Questions Nos. 1 to 6, inclusive, answered orally.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio

Questions Nos. 8 to 13, inclusive, answered orally.

Ceisteanna (7)

Tony McLoughlin

Ceist:

7. Deputy Tony McLoughlin asked the Minister for Education and Skills the measures in budget 2020 which will contribute to a reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio in primary schools; the progress that has been made in previous years in reducing the pupil-teacher ratio; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42613/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

Budget 2020 has provided for a budget of more than €11 billion for the Department of Education and Skills in 2020. This is the highest ever allocation to the sector and an increase of nearly €2 billion since 2016. 

In relation to staffing in our schools we have, since May 2016:

- provided for an additional 3,000 SNAs and over 7,300 new teaching posts, with a further 1,000 SNA positions and 581 teaching posts for the 2020/21 school year as a result of Budget 2020.

- cut the pupil teacher ratio at primary level twice

- introduced a more favourable pupil teacher ratio in small schools from September 2020

- provided 1,300 new middle management positions at primary level (also 1,300 at post-primary level)

- increased significantly the number of release days allowed to “Teaching Principals” with one more additional release day in September 2020 as a result of Budget 2020. 

In the current school year, the number of teachers employed in our schools have reached the highest ever level. Teacher numbers at primary level have increased by almost 3,500 when comparing the 2015/16 school year with the current 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 a general average of 26 pupils to every 1 teacher, the lowest ever allocation ratio at primary level.   

The Budget 2020 measure of improved teacher staffing levels for schools with four teachers or less will see a more favourable pupil teacher ratio in small schools from September 2020.  This improved schedule will apply in two, three and four teacher schools and ensure one less pupil is required to retain/recruit a teacher.

Over 1,300 schools across the country with 4 teachers or less will feel the benefit of this improvement in the staffing schedule. 

The latest figures in relation to pupil teacher ratio show an improved ratio of teachers to students from 16:1 to 15.2:1 at primary level when comparing the 2015/16 school year to the 2018/19 school year.  Average class sizes at primary level improved from 24.9 to 24.3 in the same period.  It is expected that these ratios will further improve when the statistics for the 2019/20 school year are published at the end of the school year.

Questions Nos. 8 to 13, inclusive, answered orally.

Schools Building Projects Status

Question No. 15 answered orally.

Ceisteanna (14)

Charlie McConalogue

Ceist:

14. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Education and Skills the status of a development at a school (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41416/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

As Minister for Education and Skills and a T.D. for Donegal I am conscious of  this project and the efforts of the local community to help process this project. 

 As the Deputy is aware, the provision of a standalone extension project for the school to which he refers has been devolved for delivery to Donegal Education and Training Board (DETB).  He will also be aware that DETB, supported by my Department, has recently appointed a new architect to this project.

The new architect has recently provided a revised Stage 2A submission which is intended to address a number of issues with the initial design and provide for improved new building layouts. Officials from my Department are currently reviewing this submission and will work closely with DETB to ensure all oustanding issues are resolved as quickly as possible with a view to allowing the submission of a planning application shortly. 

The Deputy will also be aware that surveys to investigate issues with the school's main existing building were recently carried out. Officials are currently considering the recommendations of a consequential report that has recently been provided to my Department and will respond to DETB shortly in that respect.

Question No. 15 answered orally.

Schools Building Projects

Ceisteanna (16)

Bríd Smith

Ceist:

16. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Education and Skills the details of the planned programme for school building for 2020; if the capital spending programme will meet the demands expected in primary, secondary and third levels; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42577/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

Under Budget 2020, the allocation for my Department's School Buildings programme is broadly in line with the allocation for 2019.  In 2019 the allocation was €622m. The allocation envisaged for 2020 is €620m.

The allocation for schools will support circa 60 new school building projects going to construction in 2020 delivering in excess of 30,000 school places (permanent additional and replacement places).  This is in addition to in excess of 40 existing projects which are currently in construction and being progressed through 2020 delivering up to 25,000 school places.

I intend to make an announcement later in 2019 in relation to the details of the Summer Works Scheme programme for 2020.

The annual Minor Works Grant is paid to primary schools in either December or January of each year.  I intend to make an announcement later this year in relation to the precise payment date for the 2019/20 school year.

In relation to demands, my Department carries out nationwide demographic exercises to determine where additional school accommodation is needed at primary and post-primary level. 

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.

The Higher Education capital allocation in 2020 will support infrastructure investments to expand student places and upgrade existing infrastructure.  It is projected that at least 12 higher education building projects will be under construction in 2020 with support from the Department, with other projects moving through design and planning.

Teaching Contracts

Ceisteanna (17)

Pat Deering

Ceist:

17. Deputy Pat Deering asked the Minister for Education and Skills if teaching principals in small and medium schools will be supported in recognition of their administrative responsibilities. [42603/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

Since my appointment as Minister for Education and Skills I have met with a number of Teaching Principals and I appreciate the pressures they face.

Earlier in the year, I hosted a symposium on Small Schools which gave me an opportunity to restate the Government’s commitment to small schools and to open a dialogue with all the key stakeholders. The purpose of this work by the Department is to develop a policy proposal to help support and strengthen small primary schools throughout the country.

The work now underway in relation to small schools seeks to build on this in a sustainable way. Between now and next March, I will continue to engage with the main partners through the Primary Education Forum and my Department’s Small Schools Steering Group to develop a new policy of supports for small schools and feed into the Estimates process for 2021.

Budget 2020 is the third successive budget to provide for an increase in the number of principal release days.  One additional release day will be allocated to each school with a teaching principal with effect from 1 September 2020.  This will bring the number of release days to 19, 25 and 31, depending on the size of school.  This is an increase from 14, 18 and 22 days since 2015.  In addition, a further four additional release days are allocated to schools with special classes.

There are arrangements in place for schools to cluster their principal release days into a full-time post which will assist teaching principals to more effectively plan their release days for the benefit of the school.

In addition to the increase of release days, the Government lifted the moratorium on middle management posts in 2017.  In total almost 1300 leadership posts have been invested in our primary schools since 2017 which has led to 1 in 3 teachers now holding promoted positions.  My Department has committed to revising the number of available Posts of Responsibility to take account of retirements during the school year.  This ensures that the current level of Posts of Responsibilities are maintained in the school system.

Capital Expenditure Programme

Ceisteanna (18)

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Ceist:

18. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Education and Skills the projects likely to be impacted by recent cuts to the projected capital spend envisaged for his Department in 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42545/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

The Department’s capital budget for 2020 should be considered in the context of an increase of over 26% between 2018 and 2019 (€745m in 2018 rising to €941m in 2019). Also, the value achieved from the disposal by TU Dublin of its Kevin Street property, the sale of which closed in August, means that the Department no longer needs to set aside a significant funding envelope for the Grangegorman development in 2020.  The Kevin Street property sold for €140m which was about €60m above the guide price. This reduces pressure on the Department’s capital budget in 2020.

The allocation for my Department's School Buildings programme in 2020 is broadly in line with the allocation for 2019.  In 2019 the allocation was €622m. The allocation envisaged for 2020 is €620m. This €2m reduction will have no material impact on the school building programme.

Given these circumstances the impact of the changes to the capital budget is unlikely to impact to any significant extent on projects.

Schools Amalgamation

Ceisteanna (19)

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

19. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans to meet a deputation (details supplied) regarding the delivery of second level education in north-west County Cavan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42593/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

As the Deputy is aware the recommendation to amalgamate the schools in question has been accepted following detailed consideration of the proposal from Cavan Monaghan Education and Training Board, patron of both schools and the submissions received from the groups referred to by the Deputy.

The recommendation from the patron to amalgamate the existing schools into a new building, will now proceed and meetings with groups from either side of the debate would at this stage be of no benefit.

My Department does not involve itself in any negotiations or consultations as these are a matter for the school authorities to facilitate. The Patron advised that an invitation to consultation meetings was forwarded to the Boards of Management of both schools in question and to all representative groups identified in both communities.  In total, eleven groups were identified and meetings arranged between February and July 2019.  The Patron advised that the majority of the meetings proceeded and the majority views taken into consideration.  A small number of meetings were cancelled by the group/association concerned and did not proceed.

The two schools due to amalgamate will continue to operate from the existing school sites until a new school building is provided. It is envisaged that the construction phase for the new amalgamated school will be facilitated with investment available during the second half of the National Development Plan (NDP) 2018 to 2027. 

The new, amalgamated school will be built to the highest standards and will be compliant with Part L of the Building Regulations 2017.  It will also provide the opportunity for the school to have a fully equipped PE Hall facility with fitness suite together with provision of accommodation to meet special education needs in West Cavan at Port-Primary level.

School Staff

Ceisteanna (20)

Tony McLoughlin

Ceist:

20. Deputy Tony McLoughlin asked the Minister for Education and Skills the additional recruitment in schools which will take place as a result of budget 2020; the progress made in school recruitment since mid-2017; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42614/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

Budget 2020 provides the fourth successive year of major reinvestment in our education and training system as we continue to implement the Action Plan for Education, our plan to make Ireland’s education and training service the best in Europe by 2026.  In 2020, the budget for the Department of Education and Skills will increase by €360 million, a 3.4% increase on last year.  In total, the Education budget will have increased by almost €2 billion compared to 2016.

Over 580 additional teaching posts in schools will be funded to cater for children with special needs, growth in student population and reduced pupils teacher ratios in small schools with 4 teachers or less.  

In the current school year, the number of teachers employed in our schools has reached their highest ever level at almost 71,000. The number of teaching posts has increased by almost 5,100 when compared with the 2016/17 school year. 

Budget 2020 has also provided for 1,064 additional SNAs posts which will bring the total number of SNA posts in schools to over 17,000 in 2020.  SNA numbers have increased by almost 3,000 to 15,950 from June 2017 to present.

Oideachas Tríú Leibhéal

Ceisteanna (21)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Ceist:

21. D'fhiafraigh Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív den Aire Oideachais agus Scileanna an bhfuil sé i gceist aige deontas céad faoin gcéad a thabhairt isteach arís chun go gclúdófar an costas a bhaineann leis an tréimhse a chaitheann ábhair oidí sa Ghaeltacht mar chuid riachtanach dá gcúrsaí; agus an ndéanfaidh sé ráiteas ina thaobh. [42351/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

Rinneadh an cinneadh le deontais do shocrúcháin Ghaeltachta a stopadh le linn na géarchéime eacnamaíochta nuair a bhí gá, ar an drochuair, le cinntí an-deacair a dhéanamh chun airgead an náisiúin a chobhsú. Mar sin féin, thuig mé go maith an dúshlán atá ann do mhic léinn i dtaca le costas an tsocrúcháin.

Tá áthas orm, mar sin, go n-áirítear le Cáinfhaisnéis 2020 tiomantas chun an deontas Gaeltachta a chur ar ais do mhic léinn i gcláir oiliúna tosaigh múinteoirí atá maoinithe ag an Stát. Beidh feidhm leis an mbeart ón mbliain acadúil 2020/2021.

Bainfidh mic léinn fochéime agus mic léinn iarchéime araon tairbhe as an mbeart, a chosnóidh €1.8 milliún in aghaidh na bliana, meastar.

Tá an socrúchán Gaeltachta an-tábhachtach mar eispéireas tumtha Gaeilge do mhúinteoirí faoi oiliúint. Cuireann sé feabhas ar a gcumas cumarsáide sa Ghaeilge, i gcomhthéacs an róil a bheidh acu amach anseo mar mhúinteoirí Gaeilge agus ábhair eile trí Ghaeilge. Cuireann sé feabhas freisin ar a dtuiscint ar shaol agus cultúr sa Ghaeltacht agus ar an saol mar atá i bpobail dhátheangacha. Is chuige sin a chinn an Chomhairle Mhúinteoireachta go mbeadh an socrúchán riachtanach sa chaoi is go bhféadfadh na múinteoirí faoi oiliúint go léir ar leibhéal na bunscoile cáiliú.

Bainfidh thart ar 2,400 múinteoir faoi oiliúint tairbhe as an mbeart seo sa chéad bhliain.

The decision to stop the Gaeltacht placement grants was taken during the economic crisis when, unfortunately, very difficult decisions had to be made to stabilise the nation's finances.  However, I have been very much aware of the challenge for students around the cost of the placement.

I was very pleased therefore that Budget 2020 includes a commitment to restore the Gaeltacht grant for students in State-funded primary initial teacher education programmes.  The measure will take effect from the academic year 2020/2021.

 Both undergraduate and postgraduate students will benefit from the measure, which will cost an estimated €1.8 million annually.

 The Gaeltacht placement is really important as an immersive Irish language experience for student teachers. It is improves their communicative competence in Gaeilge, in the context of their future role as teachers of Irish and other subjects through Irish. It also enhances their understanding of life and culture in the Gaeltacht and the reality of life in bilingual communities.  That is why the Teaching Council has made the placement compulsory for all student teachers at primary to graduate.

 Approximately 2,400 student teachers will benefit from this measure in the first year.

State Examinations

Ceisteanna (22)

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

22. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd asked the Minister for Education and Skills the impact the bereavement supports introduced for the leaving certificate in summer 2019 have had to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42610/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

Earlier this year, I asked the State Examinations Commission to review the supports provided to Leaving Certificate and Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) students who suffer trauma or adversity around the time of the state examinations. The Commission operates the scheme of Reasonable Accommodations at the Certificate Examinations, known as the RACE scheme, to accommodate candidates who suffer bereavement, illness or other trauma, either immediately before or during the examinations.

In advance of the written examination in June, I requested the State Examinations Commission to introduce, on a pilot basis, an interim measure to assist Leaving Certificate students who suffered the bereavement of a close relative around the time of this year’s state examinations.

Under this measure, Leaving Certificate students who experienced the death of a close relative at examination time had the option to defer up to three days of their examinations to an alternative sitting.  The alternative examinations were held between Monday 8th and Friday 12th July and were attended by some 40 Leaving Certificate students.

This was an interim measure, pending a wider review by the SEC of the sensitive and complex issue of supporting Leaving Certificate candidates who suffer trauma and adversity at the time of the examinations.  The SEC is currently engaged in this wider review which will include consultation with a broad range of stakeholders, including school management and principals’ representatives, parents and, of course, students.

Schools Mental Health Strategies

Ceisteanna (23)

James Browne

Ceist:

23. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Education and Skills his views on the lack of access to counselling for second level students; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41410/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

My Department’s Wellbeing Policy and Framework for practice has given recognition to the importance of promoting wellbeing in education.  It outlines a comprehensive, whole-school approach to the promotion of wellbeing and positive mental health. It focuses on the whole school community, as well as groups and individual young people with identified needs.  Schools promote wellbeing through a range of activities and approaches to support the academic, physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual development of all children and young people.

Each post primary school currently receives an allocation in respect of guidance provision, calculated by reference to the approved enrolment.  Counselling is a key part of the role of the Guidance Counsellor, offered on an individual or group basis as part of a developmental learning process, at moments of personal crisis but also at key transition points. The Guidance Counsellor also provides a referral of students to external counselling agencies and professionals. The Guidance Counsellor is key in developing and implementing innovative approaches to wellbeing promotion on a whole schools basis though the school’s Guidance Plan. 

The National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) in my Department provides consultation for school staff who may have concerns about individual students. NEPS supports schools in putting interventions in place for individuals with identified difficulties.  Consultation in relation to appropriate therapeutic interventions delivered in the school setting is also available. 

When counselling or more specialised intervention is considered to be required, a referral is made to an outside agency.  NEPS supports schools with this onward referral to the HSE and other local mental health services.

Budget 2020

Ceisteanna (24)

Thomas Byrne

Ceist:

24. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Skills the reason for the reduction of the capital budget in budget 2020 for his Department. [42524/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

The Department’s capital budget for 2020 should be considered in the context of:

- the Department’s capital budget increasing by over 26% between 2018 and 2019 (€745m in 2018 rising to €941m in 2019) and

-  the value achieved from the disposal by TU Dublin of its Kevin Street property, the sale of which closed in August, means that the Department no longer needs to set aside a significant funding envelope for the Grangegorman development in 2020.  The Kevin Street property sold for €140m which was about €60m above the guide price. This reduces pressure on the Department’s capital budget in 2020.

- The allocation for the School Buildings programme is broadly in line with last year’s allocation.  In 2019, the allocation was €622m and the allocation envisaged for the School Building Programme in 2020 is €620m.  This is a difference of €2m (0.3% of a reduction). A €2m reduction will have no material impact on the delivery of the school building programme.

Capital planning and budgeting is undertaken on a multi-annual basis.  Under Project Ireland 2040, the education sector will receive a total of approximately €12 billion over the period 2018-2027.  This includes some €8.8 billion for the schools sector and €2.2 billion for higher education infrastructure. The specific allocations in each area are closely monitored and may be adjusted from year to year to take account of project progress and other factors.

Special Educational Needs Service Provision

Ceisteanna (25)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

25. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Education and Skills if children in ASD units receive follow-up assessments and checks to ensure their educational needs are met; the way in which this is monitored and reported; if separate funding is made available for same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42589/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

The decision to enrol is a child in a special class is made by Parent’s in conjunction with the child, school and relevant professionals.

This can be a difficult decision and Parents should have access to objective and comprehensive information about the options available and should actively consult with relevant professionals (e.g. school, psychologist, special educational needs organiser (SENO), health professionals) to arrive at an informed decision.

Schools must obtain parents’ written consent before enrolling a student in a special class.

As learning needs may change over time, a student’s enrolment in a special class should be kept under continual review by the school. At a minimum, a review should take place once a year and include a careful examination of the student’s progress in achieving his/her learning targets.

The review should consider:

- Student’s views and those of parents, teachers and other relevant professionals

- The suitability of the special class placement

- Whether the student’s needs might be best addressed in a mainstream setting or whether a more supported setting is required (e.g. special school setting).

Following a decision that the special class is no longer the most appropriate placement, a student may move to:

- a mainstream class in the same school or

- a mainstream class in a school more local to the student’s home or

- a different category of special class or

- a special school.

Where decision is taken to change a child’s educational setting the local SENO should be notified as early as possible. This will allow time for a transition plan to be developed and ensures that resources are in place to support the child upon enrolment.

School Curriculum

Ceisteanna (26)

Pat Deering

Ceist:

26. Deputy Pat Deering asked the Minister for Education and Skills the reason for his decision to give history special core status. [42604/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

In November of last year I asked the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) to carry out a review of the optional nature of history under the new Framework for Junior Cycle. I also asked the NCCA to identify how we can best promote the study of history in our schools. I received the NCCA's advisory report in July of this year and I am deeply grateful to the council for the work it has done.

I gave careful consideration to the NCCA report, which makes it clear that the new history specification under the Framework for Junior Cycle provides for a better way to teach and learn history than in the past. While I am aware that the subject is due be reviewed in two years' time, I am keen, however, to do something now to ensure that there is no reduction in the number of students studying history. This is why I recently announced that the subject of History is to be accorded special core status in the Junior Cycle curriculum.

I will be requesting the support of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment in working out how best this can be achieved. I am keen that arrangements providing for the special core status of the subject be in place for the start of the next school year, to apply to students starting their Junior Cycle at that time.

School Services Staff

Ceisteanna (27)

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

27. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Education and Skills if his attention has been drawn to the frustration of school secretaries at the delay in actions that would put their pay and conditions on a par with those of all other public servants; his views on the matter; and if he will work towards a speedy resolution that avoids potential industrial action at schools. [42353/19]

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.

In Budget 2020 I increased the number of secretaries in certain schools, allowing schools with enrolments of 500-625 to fill secretary vacancies provided they have fewer than 1.5 secretaries, and schools with enrolments of 626-699 will be permitted to fill vacancies provided they have fewer than two posts filled. These measures will take effect from September 2020. 

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 terms of employment 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 9 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.

Officials from the Department met with FÓRSA representatives in September. 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. 

On 30 September FÓRSA requested the Department to agree to use the services of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) to resolve the dispute.  As is normal practice the Department has agreed to use the industrial relations machinery of the state in an effort to resolve this matter.  

In order to address the various issues within the claim and to arrive at a mutually acceptable solution, the Department is in discussions with FÓRSA under the auspices of the WRC.

School Accommodation

Ceisteanna (28)

Bríd Smith

Ceist:

28. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans to address the number of primary and secondary schools using temporary premises for their schools; the checks that take place by his Department to ensure these temporary premises are fit for purpose; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42575/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

I wish to advise the Deputy that my Department is taking an integrated approach with the replacement of temporary accommodation as part of large-scale projects or as part of new projects approved under my Department’s Additional School Accommodation Scheme (ASA).  

In relation to the 43 new schools announced over the 4 year period 2019 to 2022, arrangements have or are being put in place for the provision of accommodation for these schools, which in some instances will initially start-up in interim accommodation pending the delivery of permanent accommodation solutions being put in place as part of my Department’s Design and Build Programme.  The interim accommodation provided to date for the schools which have opened in 2019 complies fully with the building regulations and all have received Building Control Amendment Regulations (BCAR) certification.   

Similarly where temporary accommodation is provided at an existing school this accommodation must also comply with all statuary approvals and obtain BCAR certification.

Small Schools

Ceisteanna (29)

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

29. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd asked the Minister for Education and Skills the efforts he is making to support small schools; the measures in budget 2020 which assist small schools; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42609/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

Rural schools make up the majority of our primary school sector: nearly 2,000 out of just over 3,100 schools. As such, I fully recognise their value to communities right across the country. They provide a vital link to local heritage and history, help sustain rural populations and often act as a link for sports and social activity.

The majority of rural schools (over 1,200) are classed as small - having 4 or fewer teachers. Whilst facing the challenges and opportunities that all schools do, this particular group of schools has specific challenges. I have been listening to our partners around this and discussing what we can do to support small schools and ensure that they have a sustainable future.

The Programme for Government makes a commitment not to close any small school without the consent of parents and I am honouring this partnership approach as I examine the issue.

I have spoken with international colleagues to hear their perspective and, together with my colleague Michael Ring, Minister for Rural and Community Development, hosted a Symposium on Small Schools. I want to actively engage with the people and organisations who work in and with small schools and who understand the value and opportunities they offer to their communities.

Already, we as a Government have shown that we are listening and I was pleased to announced additional supports in Budget 2020. This record level of investment in the sector is providing for an extra release day for teaching principals and improved teaching staffing levels for small schools. The work now underway in relation to small schools seeks to build on this in a sustainable way. Between now and next March, I will continue to engage with the main partners through the Primary Education Forum and my Department’s Small Schools Steering Group to develop a new policy of supports for small schools and feed into the Estimates process for 2021.

Further Education and Training Colleges

Ceisteanna (30)

Thomas Byrne

Ceist:

30. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Skills if works on permanent places for all colleges of further education have been ceased in 2019 pending the completion of a review; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42525/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

Project Ireland 2040 provides for a €300 million capital funding envelope for the Further Education and Training (FET) sector over the period 2018-2027.  This is the first time that a dedicated multi-annual capital envelope has been set out for the sector.

The development of a new FET strategy covering the period 2020-2024 is underway.  Consultation undertaken has identified capital infrastructure and investment as both a key barrier and potential critical enabler to the next phase of integrated FET development.  

Work is ongoing on setting a clear direction for capital investment within the FET strategy.  While no existing works or appraisal processes have been suspended, it is clear that proposals for the development of new FET facilities will need to be assessed within the context of overall FET strategic objectives, value for money considerations and levels of available capital funding.

Special Educational Needs Service Provision

Ceisteanna (31)

Thomas Byrne

Ceist:

31. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Skills the actions he is taking for September 2020 to address unmet demand for school places for children with special needs. [42527/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

The provision of education for children with special needs is an ongoing priority for Government.  Currently, we spend almost 20% of the total Education Vote of €1.9bn on supporting children with special needs.

The numbers of special classes, special education teachers and Special Needs Assistants are at unprecedented levels and so too is the number of children receiving support across the continuum that includes mainstream classes, special classes and schools. Our commitment is provide each child with an education in accordance with his/her need.

An additional 1,050 specialised places have been provided this school year, with 167 new special classes.  This brings the total number of special class places to over 9,700, almost a trebling provision since 2011. Over 80% of these are ASD special class places.

125 special schools also provide specialist education for students with complex special educational needs including ASD. These schools now provide over 8,000 places compared to 6,848 in 2011.

Budget 2020 provides for 1,064 additional SNA posts and 400 new special education teacher posts to ensure we are in a position to meet new need next year.

Details of all special classes for children with special educational needs including special classes for Autism are available by county on the NCSE website www.ncse.ie

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.

The Council has well established structures in place to plan and coordinate special education provision throughout the country.

Normally, special classes are established with the full cooperation of the schools in areas where they are required.

However there are some parts of the country where the Council faced challenges in getting schools and their Patrons to voluntarily agree to provide special class or school places.

I know that this has caused much anguish for parents and families involved.

As Minister I have a power under Section 37A of the Education Act 1998 to direct a school to provide additional provision where all reasonable efforts have failed.

The legislation was used for the first time back in April in respect of the Dublin 15 area.

We have made significant progress in a relatively short period with the opening 7 new special classes and a new Special School that will provide 88 places for children with special needs.

The new places will help these families and ensure that the children concerned have access to education.

The experience of Dublin 15 shows the real and practical challenges that can be addressed when opening new special classes and how we can resolve these challenges by working together and in partnership.

The NCSE is continuing its work at local level to ensure all children can access a suitable school placement for the forthcoming school year and beyond.

As Minister, I would much prefer that schools provide the necessary places for the children in their community.  Where this is not the case, however, I am prepared to use the legislation to ensure that children can access a suitable education.