Special Educational Needs Service Provision

Questions Nos. 45 and 46 replied to with Written Answers.

Ceisteanna (44)

Ruth Coppinger

Ceist:

44. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will report on the delivery of an autistic spectrum disorder-specific school serving the Dublin 7 and 15 areas. [26428/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Ceist ar Education)

I am asking this question on behalf of Deputy Coppinger. Will the Minister report on the delivery of an ASD-specific school serving Dublin 7 and 15? This question is linked to a general crisis in this area. Does the Minister accept that there is a general crisis and that the State is failing to provide equal access to education for children on the autism spectrum?

Supporting and caring for a child with special needs can bring worries and concerns that not everyone experiences. It is our job to try and alleviate some of the additional difficulties and stresses and to not add to them. The NCSE, wrote to me on 18 April pursuant to provisions now contained in the Education Act 1998 through which ultimately a ministerial direction can be made requiring a school to make additional special education provision available. The NCSE identified that provision is required for 40 special school places for students with complex needs, including ASD in Dublin 15.

As existing special schools could not provide the necessary number of places within the timescale, it is necessary to establish a start-up special school in the area. Given the timing issues, it was essential to appoint a patron of scale with the experience necessary to immediately action and progress the necessary arrangements. Dublin and Dun Laoghaire ETB has agreed to act as patron for this start-up special school and it is progressing recruitment and other arrangements with a view to ensuring the school opens in September. Temporary accommodation has been secured to facilitate the school's start up then.

The advertisement for the role of principal was issued in the first week of June and interviews are to take place shortly. I am anxious that the principal, teachers and special needs assistants, SNAs, in the new school be appropriately supported. My Department, through the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, the NCSE and with input from the Middletown Centre for Autism, will develop a programme of professional learning for school staff. This will include upskilling, before the students commence school, on a phased basis and ongoing mentoring, coaching and in-school support during the challenging start-up terms. The NCSE is keeping in regular contact with the parents of the children concerned and will continue to advise them of progress.

I thank the Minister for that answer and that news. The more general issue arises repeatedly in the House. We have seen a couple of important protests organised by Enough is Enough!. Parents are getting organised in respect of this issue. Does he accept that this is not just a local problem here and there and that there is a nationwide problem regarding an absence of all of the supports necessary for children on the autism spectrum? Does he also accept that the State is substantially failing these children?

I will give an example from Dublin 24. Responsibility for part of this problem lies with the Department of Health and concerns people waiting five years to get access to required therapy. There are also, however, hundreds of children who do not have any school place or, in most cases, do not have a school place in an appropriate school given their needs. A radically different approach is needed as opposed to dealing with this issue only if it emerges as enough of a problem. Substantial financial investment is needed.

There is no question about it. We need to keep this issue live on the agenda and we need to continue to debate it in this House. We are putting a great deal of resources into special education. It is now one out of every five euro. We also need, however, to look at how we can provide a more holistic education to people who would not have been getting that in the past. That is why I have set up a social inclusion pilot which will cover west Dublin, Kildare and parts of Wicklow. We have chosen 75 schools. If complex special needs are involved, we will examine the need for a specialist nurse and incorporating the HSE into the pilot as well. That could involve speech and language therapy, occupational therapy or behavioural therapy and having that therapy delivered in a school setting. We have a duty to ensure that follow a totally inclusive approach with every single young person, no matter what disadvantage he or she might be experiencing, whether a physical or otherwise. That is why I have used the word "cumasú", which means "empowerment", at the heart of my education policy to ensure that every single young person is subject to that inclusive approach. We, however, have to continue this debate in this House and it is important we do that because this is a changing world.

We must also encourage the parents to continue to mobilise, protest and make their voices heard. It is striking that these parents are dealing with very difficult situations and they are not being assisted by the State. They are then forced to go out and struggle and fight for what is necessary for and the right of their children. I had a meeting last week with parents involved in different groups in my area. They were from the Tallaght Parents Autism Support Group, Social Circle and Enough is Enough!.

They told horrifying stories regarding the failure of the State and the number of children faced with being taught at home because they are not getting the appropriate supports that they need. There were also stories of children who had access to ASD units in the first half of primary school but were then forced to move into a different school. That causes significant disruption in their lives and their education during the second half of primary school. I heard reports of SNAs who have effectively been turned into classroom assistants because there is only provision for one SNA per classroom. There might, however, be three or four children needing access to that service. It means that the system is completely failing.

This is an important issue, which is close to my heart. I visit many primary and post-primary schools and I see the value of that focus on inclusion and the value of SNAs. That is why I am going to work hard regarding the recommendations on behalf of SNAs. I met with the Fórsa trade union last week to discuss the status of SNAs, their training and ongoing professional development. That is because SNAs have led the way. They were in those classrooms before we started talking about the social inclusion pilot and an all-inclusive classroom setting with behavioural therapists and speech and language occupational therapists.

I went into a small primary school in Donegal on Monday and I came across a young child named Paul. His mother was able to tell me that there is an additional need beyond speech and language occupational therapy. She was referring to physiotherapy. We are, therefore, learning all of the time and picking up new things. Deputy Paul Murphy is correct in stating that we have to continue to listen to the voices of parents. They are the people who have this lived experience. There is no doubt that the student and parent charter, when it becomes law, will be another vehicle to ensure that those voices are heard.

Questions Nos. 45 and 46 replied to with Written Answers.

Teacher Supply

Ceisteanna (47)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

47. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Education and Skills the detail and agenda of his recent visits to Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, UAE, to meet Irish teachers working in the region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26557/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (8 contributions) (Ceist ar Education)

My question is to ask the Minister for Education and Skills the detail and agenda of his recent visits to Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the UAE, to meet Irish teachers working in the region.

I thank the Deputy for the question.

It relates to my recent education trade mission to the UAE. While there, I engaged with 450 Irish teachers at two meetings in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. I thank all the teachers who turned out on both nights. These meetings gave me the opportunity to hear the challenges facing these teachers and gave them a chance to offer practical solutions to some issues. The meetings allowed me in my role as Minister to meet with these teachers and discuss first hand with them the challenges they face in returning to Ireland, and to consider ways that we can work together to support them when they decide to return to work in Ireland.

To facilitate this, teachers volunteered to form a group to liaise on the identified issues with the embassy and my Department. Arrangements are being made for the first meeting of this group in the autumn. During my visit, I also had a number of productive meetings that will further develop and enhance the co-operation that currently exists between Ireland and the UAE in the higher education area.

Today I had a follow-up meeting as a result of that engagement in the UAE.

The education system plays a key role in forging crucial global relationships and building an international outlook and awareness. One of the core ambitions of my Government’s international education strategy, Irish Educated, Globally Connected, is to support the development of internationally-oriented and globally competitive institutions. The visit has assisted us in delivering on this ambition. I met my counterpart, the Emirati Minister for Education, H.E. Hussain Ibrahim Al Hammadi. We discussed some of the common challenges we faced in our respective education systems and agreed that we would work together to address these challenges through the exchange of information and collaboration.

I also visited a number of Emirati higher education Institutions such as Khalifa University and the City University College of Ajman, where I had the opportunity to promote the Irish higher education sector and very fruitful discussions on how to increase the number of academic, research, staff and student exchanges between higher education institutions in both countries.

While in Dubai I attended a business breakfast of the Irish Business Network to highlight possibilities for partnerships between Irish and Emirati educational institutions and to meet key Irish business community members.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

I also visited RCSI and Mohamed Bin Rashid University in the Mohamed Bin Rashid Academic Medical Centre. The RCSI has been present in Dubai since 2005 offering postgraduate education, training and consultancy in leadership, management, patient safety and quality. There is already a strong connection through the RCSI alumni network and my visit as Minister for Education and Skills aimed to strengthen that relationship.

I thank the Irish ambassador and his staff in the Irish Embassy, the local Irish groups, including the GAA, and the Irish living in the UAE for the work they did to make the visit a success.

I thank the Minister. I nearly feel like suggesting Dubai and the UAE should be making some contribution to the education system since they are getting the benefit of our graduates who come through really good teacher training programmes in the teacher training colleges. It is positive that the Minister went there, but those of us who are involved in education or know about it could tell him what the challenges are. Pay inequality is one and housing another. I know young teachers who have gone there. They say that if they go for two or three years, they will come back with at least the deposit for a house, if not the full price. That is fair enough for graduates who go directly after graduation. However, the phenomenon of teachers travelling abroad on career breaks has an impact on schools here. We have had terrible situations. It has got to the point where boards are having to refuse applications for career breaks because of the impact they are having. In fact, I know of a case where a person resigned rather than come back sooner than they had intended. Did the Minister meet any principal who was on a career break, or any teacher on a career break who was interested in a principalship? Are these vacancies part of the agenda, or will they be?

Tá Teachta Joan Collins ag iarraidh teacht isteach. B'fhéidir go ligfidh mé don Aire freagra a thabhairt. I will let the Minister answer and then let Deputy Joan Collins comment.

There was a question of whether I should even have been there because I knew what the issues were before I went. I knew a lot of them - the pay equality issue, problems in teacher supply, the price of accommodation in Dublin and the uncertainty facing substitute teachers when they came back. It was an opportunity for me to highlight what we had done in the past few months to set up teacher supply panels for substitute teachers in counties Dublin, Galway, Meath, Kildare and Cork. The most important part - believe it or not - was the engagement that took place after the meeting during the one-to-one discussions. It was an opportunity to acknowledge the work the teachers were doing internationally. They are acting as Irish ambassadors and doing so well in terms of career progression. They are heads of departments, principals and deputy principals. They have a skill set and there was a conversation about how we could value it when they returned. If someone has been a head of a department for four years in the UAE, how can we inform boards of management of how beneficial that experience would be to their schools? In a nutshell, I felt there would be a positive outcome. I got a sense that we needed to have a better communication system between the Department and all of our teachers abroad, not just in the UAE but also in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and all over the world. I see them as a tremendous asset. Like most Irish people who go away, they want to come back home at some stage.

I agree that it was positive that the Minister went to listen, even though he probably knew the answers. He did not answer my question about principalships, although he might when he replies again. Some two or three years ago it was a nightmare to find teachers to replace those who had gone on a career break. This week we were supposed to interview nine on a panel for two permanent jobs, but by the time they had received notice from the school eight had found permanent jobs. I acknowledge that there has been some movement.

I have a further question two places down the list. I will also bring up this issue when we reach them. I refer to middle management and the extent of the paperwork that must be done. To me, middle management should be about more than paperwork. It should be about enhancing the quality of teaching and the relationship with the students. The extent of the paperwork which must be done is affecting those who are not applying for principalships. What is it actually adding to the educational process? How is it making life better for children in schools? I agree that when people come back from abroad, they bring experience and a skill set. I just want them to come back at some point.

I have a similar question on this issue, Question No. 77. The Minister has said he knows what the issues are. I quote from a report on his visit:

Denise Somers, who has just completed her first year in Abu Dhabi, is the type of person McHugh is hoping to convince to return home. She graduated in 2016 and moved for job security after struggling to make ends meet in Ireland, where she did insecure short-term cover work.

Ms Somers is quoted as saying she worked as a substitute in Ireland and that now she is getting full-time work over there. She earns nearly one third more than what she would be paid here. Her job is permanent and her housing and medical insurance are paid for. Coming back to Ireland, where she would be put at the bottom of the queue and possibly on substitute panels, is not an option for her. The same report describes a couple who went to Abu Dhabi and came home to try to work here. They decided that it would not work out because they could not afford to live here. They went back to Abu Dhabi to save money for a house. The Government must ensure there is housing available, decent pay and permanent work of a standard that these teachers will want to come home as otherwise they will not.

There are several issues. I do not think I met any principal. There were teachers on a career break and a lot of young teachers who had gone out in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. I was aware of this before, but the pay equality issue is big. Those teachers have advocates all around them, not just those who were recruited from 2011 to 2014. People have different motivations for going abroad. We will never be able to compete with the UAE where teachers do not pay tax and their accommodation is paid for. We will not compete as people understand when they go away. The question is how we can make things easier. I acknowledge the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, NAPD, the Joint Managerial Body, Education and Training Boards Ireland and the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools. They have produced a one stop shop portal. If a vacancy to teach a subject is available in certain schools, teachers can apply online and interview by Skype. That is happening. We have to think about how we can make things easier and communicate with teachers. I also acknowledge the strong input they are making on the international scene. I met a lot of former teachers who had moved into the UAE's ministry of education. That is a very important link for us. Several other issues were mentioned, but I do not have time to address them.

Schools Building Projects Administration

Ceisteanna (48)

John Curran

Ceist:

48. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans to prioritise the 54 school building projects experiencing delays in progressing beyond the architectural detailed design stage; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26627/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Ceist ar Education)

Several schools in my constituency have contacted me to express concern about the delays in undertaking school building projects. It prompted me to look at the number of school projects at stage 2(b), architectural design and planning stage. Several seem to have been at this stage for a considerable period. Will the Minister and his Department take steps to address the delays and issues facing the schools that have projects at stage 2(b) for the longest periods?

The school building projects referred to by the Deputy are included in my Department's construction programme which is being delivered under the national development plan. Stage 2(b) - detailed design - is arguably the most complex and detailed of all the stages of architectural planning. In addition to securing the necessary statutory approvals, it includes preparation of complex and detailed tender documents.

In completing stage 2b, design teams are now required to upgrade design details to ensure that new school buildings are near zero energy buildings, or NZEBs, in compliance with the 2017 amendment of Part L of the current building regulations. In many cases, this has involved a second planning application to allow for the installation of photovoltaic panels on the roof following receipt of the initial planning permission.

The Deputy will appreciate that all major school building projects under the Department's construction programme are progressed through the various stages of architectural planning in accordance with the Department's design team procedures, building control regulations and public works contract requirements. He will also accept that as the funding is Exchequer funding, the process and costs associated with any major project must be fully accounted for. Design teams must therefore be diligent in their preparation of the stage 2b tender documentation to satisfy all regulatory bodies and my Department's design team procedures. This results in minimising delays during further stages of the project.

Major school building projects at stage 2b for one year and over:

Project Type

Project Name

Date Progressed to Stage 2(b)

At Stage 2(b) > 1 Year

At Stage 2(b) > 2 Year

At Stage 2(b) >3 Years

At Stage 2(b) > 5 Years

Major Building Project - ADAPT

Blarney, Cork

27/06/2017

X

Blackwater, Waterford

15/02/2017

X

Cahir, Tipperary

16/04/2018

X

Ennistymon, Clare

13/04/2017

X

St Conleth St Mary's Kildare

17/05/2017

X

Maynooth BNS, Kildare

08/02/2017

X

Ashbourne, Meath

09/11/2017

X

Clondalkin, Dublin

Approx Feb 2017

X

Rosmini, Drumcondra

Approx Feb 2017

X

Waterpark, Waterford

24/05/2017

X

SN Brid, Cullenns, Ballina, Mayo

07/04/2017

X

Rush & Lusk, Dublin

Approx Apr 2017

X

Major Building Project -TRAD

St Clares, Cavan

25/04/2016

X

St Patricks, Clane

27/05/2014

X

Mhicil Naofa, Athy

31/07/2014

X

St Joseph's, Kilcock

04/02/2015

X

Monasterevin Amalg

30/06/2016

X

Marymount, Louth

22/09/2015

X

Ballapousta, Louth

20/12/2016

X

St Pauls, Monasterevin

19/11/2015

X

Scoil Íosagáin, Buncrana

07/03/2018

X

Scoil Cholmcille, Letterkenny

07/01/2015

X

Lismullen NS

07/02/2013

X

Little Angel's Special School

23/01/2017

X

St Mary's (Scoil Mhuire), Stranorlar

08/12/2015

X

Glenswilly NS

21/10/2015

X

Dunboyne Junior & Senior NS

10/11/2015

X

O'Carolan College, Nobber

08/11/2017

X

St Senan's NS, Enniscorthy

17/01/2014

X

Seosamh Naofa Carrabane, Athenry

24/03/2014

X

Scoil an Chroí Naofa, Ballinasloe

12/05/2011

X

Newtownmountkennedy Primary School

12/01/2017

X

Kilcoole Primary School

18/01/2016

X

St David's Secondary School

17/08/2015

X

Ballyowen Meadows & Setanta

10/07/2012

X

Rush NS

07/01/2015

X

St Josephs College, Lucan

24/06/2015

X

St Cronans, Brackenstown

09/06/2016

X

Holy Family Community School

18/02/2016

X

Lucan Community College

14/03/2017

X

Gaelcholaiste Reachrann

20/02/2017

X

Harcourt Terrace Primary School

04/07/2017

X

Scoil Aine & St Thomas (Esker)

19/11/2014

X

Divine Mercy/Archbishop Ryan

04/04/2016

X

Our Lady of Lourdes Goldenbridge

30/04/2014

X

St Laurence O'Toole Special School

06/10/2014

X

Hedgestown NS (Baile Falbach)

12/03/2014

X

St Marys Secondary School, Mayo

04/04/2017

X

Major Building Projects - Devolved

St. Finian's Community College, Swords

25/05/2015

X

Kanturk BNS (S-B) (with RN 17087J)

18/12/2014

X

SN Creachmhaoil, Craughwell (M)

19/03/2015

X

Ardee ETNS

12/10/2017

X

Dublin 7 ETNS

21/03/2018

X

Our Lady's College

14/02/2018

X

Project Type

Project Name

Date Progressed to Stage 2(b)

At Stage 2(b) > 1 Year

At Stage 2(b) > 2 Year

At Stage 2(b) >3 Years

At Stage 2(b) > 5 Years

Major Building Project - ADAPT

Blarney, Cork

27/06/2017

X

Blackwater, Waterford

15/02/2017

X

Cahir, Tipperary

16/04/2018

X

Ennistymon, Clare

13/04/2017

X

St Conleth St Mary's Kildare

17/05/2017

X

Maynooth BNS, Kildare

08/02/2017

X

Ashbourne, Meath

09/11/2017

X

Clondalkin, Dublin

Approx Feb 2017

X

Rosmini, Drumcondra

Approx Feb 2017

X

Waterpark, Waterford

24/05/2017

X

SN Brid, Cullenns, Ballina, Mayo

07/04/2017

X

Rush & Lusk, Dublin

Approx Apr 2017

X

Major Building Project -TRAD

St Clares, Cavan

25/04/2016

X

St Patricks, Clane

27/05/2014

X

Mhicil Naofa,Athy

31/07/2014

X

St Joseph's,Kilcock

04/02/2015

X

Monasterevin Amalg

30/06/2016

X

Marymount, Louth

22/09/2015

X

Ballapousta,Louth

20/12/2016

X

St Pauls,Monasterevin

19/11/2015

X

Scoil Íosagáin, Buncrana

07/03/2018

X

Scoil Cholmcille, Letterkenny

07/01/2015

X

Lismullen NS

07/02/2013

X

Little Angel's Special School

23/01/2017

X

St Mary's (Scoil Mhuire), Stranorlar

08/12/2015

X

Glenswilly NS

21/10/2015

X

Dunboyne Junior & Senior NS

10/11/2015

X

O'Carolan College, Nobber

08/11/2017

X

St Senan's NS, Enniscorthy

17/01/2014

X

Seosamh Naofa Carrabane, Athenry

24/03/2014

X

Scoil an Chroí Naofa, Ballinasloe

12/05/2011

X

Newtownmountkennedy Primary School

12/01/2017

X

Kilcoole Primary School

18/01/2016

X

St David's Secondary School

17/08/2015

X

Ballyowen Meadows & Setanta

10/07/2012

X

Rush NS

07/01/2015

X

St Josephs College, Lucan

24/06/2015

X

St Cronans, Brackenstown

09/06/2016

X

Holy Family Community School

18/02/2016

X

Lucan Community College

14/03/2017

X

Gaelcholaiste Reachrann

20/02/2017

X

Harcourt Terrace Primary School

04/07/2017

X

Scoil Aine & St Thomas (Esker)

19/11/2014

X

Divine Mercy/Archbishop Ryan

04/04/2016

X

Our Lady of Lourdes Goldenbridge

30/04/2014

X

St Laurence O'Toole Special School

06/10/2014

X

Hedgestown NS (Baile Falbach)

12/03/2014

X

St Marys Secondary School, Mayo

04/04/2017

X

Major Building Projects - Devolved

St. Finian's Community College, Swords

25/05/2015

X

Kanturk BNS (S-B) (with RN 17087J)

18/12/2014

X

SN Creachmhaoil, Craughwell (M)

19/03/2015

X

Ardee ETNS

12/10/2017

X

Dublin 7 ETNS

21/03/2018

X

Our Lady's College

14/02/2018

X

I am in no way suggesting shortcuts should be taken or that we should not comply fully with regulations and planning law. However, it is interesting that of the 70 major schools building projects at stage 2b, seven have been at that stage for a year, 19 for two years, 19 for three years and nine for five years. What is going on that these they are taking so long to get through stage 2b? The particular concern school principals raise with me is whether priority is being given to new builds rather than to substantial refurbishments. It is causing significant difficulty where schools avoid availing of summer works or upgrading notwithstanding their poor condition and this is going on year after year. Capital expenditure in the Department of Education and Skills is ahead of profile. Is that a contributing factor?

There are a number of reasons for delays. For example, the NZEB regulations were introduced in 2017, which meant many school projects in the 2016-2021 capital programme had to be revised. A number in my own constituency had to go back through the process to ensure the designs met the NZEB provisions. The major question among schools and students themselves relates to environmental standards. When I go to schools that are more than 100 years old, the students ask me how they can be made more environmentally sound and habitable. They ask why they do not have solar panels and why we are not retrofitting them. These are legitimate questions and young people are challenging us on them. It is difficult for students in older schools to watch new schools coming down the line. It raises questions of fairness. There are many competing pressures on the budget and investing to make schools sustainable. There is also the ongoing demographic challenge of increases in population. One can list the reasons. It was not just NZEB. Schools might not have received fire compliance certificates or other issues may have arisen along the way. If the Deputy feels there are schools that are not being progressed properly, I would be very interested to hear about it.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I might help him by providing a couple of those examples. Lucan Community College has been looking for its extension which has been going through the process at this stage for more than a decade. Holy Family Community School in Rathcoole was identified in 2004 as needing a new 1,000-student building within seven years. According to the most recent reply, it is at stage 2b. The irony is that its identification as requiring a new school and significant upgrades means it has not been able to avail of the summer works scheme since 2004. Divine Mercy senior and junior national school in Clondalkin had a design team appointed in January 2004. The most recent reply from the Department states that it remains at stage 2b. The concern is clearly indicated by the principal who wrote last winter as follows:

After the past two days rain, the roof in the prefabs has five serious leaks. I have had to evacuate and relocate a class of eight and nine year olds to another substandard classroom as the caretaker endeavours to fix the problems. As we are only at the start of the winter, I am at a loss to know what to do. Should I have the whole roof repaired at a substantial cost or is it to be razed to the ground.

These are the ongoing problems schools face while waiting to progress. If what was involved was a new build, most principals believe it would have happened already.

The Deputy mentioned Lucan Community College. A major building project was authorised to proceed to stage 2b on 14 March 2017. A brief-change report was submitted to the Department in October 2017 to seek approval for a full replacement of or repairs to the existing roof. The Department required a further breakdown of the costs and scope from the design team and that was received in July 2018. The Department approved the full replacement of the existing roof in October 2018. The design team quantity surveyor withdrew from the project in late October 2018 and a replacement tender process was carried out by Dublin and Dún Laoghaire ETB, the client for the project. The replacement quantity surveyor appointment was ratified in April 2019. The design team is completing stage 2b, including by ensuring the submission is NZEB compliant. That is just one example of the issues we cannot control. If that was one of the schools that has been waiting ten years, I appreciate the deep frustration on the part of the board of management, principal, teachers, students and wider community. We are in the right place now and, hopefully, we can make progress.

Schools Building Projects Status

Ceisteanna (49)

Pat the Cope Gallagher

Ceist:

49. Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher asked the Minister for Education and Skills the status of applications for new school buildings (details supplied); the timeframe for the projects; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26350/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (7 contributions) (Ceist ar Education)

The Minister will be familiar with the four Donegal schools to which the question refers. I ask him for an update on St. Eunan's College, Letterkenny, Gaelscoil na gCeithre Maistrí, Little Angels special school, and Scoil Mhuire, Stranorlar.

I thank the Deputy for raising the issue of these schools, as he has done on a number of occasions previously. It keeps them on the radar, which does no harm at all. I will outline the position on the projects referred to by the Deputy. The major building project for St. Eunan's College, Letterkenny, is included on my Department's ADAPT programme. My Department is currently in the process of finalising the appointment of a project manager for this programme. The process to appoint a design team for this project has also recently commenced and is under way. The major building project for Gaelscoil na gCeithre Maistrí is at stage 2a, developed design. At this stage the preferred option design is developed to a stage where the project is fully cost planned and can be prepared to lodge for statutory approvals. The major building project for Little Angels special school is at an advanced stage of architectural planning, stage 2b, detailed design. The stage 2b submission has been reviewed by my Department and comments have issued to the school and its design team. The design team is currently working on a submission to my Department outlining the steps required to achieve compliance with Part L of the Building Regulations (Amendment) Regulations 2017 on NZEB. The major building project for Scoil Mhuire, Stranorlar, is also at stage 2b. The pre-qualification process to select a shortlist of contractors for tender stage has been completed and the design team is currently completing work on its NZEB submission. When the design team's revised NZEB submission has been considered, my Department will be in contact with the board of management with regard to the further progression of the project as it then goes to tender.

The project for Scoil Mhuire, Stranorlar, has been going on for a long time. It was included in the capital plan in 2011 but was removed by the Minister's predecessor. It did not appear in any plan between 2011 and 2016. In 2016, it was included in the capital plan again. What worries me, as the Minister well knows, is that we had to get an extension of time for the planning permission already. If this goes on much longer and if we are not on site to carry out substantial works to get another extension, I am very worried about the result. I ask the Minister to take into consideration the fact that time is of the essence in Stranorlar. Whenever he passes the school, he sees the dangers faced by children posed by prefabs and flooding. It is a serious matter and one on which we must make progress.

I am pleased that St. Eunan's College in Letterkenny is in the ADAPT programme. I hope a project manager and design team will be appointed quickly to allow the project to go ahead. The Minister and I were there approximately two years ago in the company of the then Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton. Progress has been slow. I will deal mention some other schools when I ask my next supplementary questions.

I agree with what the Deputy has said about the timing of the Scoil Mhuire project. My ambition is ensure this goes to tender as soon as the NZEB requirements are satisfied. Parents will not be satisfied until they see diggers on site. It is important for us to keep the timing on the radar here. I acknowledge that the board of management at Scoil Mhuire in Stranorlar has had a long battle. The safety of the children has been at the heart of the board's concerns when it has been dealing with flooding issues and the school's proximity to the church car park. I know the Deputy will join me in wishing the outgoing principal of Scoil Mhuire, Fintan Keating, well on his retirement. He kept the shoulder to the wheel as well. The least we can do is ensure we get the timing right. The design team process at St. Eunan's College in Letterkenny has started. I agree that a project manager needs to be appointed as soon as possible.

Like the Minister, I hoped the project at Scoil Mhuire in Stranorlar would start before the retirement of Fintan Keating, who has put a tremendous amount of work into it. We must ensure his legacy is the commencement of this project by the end of this year or early next year. I am aware that the vitally important project at Gaelscoil na gCeithre Máistrí is at the 2A design stage and is going for full costings. I am extremely anxious for the Minister, as a Deputy for the Donegal constituency, to do whatever has to be done to make progress with this project quickly. I think the project at Little Angels special school has been at its current stage for too long. I ask the Minister to use his good offices to expedite it and ensure the final stages are reached as quickly as possible so that tenders can be invited and machines can be brought onto the site.

I do not want to repeat myself. I agree with the Deputy that these projects are important. Tá Gaelscoil na gCeithre Máistrí i mbaile Dhún na nGall iontach tábhachtach ar son na teanga. Tá an sár-obair dhíograiseach atá déanta ar son na scoile thar na blianta le feiceáil. Nuair a bhí mé ann roimh an Nollaig, bhí na páistí uilig ag labhairt Gaeilge agus bhí na tuismitheoirí uilig ag déanamh fíor-iarracht fosta. Aontaím leis an Teachta go bhfuil an-tábhacht ag baint leis an scoil sin. Little Angels special school is a really important school for County Donegal. I hope progress can be made in respect of the NZEB submission. The progress in relation to that needs to continue. I have mentioned a principal who is retiring. I should also mention Chris Darby of St. Eunan's College. I know Deputy Gallagher will join me in wishing him well.

School Funding

Ceisteanna (50)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

50. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Education and Skills to set out how he plans to address issues facing primary schools such as class sizes, workload burdens for management and capitation grants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26599/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Ceist ar Education)

How does the Minister plan to address various issues that are facing primary schools, such as class size, the management workload burden and capitation grants?

Budget 2019 marks the third year of a major reinvestment in education. In 2019, the budget for the Department of Education and Skills will increase by €674 million, which represents a 6.7% increase on last year's budget. In total, the education budget will have increased by €1.7 billion compared with 2016. I am holding a symposium tomorrow to engage with people and organisations who work in and with small schools. I am interested to listen to the views of the experts, but more importantly to engage with ideas and proposals on how to support and sustain small schools as a key component of the primary education system. I know my colleagues around the House will be very interested in that. I am working on the assumption that they have been notified about the symposium by email. If they have not been notified, I would like to let them know publicly now that the symposium is taking place in the Hugh Lane Gallery. If they need any information about times etc. they can contact my office. The purpose of the symposium is to focus on how to strengthen and sustain our small primary schools that have one, two, three or four teachers.

With regard to class sizes, it is important to point out that over 1,300 additional posts in schools will be funded, including more than 370 teaching posts to cater for growth in student population and additional special classes. The numbers employed in our schools will reach the highest ever level in the coming school year. This builds on the budget 2018 measure which provided a one-point improvement in the staffing schedule in primary schools, which brings the position to the most favourable ever seen at primary level.

I am aware of the workload burdens placed on schools. The primary education forum was established in September 2018 to support the planning and sequencing of change in the primary school sector and to exchange information on the intentions and impacts of the actions in the action plan for education to look for synergies and opportunities to streamline implementation and address workload issues. In adopting this approach, my Department and its partners have agreed to make several changes to the pace and sequence of the planned reforms, including the implementation of the primary mathematics curriculum and, second, to sequence the commencement the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

In addition to managing the sequence of change, the leadership framework introduced in 2017 allows for flexibility in identifying and prioritising the evolving leadership and management needs of schools and in assigning and reassigning post holders to specific roles and responsibilities to meet the evolving needs of schools. Some €2.75 million was allocated in budget 2017 to restore middle management positions. Today, more than one in three primary school teachers holds a management position. In addition, schools with teaching principals saw an increase in the number of principal release days in each of the last two budgets.

I am pleased to have been able to provide for a 5% increase in capitation funding for primary and post-primary schools. This will apply from the start of the 2019-20 school year. Over the course of the 2019-20 school year, an additional €10 million will be allocated to primary and post-primary schools, of which €4 million will be allocated in 2019. I fully acknowledge that the issues raised by the Deputy in her question are important for future investment. I will take account of the budgetary submissions from all the relevant education stakeholders.

I remind the Minister, in the context of the symposium he mentioned, that some islands with small populations which have small numbers in their schools have particular practical difficulties if they are reduced to one-teacher schools. It is kind of ironic that on 4 July last year, I raised the exact same question with the Minister's predecessor following the INTO briefing, which many of us attended again this year. We know the pupil-teacher ratio has been increased twice. That is all very welcome. The ratio in some of the DEIS schools in the north inner city is very good, but our primary classes are still the largest in the eurozone. We have to reduce them. The capitation grant was €178.50 in 2008. It went up to €200 in 2009 and 2010. Since then, it has been falling each year. In 2019, it went back up to €178.50, which is the rate that applied in 2008. Even though schools do a marvellous amount of fundraising, the capitation grant continues to be very important. It needs to go back to what it was. It needs to keep going upwards rather than downwards.

We are making progress with the pupil-teacher ratio. The Deputy is correct when she says we have a long way to go. I am reminded of the seanfhocal, mol an lá um thráthnóna, we praise the day in the evening. We will not ease off on this important issue at EU and OECD levels. There was a reduction of 11% in capitation funding in 2011. This massive reduction was introduced as part of the wider reductions that were being made right across the Government at the time. It was a very difficult one for communities. School communities are always on hand to help to support local primary and secondary schools. Putting fuel in the tank and ensuring the school carries on each day are bread and butter issues. There has been an increase of 5% this year. I am conscious that there is some way to go when it comes to capitation, which will be at the heart of the conversation when I sit down with my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Donohoe.

I understand that approximately 4,500 middle management positions, including AP1 and AP2 posts, were lost under the moratorium. Approximately 1,300 of these positions have been restored. There has been no further advance since 2017. This issue needs to be considered. I have spoken about the paper overload for principals. I think there is a particular burden for teaching principals. I know that some efforts have been made in this regard. It has been suggested that a supply panel is needed. The payment of commercial rates by schools, which are technically charities, is another issue that has been raised with me. I do not know whether this can be looked at. Another point occurs to me when I think about the need to move away from all the paperwork and onto other issues. Like the Minister, I have taught at second level. The issues that have always presented at second level, including anxiety, depression, anger and violence, are now presenting among much younger pupils. That is a major challenge for many primary schools. I suggest that middle management roles, rather than being focused on policies and plans, need to be directed towards dealing with the real issues that are evident in primary schools. When an issue arises in a school, it is dealt with. Those involved will not go up to the office to read the policy before dealing with the issue.

I agree entirely with the Deputy's final point. The issues that present themselves in our primary schools are much more complex than they used to be. Teachers are aware of that.

Continuous professional development training is important, as is equipping them with the skills and capacity to deal with these emerging issues. I see a lot of schools acting as support for one another, which involves schools principals meeting informally. More than ever, teachers and principals are rising to the challenge.

The Deputy mentioned island schools, which are really important. We introduced a policy measure that will retain the two-teacher provision for island schools irrespective of a decrease in the numbers. There are 26 one-teacher schools, 537 two-teacher schools, and 376 three-teacher schools in the country. In 2018 and 2019, the number of schools in the one, two, three and four-teacher category is 1,367, which is 44% of the total number of schools, which is 3,100.

Capitation Grants

Ceisteanna (51)

Joan Burton

Ceist:

51. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans to restore capitation grants to the pre-2011 level of €200 per pupil in view of the fact that per-pupil spending at primary level is substantially below OECD and EU averages; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26592/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Ceist ar Education)

I wish to ask the Minister about his plans to restore capitation grants to the pre-2011 level of €200 per pupil in view of the fact that per-pupil spending at primary level is substantially below OECD and EU averages and many schools are feeling the pinch with regard to capitation, particularly in areas where parents have lower incomes.

I fully recognise the need to improve capitation funding for schools and in the Action Plan for Education, I have committed to the restoration of capitation. I am pleased to have been able to provide for a 5% increase in capitation funding for primary and post-primary schools that will apply from the start of the 2019-20 school year this autumn. Over the course of the school year 2019-20, an additional €10 million will be allocated to primary and post-primary schools, of which €4 million will be allocated in 2019. I must be prudent. In the context of ongoing budgetary pressures, it is not possible to do everything that I would like to do in the education sector in any one year. It is my intention to seek funding in the next budget for further capitation increases for schools.

The Minister should be delighted that so many Deputies are raising the issue of capitation because it is certainly one of the biggest difficulties schools face. The Minister will be aware that many of the costs schools experience, particularly energy, heating and lighting costs, have soared in recent years. I know the Government talks a lot about the cost of insurance but the cost of insurance for schools has risen significantly and continuously over the past number of years. In addition, many schools are finding it more and more difficult to get cover unless they literally confine the children to walking with their hands by the sides and keep them out of what insurers like to see as danger areas.

How does the Minister expect schools to manage? Across the country, primary and secondary schools run lots of functions. I have attended lots of summer fairs in schools across my constituency. The one thing everybody mentions, be they people on the parent-teacher association, PTA, or teachers, is the enormous burden on the schools caused by the lack of restoration of the capitation grant. In modest demands presented to the Minister in respect of the budget, the INTO listed capitation as being critical.

The phrase, "modest demands", constitutes new vocabulary for me. There are many demands on this Department. When one considers a budget of €11 billion, the first question one asks is about how surely there is enough money in there to do everything we seek to do but the basics are really important. The Deputy is correct in pointing out that capitation is the bread and butter that keeps schools moving. The fact that there is a bit of flexibility around using ancillary and capitation funding together for expenditure is really important. Boards of management and parents' associations always go back cap in hand to the community and parents and the water eventually runs dry but I know that schools are such a fundamental part of the community. The day of the school gate being a dividing line between the school and the community is gone. I see the role now played by the private sector, for example, in secondary schools where it is looking to help out with computers. The community will always want to be part of the contributory process but we must also get the balance right and if capitation funding is needed, it is something on which I will focus.

The Minister must be aware that the lack of capitation is actually destructive of the quality of education and service schools can provide, particularly with regard to insurance. I do not know if the Minister has asked his officials to carry out a study into insurance costs for schools or a study into energy costs for schools but both are particularly onerous. If one takes the kind of schools with which the Minister was commiserating just a while ago, which were promised significant upgrades or rebuilds in 2004, he will know that those schools are likely to be the ones that have had the least amount of retrofitting with regard to energy conservation. In a way, the burden of the failure to improve and restore capitation falls on them. Remember that we have been in a restoration process for many things following the difficult years of the crash. Many schools built 40 or 50 years ago are basically heating the air when they operate their heating systems. Has the Minister asked anybody in his Department to have a look at this in a serious way?

We are taking the deep retrofitting of schools very seriously. This is why we have launched an initial pilot between my Department and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment in conjunction with the SEAI. One cannot use the word "modest" when one is talking about €30 million, which is a lot of money, but in the bigger scheme of things where one has 4,000 schools, €30 million will only do X number of those schools but we are looking at ways of ensuring that we do the proper deep retrofitting of schools because as I said earlier, students are demanding. Young people in these older schools are asking questions around climate change, are looking to their immediate environment and are asking why they are sitting in an environment like it. It goes back to choices. It goes back to the choices we must all make as politicians and the Deputy will recall the difficult years from 2011 through to 2016. Trying to deep retrofit all these schools in one go cannot happen but we must provide a pathway and instill confidence in young people that we are committed to it.

Youthreach Programme Review

Ceisteanna (52)

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

52. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans to review the allocation of programme places in Youthreach across and within education and training areas to ensure the optimal use of resources and taking account of early school leaver numbers and of existing places and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26595/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (9 contributions) (Ceist ar Education)

I understand Deputy Burton is taking the next question for Deputy Penrose.

I saw a very nice smiling photograph of the Minister with various author-looking types, who I assumed were staff from the ESRI, which produced the recent study on Youthreach. How are Youthreach resources allocated? If a person has had a bad experience in school such that he or she has had to leave it, his or her only option in terms of staying on for more education and training is Youthreach but very often, no such service is available locally. What is the Department's policy on access to Youthreach and what is its response to the ESRI report?

I am unsure whether the Deputy was scolding me for smiling. Perhaps I need to cut back a wee bit on that.

I thought the Minister looked lovely. Members can access it on their phones.

As part of a series of reviews of further education and training programmes, SOLAS commissioned an independent review of the national Youthreach programme, which was conducted by the ESRI. The review report, which was launched on 17 June, provides a comprehensive evaluation of the national Youthreach programme and demonstrates the positive impact of Youthreach for learners.

The evaluation noted that demand for Youthreach across both Youthreach centres and community training centres, has fallen by 11% in the period 2015 to 2017, with a further fall in demand in 2018. Some of this decline is related to the improved economic circumstances and availability of jobs. In addition, the school retention rate continues to improve with 91% of students completing their leaving certificate examinations.

The evaluation also found there is an uneven geographical distribution of Youthreach places.

SOLAS has considered the key review findings and has developed a response document that sets out 17 recommendations to further improve and develop the Youthreach programme. These recommendations are framed in the context of the broader reform and integration of further education and training, FET, provision in general and the evolving strategy for the FET system. The recommendations include considering the issues of uneven geographical distribution in annual local and national system planning, as well as ETBs, reviewing the sustainability of all centres. In doing so, SOLAS and ETBs will be ensuring there is an appropriate balance of provision across levels one to six of the national framework of qualifications in providing both employment and progression opportunities to learners.

When the Labour Party was in government, it successfully and significantly increased retention rates of pupils and students in both primary and secondary schools. The saddest predictor of somebody being poor in later life is if he or she leaves school at an early stage without qualifications. The numbers of those who want to access Youthreach has been falling but they are still significant. They include children who have been affected by various family issues and children from different ethnic backgrounds. For instance, Traveller children are significant participants in Youthreach. A good Youthreach programme can make all the difference to somebody being successful, going on to a trainee or apprenticeship programme or to college. There are success stories from Youthreach across the country.

Which part of the recommendations will the Minister implement? Will he take action to make the programme more accessible?

The good news is that my officials have started the engagement. There will be a mechanism to consider all the recommendations and see how we can progress these. We will not single out one or another.

Youthreach is an invaluable pathway for young people who are struggling with mainstream education. I recognise the benefit of the relationship between the principal of the mainstream school and the Youthreach team. When there is a good relationship, it works well. It is about creating the awareness of the benefit. At the launch in Dublin in the past week, I met a wonderful young woman who had been in her sixth year in mainstream education but it was not working for her. She subsequently went into the Youthreach programme and received the support and education she needed. It was transformative and she is now in third level studying art and design. We have to continue to channel that awareness but also to accentuate career progression. While that sounds a bit mechanical, we also need, through the programme, to help young people prepare for life and give them the skills to equip them for life.

Schools often have children who may have particular special needs or learning requirements that need to be specifically addressed. For instance, a child may be on the autism spectrum and find life difficult in a general school for a variety of reasons.

Youthreach participation can be a postcode lottery. It depends on where one lives. What arrangements will the Minister make to deal with this? The Youthreach model could be used in existing primary and secondary schools in rural and medium-sized towns where the population might be small. It could be used like an ASD class as a special provision, which could give them an extra boost.

The participation rate in Youthreach centres has reduced for several reasons, including full employment. There are still, however, gaps among young Travellers and migrants. Are we equipping them with the proper education to given them the skills to advance to third level or apprenticeship programmes? SOLAS has a key role to play in all of this. It is working with the third level sector and mainstream secondary school sector. It will have a key role in these recommendations. Practising politicians have an idea that the solution is to send everybody to third level. That is one part of the solution. We have to create positive awareness of apprenticeships.

I recently visited the Combilift company in County Monaghan. It was like being in a university complex, seeing young women doing apprenticeships there and their feeling of satisfaction with them. We will have to continue with the engagement by industry with the second level sector and Youthreach.

School Placement

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.

Ceisteanna (53)

John Curran

Ceist:

53. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Education and Skills the progress made to provide additional primary school places to children in a location (details supplied) who need them for September 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26626/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (5 contributions) (Ceist ar Education)

To plan for school provision and analyse the relevant demographic data, my Department divides the country into 314 school planning areas and uses a geographical information system, using data from a range of sources, to identify where the pressure for school places across the country will arise. With this information, my Department carries out nationwide demographic exercises to determine where additional school accommodation is needed at primary and post-primary level.

Where demographic data indicate that additional provision is required, the delivery of such additional provision is dependent on the particular circumstances of each case. It may, depending on the circumstances, be provided through either one, or a combination of utilising existing unused capacity within a school or schools, extending the capacity of a school or schools and the provision of a new school or schools.

The Government recently announced plans for the establishment of 42 new schools over the next four years, 2019 to 2022, including a new eight-classroom primary school to be established in 2020 to serve the Newcastle, Rathcoole and Saggart school planning area. This announcement follows nationwide, demographic exercises carried out by my Department into the future need for primary and post-primary schools across the country. The four-year horizon will enable increased lead-in times for planning and delivery of the necessary infrastructure.

My Department approved two temporary classrooms and a special education teaching room for Scoil Chrónáin national school, Rathcoole, in 2018. The additional classes approved in 2018 are currently accommodated in Rathcoole community centre pending installation of the temporary classrooms at the school.

I raised this issue with the Minister previously. Several parents from Rathcoole, County Dublin, whose children go to preschool there have been unable to secure a primary school place for this September in either of the two schools in the village. I am not aware of the full extent of the issue but the Department needs to make inquiries.

The Minister previously indicated in a similar reply that there was to be a new eight-classroom school on Fortunestown Lane to serve the Newcastle, Rathcoole and Saggart area. I respectfully suggest that departmental officials need to revisit that decision. That new school will predominantly serve the population of Saggart and Citywest with little or no additional capacity for Rathcoole. It will have little impact on the population of Rathcoole. Will the Minister review the adequacy of the answer he has given and acknowledge that the new school proposed in Fortunestown Lane will do little to address current needs in Rathcoole?

I appreciate the Deputy’s analysis on this and on the previous occasion he raised this matter. My Department continues to engage with officials at local authority level on housing data and population growth.

My Department has recently approved two further mainstream classrooms for Scoil Chrónáin to cater for additional primary school places in Rathcoole for September 2019. The responsibility for the installation of these classrooms has also been devolved to the board of management.

The requirement for new schools will be kept under ongoing review and, in particular, would have regard to the impact of the increased roll-out of housing provision as outlined in Project Ireland 2040. My Department will also continue to monitor areas where the accommodation of existing schools may need to be expanded to meet the needs of the local population.

I thank the Minister for the reply. I still contend that he needs to revisit this issue. The existing schools are at capacity while housing development continues in the Rathcoole area. If a family moves to the area with a child who is eight, nine, or ten years of age, the probability of getting into one of the two schools is zero, because they are full. That is to say nothing of the junior infants. If the Minister does not know the area, Fortunestown is quite a bit away, in the Citywest area. An eight-classroom school in Fortunestown will have little impact on the population in the Rathcoole area. That decision needs to be revisited and an additional school or additional capacity other than the Fortunestown proposal needs to be provided.

We will keep it under review.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.