I propose to take Questions Nos. 436, 442, 458 and 481 together.
I am acutely aware of the issues faced by many schools in respect of teacher allocations and class sizes. Primary schools are currently provided with class teachers on the basis of one teacher for every 26 pupils which is at its historically lowest level. Under the Programme for Government there is a commitment to seek to make further progress in reducing the pupil teacher ratios in primary schools and it is my intention to make progress on this in future budgets.
Since 2017, 1700 additional leadership posts have been invested in our primary schools which has led to 1 in 3 teachers now holding promoted positions. The Department has committed to revising the allocation of Posts of Responsibility to take into account retirements during the school year. This ensures that the current level of Posts of Responsibility are maintained in the school system.
The main capitation grant used for general running costs of schools has also increased in each of the last two budgets. I understand the need for improved capitation funding and I am pleased the combined increases given in Budgets 2019 and 2020 mean that circa 40% restoration has been achieved.
The financial package approved by Government to support schools recognises that COVID-19 poses significant challenges. The Government published the Roadmap for the Full Return to School, along with details of a financial package of over €375 million to support the implementation of the measures in the roadmap which included €10.2m in additional funding to support Principals and Deputy Principals who also undertake teaching duties in primary schools. This funding will provide each teaching principal with one release day per week, and release days for Deputy Principals in those schools that have an existing administrative principal.
The public service agreements have allowed a programme of pay restoration for public servants to start. The starting salary for a new entrant teacher in 2012 was €30,702. As a result of the programme of pay restoration, the starting salary of a teacher is now €36,953 and from 1 October 2020 onwards will be €37,692. Section 11 of the Public Service Pay and Pensions Act 2017 provides that “the Minister [for Public Expenditure and Reform] shall, within three months of the passing of this Act, prepare and lay before the Oireachtas a report on the cost of and a plan in dealing with pay equalisation for new entrants to the public service. The report laid before the Oireachtas on foot of this provision by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform assesses the cost of a further change which would provide a two scale point adjustment to new entrants recruited since 2011. The total cost of such an adjustment across the public sector is of the order of €200 million, of which Education accounts for €83 million. The report also acknowledges that, during the financial crisis, there were policy changes which affected remuneration in different occupations across the public sector (including education).
The matter of new entrant pay is a cross sectoral issue, not just an issue for the education sector alone. The Government supports the gradual, negotiated repeal of the FEMPI legislation, having due regard to the priority to improve public services and in recognition of the essential role played by public servants. On 24 September 2018, an agreement was reached between the Government and the public services committee of ICTU in respect of new entrant pay. This agreement is benefitting 16,000 teachers and nearly 5,000 SNAs within the education sector. The deal provides for a series of incremental jumps for new entrants. In accordance with the Public Service Stability Agreement, the Principal’s allowance was increased to its pre-FEMPI rate with effect from 1 October 2020.
I am fully aware that the teacher unions have outstanding issues of concern following the September 2018 agreement. These outstanding matters will be given full consideration in the context of the next round of pay talks. Regarding the competing demands for the next Budget, I must have regard to the level of resources which will be available to my Department, in the context of the continuing need for the Government to prudently manage the economy and the public finances and have regard to risks, including those associated with the COVID pandemic and Brexit.