Questions Nos 1 to 11, inclusive, answered orally.

Questions Nos. 12 to 29, inclusive, resubmitted.

Questions Nos. 30 to 35, inclusive, answered orally.

National Council for Curriculum and Assessment

Questions Nos. 37 to 39, inclusive, answered orally.

Ceisteanna (36)

Thomas Pringle


36. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Education and Skills if the National Council for Curriculum Assessment has completed its second consultation on the issue of reforming sex education in schools; when its final report is due; the steps he is taking to counteract campaigns of misinformation regarding sex education reform here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47439/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

The most recent phase of consultation by the National Council for Curriculum Assessment on Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) closed on 26th October. This phase invited feedback on the NCCA's draft report on its review of RSE and, again, there was significant public engagement in this process.  The consultation took the form of an online survey, invitations to make written submissions, and a major seminar in Dublin Castle.

I understand that the feedback arising from the NCCA consultation will be incorporated into a draft final report which will be considered by the members of the Council at its December 2019 meeting. I expect to receive the NCCA's report shortly after this, and it will be carefully considered by my Department.   

I am aware of material that was circulated as part of a campaign of misinformation to spread misleading claims about what type of Relationships and Sex Education will be taught to young children in our schools. I have said publicly, and I repeat it here today, that these claims are untrue and also deeply unhelpful. They amount to malicious scaremongering. 

Under no circumstances will my Department impose a curriculum whereby young children are exposed to instruction or information in relation to sexual activity that is inappropriate to their age.

As Minister for Education and Skills, I am committed to ensuring that any RSE curriculum will be appropriate to the age and developmental stage of the children in our schools.

 It is vital that we provide future generations with an understanding of the importance of consent, the development of relationships, safe use of the internet and a healthy positive attitude to sexuality.

Questions Nos. 37 to 39, inclusive, answered orally.

Schools Building Projects Status

Ceisteanna (40)

Robert Troy


40. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Education and Skills the status of an application by a school (details supplied). [47235/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

The project referred to by the Deputy has been devolved to the National Development Finance Agency (NDFA) for delivery as part of a programme of school building projects.

The process for the appointment of a multi-disciplinary technical advisory framework for the programme commenced in August 2019 when a request for tenders (RFT) was issued.

There was a very positive response to this RFT. In that respect, I am pleased to inform the Deputy that the process of selection of applicants for this framework has now been completed.

The next steps involve the NDFA proceeding to the second phase of the appointment process which will involve a number of call-off competitions for bundles of projects from this framework. Thereafter, the NDFA will ensure that the project progresses to design stage, obtains the necessary statutory planning permission, and moves the project onward to tender and construction in due course. As the project is at an early stage in the delivery process, it is not possible at this time to give a date for its completion.

Please be assured that the NDFA will be engaging directly with the school authority to keep it informed of progress.

Schools Site Acquisitions

Questions Nos. 42 to 44, inclusive, answered orally.

Ceisteanna (41)

Bríd Smith


41. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Education and Skills if a review will be commissioned into proposals to retain a location (details supplied) for education facilities; if a feasibility study will be commissioned into siting an Educate Together facility and a Gaelscoil at another location; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47443/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

The property to which the Deputy refers, at which a primary school operated until it closed earlier this year, is not in my ownership, nor, according to Department records, does my Department hold any other legal interest, such as a charging lease, over the property.   In that context, the plans for the property are a matter for the owner. 

My Department is aware of a proposal to develop the former school property for residential purposes and has conducted an assessment into the potential impact that this proposal would have on education provision at primary and post-primary level within the area.  On foot of this assessment, my Department has written to the Local Authority to inform them of the school place requirements that would be generated by this proposed development.  

Regarding the Deputy’s query on siting two schools on a property referenced by the Deputy, I am taking this to mean that the Deputy is referring to the establishment of new schools in the area.  In this regard, my Department establishes new schools where a demographic need for a new school has been identified.  Where a new school is required to meet a demographic need, my Department runs a patronage process, open to all patron bodies and prospective patrons. 

As the Deputy will be aware, in April 2018, the Government announced plans for the establishment of 42 new schools over the next 4 years (2019 to 2022). This announcement follows nationwide, demographic exercises carried out by my Department into the future need for primary and post-primary schools across the country. In that regard, as part of the demographic exercises, my Department engages with each of the local authorities to obtain the up-to-date information on significant new residential development in each area, including the area to which the Deputy refers. While the announcement did not include a new school for the 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. 

This area was also one surveyed in 2013 as part of the patronage divesting process.  The outcome was that there was sufficient parental demand for a multi-denominational school.  My Department is continuing its efforts in relation to identifying a suitable solution under the patronage divesting process.

Questions Nos. 42 to 44, inclusive, answered orally.

Special Educational Needs Service Provision

Ceisteanna (45)

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire


45. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he is satisfied with the supports being given to children with additional needs in the Cork city area and in particular in mainstream classes, ASD units and special schools. [47494/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

The provision of education for children with special needs, including those with Autism, is an ongoing priority for Government. 

Currently, almost 20% of the total Education Vote or €1.9bn is invested in supporting children with special needs. 

Since 2011 investment in Special Education supports has increased by 50%, which is significantly above the 7% increase in total student numbers over the same period.

As a result the numbers of special education teachers, special needs assistants and special class and school places are at unprecedented levels.

The majority of children with Autism attend mainstream class, where they may access additional supports if required.

But some students may find it difficult to manage full-time placement in mainstream and so placement in a Special Class or Special School setting may be deemed appropriate where placement in mainstream class is not in the best interests of the child.

The NCSE has responsibility for coordinating and advising on the education provision for children nationwide and has well established structures in place for engaging with schools and parents.

Nationally, 167 new special classes opened this school year, which means there are 1,618 special classes in place, compared to 548 in 2011.

Of these 1,353 special classes cater for students diagnosed with ASD.

Provision in our 124 special schools has also increased from 6,848 placements in 2011 to 7,872 this year.

In Cork alone there are 195 special classes and 13 Special Schools providing specialist support to children with more complex special educational needs.

The NCSE has planned a further expansion of special class and school places in Cork for next year.

It is open to any school to make an application to the NCSE for the establishment of a specialised provision and where sanctioned, there is a range of supports including capital funding available to the school.

Normally, special class and school places 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 has faced challenges in getting schools and their Patrons to voluntarily agree to provide special class or school places. 

I know that this can cause 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. 

I would prefer to see schools volunteer to provide more places rather than places being secured on the back of an order or a direction from me. It is the right thing for the children in a community.

The local Special Education Needs Organisers in Cork are available to assist and advise to parents of children with special educational needs and identify available school places.

Schools Building Contractors

Ceisteanna (46)

Bernard Durkan


46. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Skills the timescale for the completion of remedial works in primary and second level schools nationwide in respect of which construction defects have been identified; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47498/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

I am pleased to inform the Deputy that significant progress has been made on the remediation programme for 40 schools in which structural and fire safety deficiencies have been  identified.

A substantial programme of remediation work took place during the summer months in relation to these 40 schools and plans are well advanced for the next phases of the programme.

Over the summer, permanent remediation work was carried out in 14 schools, which enabled the removal of precautionary measures from those schools in full.  Partial structural remediation was carried out in another school. Structural remediation work for another 6 schools is advancing since October.

Planned detailed structural investigations were carried out in 17 schools over the summer months also and, based on engineering advice, precautionary measures and other engineering solutions were put in place in parts of 13 of those schools before they reopened after the summer holidays. 

As well as this, a design solution has been devised for Ardgillan Community College.  The design phase for this work is progressing and the project will move to delivery when this is completed. 

The bulk of the remainder of the Schools Remediation Programme is scheduled to be undertaken on a phased basis over 2020 and 2021 and work is well underway in my Department to underpin this.  Details will continue to be communicated to the schools as my Department’s plans develop and progress. 

I want to acknowledge that remediation is a disruptive process for the schools involved and I want to thank all those connected with the affected schools for their continued patience and understanding as we roll out our plans to fix the problems that have emerged.

Schools, patrons, principals, teachers, students and parents should be assured that, since these issues were identified, safety is the number one priority for my Department and we are committed to remediating these schools to the highest possible standard.

Schools Building Projects Administration

Ceisteanna (47)

John Curran


47. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Education and Skills the priority he has given to the school building projects that are at stage 2B of the detailed architectural design phase for many years in order to progress such projects through to construction and delivery of the projects; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47268/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

Under the National Development Plan 2018-2027, my Department has an €8.8bn envelope for the delivery of the school building programme.

This facilitates a strong flow of projects to tender and construction under the school building programme.   Overall construction activity in 2018, 2019 and 2020 will deliver over 70,000 permanent school places.    

My Department regularly conducts reviews of the delivery programme and has a systematic approach to profiling projects to commence construction, facilitating funding drawdown on a scheduled basis.

Stage 2(b) Detailed Design is arguably the most complex and detailed of all the stages in Architectural Planning. In addition to securing the necessary statutory approvals it also includes the preparation of complex and detailed tender documents. In completing Stage 2(b), Design Teams are now required to upgrade design details to ensure that new school buildings are Near Zero Energy Buildings (NZEB) in compliance with the 2017 amendment to 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.

Other factors that can impact on progress during Stage 2B can include complicated or detailed planning applications, appeals to An Bord Pleanála, complications around decant arrangements, issues relating to the site and/or challenges to the Prequalification of Contractors process.

Through its structured approach in facilitating the progression of projects, my Department will ensure that the focus on the expeditious delivery of the school building programme continues in accordance with the terms and provisions of the NDP funding envelope.  The current status of projects being delivered is listed on a county by county basis on the Department's website and updated on a monthly basis to reflect progress through design, tender and construction.

DEIS Review

Ceisteanna (48)

Brendan Smith


48. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Education and Skills when the review of the eligibility of primary and post-primary schools for inclusion in the DEIS programme commenced; when the analysis will be completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47474/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

In the 2019/20 school year there are 891 schools in the DEIS Programme serving 185,000 pupils. This represents approx. 20% of the overall school population.  (691 primary (231 Urban Band 1; 104 Urban Band 2; 358 Rural) and 198 post primary. My Department will spend in the region of €125 million in 2019 on the DEIS programme.

As the Deputy is aware, following the review of DEIS, my Department introduced an objective, statistics based model for assessing which schools merited inclusion in the DEIS Programme. Following an initial application of this new methodology, 79 new schools were brought into the DEIS programme in 2017 with a further 30 being upgraded from Band 2 to Band 1 status.  These schools were assessed as having the highest levels of concentrated disadvantage.  

All schools at both Primary and Post Primary level are being assessed using this new methodology based on their enrolments from 2018/19 and the latest data available from Census 2016 under the HP Deprivation Index.  The accuracy of address data is vital to this process and an Eircode lookup function was added to the Primary and Post Primary Online Databases earlier this year to facilitate this.

Following a detailed analysis of the quality of the data, my Department is now in the final stages of further data analysis on the new identification model to allow for the development of a resource allocation model to match resources to identified need. This analysis is being carried out by members of the DEIS Technical Group which contains representatives of the Department’s Statistics and Social Inclusion Units, the Inspectorate and the Educational Research Centre. The work of this group is at an advanced stage and a consultation process with the relevant stakeholders will follow.  

I am confident that the culmination of this analysis will facilitate the ultimate aim of matching resources to identified need and will allow us to target extra resources at those schools most in need. Until this analysis is complete, it is not intended to extend the DEIS programme to any further schools.

Budget 2020

Ceisteanna (49)

Thomas Pringle


49. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Education and Skills his views in relation to concerns expressed by an organisation (details supplied) regarding the lack of sufficient funding provided in budget 2020 in view of the fact that in the first school year of the new decade class sizes in primary schools here will be the highest in the eurozone; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47437/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

Despite Budget 2020 being prepared in the context of a possible no deal Brexit and the Government's necessity to plan for the economic impact of such a possibility,  since May 2016 we have: 

- 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 staffing schedule at primary level twice which brought the position to a general average of 26 pupils to every 1 teacher the lowest ever allocation ratio at primary level.

- introduced a more favourable staffing schedule in more than 1350 small schools with four teachers or less from September 2020; this Budget 2020 measure of improved teacher staffing levels will see a more favourable pupil teacher ratio in small schools.  This improved schedule will apply in two, three and four teacher schools and ensure one less pupil is required to retain/recruit a teacher.

- 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 a further additional release day to all schools in September 2020 as a result of Budget 2020. 

- increased capitation by 5% in Budget 2019 and a further 2.5% in Budget 2020

- Increased the ancillary grant in primary schools by €22 per pupil 

I have taken steps in Budget 2020 to build on the steps taken in recent budgets to meet the goals set out in the Action Plan for Education. 

In the current school year, the numbers employed in our schools have reached their highest ever level at almost 71,000.

Teacher numbers at primary level have increased by almost 3,500 when comparing the 2015/16 school year with the current school year and this has led to a steady improvement in the pupil teacher ratio and average class size statistics during this period.

Substantial extra resources for primary education have being gained in the past three budgets and it is through the annual budgetary process each year and future budgets that further progress will be made.

Íocaíochtaí Deontas

Ceisteanna (50)

Éamon Ó Cuív


50. D'fhiafraigh Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív den Aire Oideachais agus Scileanna an bhfuil an deontas caipitíochta céanna á íoc le bunscoileanna lán-Ghaeilge Gaeltachta agus atá á íoc le bunscoileanna lán-Ghaeilge taobh amuigh den Ghaeltacht; mura bhfuil, cén fáth nach bhfuil; cén costas breise a bhainfeadh leis an deontas méadaithe a íoc le gach scoil sa Ghaeltacht;; agus an ndéanfaidh sé ráiteas ina thaobh. [47074/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

Íoctar ráta caighdeánach an deontais chaipitíochta, is é sin  €179 do gach dalta, le gach bunscoil seachas Gaelscoileanna atá lonnaithe lasmuigh de cheantair Ghaeltachta mar a mbíonn €23.00 sa bhreis ar an ngnáthráta deontais ar fáil do gach dalta. 

Tarlaíonn a leithéid chun spreagadh breise a thabhairt do chothú úsáid na Gaeilge i gceantair lasmuigh den Ghaeltacht. 

Is é an costas measta dá ndéanfaí an deontas breise a chur ar fáil do gach scoil sa Ghaeltacht ná thart ar €250,000.

Aithním na dúshláin uathúla atá roimh scoileanna Gaeltachta. Foilsíodh an Pholasaí don Oideachas Gaeltachta 2017-2022 in 2016 agus cuireadh an Scéim Aitheantais Scoileanna Gaeltachta i bhfeidhm in Aibreán 2017 chun dul i ngleic leis na dúshláin seo. Tá an pacáiste seo a leanas d’acmhainní breise á chur ar fáil do 105 scoileanna atá lonnaithe i limistéir pleanála teanga Gaeltachta agus a roghnaigh le bheith rannpháirteach sa Scéim Aitheantais: 

- fáil ar dheontas bliantúil €1,200 chun acmhainní teagaisc trí mheán na Gaeilge a cheannach (meastachán costais €160,800 do bhunscoileanna agus d’iar-bhunscoileanna sa Scéim in 2019)

uaireanta teagaisc do thacaíocht na Gaeilge bunaithe ar rollachan na scoile (meastachán costais €2.3m do bhunscoileanna agus d’iar-bhunscoileanna sa Scéim in 2019)

- forbairt ghairmiúil leanúnach bhreise á cur ar fáil ag COGG

- tacaíocht bhreise ón gCigireacht trí chuairteanna comhairleacha chun tacú le scoileanna a spriocanna a bhaint amach maidir le cur i bhfeidhm na gcritéar teanga-bhunaithe chun an tumoideachas a neartú

- Táscairí Dea-Chleachtais sa Tumoideachas: Dréacht-threoir do Bhunscoileanna Gaeltachta (2018): Tugann an Treoir seo tacaíocht phraiticiúil ar fáil do scoileanna sa Scéim chun an tumoideachas á chur i bhfeidhm.

Níl na hacmhainní breise seo ar fáil don 27 scoil sa Ghaeltacht a roghnaigh gan páirt a ghlacadh sa Scéim Aitheantais Scoileanna Gaeltachta go dtí seo.  Beidh deis eile ag na scoileanna seo páirt a ghlacadh sa Scéim Aitheantais Scoileanna Gaeltachta in Earrach 2020.