Special Educational Needs Service Provision

Ceisteanna (159)

Eugene Murphy

Ceist:

159. Deputy Eugene Murphy asked the Minister for Education and Skills if the allocation of home tuition hours for children with autism and special educational needs for the 2019-20 academic year will be expedited; the reason for the lengthy delays in the allocation of home tuition hours that is perceived as detrimental for children with special needs and causing undue stress and hardship on home tutors; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38385/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

The Special Education Home Tuition Grant scheme provides funding towards a compensatory educational service for children with special educational needs seeking an educational placement for whom such a placement is not available. The scheme also provides for early intervention for children with Autism.

The application forms and related Circular for this year’s scheme were published on the 8th August 2019. Last year, the forms and circular were published on the 26th July 2018.

Applications forms must be signed by the NCSE local SENO to confirm that no school placement is currently available for a child. SENOs are processing home tuition applications as a matter of urgency.

The Home Tuition Application form outlines that it may take the Department up to 15 working days to process home tuition applications. The vast majority of applications made during the summer have been processed. The Department is prioritising the processing of a small number Home Tuition applications with a view to processing completed applications within a shorter timeframe.

By its nature, the grant is intended to be a short term intervention until the a school placement is available. Home Tutors are engaged by the parents/guardian of the child who is to receive tuition. Home tutors do not have a contractual relationship with the Department.

School Textbooks

Ceisteanna (160)

Eoin Ó Broin

Ceist:

160. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Education and Skills further to Parliamentary Question No. 196 of 3 October 2017, his policy in terms of the use of workbooks at post-primary school level; and the progress made with an association (details supplied) in order to ensure workbooks can be reused. [38497/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

It is a matter for the Board of Management of each individual school to decide on its own policy in relation to the use of textbooks and workbooks in the school. Individual schools should adopt a cost-conscious approach to the selection of books in their classes.

In relation to textbook costs an agreement was reached with the Irish Educational Publisher’s Association which resulted in the agreement of a Code of Practice. The Code commits the publishers to limit the publication of new editions and to maintaining editions of books in print unchanged for at least six years. The publishers have also given assurances that they will sell textbooks to schools at discounts so that schools can purchase textbooks in bulk to stock book rental schemes.

School book rental schemes have an important role to play in reducing the cost of school books for parents. Approximately 95% of primary schools and 65% of post-primary schools operate a book rental scheme.

My Department supports the operation of book rental schemes through the funding provided under its school books grant scheme. Under this scheme, my Department provides funding of €16 million annually to all recognised primary and post-primary schools in the free education scheme. In addition €15.7 million seed capital was provided over three years to support the establishment of book rental schemes in primary schools.

My Department published a circular to school authorities and ETBs regarding measures to be adopted by schools to reduce the costs which include the provision of a book rental scheme. The circular can be accessed on my Department’s website at https://www.education.ie/en/Circulars-and-Forms/Active-Circulars/cl0032_2017.pdf.

One of the measures in the circular, under the “Principles of cost-effective practice”, which are to be adopted is that school authorities, ‘phase out the use of workbooks which cannot be reused’. My officials have engaged with the Irish Education Publishers’ Association (IEPA) to consider how best to ensure the provisions of the circular can best be implemented. It is acknowledged that the use of workbooks can be beneficial in supporting the development of rudimentary skills, such as, fine motor skills, pre-writing and letter formation skills and phonological awareness skills.

In relation to revised editions of textbooks, members of the Irish Educational Publishers’ Association subscribe to a Code of Practice which includes an agreement that publishers will not revise any texts within at least four years - unless there is a change in the curriculum, the state examination or methods of assessment, or if there is a recognised teacher-led demand to do so.

My Department continues to consider how best to implement the terms of the circular in relation to the use of workbooks.

School Equipment

Ceisteanna (161)

Eoin Ó Broin

Ceist:

161. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Education and Skills his policy regarding the use of information technology tablets; and if schools have been issued departmental guidelines or circulars in terms of keeping down the associated costs for parents and guardians. [38498/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

Decisions regarding the use and deployment of digital technology in schools is a matter for the Board of Management of each school. Where the introduction of digital devices is planned, consultation with members of the school community including parents is advised. Consultation between parents, students and schools is now underpinned through the recently published Education (Student and Parent Charter) Bill 2019. The cost and other implications must be fully considered by the Boards of Managements before a decision is made. It is important for schools, in conjunction with parents, to retain local autonomy for decisions on the use of digital technology, including tablet devices, laptops, and learning platforms, and how best to manage their integration into classroom practice reflective of their own context and requirements. In making this decision each school should refer to and reflect on the available information.

The Professional Development Service for Teachers Technology in Education (PDST-TIE) offers advice to schools and have developed an advice sheets on digital technology in education, including on the adoption of Laptops and tablets in schools. The information on their website outlines what these devices can offer schools to support teaching, learning and assessment, and facilitate students' active learning and collaboration. Specific items for consideration including software and hardware requirements, purchasing regulations, are addressed in the support information.

I am keenly aware of the challenges faced by educators and parents, in relation to costs of digital technology, including tablets, and my Department continues to work to help support schools and families meet these costs. In 2017 a circular letter issued to schools with measures to be adopted to reduce the cost of school uniforms and other costs. This circular also instructed schools to consult with parents and their school community on the issue of ensuring costs are reasonable for parents, and how to avoid costs acting as a barrier. This circular specified that wherever possible, generic rather than branded items should be specified (e.g. uniform, clothing, IT tablets, sports equipment etc.).

The Digital Strategy for Schools 2015-2020, sets out a plan to embed the use of digital technology in teaching, learning and assessment, and affirms that the use of digital technology can enhance the teaching and learning experience. The Strategy recognises that schools require investment in their ICT infrastructure. Funding of €210m has been committed to support the implementation of this strategy with €60m issued to schools over the 2016/17 and 2017/18 school years and a further €50m recently issued to schools in respect of the 2018/19 school year.

Schools Building Projects Status

Ceisteanna (162)

Mary Butler

Ceist:

162. Deputy Mary Butler asked the Minister for Education and Skills the status of a school (details supplied); if progress has been made in securing a greenfield or brownfield site for a permanent building; the timeframe envisaged for the delivery of a new school for pupils who are currently educated in prefabs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38522/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

I wish to advise the Deputy that the school in question submitted an application for major capital funding to my Department to construct a new school building on a green field site.

Given the need to meet demographic growth, the delivery of new schools, together with extension projects identified by my Department's school building programme to be delivered as part of the National Development Plan, will remain the focus of my Department's budget for the coming years. My Department is not in a position, at this point, to indicate when a permanent building will be provided for the school referred to by the Deputy.

Home Tuition Scheme Administration

Ceisteanna (163)

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

163. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Education and Skills if the applications for home tuition for the current academic year have now been processed; if not, when it is expected that they will be completed; if he will ensure that application forms are available earlier in 2020 and into the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38525/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

The purpose of the Home Tuition Grant Scheme is to provide a compensatory educational service for

- (a) Early educational intervention for children with autism who meet the schemes eligibility criteria

- (b) Students with special educational needs seeking an educational placement in a recognised school

- (c) Students, enrolled in schools, with significant medical conditions which has caused, and is likely to continue to cause, major disruption to their attendance at school

The application forms and related Circular for this year’s scheme were published on the 8th August 2019. Last year, the forms and circular were published on the 26th July 2018.

The Home Tuition Application form outlines that it may take the Department up to 15 working days to process home tuition applications.

The vast majority of applications made during the summer have been processed. The Department is prioritising the processing of Home Tuition applications with a view to processing completed applications within a shorter timeframe.

The operation of the Home Tuition Grant Scheme is reviewed annually. Officials in my Department will review the operation of the 2019/20 Home Tuition Grant Scheme which will take into consideration any issues arising during the school year.

Special Educational Needs Service Provision

Ceisteanna (164)

Michael Fitzmaurice

Ceist:

164. Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice asked the Minister for Education and Skills when home tuition hours will be sanctioned for children with autism spectrum disorders in primary schools in view of the fact that schools are in the third week of the school year and children are losing out on valuable tuition hours and teachers are losing out on work; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38555/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

The Special Education Home Tuition Grant scheme provides funding towards a compensatory educational service for children with special educational needs seeking an educational placement for whom such a placement is not available. The scheme also provides for early intervention for children with Autism.

The application forms and related Circular for this year’s scheme were published on the 8th August 2019. Last year, the forms and circular were published on the 26th July 2018.

Applications forms must be signed by the NCSE local SENO to confirm that no school placement is currently available for a child. SENOs are processing home tuition applications as a matter of urgency.

The Home Tuition Application form outlines that it may take the Department up to 15 working days to process home tuition applications. The vast majority of applications made during the summer have been processed. The Department is prioritising the processing of a small number Home Tuition applications with a view to processing completed applications within a shorter timeframe.

By its nature, the grant is intended to be a short term intervention until the a school placement is available. Home Tutors are engaged by the parents/guardian of the child who is to receive tuition. Home tutors do not have a contractual relationship with the Department.

Third Level Funding

Ceisteanna (165)

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Ceist:

165. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Education and Skills the estimated full-year cost of increasing funding to third level institutions by 1%. [38561/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

The 2019 Allocation of recurrent exchequer funding to the Higher Education Authority (HEA) designated institutions and the directly funded higher education institutions is in the order of €1 billion. To increase this allocation by 1% would incur a full-year cost in the order of €10million.

Student Grant Scheme Expenditure

Ceisteanna (166)

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Ceist:

166. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Education and Skills the estimated full-year cost of restoring the non-adjacent SUSI grant level from 24 km to 30 km, 35 km and 40 km, in tabular form. [38562/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

SUSI does not collate data in the format request by the Deputy. Therefore, it is not possible to cost the increase in the non-adjacent distance criterion from 24km to 30km, 35km and 40km.

However, the cost of reversing the change to the distance criteria from 24km to 45km for the student grant is estimated to be in the region of €26m.

The above costing assumes that a change to the distance criterion would result in a similar percentage of students qualifying for the higher non-adjacent grant support, as existed pre Budget 2011.

Student Grant Scheme Expenditure

Ceisteanna (167)

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Ceist:

167. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Education and Skills the estimated full-year cost of restoring the SUSI grant scheme to pre-2011 levels. [38563/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

It is not possible to definitively estimate the full year cost of restoring the SUSI grant scheme to pre-2011 levels.

To put it in context, in 2010/11 there were 71,532 students who benefitted from grant support at a cost of €355m, whereas in 2018/19 there were 74,557 students in receipt of grant support at a cost of €363m.

In the intervening years we have centralised the student grant scheme (replacing four separate schemes and sixty six awarding authorities with one scheme administered by a centralised awarding authority), had a complete turnover of students, income levels have changed and numerous changes have been made to the annual schemes which affect eligibility criteria.

However, it is estimated that it would cost in the region of €100m to reverse all of the adjustments that have been made to the student grant scheme since 2011.

School Catchment Areas

Ceisteanna (168)

Jack Chambers

Ceist:

168. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will include an area (details supplied) in the catchment area for the new secondary school for west Blanchardstown, Dublin 15; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38564/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

In order 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.

The school planning areas are used in the demographic exercise as a basis for the assessment of areas of growth and to inform recommendations on the establishment of any new schools required in that school planning area. There are no current plans to revise school planning areas.

As the Deputy will be aware, in April 2018, the Government announced plans for the establishment of 42 new schools over the next four years (2019 to 2022), including a new post-primary school to be established in 2020 to serve the Blanchardstown_West_Dublin15 and BlanchardstownVge_Dublin15 school planning areas as a regional solution.

A patronage process is run after it has been decided, based on demographic analysis, that a new school is required. This patronage process is open to all patron bodies and prospective patrons. The application process for patrons to run this school has been completed.

Parental preferences for each patron, from parents of children who reside in the school planning areas concerned, together with the extent of diversity currently available in these areas, are key to decisions in relation to the outcome of this process.

New schools established since 2011 to meet demographic demand are required, in the first instance, to prioritise pupil applications from within the designated school planning area(s) which the school was established to serve. This does not preclude schools from enrolling pupils from outside of the designated school planning area where they have sufficient places.

For school planning purposes, Waterville is located in the adjacent Mulhuddart_Tyrrelstown_D15 school planning area. As the Deputy may be aware, a new 1,000 pupil post-primary school was established in 2014 to serve the Mulhuddart_Tyrrelstown_D15 school planning area and had just over 600 pupils enrolled in the 2018/19 school year.

While the recent announcement did not include a new post-primary school for the Mulhuddart_Tyrrelstown_D15 school planning area, the requirement for new schools will be kept under on-going review and in particular will have regard for the increased rollout 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 in order to meet the needs of the local population.

Teaching Council of Ireland

Ceisteanna (169)

Brendan Griffin

Ceist:

169. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Education and Skills the reason it takes a minimum of 12 weeks and in some cases even longer for a teacher to register with the Teaching Council in view of the fact its counterpart in Scotland only takes ten days; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38585/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

Under the Teaching Council Acts 2001-2015 the Teaching Council is the body with statutory authority and responsibility for the regulation of the teaching profession in Ireland including the registration of teachers in the State.

It is a function of the Council under the Teaching Council Acts (s7(2)) to act as the competent authority for the recognition of qualifications obtained by a person who has applied under this Act for registration as a teacher.

Teachers whose applications meet all the necessary requirements are registered under Section 31 of the Teaching Council Act and the Teaching Council (Registration) Regulations 2016.

For teachers who qualified within Ireland, the registration process may take up to 6-8 weeks from receipt of complete application and depending on the time of year (taking into account peak summer processing periods). If all requirements are met, including garda vetting, and fit and proper person requirements, the registration process may be completed in less than the 6-8 week timeframe outlined.

The Teaching Council contacts students in the final year of programmes of initial teacher education in higher education institutions to offer them a fast track registration process upon receipt of their final results.

Where a person has obtained their teaching qualifications in another Member State of the EU, Directive 2005/36/EC, as amended, applies. This Directive governs the recognition of professional qualifications across Member States. Where a person has obtained their teaching qualifications and is eligible to practice the profession in another Member State, they may apply to the Teaching Council to seek recognition of their qualifications in accordance with the provisions of the Directive. Assessment of qualifications to determine that they are comparable to accredited qualifications in Ireland may take approximately twelve weeks from the date of receipt of all requested documentation, in accordance with the EU Directive timelines. Applicants must also meet standard registration requirements in relation to character reference, garda vetting and overseas police clearances.

The Teaching Council has advised me that where a complete application is submitted and fit and proper person requirements including garda vetting/police clearance are met registration is often completed faster than the standard registration timelines set out above.

Pyrite Issues

Ceisteanna (170)

Jack Chambers

Ceist:

170. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Minister for Education and Skills the status of the situation at a school (details supplied) affected by pyrite; if his attention has been drawn to the many issues this is causing pupils and staff at the school; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38605/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

The Department is fully aware of the pyrite issue in this school and the health and safety issues to which it gives rise. These issues are being dealt with under my Department's Emergency Works Scheme. In that context, approval was given recently for works to take place under that scheme.

At the same time, the school is progressing with its application for works under the Additional Accommodation Scheme. Officials in my Department have been in contact with it recently in that respect.

The Department will continue to assist the school under both schemes with a view to alleviating the concerns raised by the Deputy.

Social Insurance Payments

Ceisteanna (171)

Brendan Griffin

Ceist:

171. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will address a matter (details supplied) regarding social insurance contributions for a person in County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38643/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

I am pleased to inform the Deputy that the matter referred to by him has been resolved. The information available in my Department has been forwarded to the Department of Employment Affairs & Social Protection.

There are 120,000 teaching and non teaching and retired staff paid on a fortnightly basis on payrolls operated by my Department. There are up to 20,000 changes to the payrolls for the commencement of the new school year. This consists of retirements, resignations, career breaks, job-sharing, new appointments, increases / decreases in teaching hours, temporary contracts, secondments, award of Contracts of Indefinite Duration, re-deployments, and pension payment set ups.

Accordingly, at this time of year the priority of my Department is to ensure that all staff being appointed to schools and those retiring are paid salary or pension as soon as possible.

Teachers' Remuneration

Ceisteanna (172)

Thomas Byrne

Ceist:

172. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Skills the reason for further delays to the payment of teachers in September 2019; the nature of the delays; the actions being taken to address this issue; if the problem that has occurred is the same problem that arose in January 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38645/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

There are no unnecessary delays to the payment of teachers on payrolls operated by my Department this September.

There are 120,000 payees paid on a fortnightly basis. The process for the payment of an individual teacher is that where a contract is awarded by the managerial authority of a school, application forms are submitted to my Department to enable payment to be set up.

The application form must confirm that a teacher is qualified for the appropriate sector and confirm their registration details with the Teaching Council. Details of bank accounts, pension status and other requested information must also be submitted. Once a completed application form is received, the payment will be processed as soon as possible. Normally, payroll closing dates are 10 days ahead of payment date. Where an application form is not complete or where there are queries on some aspect of the application, the forms will be returned to the schools which can result in a delay to payment being set up for a teacher. Where a teacher's registration is not active with the Teaching Council, payment can not be made for the period that a person is unregistered.

Where a teacher is working on a casual / non-casual basis, school authorities enter details of the employee and the claim for payment into the online claims system and these will transfer to the Department’s payroll and be paid according to the payroll schedules. Schools authorities have details of payroll closing dates. These payments cannot be processed until they are signed off by the school authorities. If the deadline for payrolls is missed, payments will not be made until the following payroll date.

During July and August, there are up to 20,000 changes to the payrolls operated by my Department. This consists of retirements, resignations, career breaks, job-sharing, new appointments, increases / decreases in teaching hours, temporary contracts, secondments, award of Contract of Indefinite Duration, re-deployments, and pension payment set ups. All appointments and changes are dealt with in chronological order. It is my Department’s policy to set up as many teachers as possible for the first payroll of the new school year but not all payments can be guaranteed as details may not be received in time to enable payment to be made or applications received may be incomplete, and may have to be returned to the managerial authority for completion.

Once a contracted teacher is set up on payroll, their payment will continue until the end of the contract. Teachers’ working on a casual / non-casual basis will be paid on the next scheduled payroll after the details have been submitted and signed off by the school.

Teachers' Remuneration

Ceisteanna (173)

Thomas Byrne

Ceist:

173. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he is satisfied that his Department and the Revenue Commissioners have resolved technical issues that led to the non-payment of teachers in January 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38646/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

I wish to clarify for the Deputy that all teachers were paid in January 2019.

An issue arose at that time in relation to incorrect amounts of income tax being deducted from substitute and part- time teachers. This arose as incorrect end dates were included in payroll submissions reported to Revenue under the changes introduced by the modernization of PAYE. The inclusion of these end-dates in the Departments' submissions automatically ceased the DES employment of those concerned in Revenue records and resulted in their available tax credits being made available to other employments. When the Department next requested updated Revenue Payroll Notifications for those impacted, Revenue had already ceased the employments and transferred tax credits leaving no tax credits or cut offs available for their continuing employments by the Department

The payroll software was amended for payrolls after the 17th January 2019 to prevent an end date transferring to Revenue. This resolved the problem and refunds of tax were issued to the people involved.

Staff of my Department actively engaged with the Revenue Commissioners to address the problem at the time. They have liaised with during the year and continue to liaise with the Revenue Commissioners to ensure that no further issues will arise to prevent correct RPN details being applied.

Ministerial Meetings

Ceisteanna (174)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

174. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will respond to and meet a group (details supplied). [38647/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has a statutory function to plan and co-ordinate the provision of education and support services to children with special educational needs in consultation with the relevant stakeholders and the HSE.

This includes the establishment of special class and special school placements in various geographical areas where the NCSE identifies need.

The NCSE works with my Department and with families and schools to ensure that advance planning is in place so that schools can, between them, cater for all children who have been identified as needing specialised placements.

To this end, the NCSE through its national network of Special Educational Needs officers (SENOs) has established structures to engage with relevant stakeholders, including Parents groups. I understand that there has been engagement with this Group already. If there are outstanding matters, then it is suggested that these are best raised with the NCSE directly who have operational responsibility for advising on provision.

I will refer the request to the NCSE so that the council can engage directly with the group referenced by the Deputy at local level.

Schools Site Acquisitions

Ceisteanna (175)

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

175. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Education and Skills the status of the negotiations to secure a permanent site for two secondary schools (details supplied). [38720/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

Agreement in principle has been reached with a landowner for the acquisition of a site at Donaghcumper, Celbridge. There are technical considerations crucial to the delivery of the site and my Department continues to engage with the landowner and Kildare County Council on these issues in order to enable architectural planning to commence.

I can assure the Deputy that it is a priority for my Department to commence the architectural planning process for this site at the earliest possible stage. For the time being, given the commercially sensitive nature of site acquisitions in general, I am unable to elaborate further.

Industrial Relations

Ceisteanna (176)

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

176. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Education and Skills the steps he has taken to avoid industrial action by members of a union (details supplied); if further talks are scheduled; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38721/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

I recognise the very important work done by these staff, and the other support staff in the running of our schools. I have spoken to a number of school secretaries about their employment conditions and understand the issues they have raised.

Earlier this year I relaxed the moratorium for those C&C and ETB schools with enrolments of 700 and more which allow them to employ additional school secretaries up to a maximum of two per school. There are 91 schools in the C&C and ETB Sector who meet this criteria, based on the information currently available to this Department. This is an initial step and has taken immediate effect.

Schemes were initiated in 1978 and 1979 for the employment of clerical officers and caretakers in schools. The schemes were withdrawn completely in 2008. These schemes have been superseded by the more extensive capitation grant schemes. The current grant scheme was agreed in the context of the Programme for Economic and Social Progress, published in 1991.

The majority of primary and voluntary secondary schools now receive assistance to provide for secretarial, caretaking and cleaning services under these grant schemes. It is a matter for each individual school to decide how best to apply the grant funding to suit its particular needs. Where a school uses the grant funding for caretaking or secretarial purposes, any staff taken on to support those functions are employees of individual schools. Specific responsibility for the pay and conditions rests with the school.

On foot of a Chairman’s Note to the Lansdowne Road Agreement, my Department engaged with the Unions representing school secretaries and caretakers, including through an independent arbitration process in 2015. The Arbitrator recommended a cumulative pay increase of 10% between 2016 and 2019 for staff and that a minimum hourly pay rate of €13 be phased in over that period. This arbitration agreement covers the period up to 31 December 2019.

The arbitration agreement was designed to be of greatest benefit to lower-paid secretaries and caretakers. For example, a secretary or caretaker who was paid the then minimum wage of €8.65 per hour in 2015 prior to the arbitration has from 1 January 2019, been paid €13 per hour which is a 50% increase in that individual’s hourly pay.

Officials from my Department attended a meeting of the Joint Committee on Education and Skills on the 9th of April to discuss the status of non-teaching staff.

In May this year officials from my Department had discussions with FÓRSA trade union representatives as part of a planned meeting. FÓRSA took the opportunity to formally table a pay claim.

This was tabled as a follow-on claim from the current pay agreement for this cohort of staff which lasts until December 2019. The Department issued surveys on the 10th of July to establish the full current cost of the trade union’s claim. This is standard practice.

FÓRSA's claim will be fully considered once the current costings have been determined on completion of the survey analysis.

Officials from my Department met with FÓRSA representatives last week. Management Bodies representing the employers of schools impacted by the action were also in attendance at the meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to further explore the details of the pay claim as presented by FÓRSA and the nature of the industrial action.

In these circumstances the industrial action by FÓRSA members is considered premature, not least because the period of the current arbitration agreement has not expired. My officials are fully open to having further dialogue with FÓRSA once the survey work has been undertaken.

School Transport Appeals

Ceisteanna (177)

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

177. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Education and Skills the position regarding a Bus Éireann appeal (details supplied); if he will review the response from the transport provider; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38739/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

School Transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department. In the 2018/2019 school year over 117,500 children, including over 13,000 children with special educational needs, were transported in over 5,000 vehicles on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country covering over 100 million kilometres at a cost of over €200m in 2018.

The purpose of the School Transport Scheme is, having regard to available resources, to support the transport to and from school of children who reside remote from their nearest school. Children are generally eligible for school transport if they satisfy the distance criteria and are attending their nearest school as determined by the Department/Bus Éireann, having regard to ethos and language.

The School Transport Appeals Board, which is independent of my Department, determines appeals against decisions made by, or on behalf of, the Department of Education and Skills regarding the provision of school transport services and/or grant-aid under the terms of the School Transport Schemes.

An appeal was lodged with the School Transport Appeals Board on the 28th August 2019 in relation to the case referred to by the Deputy. The Board has requested School Transport Section to provide a report in accordance with the terms of the Board’s Operating Procedures. When received, the Board will liaise directly with the family regarding the appeal date and their subsequent deliberations.

Schools Building Projects Status

Ceisteanna (178)

Mary Lou McDonald

Ceist:

178. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Education and Skills the status of the proposed major building project at a school (details supplied). [38740/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

A building project for the school referred to by the Deputy is included in my Department’s Construction Programme which is being delivered under the National Development Plan.

This building project will provide a 16-classroom school on the site. A new Design Team had to be appointed as the original brief was for 8 classrooms, but was increased due to greater enrolments.

My Department recently gave approval to the School and Design Team to progress to Stage 2B of Architectural Planning – Detailed Design Stage which includes the applications for Planning Permission, Fire Certificate, Disability Access Certificate and the preparation of Tender Documents.