Ensuring that all children get the support they need to do well at school is a major priority for this Government. To ensure that children whose first language is not English can succeed at school, my Department gives additional support to their schools, which can take the form of financial assistance, additional temporary teacher posts or portions of teacher posts.
The level of extra financial or teaching support provided to any school is determined by the numbers of non-English speaking students enrolled. The school referred to by the Deputy currently has three teachers to cater for the needs of non-English speaking students.
Recent years have seen a significant rise in the number of language support posts being provided by my Department. In the 2005-06 school year, 563 whole-time equivalent language support teachers were in place at primary level and 263 whole-time equivalent teachers were in place at second level to support such pupils, representing an investment of €47 million. This compares to 149 and 113 teachers respectively in the school year 2001-02. Thus, there has been a fourfold increase in language support teachers at primary level in just four years.
The Government has been increasing resources in this area in line with rising demand. However, this is a relatively new area and, as such, must be kept under review to ensure that children are getting the support they need and that this support is proving effective in helping them to make the most of their time at school.
My Department is currently reviewing the supports available to schools to support children whose first language is not English. In that context we are particularly looking at the pressures on those schools that have a great number of children whose first language is not English. Officials have visited the school referred to by the Deputy as part of this review process to see, at first hand, the challenges the school is facing.
The Deputy may also be aware that two weeks ago I met officials in London to discuss their experience of meeting the needs of non-English speaking students. I also visited two London schools to look at their policies in action. I was particularly interested to learn about which strategies have been successful in terms of engaging with these children's parents as I am conscious that language difficulties are just one aspect of this issue.
As with all children, the interest that their parents show in their education is important and it is crucial to find ways of empowering them to get involved. Issues that have arisen in the context of the review include the different expectations of parents of different nationalities and the fact that the child may be the only English speaker in the household. With regard to the latter, a DVD explaining the primary school system for parents was produced in several different languages earlier this year.
Other issues that have arisen in the context of the review include the current cap on the number of language support teachers available to a school and on the length of time for which an individual student can access language support. The draft new social partnership agreement includes the provision of an extra 550 language support teachers by 2009 and the reform of the current limit of two additional teachers per school. This major increase in investment will make a big difference to schools such as the school in question.