School Accommodation Provision

Ceisteanna (1)

Thomas Byrne

Ceist:

1. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he is satisfied that schools infrastructure planning is keeping pace with demographic changes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5089/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (9 contributions) (Ceist ar Education)

The Deputy's arrival is very well timed.

I apologise for being slightly late. I had to query a matter with the Minister of State, Deputy Kevin Boxer Moran, to whom I am grateful. His office is full of useful information.

I tabled my question to the Minister for Education and Skills in accordance with normal procedures. Is he satisfied that schools infrastructure planning is keeping pace with demographic changes? My constituency is in the cockpit of the changes. It is experiencing a huge increase in population which will start to filter into west Dublin, south east Meath, north Kildare, Fingal and other parts of the country. From my experience, I am not convinced that the Department is up to speed and I want to know what in general the Minister is doing about it.

It is a valid question for the Deputy to raise. Ireland has experienced a significant bulge in pupil enrolments in schools. We have seen significant expansion in the rate of provision of new school places, which puts a high demand on the Department's capital budgets. Since 2011 there have been 340 major school projects and over 120,000 new and replacement places have been provided.

My Department's capital programme continues to address the challenges posed by a rapidly increasing school population. To meet this demographic challenge, my Department’s capital investment programme for the period 2016 to 2021 details the school projects that are being progressed through the architectural planning process. The programme also provides for devolved funding for additional classrooms in schools where an immediate enrolment need has been identified. We are building more schools and providing more school places than ever before. This reflects the priority which the Government is giving to education. In order to plan for school provision and analyse the relevant demographic data, my Department divides the country into 314 school planning areas. It uses a geographical information system, GIS, to identify where there will be pressure to provide school places across the country. The GIS uses data from a range of sources.

The nationwide demographic exercises involving all school planning areas at primary and post-primary level which will determine where additional school accommodation will be needed in the future are ongoing. My Department is factoring in the demographic exercises critical updated data, including updated enrolment data and up-to-date information on additional residential development from local authorities. The provisional 2017-18 enrolment data have recently been made available and provide an important update on the available information which will inform the outcome of the demographic exercises. It is anticipated that decisions based on the review will be announced in the coming weeks. In addition, my Department is included in the prescribed bodies to which local authorities are statutorily obliged to send draft development and local area plans or proposed variations to development plans for comment and observations. This enables local authorities to reserve future school sites in areas designated for proposed housing development.

I am glad that a review is taking place. I have raised this issue previously in the Dáil. I have met officials at my request, meetings the Minister organised, to explain my concerns. What is happening in my constituency in Dunshaughlin and Ashbourne, in particular - I suspect it is also happening in other constituencies - is that houses are being built that are not starter homes. They are not for families starting off, rather they are for ready-made families, as a predecessor of mine on the education side in my party described them. They are for families with grown up children who are moving to Ashbourne and Dunshaughlin, in particular. In all my years as a Deputy, until the past few years, I never had to deal with an educational welfare officer to find a school place for a child. Unfortunately, this is now a regular feature of my constituency work in, in particular in Ashbourne. It is not fair. Families who have moved into the area find that there is not a single school place available if they have a child attending first, third or fifth class, despite welcome improvements in schools infrastructure delivery. I am told by my colleagues in Fingal and Kildare that, notwithstanding further developments, the Department is already behind in providing new designated buildings. I am very concerned about this issue. We should not have to ring an educational welfare officer to find a school place for a child. That is the last thing we should need to do.

I accept the Deputy's point that patterns of development are changing and that, as a result, the models used to predict growth in the numbers of children in accordance with new settlements have to factor this in. We liaise very closely with the local authorities which have on-the-ground information. We also track child benefit payments data and pick up data for preschool children as quickly as possible. We use every data source we can track, be it social welfare, local authority or another source. I can give the Deputy information on them. It is a forecasting exercise which is always prone to error, but the Department is using all of the geographical based information data on which the Central Statistics Office and others can lay their hands to improve the forecasting model. As I said, if there are particular needs, there are systems in place to provide additional school places on a quicker basis.

The educational welfare service of Tusla and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs urgently needs to be brought within the Minister's Department. Educational welfare officers are finding issues on the ground; they are definitely finding them in Ashbourne, as they will tell the Minister. They are receiving representations from my clinic and I am sure from those of the Minister's colleagues. The service should be within the Minister's Department in order that it would know first-hand from the individuals in question where the critical points were and why a first class or a third class in a school was full. In general, there may not yet be a problem in finding places in junior infant classes in some cases. As I said, the houses being built are four-bedroom detached dwellings in many cases. This presents a real problem. The Department has a long history in that regard and knows all about this problem. It had to deal with a crisis in Laytown, which was the first political issue on which I worked just before I was elected to the Dáil with the late Deputy Shane McEntee. The issues that arose there appear to be beginning to arise again elsewhere and I am disappointed that the Department does not seem to have learned the lessons. That crisis is seared in my memory and I will certainly do all in my power to prevent such an issue from ever arising again.

It is worth saying, for example, that last year we provided 19,000 additional places to respond to genuine demographic pressures. Most of them were in areas where we had identified a need. Of course, the Department has to have a planning process and we rely on the local authorities and other agencies to supply us with data. The data we use come from the CSO, Ordnance Survey Ireland, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and Tusla, as well as our own enrolments databases. I will ensure the Department factors in any information coming from agencies such as Tusla that may not be available in the forecasting model.

Tusla staff believe they are not listened to in the Department.

I will check that particular point to make sure any information coming from agencies such as Tusla is factored into the forecasting model which uses the best available information to make accurate predictions.

If the Deputy has a better suggestion or a new input that we should examine we will certainly examine it. This uses information that we can track from any sources that can help refine the process.

Special Educational Needs Service Provision

Ceisteanna (2)

Kathleen Funchion

Ceist:

2. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans for children with additional needs starting primary school in view of the fact that there are not enough school places for children who require space in an ASD unit and that have other such requirements within a reasonable distance. [4980/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Ceist ar Education)

My question is about ASD units and what the plans are for children with additional needs who are starting primary school, in view of the fact that there are not enough school places for children who require space in an ASD unit and who have other such requirements. These units are not available within a reasonable geographic distance for students.

Ensuring that children with special educational needs are supported and given the opportunity to reach their full potential is a key priority for this Government. Since 2011 we have provided 12,000 extra pupils with special needs assistant, SNA, support. The investment has been very substantial. There have been 3,545 additional SNAs since 2011, over 2,000 in the last two years. There have been 3,660 additional resource teachers, 1,600 of which have been recruited in the past two years. In terms of special classes, which I know the Deputy is concerned about, there have been an additional 712 of those since 2011. That represents a more than doubling of the amount of special class, including 277 new classes in the past two years. Another 180 are planned for this September.

The Department is extending major investment to meet the very needs the Deputy brings up, and the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, advises me that we are meeting those needs.

Most children with special education needs attend mainstream class, but some require the environment of a special class. This decision is based on a professional assessment in consultation with the NCSE.

The NCSE, through its network of local Special Educational Needs Organisers, SENOs, in consultation with the relevant education partners, is responsible for the establishment of special classes in various geographical areas where there is an identified need.

Schools may apply to the NCSE to open a special class where a need has been identified in their area, for example where a number of students have professional reports indicating they require the support of a special class.

As the Deputy knows, Deputy Thomas Byrne and others have urged at Committee Stage that we would introduce a provision, which I am now having drafted, which would give the NCSE the power to designate a school to open a special class, should that prove necessary.

I am concerned that the NCSE is saying it is meeting the requirements. Unfortunately it is not. I am not sure where it is getting its figures from, but in my constituency alone in the last number of months I have dealt with three cases of children who are due to start school in September and who have no school place. Starting school is a major step in anybody's life, but if a person has an additional need and does not know what school he or she will attend it is difficult. In some situations parents are being told that there is a school an hour or an hour and a half away and that transport will be provided. In that instance a child of five is being asked to get on a bus for an hour and a half before he or she even starts school. A few weeks into that sort of system they are going to be so exhausted that they will not be able to learn, let alone reach their full potential. There are 24 ASD units throughout Carlow and Kilkenny at primary level and 16 at post-primary level. They only cater for six children each, so that is a total of 144 in primary school and 96 at post-primary. It is not adequate, certainly in my constituency. Perhaps the NCSE is saying that it is adequate in its eyes, but I invite it to come down to our constituency and visit the schools and parents who are struggling. What are we supposed to tell them?

We are establishing these special units at a very rapid pace. There are 180 planned for next September. To have a special class the NCSE must ensure that there are enough children so that it will be a sustainable class. It has to consider present and future need. While it will not always be possible to provide an ASD unit in the child's own school for that reason the NCSE has informed the Department that it is generally satisfied that there are sufficient ASD special class places at primary level to meet existing demand. The NCSE and my Department work closely together to address the issues of provision that arise from time to time at local level. These issues arise in my constituency as well.

Children with special education needs are eligible for school transport. In the event that these children have to move away from their local school their transport requirements will be met. That has been significantly expanded, so that 2,000 more children with special needs have availed of school transport in the last number of years.

I understand that the children are eligible for school transport, but it is not good enough that we are asking a five year old child to get on a bus at 7.30 a.m. so that he or she can be in school for 9 a.m. The child in that instance would be awake for over an hour and a half before they even get to school and begin to learn. That is not an adequate way to learn. That child is not going to do well. He or she is going to end up completely exhausted and will miss days from school. I would ask that the Minister inquire of the NCSE, if it is insisting that there are adequate spaces, whether it will look into provision in Carlow-Kilkenny and tell us why there are so many children who are unable to get a place in an ASD unit. In some cases a place is not available even an hour or an hour and a half away. There have been a large number of cases in the last few months where parents have been told that schools just do not have the space in September. It is now February, and parents do not know where their children will be going to school in September. That is completely unfair. Every other child who does not have an additional need who is starting school will know either this month or next month when they will start school. There will be the usual meetings with the school concerning being a new student and the whole big step of starting school. These other children are simply being left behind because they have an additional need.

It is important to say that two thirds of children with special needs are accommodated in a mainstream class. Not every child needs to be considered for a special unit. A special unit is a six-child unit, with a teacher of its own and two SNAs. Its own space has to be developed. Unfortunately we cannot guarantee that will be available in every single local school. Where the need is established in an area we work with the schools to establish that class as conveniently as possible to the children who have the need. That requires school transport for some children in some cases. The NCSE tries to solve these problems in as practical a way as possible by working with the schools. We are taking this additional step of giving the power to direct, if necessary, to the NCSE. By and large we have not found that schools are unsupportive of these units. In fact, many schools are really keen to see the development of those units in their areas.

It is expanding very rapidly. We are matching the need, as conveniently as we can, to the parents. I will ask that the NCSE has a look at Carlow-Kilkenny.

Broadband Service Provision

Ceisteanna (3)

Thomas Byrne

Ceist:

3. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Skills his views on the levels of access to broadband in schools; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5090/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Ceist ar Education)

This is a very important question concerning the issue of access to broadband in schools. There is a real technological divide between schools happening at the moment. In many cases it is an urban-rural divide, and in some cases it is putting the future of rural schools at risk because they do not have access to broadband. Ludicrous situations are arising, as is also the case for many rural dwellers, where the mainline Eir broadband is coming within a few feet or metres of particular schools. Sometimes the Eir broadband is just up the road but it cannot be provided to the schools. What does the Minister propose to do about this?

I suspect this issue might be debated elsewhere in the House during the course of the day.

The delivery of high quality Internet connectivity for all schools is a key objective of my Department. Deputy Byrne has outlined why that is important. It is essential to embed technologies for teaching and learning and for the implementation of new subjects. My Department spends some €15 million per year on the provision of Internet connectivity.

The policy of my Department is to offer the best quality connectivity to all schools in line with the technical solutions available in the market and financial constraints. Broadband capacity can vary due to geographical location and local infrastructure, and thus impact on the service that can be provided.

A programme to roll out broadband to post-primary schools was started in 2012, at a time when virtually no school had speeds of over 30Mbp/ s. By the end of 2015, all 735 post-primary schools and some 58 special schools had speeds of 100Mbp/ s.

In the case of primary schools, by the end of 2017, 1,046 schools were upgraded to speeds of 30Mbp/s plus, the standard established under the national broadband plan. It is anticipated that the infrastructure to be made available through Eir's 300,000 rural deployment commitment will reach 700 to 800 schools by the end of 2018. 

This infrastructure will allow for speeds of at least 30 Mbps, if not more, and my Department will upgrade the service to those schools as soon as possible on delivery of the infrastructure.

The need to improve broadband connectivity to primary schools is recognised in my Department's digital strategy. An interdepartmental working group has been established to advise on how this can be best achieved while having regard to other developments in State policy and the implementation of the Government's national broadband plan, its associated intervention strategy and provision offered by the industry. Extensive training supports are available to schools to help in their planning and engagement with technology for teaching and learning.

There is much talk about plans but it worries me that the planning appears to be centred on Eir and Eir's strategy for the next year. Eir has a strategy for its own rural network and, before yesterday, apparently had a strategy for the rest of the rural network. I posted on Facebook yesterday, for my constituents, that Eir had pulled out of the national broadband plan. I view that as a disaster, as I am sure everybody does, but the reaction from members of the public was a little different. They have had such bad experiences with Eir, in various guises, over recent years that they are somewhat glad it is out of the process because they do not have confidence in it. When the Minister says that Eir will deliver these schools by the end of the year, it is almost passing the buck to a company that, let us be honest, has shown itself to be unreliable in the provision of broadband in rural areas. Yesterday was the pinnacle of that. I am very concerned that the answer to schools' broadband provision is Eir. The Department needs a far more comprehensive strategy involving the Department and other technologies that might be available. The Department should consider that urgently.

The group we have includes not just our representatives but also HEAnet, which has been very progressive in the roll-out of digital technologies, and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. The Deputy is correct that the elements of putting this in place will partly come from commercial roll-out and Eir and others are doing that. It will partly come from the national broadband plan as well, and there are others that will have to be resolved in other ways. We are working in all three channels, as it were. We cannot ignore that where it is commercially viable for a company to roll it out, and Eir is a significant player and its plan envisages another 700 to 800 this year, that is clearly an opportunity for us to deliver to our primary schools. However, it is not the sole way of resolving the remaining areas we must address. Each year my Department seeks to plan the continuing roll-out. I share the Deputy's concern that we do this as quickly as possible. I understand the national broadband plan has the target of 2022 to complete the roll-out. If that could be achieved it would be the real backbone for addressing the rural disadvantage about which the Deputy is concerned.

The lack of broadband in rural schools is as big a threat to those schools as depopulation in some parts of the country and the cut to the pupil-teacher ratio for small schools that was introduced by the former Minister, Ruairí Quinn. That is the truth. Parents will look askance at schools that cannot provide the full educational experience to their students. As I said previously, the centre point of the strategy appears to be Eir. Eir is a dead duck. If it rolls out what it says it will in rural areas, aside from the national broadband plan which it has dropped like a hot potato, it may work out, but it is not acceptable for the Department of Education and Skills to put its eggs in the basket of a private operator that has proved itself to be unreliable in the provision of broadband, and not just in rural areas. I am seeking a much more comprehensive strategy. After the debacle that occurred yesterday, which is tragic for broadband in rural areas, perhaps it is time for the Department to acknowledge that it must look at this again, as it is a clear and present threat to our rural schools.

The reason we have an interdepartmental working group is to ensure that we keep abreast of changing technologies or, indeed, changes in commercial provision. However, Eir has a plan and it reiterated yesterday that it would deliver that plan even though it is pulling back from the national broadband plan. It would be short-sighted of the Department to suggest that Eir's potential to fill a significant gap should be shunned in some way. We will work with any commercial provider that proves capable of delivering. I am keen to have this move as quickly as possible. The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, who will probably be answering questions later in the House, does not foresee delay in the roll-out of the national broadband strategy as a result of the decision by Eir, so we will continue to work with all parties and use the best available information to support our programme of investment.

Minor Works Scheme

Ceisteanna (4)

Mattie McGrath

Ceist:

4. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Skills the status of the minor works scheme; if the grants are to be withdrawn or reduced; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5087/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (10 contributions) (Ceist ar Education)

I have raised the situation with the minor works grant scheme with the Minister on other occasions. I am concerned about whether they will be paid or if there will be a withdrawal of funding in 2018 and 2019.

The minor works grant was first introduced in 1997 and since then has issued to primary schools each school year with the exception of the school year 2012-13. The grant most recently issued to all primary schools last December in respect of the school year 2017-18. The payment of the minor works grant is not confined to any particular date and can be issued during any month of the school year.  For the 2002-03 school year, part of the grant was paid in May 2003 with the balance paid in October 2003.

With regard to the minor works grant for 2018-19, it is intended that the grant will issue not later than January 2019. The capital allocation for the school sector in 2018 will be expended primarily on large-scale projects, the additional accommodation scheme and site acquisitions.  The priority remains to have sufficient school places available for the start of the school year next September.

I am confident that outlining the position regarding the minor works grant for 2018-19 gives certainty to schools so they can plan accordingly for the infrastructure works specified in the minor works grant circular that they intend to undertake. My Department recognises the importance of the minor works grant and there are no plans in place either to withdraw or reduce it. As part of our longer-term infrastructural planning, the Department will explore whether it will be possible to give greater certainty to primary schools about the payment of the minor works grant, taking account of the Government's ten-year public capital investment plan which is under development.

The Minister is saying something different this morning, which is welcome, from what he said to me in the House some months ago, which was that there was no certainty about the funding into the future as there were too many applications and too little money. I agree with the Minister that the scheme is necessary. However, it is not just for minor works now. It is for physically trying to keep the schools standing with some modicum of respectability for the staff and the pupils. They are being educated in buildings that are creaking and damp and often have many other problems such as with the roof or the heating. There were issues with heating in some schools recently that the minor works grant would not even cover. The grant is really a sticking plaster for many schools. However, I accept the Minister's statement that the grants for this year will be paid not later than January 2019. My main worry is if there is enough funding available and whether there will be cutbacks to the scheme. Perhaps the Minister will clarify that because it is vital. As I said, the scheme is a sticking plaster but it is vital for principals, boards of management and parent councils to have that avenue to get some funding. They must fundraise for a huge amount of the rest.

The tricky issue is that one is balancing population pressures with other legitimate demands on our capital budget. I believe what we have worked out here is a satisfactory arrangement. We recognise that 2018 will be a difficult year because there are so many demands on the scheme. We made the payment before the end of last year and we have given schools advance notice that the next payment will be in January 2019. That allows us to manage our flow of money and it gives schools certainty. As the Deputy said, this has become an expectation and a need for schools, so over the coming years I will seek to give a map upon which people can plan.

Previously, the Minister definitely said that he was not sure he would have the money to pay for the 2018 scheme. Now he says he will pay it by January 2019. However, is there sufficient funding to meet the demand that will arise? The Minister was unsure in the House some months ago. He said it himself. It was not another Minister answering for him. I believe what the Minister says himself.

The concern is that people are going to put in applications. The Minister said they would be paid by January 2019, which is good, but will they all get over the wire? These schools are looking for a very necessary few bob to ease the pressure on the parents, the boards of management and the parents councils' fundraising efforts in order to keep the schools open - literally to keep the lights on, fix collapsed ceilings and deal with dampness, accidental damage or, God forbid, storm damage. This grant is all they have. The minor works scheme is paltry enough so I need to know, on behalf of the schools in Tipperary, that there will be enough in the scheme if they apply.

It is the Minister who has created the uncertainty. Has he since found money from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform? If he has, it is great. I look forward to getting clarification on that.

The position is that schools do not need to apply for the minor works grant. This is something we pay on the basis of capitation, and it is so much per child and so much per school according to a formula. What I am saying very clearly is that we paid it before Christmas and we will pay it again on the same basis in January 2019. We will be paying it for each school year and we will continue to pay it. There are not pressures on the resources and we are making provision for that payment. We can map this. As the Deputy said, it has become an area where schools need money, so we will map that into the future in line with other longer-term planning.

Why the uncertainty?

The uncertainty arose because there was some question around paying last year but I made the payments last year. There was tightness in 2018 which I have described to the Deputy. I have resolved that by committing to pay this in January 2019.

Teachers' Remuneration

Ceisteanna (5)

Seamus Healy

Ceist:

5. Deputy Seamus Healy asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans to end the unequal remuneration of new entrants in the teaching profession as a key step in addressing shortages of teaching staff; his further plans to end the teaching shortage; if all such measures have been agreed with the teaching unions concerned; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4981/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (15 contributions) (Ceist ar Education)

All education stakeholders now acknowledge there is an unprecedented crisis in recruitment and retention of teachers. In fact, today at lunchtime, 15,000 members of the Teachers' Union of Ireland in schools and colleges throughout the country will protest outside their workplaces demanding a change in Government policy. My question asks the Minister to face up to this crisis and to put effective measures in place to solve the crisis, including the introduction of pay parity for young teachers who commenced employment on or after 1 January 2011.

Reduced pay scales for new entrants to the public service were introduced in 2010. I am pleased that, under the Lansdowne Road Agreement, together with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform I negotiated a programme of pay restoration with the teacher unions. Through this process, a 15% to 22% pay increase was negotiated for new teachers. The agreements to date have restored an estimated 75% of the difference in pay for newer teachers and deliver full equality at later points in the scale. As a result of these changes, the current starting salary of a new teacher is €35,958 and, from 1 October 2020, will be €37,692. This is a very competitive graduate salary, as the CSO reports today have confirmed.

I have successfully hired over 5,000 extra teachers in the last two years. We are hiring more teachers than at any other point in the State's history.

Any further negotiation on new entrant pay is a cross-sectoral issue, not just an issue for the education sector. The public service stability agreement 2018-20 contains a commitment to consider the issue of newly qualified teacher pay within 12 months of the agreement’s commencement and that process has started. Also, the Public Service Pay and Pensions Act 2017 provides that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform will lay a report before the Oireachtas on the cost of, and a plan for dealing with, pay equalisation for new entrants within three months of the passing of the Act.

On the issue of teacher supply, the Deputy may wish to note that I have already announced a number of measures to increase the pool of teachers available to schools, in particular to fill short-term vacancies.

The number of applicants for the postgraduate courses which enable graduates to qualify to become second level teachers has fallen from 2,842 in 2011 to 1,068 last year. That means the number of applicants is now substantially less than half of what it was five years ago - in fact, there has been a collapse of 62% over that period. It is clear that a career as a teacher no longer has the attraction it had even five years ago. Clearly, the combination of salary scale, conditions of service and career prospects are deficient. This is exacerbated by the travesty of paying new entrants at a lower salary scale and providing a pension scheme which is significantly inferior to that enjoyed by their longer-serving colleagues.

Will the Minister, as a first step, equalise the pay scales of new entrants with their colleagues? The Catholic Primary Schools Management Association, which represents 2,800 schools, found that 90% of principals are having difficulties finding qualified or substitute teachers.

A panel is urgently needed to deal with this matter. The situation at third level is also significantly difficult and there has been a 32% increase in student numbers, a 10% reduction in staff and, not surprisingly, lecturing staff have an increased workload over and above their European colleagues.

The time is up. The Deputy will have another minute.

This is damaging and restricting the contribution of institutes to the country.

I assure the Deputy the number of students graduating as teachers is stable. There has been no fall in the number of graduates and what has happened is that we have dramatically increased the level of recruitment.

In terms of graduate supply from the master's programme referred to by the Deputy, he is right that the number of applicants for that programme has fallen. However, the number graduating from the programme has not. By contrast, the undergraduate programme is massively oversubscribed. There are more than 5,000 seeking to join the undergraduate programme, for which there are only 500 places, and I announced last week that I plan to double the number of places on that undergraduate programme. Of course, that has the advantage in financial terms that a master's fee does not have to be paid for people going that route. I have also announced that I plan to have quotas for particular subject areas where, as Deputies have pointed out, there is tightness and we need to have ambition, for example, the STEM programme and the foreign languages programme. I am establishing a teachers supply steering group which will work with all of the stakeholders to deliver these programmes. I made immediate changes in terms of the career break and the period that people could work on a career break. I have advised schools that they should not give a career break unless they can, as the circular requires, be assured it is in the best interests of children in the school and that they can fill the position vacated.

The Minister's reply reminds me of that old adage: everybody is wrong except my Johnny. The ETBs, the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools, the joint managerial bodies, the trade unions and everybody else have acknowledged there is a significant crisis in recruitment and retention of teachers and it is getting worse. The suggestion that restricting career breaks would help is not correct and would, in fact, worsen the situation and mean we have teachers emigrating.

We must continue to have the most able people teaching our children. The continuation of current Government policy will do lasting damage to the education system. Bad and all as the situation is now, official documents and official statistics show that, at second level alone, there will be an additional 85,000 students by 2025, which will require an additional 4,000 teachers.

I am again calling on the Minister to put in place real measures, including pay parity and a panel-----

-----to deal with this crisis that is not just immediate but is staring us in the face.

Before the Minister replies, I am quite strict on the issue of time with everybody. When I allow somebody to go over time, it means somebody else will not have a question answered. I want to try to ensure that most Members who come into the House will have their question answered before 12 noon. Please try to stick to the time that is laid out, which you all know. If you do not do that, some of your colleagues will miss out. I call the Minister to reply.

There are issues in teacher supply and they are the ones I am addressing. There is the issue of substitution and the issue of subject areas, which I am addressing, and I am also planning to double the number of undergraduate places for teaching. Those are very solid responses to needs that we all acknowledge. It is worth pointing out to the Deputy that, back in 2014, before I made the improvements in pay that we negotiated with the unions, teachers were the second-highest paid graduates, second only to ICT workers.

We have made improvements since then and we have a process in place under the pay negotiations where the remaining issues of the trade unions are being discussed with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and his advisers with a view to resolving those issues over time. There is a process in place which the Deputy should acknowledge. We are making real efforts to establish a balanced response to the needs of teachers which are, of course, important, as well as the needs of pupils. We have heard about the many challenges we must meet in regard to pupils who we must also treat equitably.