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I ask the Minister to make her opening statement.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss this Estimate with the select committee. I normally begin by outlining any changes in how the Revised Book of Estimates is presented. This year the changes are very minor. We no longer have a subhead for the Centres for Young Offenders - subhead C7 last year - with the transfer of responsibility for these centres to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform during 2007.

Before I give details of my Department's Estimates, I refer to the annual output statement, a copy of which each member has received. This is the second year that such statements have been produced as part of a Government determination to improve accountability and provide clearer evidence of the results of public spending. My Department's output statement is designed to illustrate the key outputs that will be delivered in 2008 as result of the investment provided in the Estimates as well as to report upon the achievement of targets set in the 2007 statement.

When considering the outputs in my Department's statement, it is important to recognise that the ultimate goal in education is to improve outcomes. Thus while the statement indicates the annual outputs from investment in education, other mechanisms such as studies by the programme for international student assessment, PISA, provide more valuable information on educational outcomes.

With regard to the 2008 Estimates, members will be aware of the importance the Government places in this period of more moderate economic growth on carefully managing the public finances so that improvements can be sustained in the future. Despite these more challenging circumstances, the Government has allowed for the provision of more than €690 million, or 8%, more in 2008 than was allocated in last year's Estimates for education services. With a total investment of €9.3 billion this year we will be able to consolidate the major service improvements put in place in recent years and to make further progress on a wide range of areas. The major focus of this additional expenditure will be in the areas of school infrastructure, additional teachers, increased provision for special needs and disadvantage, increased funding for the day to day operation of schools and in the third level sector.

I will outline some of the details for the committee.

Capital investment will amount to almost €830 million in 2008. Just under €600 million of this will be invested in school buildings. In the primary sector, this will fund the completion of work on 67 large-scale projects, the opening of 27 new schools in rapidly developing areas next September and construction work on more than 150 devolved projects under the previous permanent accommodation schemes. In the post-primary sector, construction work will be completed on 19 large-scale projects which will benefit more than 9,000 students. In addition, members will be aware that 18 large-scale projects were approved earlier this year to commence construction, which are currently either already on site or preparing to go on site over the coming months.

While there will continue to be a focus this year on providing extra places in developing areas, we will also deliver improvements in the quality of existing school accommodation throughout the country. The emphasis will, however, be on new schools, extensions and major refurbishment, rather than on smaller projects. I have already announced that there will be a new summer works scheme in 2009. The level of investment in the school building programme has never been greater and with €4.5 billion to be invested in school facilities over the next few years under the national development plan, further significant progress will be made.

Current spending in 2008 will be €8.5 billion. The biggest item here is the pay budget for the more than 90,000 people employed across the education system. This figure includes teachers, special needs assistants, lecturers and adult literacy tutors. A total of €4.6 billion will be spent this year on teachers' salaries and pensions alone - an increase of more than €380 million on the 2007 Estimates provision. This includes the cost of pay increases under the Towards 2016 social partnership agreement. Approximately 1,100 extra primary and post-primary teachers have been put in place this school year. We are also planning for about 1,200 more for the 2008-09 school year.

The record increases in teacher numbers in recent years have been unprecedented. In the primary sector alone, there are now approximately 6,000 more teachers on my Department's payroll than there were in 2002. Extra teachers have been provided in the 2006-07 and 2007-08 school years specifically to reduce class sizes in our primary schools. The number of teachers working in the areas of language support and special needs has also increased significantly. The programme for Government contains a commitment to 4,000 extra primary teachers between 2007 and 2012. With the extra teachers already in place this year and those provided for in the budget, we are ahead of target with about 2,000 of these teachers to be delivered within just two years.

Another area where significantly increased investment is being provided this year is that of special education where expenditure is to rise to more than €900 million, almost twice the 2004 level. As members will be aware, there are now about 19,000 adults in our schools working solely with children with special needs. The increased provision for this year will meet the full year cost of the extra special needs assistants, SNAs, and resource teachers put in place last year and provide for about 900 more special needs staff in 2008. It will also fund improved training for teachers, additional classes for children with autism and extra psychologists for the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS.

Targeted supports for young people from disadvantaged communities are also a major Government priority. The Estimates provide more than €800 million for measures aimed at combating educational disadvantage at all levels. This represents a 10% increase on the 2007 Estimates provision and a 75% increase on the 2003 allocation. The investment will support a wide range of valuable services, including early literacy initiatives, measures to improve school attendance and tackle early school leaving, programmes in the youth sector aimed at the social and personal development of young people, measures aimed at improving access to third level and second chance education for young people and adults. In the further education area the 2008 allocation covers the full cost of additional places provided in 2007 as well as providing for 100 extra places in Youthreach, 500 extra in the back to education initiative and 500 extra in adult literacy programmes.

The Estimates provide for improved day-to-day funding for schools. As members are aware, primary schools eligible for the full ancillary services grant will get €330 or €21 extra per pupil this year to cover their day-to-day running costs, with a primary school of 300 pupils getting €6,300 more. In fact such a 300-pupil school will get almost €100,000 from the Department this year to meet such costs. Second level schools eligible for the support services grant will get an extra €20 per pupil this year and the voluntary secondary schools are also getting an additional €10 per pupil in equalisation funding. The 2008 Estimates provide for a 4% increase in capitation for Youthreach, senior Traveller training centres and vocational training opportunities scheme centres.

In higher education the Estimates provision is almost €1.9 billion this year. Recent years have witnessed significant improvement in support for our universities and institutes of technology, reflecting the priority accorded by Government to the reform and development of the sector and the creation of world-class excellence at fourth level. Core funding has increased significantly and a strategic innovation fund has been established to promote reform and development. Priority has been given to the strategy for science, technology and innovation and the national development plan to increase Ireland's research capacity. A unified strategic framework for the sector has been put in place.

This year again will see record levels of investment in higher education. Capital investment will increase by more than 20% to €190 million. The Estimates include an extra €61 million in core funding for the universities and institutes of technology with the intention of enabling them to continue to train high-quality graduates across a wide range of disciplines while also meeting key skill needs and supporting reform in areas such as medical education.

The €40 million allocation for the strategic innovation fund in 2008 reflects the fact that the multi-annual investment package is now expected to be spent over a longer period, given that the drawdown to date from this new programme has been slower than anticipated.

An additional €12 million, or 13%, is being provided this year for research in third level institutions to enable them to build on the progress made in meeting the ambitious targets set out in the strategy for science, technology and innovation, SSTI. A sign of how far we have come in this area is that the total allocation of €106 million for 2008 represents a doubling of current funding for research since 2004.

The extra €690 million being provided for education in 2008 will enable us to consolidate the major service improvements that have been put in place in recent years. It will provide for further progress on a wide range of areas. These include almost €600 million for school buildings, approximately 1,700 extra teachers and special needs assistants, expenditure on special education increasing to twice the 2004 amount, €800 million for tackling educational disadvantage, increased funding for schools to meet their day-to-day running costs, an increase of more than 20% in capital investment in our higher education colleges, and extra funding, both current and capital, for research to ensure Ireland is well placed to develop the technologies, processes and products that will be central to our future social and economic success. I commend these Estimates to the committee and will be happy to respond to any questions members may have.

I thank the Minister for Education and Science for her opening statement. I invite Deputy Ulick Burke, on behalf of Fine Gael, to make his party's opening statement.

I thank the Minister, Deputy Hanafin, and welcome her and her officials to the meeting. She has outlined many positive elements of the increases. However, the reality for primary schools, second level and third level, as against the Minister's presentation, is very different. While she says there is an increase in spending of 8%, there are wholesale cutbacks across the board in many areas of the Estimate. One of the newspapers today highlighted the shortfall of €6 million in funding for the Dublin Institute of Technology. There is nothing in these Estimates to address that matter. The other institutes of technology, likewise, are subject to cutbacks, although not necessarily as severe as this instance. How can an institute perform to the standards that are expected and which were outlined by the Minister if there are such cutbacks?

On the additional funding for teachers at primary level, the Minister seems to have forgotten that it was only some weeks or months ago since she issued a circular the effect of which was the loss of between 50 and 100 teachers at primary school level. I do not see how she can reconcile these two instances. The Minister said that there would be an extra 4,000 additional teaching places at primary level next year. Can she explain the reason it is necessary for schools on the borderline, with one or two students less than the cut-off point, to be denied a teacher this year?

There was a significant benefit in having the summer works scheme in place. Many schools throughout the country are falling apart. I highlighted a case during a recent Adjournment debate in the Dáil. In that case the school building was 109 years old. Not even 1% of that school's income was spent by the Department of Education and Science in refurbishing it or addressing the difficulties. I will show the evidence of this to the Minister later. The summer works scheme benefited 965 schools at primary level, which was welcome. That the scheme has been abandoned without notice is unacceptable for many people. It would be welcome if the Minister could restore some part of that scheme to allow those dependent on and anticipating receipt of a grant under the scheme to make the basic facilities available to students and schools throughout the country. It was an excellent scheme representing value for money of the highest standard, yet the Minister has abandoned it for this year. We are told it will be back next year, but in the meantime many people depending on the scheme to complete works this year have been told "No".

The majority of the capital spend is in pressure areas and I recognise the need for this. Does the Minister recognise there are pressure areas outside the greater Dublin area which includes counties Louth, Meath, Kildare and Wicklow? These seem to have been abandoned. The reply from the Department of Education and Science to representations from all Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas is a standard one that the request is in the queue and the work will be carried out when money is available. This response is demoralising for boards of management, parents associations, staff and pupils.

I welcome the annual output strategy, but there is an element of it that screams at me as I see it. The strategy states it will set out a framework from 2008 to 2010 in which the units within the Department of Education and Science will develop and implement appropriate business plans and a strong customer focus.

To me, that epitomises what is happening now in the Department of Education and Science. We are talking about a business and figures; we are not talking about people or the delivery of an education system. We are talking about customers and money inputs and outputs. That completely changes the whole focus of education and our intention to have the best educated population in the European Union and perhaps the world. We are now talking about business plans and customers, which undermines the social fabric of education. The development of people in that structure will become nigh to impossible, as we had always anticipated the highest educated groups in the country. It is demoralising for the heads of education, whether that is primary, second or third level, on whom we depend so much for our people to get into work. The situation worries me seriously.

I welcome the provisions in the Estimates to tackle educational disadvantage. Tremendous work has been done on that. However, ultimately, we see the shortfall in areas where there can be such a positive response but which are being neglected - I mention in particular the situation for children with autism.

I will stop now to give my colleagues a chance. We might have a few questions afterwards.

I thank Deputy Burke. Members will have an opportunity to ask some questions later.

I now ask Deputy Labour Quinn - sorry, Deputy Ruairí Quinn. He is synonymous with the Labour Party. I ask him to make an opening statement on its behalf.

Thank you, Chairman. You might perhaps guide me as it is some time since I have been on this side of an Estimates debate. I was wondering about the procedure after we have spoken. Do we take it seriatim through each Vote?

We will allow the Minister briefly to respond to committee members' opening statements. A number of members have indicated that they have other business to attend to so, given the time constraints, we will not go through item by item. If members want to raise a specific item, they can put a question. I anticipate we will get through the business more quickly that way.

Let me make a brief opening statement and then I will ask a number of questions. I do not think that a committee is the place to make the kind of statement that we would make elsewhere; we are all under time pressure.

First, I invite the Minister to consider the entire committee - both her colleagues and ourselves - as a joint army against Merrion Street in reinforcing her claims for extra resources. I know we are speaking on the record, but there is a place for rhetoric and grandstanding and there is place for saying frankly that there is a problem, more resources are needed and the committee's assistance across the political spectrum would be welcome. I offer that to the Minister in all sincerity. There are other places and other ways in which we can revert to the tribal politics of this island.

I have a number of specific questions for the Minister. Education has a vast budget. The question of how anybody manages with any sense of efficiency, monitoring or overview is particularly relevant. I will give reference numbers so that the Minister can quickly refer to the parts I am talking about.

Under subhead B5, there is a programme to promote gender equality in education, with a budget of €6 million. If we were to tell citizens that €6 million is being spent on gender equality in education, irrespective of how meritorious the objective they would be surprised and wonder how it is being spent. Will the Minister tell us what that programme actually means?

Gabh mo leithscéal, ach níl Gaeilge maith agam. We are winding up the Institúid Teangeolaíochta Éireann general expenses. If that body was still in existence, would we have access to research that would give us a view on whether total immersion was more valuable in teaching the Irish language to young students? I am not familiar with this territory. Are we losing expertise in this area? As the Minister will have seen recently, a counter view was expressed to that of her Department.

Why has there been a massive increase under subhead B19, the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, from €7.3 million to €18.1 million? I am speaking in round figures - the exact figures are in the Estimates document. I think I know the answer to that question, but will the Minister tell us? Under subhead B20, the school completion programme receives virtually no increase and it is the programme that attempts to keep youngsters in school. The document states: "The purpose of this subhead is to provide for a range of interventions in areas of disadvantage that support the retention of young people in education under the School Completion Programme." We can cross reference that to subhead B23 and the National Educational Welfare Board, which also receives a piffling increase. I attended its conference at Blackhall Place, which I think the Minister also attended. In response to parliamentary questions, her Department has admitted that, for reasons I think I can understand, it is simply unable to track the number of students who drop out of the system. How is that money being spent?

Subhead B22 refers to the national qualifications framework and shows a significant increase at a time when we are all being told to tighten our belts. Funding increases from €12.5 million to €15 million. What is the justification for that?

Subhead C4, first-level education, refers to clerical officers. The Minister will recall the issue surfaced in oral questions in the Chamber recently. Funding for clerical officers, along with caretakers, is more or less static. Is that part and parcel of the Department's decision to run down the 1978 clerical officer secretarial scheme?

Tell me when I have run out of time, Chairman.

There is plenty of time left.

Subsection 10 of subhead D8 deals with second level student behaviour initiatives. There is a massive increase from €1.7 million to €8 million. What is that about and why is there such an increase?

Subhead E4 is under third level education. Again, taxpayers are providing a massive amount of money. This subhead deals with non-capital grants. The Minister may recall that I asked her a question in the Chamber recently on a newspaper article that reported there has been a massive reduction in the core support for students at universities - not specific capital grants or programmes but the core support. I will draw her attention to two examples - or three, as they are bouncing off the page at me. Last year, the outturn for the grant for general purposes to University College Dublin was €179 million. This year, it is down to €130 million. If I am reading the documents correctly, I assume that grant is related to students - it is for general purposes. At a time when universities are in the newspapers complaining that they cannot cope - the Minister repudiated the suggestions I made in questions - they are looking at a massive reduction against the other Estimates I have cited, all of which were increases. Funding for UCD is down from €179 million to €130 million, funding for University College Cork is down from €127 milllion to €85 million, and funding for Trinity College is down from €131 million to €96 million. What is the explanation for that? Was there a shift previously? Did they receive extra money before?

Subhead E5 covers grants for general purposes to training colleges for primary teachers, including those funded through the Higher Education Authority. The pay figure has jumped from €2.7 million to €4.031 million. Has there been an increase in staff? If there has been a significant increase in staff, that would be an explanation. I presume that is what has happened, because it is public sector pay, but it would be interesting to know.

Those are my questions to the Minister. I am not looking for comprehensive answers to every question here and now. If for whatever reason the information is not readily available on certain Votes - the Department covers a wide range of issues - I will be happy to receive answers later.

To make for more efficient business, has Deputy Ulick Burke any specific questions on the Estimate, given that Deputy Quinn has already asked questions?

I refer to the general under-funding of primary schools where the average debt is €23,000 per school.

I ask the Deputy to concentrate on the specific points.

I am coming to that. The Minister stated she will give an extra €21 million in increased funding. How can this relieve the indebtedness of primary schools throughout the country? They are at their wits' end.

Under subhead B2, there is a reduction in funding to school transport when increased costs are taken into account. How can the Minister deliver a service, which was bad last year, with reduced funding?

Subhead B6 provides for a nominal increase for teachers' in-service training. The need has never been greater considering the difficulties with the multicultural make-up of classrooms and language problems. There is great need for additional training and mere lip-service is being paid to the issue of multiculturalism.

Subhead B21 provides for the educational and psychological services and shows a nominal increase. How many additional psychologists are available to eliminate the waiting lists? Subhead B23 provides for the National Educational Welfare Board. How many additional appointments will be made?

The Minister outlined the provision of additional staffing at both primary and secondary level. However, there has been a minimal increase in teachers' salaries. This will not cover the Minister's suggested increase in teacher numbers. Will the Minister pay them?

Subhead C3 provides for capitation grants towards the operational costs of national schools. Every school has an average debt of €23,000 but there has been a minimal increase in funding. Subhead F1 shows a severe reduction in the capital services with noticeable cutbacks. Will the Minister deliver the new schools? The term, "on site", could mean a delay of between five and ten years for the provision of service.

I ask the Minister to respond to the question about prefabs and the Department's policy regarding the provision of same. They are classified as a waste of resources.

I invite the Minister to respond.

I will do my best. I appreciate the comments of Deputy Quinn - I will not call it an attack - about funding for education. In recent times I have been criticised for fighting for more funds for education at the time of the Estimates but I think that is my job. I agree with what the Deputy said. It is the job of all of us interested in education to fight for more funds for education. At the same time we must be cognisant of the national economic picture and work within it. As a member of the Cabinet I am not in isolation in this regard. The 8% increase, given the particular circumstances pertaining to the economy this year, is quite good and will enable us to deal with some of the issues that are important to all of us.

My aim has always been to ensure increases are available to all levels of education. It would be very easy, as was done in previous times, to cut from one end in order to provide for the other. I appreciate the value of first, second, third and fourth level education and each level needs increased investment and I will continue to fight for it.

I will answer some of the specific questions, beginning with those raised by Deputy Burke. The capitation grants for schools was raised by Deputies. It is a Government commitment to double the capitation grant for primary schools. It was my primary aim in the last Estimates campaign and it will be my priority in the next Estimates campaign. We succeeded in an increase of €15 and €6 for ancillary services. I recognise the pressures some of these schools are under and it is a priority now and for the next Estimates campaign to obtain a significant increase. A greater increase was given last year than this year but this helped to bridge the gap for many schools. We have been working with school management, looking at accounts and examining the pressures which exist. We will be asking schools to work with us in the context of the Estimates campaign for next year. For example, I was genuinely surprised to see the amount of money being expended in the accounts of some schools on contract cleaners. Other schools do not have this expenditure as it depends on the location of the school and its access to cleaners. This gives a picture of the costs and expenses over and above the ordinary costs. Funding for schools remains our first priority.

Subhead B6 deals with in-service training. I accept the point made by Deputy Burke that in-service training is very important for teachers. An element of training and in-service is also included under the special education budget, particularly with a view to implementing the Education for People with Special Educational Needs Act, EPSEN. It may not appear under the heading of in-service training, but it is included as part of the Act because we want to concentrate this year on training teachers and schools to prepare for the implementation of the EPSEN Act.

I ask the Minister to refer to the subheads when she is speaking.

That was subhead B6.

Is there another source of funding somewhere?

Under the special education funding generally.

I ask the Minister to refer to the subhead so that we can cross-reference it.

Perhaps the Minister could continue and one of her officials could assist her.

The question was asked specifically about subhead B21, on NEPS and the amount of the increase. Our intention this year is to grow from €138,000 to €169,000 by year end. Under subhead B23, the National Educational Welfare Board, an additional 15 posts were sanctioned but they are only going through the process of being employed and vetted. It is hoped this process will finish shortly.

Deputy Burke asked about prefabs and I know Deputy Quinn has a particular interest in this subject. It was always our priority to try and provide permanent accommodation as quickly as possible. The additional teachers in recent years have created pressure. I refer to a case mentioned yesterday where a school was given three resource teachers which it did not have previously and this has created pressure. We took the decision to give children the teacher before the space is allocated and this has put pressure on schools around the country but we are finalising our audit of the temporary accommodation. We continue to offer to schools that seek temporary accommodation the opportunity to build on the extra classroom. However, in some cases, more than one might be required. Many of the new schools being sanctioned are currently in temporary accommodation. Today I announced another 22 schools, to start up next September. As it happens, many of these will fall under the category of new-build schools and we therefore will not be making the mistakes we made in the past whereby we built prefab upon prefab. The schools in question, including some of the schools I will be announcing today, will be moving into good-quality accommodation next September. We are trying to play catch-up with the refurbishment and expansion that took place over the past few years and we are under particular pressure this year because of the new schools in developing areas.

The Deputy asked whether I refer only to the developing areas in the east. I do not because we acknowledge there are fast-growing areas in other locations, for example, in Galway. They will be included.

Will any of the 22 schools to be announced be in Galway?

There are no new schools for Galway.

We are used to that.

The decision is based on the applications submitted to the new schools advisory committee. There are three special schools sanctioned for Galway - the Ability West special schools in Ballinasloe, Carraroe and Tuam - for children with severe and profound learning disabilities and physical and sensory needs.

They are welcome.

On subhead B15, there is a jump from €1.7 million to €5.8 million in respect of North-South co-operation funding.

The George Mitchell scholarship was not offered at all last year. The intention is to have it in place this year.

On subhead B19, the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse was not in a position to finalise payments in respect of third-party legal representation bills last year.

It is not an embedded ongoing current cost but a once-off cost. It is paid from the current account.

That is correct. The fees are third-party legal fees.

Is it likely there will be a reversion to a figure between €7 million to €8 million?

The provision in recent years went up and down. At first it was €5 million and it rose to a high of €29.5 million in 2005. It then decreased to €18 million but I anticipate it will level out over the coming years.

I thank the Minister for the clarification.

Under subhead B22, which pertains to the national qualification framework, the listed allocation is for a new IT project. FETAC, as Deputies will be aware, provides opportunities for lifelong learning in hundreds of different centres throughout the country. The centres are not necessarily formal education centres. It is a question of ensuring they have a system that is able to cope with the considerable expansion experienced over recent years. FETAC has been seeking resources in this regard for a while and it is to receive them this year.

This discourse is helpful, as the Minister appreciates, but I ask that it be brief.

Is the Minister saying the increase of approximately €3 million, or €2.5 million, is related to IT facilities?

A whole new IT system is being installed that will link all the different centres around the country.

It sounds good. Is the Minister satisfied - not only in light of governmental and major institutional experience regarding buying a pig in a poke and ending up with unusable voting machines - that the right software has been chosen?

We are satisfied that efforts are being made to ensure we will have the right software. We are all very conscious of this need because a substantial sum of money is at stake.

May I bring to Deputy Quinn's attention the fact that I intend to raise this matter in respect of ICT in any event? Technology for information storage is overtaking us in some ways. No longer does information need to be stored on laptops or desktops because it can be stored virtually. Perhaps we can consider this further on a future date.

FETAC is awarding 500,000 certificates, an extraordinary number. It is doing very serious and good work on quality assurance, which poses a difficulty given that there are so many centres around the country. FETAC is hoping that, by having proper tracking procedures and document management, quality assurance will be enhanced.

If we are to increase the spend on upgrading the IT system by €2.5 million, can we have a guarantee that if the software does not work, those who provide it will not be paid, rather than having the consultants demand extra money if it does not work correctly? Is there any way in which we can protect the taxpayer?

There was a rigorous feasibility study and rigorous tendering process and the contract was awarded in October 2007. It is proper that all these matters be kept under review. I can check the conditions of the tender for the Deputy.

I would like to see them. My remarks are not confined to the public sector because private sector operators are buying into contracts and are being ripped off if they do not ask the right questions or choose the correct software. It is just not acceptable.

The pre-tendering process took a long time and was very rigorous. We must obviously follow the procedures of the Department of Finance.

The Deputy asked about third level funding, in respect of which there was an increase of 5%. The Higher Education Authority adopted a unit costing funding mechanism with which the colleges have been involved constantly. Some of the money being allocated covers the free fees grant paid by the Government on behalf of students, who are all getting free university education. I can obtain further details for the Deputy on the new costing model introduced by the Higher Education Authority.

There are obviously very serious cutbacks across the board. How can the institutes develop further if there are such dramatic cutbacks? In this regard, we should consider the cases of the University of Limerick and the Dublin Institute of Technology. There were cutbacks of €6 million in one year.

There was a 5% increase by comparison with the Estimate for last year.

That is the overall figures, but the Minister should look at the figures pertaining to the individual institutes. They seem to have received a bigger wallop than the universities, with the exception of the University of Limerick.

That has to do with a new unit costing model introduced by the Higher Education Authority. It was introduced in consultation with all the colleges, which are members of the authority. I can obtain a note on the matter for the Deputy.

I am concerned with the consequences.

I have been advised that a large sum has yet to be distributed in addition to the allocations already listed in page 121 of the Estimates book.

They will be getting an additional grant.

A further €396.222 million is to be distributed. There was an initial allocation and there is to be another under the unit costing model.

Bearing in mind the procedure and the responsibility of the Accounting Officer, the Estimates of the Department are based on the recommendation of the Higher Education Authority. I assume political and departmental responsibility for the allocations is assumed by the Department and not the authority, although the latter may have recommended them. I am trying to understand the decision-making process. The authority may recommend an allocation of moneys but the Department has incorporated the recommendation into its Estimates and is therefore taking ultimate responsibility, including for the very significant reductions in question. We may well be pleasantly surprised later but we can only deal with the cards the Minister dealt us today. It seems that what was written in the paper two weeks ago by the presidents of the two large universities has some validity.

The figures that the presidents gave did not include the free fees grant that the universities receive. The grant to the university sector has increased to €836 million this year from €790 million last year. The recurrent grant for the institutes of technology sector has gone up from €534 million to €550 million.

If we stick with subhead E4, there are numerous examples. For example, the Royal College of Surgeons, part of the 4% of world services that the Taoiseach was boasting about yesterday in the Dáil, received €4 million last year but nothing this year. Did the college sit back and say, "Thank you very much Mr. Eastwood."?

No, the Royal College of Surgeons is working through the HEA where there is still €400 million to be distributed under the new model which is being devised by all institutions.

Will the college get all of that then?

No, one college will not get it all. All of the colleges between them will have it to distribute among themselves.

Will it be going down from €4 million to nought, as stated in subhead E4?

Does the college know it will get more money later in the year? Does it have it in writing?

Yes, they are all party to this agreement which they are working through with the HEA.

With all due respect, these are the Minister's figures.

Yes. There is €400 million that is yet to be allocated but is not included in the figures.

These are annual Estimates. People have to plan and make commitments for staff and other matters. How can one plan when informed the grant of €4 million from last year is now zero but there may be some money later in the year?

It might help if the Minister gave the colleges an indication as to what they could expect to receive outside of these figures.

I cannot give indications for the individual colleges because that will be worked through with the HEA. The total grant has been available to the HEA and it is working it through with each of the colleges.

Under subhead E4(30), the free fees initiatives, targeted programmes and unallocated to universities and other designated institutions of higher education, the figure is €400 million. It may appear as a shortfall but it is there.

Who will announce the grants?

The HEA will do it directly with the colleges.

Subhead D8(10) for second level student behaviour initiatives was a priority for secondary schools. The task force on student behaviour attempted to combat some of the behaviour issues faced in the classroom. A behaviour support team with a national co-ordinator was recruited and started work in August 2006. It has four assistant co-ordinators, nine regional officers and 20 part-time associates. Working with it is a multidisciplinary team comprising a senior psychologist and others. It is working with 50 schools that had identified themselves in most need of support. The intention is for the team to start working with other schools soon.

Can we expect this level of expenditure in this area to remain relatively constant?

I would expect so. The behaviour support team feels that the schools that identified themselves with the greatest need require the greatest input. Of those 50 schools, 30 have behaviour support classrooms. It would not be envisaged that every school would need that level of support.

Will the level of expenditure increase in time?

I would hope that it would not have to increase. I hope that when the behaviour support team completes its work in a school, it can move on to others. I do not see it working constantly in the same school. I do not envisage this level of expenditure growing to a large amount.

Subhead B5(3) deals with the equality of opportunity in further education. It does not just deal with gender but covers many other types of equality projects under the educational equality initiative such as providing grants to VECs in respect of child care for adult education programmes. It also includes Youthreach and programmes covering encouraging partnership, developing innovative responses to the educational needs of older single men in two communities in the west, mental health in education, parent and Traveller education, the Roma community in Ireland and Traveller homework clubs.

The old scheme concerning clerical assistants, which was referred to, is being phased out. As those employed under the 1977 scheme retire, they will not be replaced.

On a policy point, I wish to draw the Minister's attention to the question I asked and the information I gave by way of a supplementary response. There is a wide discrepancy in the treatment of clerical assistants and secretarial assistants in primary schools, although there are also some ramifications for post-primary schools. However, my concern is in the area of primary schools. The situation is not dissimilar to that of water rates. The Department of Education and Science is a centralised Department in its treatment of capitation grants. Crossmolina and Chapelizod will be judged on the same basis, except in areas of disadvantage. However, it must be pointed out that schools can be located in areas where the labour market or the local authority rates can vary from county to county. Therefore, one has one Department decentralised through the local authorities charging different rates for services, and a centralised Department with the same price allocation. We have not solved the water problem yet. Will the Minister give me her policy position on this? Deputy Brian Hayes and I received a presentation from IMPACT which represents some of these clerical assistants. We were struck at the wide discrepancy of the treatment of clerical assistants and secretarial services in primary schools. In some cases they are being paid below the minimum wage.

May I intervene, Deputy. IMPACT will attend the committee soon to address this issue. In order to expedite the process, I will not ask the Minister to give her response now.

I am not asking for a response, just what is the principle.

Yes. I also want to alert the Minister of the forthcoming presentation by IMPACT and the issues concerned.

It might be helpful when we meet with IMPACT, not necessarily now but in due course. Is there a duty of care on the Department of Education and Science if, in granting a capitation grant, the purposes for which include the acquisition of secretarial services, that such services must be brought within the meaning of the labour Acts and that those employed cannot be paid below the minimum wage?

I do not believe there is a duty of care on the Department, but there certainly is on the employers. Those employers are the boards of management. All boards of management have to maintain the standards and requirements expected of them under all legislation, including the labour laws. Given that IMPACT, acting on behalf of some of the secretaries and caretakers, indicated at one of the recent meetings that people had been paid less than the minimum wage, the management bodies agreed to meet the union on the abuses mentioned with a view to ensuring they did not continue.

The Department does not have a role in other talks relating to people outside the original scheme, because we pay by way of grant. However, we made it clear that they must fully comply with the employment legislation. The Government has also said that as well as doubling the capitation, we recognise the need to improve the auxiliary services grant as well. This is the grant that goes towards paying the secretaries. Even on the minimum wage, we reckoned that for the days the schools are opened, they should be able to employ somebody for four hours. They are opened for five hours and 20 minutes, I believe, at primary level. Any expansion of the amount of money available to them would enable them to hire people for longer, but they are obliged to adhere to the legislation.

Would I be correct in saying that while the Department, through the capital grant, funds the primary schools, in theory they could meet all their costs? This would arise because it is free education and they do not necessarily have to charge fees, whatever about raising money. The board of management is the legal employer, so that any action for infringement in labour law, including minimum payments, could be taken by the aggrieved person, on the one hand, and his or her agents on the other, against the board of a primary school, and the Department has no legal standing or locus with regard to that.

The Department is the employer of those employed under the 1977 scheme, but of no others.

I am not talking about them. The Department is not the employer of any others.

The Department is not the employer of any others. We pay a grant to--

Does that mean that boards of management, collectively - all 20,000 of them who came on board last December - are capable of having a legal action served on them?

As it was made very clear last year by insurance companies, and indeed by the legislation, individual members of the boards of management are not in any way liable as long as they are all acting in good faith.

Could l make a final point on this?

It is an interesting discourse, so the Deputy may continue.

Can the Minister or her Department, with the advice of the Attorney General, have a letter issued to every member of the boards of management to the effect that they are not legally exposed for those matters? Otherwise we shall have people, who are acting in a voluntary capacity, leaving the boards of management.

The management bodies last year wrote to every board of management to explain that people were not individually liable. It was a very important message to get across, particularly at a time when new boards of management were coming on board. Somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000 have voluntarily given their time to being on boards of management. It is probably one of the greatest contributions towards civic society we have. However, the insurance companies made it clear to the management bodies, who notified this to the schools, that they were not in any way individually liable.

I have allowed the Deputy a good deal of leeway. It goes beyond the remit of considering the Estimates, and the issue may be raised by way of parliamentary questions, apart from this committee. I shall have to intervene. Deputy Joe Behan wanted to come in, briefly.

It does not concern this issue, but rather on two other headings.

I will call on the Deputy later. I ask the Minister to please proceed.

Institúid Teangeolaíochta Éireann was put into liquidation and is in the final stages of being shut down. The body concerned with the tumoideachas will be the curriculum council or An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta. Institúid Teangeolaíochta Éireann was involved in the intricacies of the language rather than being a policy adviser.

Have I addressed most of Deputy Quinn's questions?

I have taken a good deal of the committee's time. Other members might like to contribute.

With regard to what Deputy Burke had to say about the appropriate business plans, etc., as Deputy Quinn has identified, €9.3 billion is an enormous amount of taxpayers' money. Having appropriate business plans is about managing that money. That is an efficient and correct use of the term because it is taxpayers' money. We looked at the phrase, "customer focus" to determine whether it should be a customer, client or whatever. However, everybody understands that anybody dealing with a particular body is a customer, although this is not necessarily the best word to use.

Outcomes are more important than output. The outcomes in education are not measured by finance. Interestingly, we require those schools who are involved in DEIS, and getting substantial extra funding for disadvantage, to have their plans for improved outcomes in place. The same is true for the outcomes we judge in terms of school retention, where we recently saw an increase. This is very encouraging, as second level retention levels are now as high as 86% - not including people who go on to apprenticeships, who should be valued as well - compared to 77% across the rest of Europe. Therefore, our outcomes are very good, and also in connection with the PISA studies. It is also important to have efficiency within the Department from a business perspective.

With regard to the high level objectives goal No. 1 on page 6 of the annual output statement, the middle column states that there are still 1,900 small-scale projects devolved to school authorities for delivery. How realistic is the timescale in view of the record of achievement in the absence of the summer works scheme? That was a very valuable scheme, but now we have 1,900 small-scale projects on the waiting list, with probably as many more that have not been processed in any way as yet, with no visits or examinations as to the needs involved. When that is set against the rate of completions and the outputs over the last couple of years is the Minister not talking about an indefinite waiting period for so many schools that are in dire need?

In fact, the figure Deputy Burke quoted is the 1,900 projects that had already been devolved to schools. These were schools that already had work being done under summer works or the small schools who got devolved grants - those that got the €300,000, €400,000 or €500,000. Progress is still being made on those buildings and much of the money will have to be paid out this year for schools that got the go-ahead last year. Those are the projects already approved in respect of roofs, windows---

They have been approved but not delivered

No, those are the projects they are working through at the moment. Many of them would already have been delivered.

Is it impossible to put a timescale for the 1,900 projects in the absence of the summer works scheme?

Not only would those already have been approved, but a number have been completed by now.

The report indicates that 70 are ongoing.

No, that is large-scale. Some 60 large-scale projects have been completed, 70 are ongoing and then there are 1,900 that have already been devolved. They have already been completed or are being completed and they include the summer works scheme.

The report indicates smaller-scale projects devolved to school authorities.

They were devolved to the school authorities to deliver, rather than the Department.

They are waiting on the Department for resources.

The funding has been granted and given for them. There is no difficulty with those. The difficulty this year was in doing smaller projects, having done so many of the larger types. The emphasis this year had to be on the bigger projects.

We have seen a cost overrun on the original PPP projects. They cost more than conventional schools. Are we now encouraging PPPs again?

We still have a good figure for PPPs for second level this year. The Portlaoise bundle has just got its planning permission and will soon be ready to go. The Comptroller and Auditor General obviously considered this very carefully but the management costs over 20 years must also be taken into account. This also means that the projects can be delivered. We are currently preparing the third bundle for delivery. There are 13 schools remaining on the PPP programme and we are now beginning to work on the third and fourth bundles.

I welcome the Minister and her officials. The real purpose of this exercise is to allow the Opposition spokespersons to probe the figures and I hope they have had a good opportunity to do so. Many items in the Book of Estimates are to be welcomed. In fact, we could spend a long time talking about the many worthwhile initiatives that are being supported by the Department.

One initiative that will probably not be mentioned but which is significant is the doubling of the grant for the forthcoming year to the bodies which oversee the management of primary schools from €500,000 to €1 million. It is not a huge amount of money as such but it is an indication by the Department of support for the representative groups of the school management bodies, which were before the committee last week to put vigorous points to the members. It is to be welcomed that the Department is supporting the work of the school management representatives.

I wish to make a suggestion with regard to two particular headings, although I am not necessarily looking for an answer today. On subhead C3, with regard to capitation grants, would the Minister or the Department consider, or have they considered, the option of moving from a strictly capitation based system for grants for the running of primary schools? A situation can arise, particularly in disadvantaged schools, where pupil numbers may fall, but as the pupil-teacher ratio is also falling, the original number of classrooms is required and the fixed costs of running the school are the same as if there was a higher number of pupils.

In theory a 600-pupil school could have the same number of classrooms to be heated and lit as a 300-pupil school. The capitation grant will be double for the 600-pupil school but there is a shortfall in funding for the school with the lesser number of pupils although it might have the same costs. Will the Department consider a combined system partly based on the capitation grant and partly based on a percentage of the costs of running the school? That might help to level the playing pitch, particularly for schools that have difficulties due to having a large number of classrooms in operation but a small numbers of pupils. The Minister might want to comment. The issue should be considered in terms of the overall funding of primary schools.

My second point concerns subhead C8 on superannuation. It is a value for money issue and would not apply to many retired teachers. In my experience, while primary school teachers must retire at age 65, in some cases they would be happy to continue on an ongoing basis, even as substitute teachers. At present there is a provision that if one is retired one can only teach as a substitute for 90 days and one cannot then work as a substitute for the rest of the school year. Some teachers would like to have the opportunity to continue in the system.

We are effectively denying the schools the opportunity to employ teachers with 40 years experience. As we are paying for substitute cover, this issue could be considered in terms of value for money and perhaps the rule could be relaxed. While the Minister might not want to comment today, it is an issue she might want to consider in the future, particularly given the current difficulties across the primary school system in finding qualified teachers to operate as substitutes. This might be one way of alleviating the problem.

I will leave the response to the Minister's discretion. I will give the last question to Deputy Burke.

Thank you. I have no further question.

I hope the lead Opposition spokespersons are satisfied with the amount of time they were given.

I understand where Deputy Behan is coming from. A couple of years ago, particularly in the inner city Dublin schools, there was a declining school population and very big old plants. The schools made the same case. With 4,000 schools in the country, it would be a logistical nightmare to try to get real cost figures for each of them.

With the emphasis on the word "real".

Yes. Equally, one will find that the insurance costs in, say, inner city Dublin might be a lot higher than costs in the west. In many cases, this tends to balance out. Interestingly, however, those schools with very big plants that had a decline in the school population a couple of years ago now say that their populations have increased. Anywhere in the country, one would be hard pressed to find school populations that are dropping or schools left with many spaces. The minor works grant is given on the basis of a block grant and a per capita grant, by which we try to bridge the gap for some of the smaller works schools must undertake.

With regard to superannuation for teachers, we could consider the 90 days issue, particularly in regard to trying to get qualified teachers for short-term substitution. There is certainly a difficulty. We have increased the number of teachers in training at graduate level this year. Having met them, I know they were a very interesting and excited group of graduates, one of whom was a vet, one a nurse, one an accountant and some had computer backgrounds, but all were really keen to be teachers. The principals tell me they love to get such graduates in schools, so we have increased the number of students this year.

I did not answer Deputy Quinn's question on the amount of money going to the training colleges. It is because we have more students in training.

What is the gender breakdown for that exotic group of graduates?

It is very interesting. More men have gone in at that level than for the past number of years - I think 20% were men. The Deputy will know that in teacher training colleges generally it is down to 11% but there was a greater male uptake at graduate entry level.

Deputy Behan's point is one we could discuss. There are teachers who genuinely do not want to leave the classroom but who would like to do short-term work.

Is it agreed we send a message to the Dáil that we have finished our consideration of the Revised Estimate?

While we are not going to call a division, we want it registered that we are not in agreement with the Estimate.

The Deputy's disagreement is duly noted, although no vote would have been taken on the Estimate in any event. On behalf of the select committee, I thank the Minister and her officials for attending today's meeting.