Tuesday, 23 June 1998
Dáil Éireann Debate
21. Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the loss of teachers due to declining numbers of pupils is causing severe problems for schools designated as disadvantaged in maintaining the high levels of teaching support required by pupils; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14958/98]
General staffing levels in primary schools are determined by enrolments on 30 September of the previous school year. An agreement to this  effect was made between the Government and the INTO in the 1980s and this agreement has been fully and rigorously adhered to since then by successive Governments.
Schools with disadvantaged status are entitled to a staffing allocation which enables them to operate at a maximum class size of 29:1, based on the agreed approach to which I have referred. In the case of the junior classes in schools in the Breaking the Cycle pilot project, the maximum class size is 15:1. However, where declining enrolments are involved, the number of teacher posts required to operate within these limits may also decline.
Schools in disadvantaged areas may also be in receipt of ex-quota concessionary teacher posts in recognition of their disadvantaged status. A total of 294 such posts are currently in place in disadvantaged schools. Schools may also be in receipt of other special supports such as remedial or resource teachers or teaching counsellors. Where this is the case, there is no suggestion that any such posts will be withdrawn.
There is an arrangement in place whereby schools may contact the Department if their projected enrolments are set to increase for the forthcoming school year. In such situations, the Department will re-examine the schools' staffing needs based on the projected enrolments.
Mr. R. Bruton: What was meant by the statement in the Fianna Fáil election manifesto that the party would “improve the pupil teacher ratio by keeping in their schools the teachers who are freed up by falling numbers, thus continuing a policy we adopted in 1988”? What does it mean in the context of the current policy under which schools throughout the country are losing teachers? What does it mean in respect of disadvantaged schools? There are two such schools in the Taoiseach's constituency which I previously tried to draw to the Taoiseach's attention. Does the Minister not agree that in the case of schools such as the Model School or the school in Dorset Street, where up to 50 per cent of the junior infant class intake will come from refugee and asylum seeking families, it is wholly reprehensible of the Government to withdraw teachers?
Mr. Martin: It was understood by the partners in education before the election that the statement in the Fianna Fáil manifesto meant the retention of the demographic dividend. That policy commenced in 1988 as a result of an agreement between the partners in the context of the Programme for National Recovery and every successive Government has adopted it. Under this policy teaching posts that are freed up as a result of declining enrolments and falling population are kept within the system. That is what was meant by the statement in the manifesto.
Fianna Fáil gave the same commitment to the INTO when it had a meeting with that union before the general election. The INTO met every  political party prior to the election and its main concern was the retention of the demographic dividend. The reason for the union's concern was the fright it got last year from the outgoing Government during an ongoing row about the retention of the dividend, which was large last year. The result was an eleventh hour agreement prior to the teaching congress and before the general election which secured the dividend for that year. The INTO's priority was to ensure a commitment on this matter from all political parties. We gave such a commitment and it was recorded in the edition of Turascáil which was published prior to the election. All parties' views were given equal prominence in that publication so there could be no doubt about each party's commitment.
Mr. Martin: Posts are not being withdrawn, other than per the annual agreement. This year approximately 393 schools will lose posts. The net dividend is 190 as other schools will gain posts as their numbers increase. Last year 603 schools lost posts; in 1996, 341; and in 1995, 425. In relation to schools included in the Breaking the Cycle scheme, all schools in urban areas will have enough staff to provide junior classes at a maximum ratio of 15:1. What is unfortunate is that within the schools which have been identified not only is the population of third, fourth, fifth and sixth classes reducing but the population of the infant classes is slow to increase. We are prepared to look at a number of cases in respect of which representations have been made, particularly those involving refugees and where enrolments are projected to increase next September.
Mr. McCormack: The future of Teernakill national school, Maam, County Galway is under threat. Has the Minister had discussions with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Esat Digifone to encourage the abandonment of plans to erect a mast within 12 metres of the school which would lead to its closure?
Mr. Gregory: The question relates specifically to schools designated as disadvantaged. In recognition of the major social problems which cause heroin addiction task forces have been established in designated areas in Dublin. The Government has established a Cabinet subcommittee under the chairmanship of the Taoiseach to direct resources to these areas. A youth services fund of £30 million has also been established.
Mr. Gregory: At the same time the most critical resource available to children in these areas, namely, teachers, is being removed by the Department. Will the Minister stop this reduction in recognition of stated Government strategy and the major drugs problem in these areas?
Mr. Martin: I have no intention of being rail-roaded into giving commitments by propaganda or spindoctoring on this issue. The logic behind the Deputy's proposal is that teachers should be retained irrespective of how many turn up next September, even if the ratio falls to 5:1.
Mr. Martin: Approximately 90 schools did not receive an extra teacher following the granting of disadvantaged status in 1994, although they did receive extra capitation grants. I am not closing the door on the cases which have been identified, rather I am indicating the policy parameters. We are seeking to ensure that schools included in the Breaking the Cycle scheme will be able to provide junior infant classes at a maximum ratio of  15:1, and in schools designated as disadvantaged, 29:1. I will look at the position of the schools in areas where drug task forces have been established on a case by case basis.
Mr. R. Bruton: The reality is that not one extra teacher will be made available to the primary sector this year despite the Minister's commitment that every one teacher school and the 784 schools without a remedial service would be allocated extra teachers. No provision was made in the Estimates for the appointment of extra teachers.
Mr. Gregory: Given that these schools are located in the area which has the biggest heroin problem in the State will the Minister withdraw the directive which has been issued to put teachers on the panel?
Mr. Browne: (Carlow-Kilkenny): Does the Minister plan to review the guidelines governing the granting of disadvantaged status? In rural areas it is possible to find a boys' school which has been designated as disadvantaged whereas the girls' school has not. This is causing problems.
Mr. Martin: I intend to look at the guidelines as the scheme did no more than add one concessionary teacher to most of the schools included. There was no in-service provision and no overall strategy in terms of how the issue should be dealt with, particularly in rural areas. The report of the Combat Poverty Agency identified that the areas of greatest disadvantage were to be found in small rural communities with a population of less than 10,000. I am not endeavouring to undermine Deputy Gregory's good faith in terms of what he is trying to achieve for the schools in his area. The Deputy asked me to set up a new scheme. I will consider the points made by the Deputy and others in relation to the drug task force areas. However, it will involve an initiative.
Mr. Martin: I refer the Deputy to the IT 2000 initiative. This involves huge investment in primary education but the Deputy does not acknowledge this scheme. A cheque has been sent to every primary school to enable it provide a basic educational IT infrastructure. Up to 8,000 primary school teachers will be trained as a result of significant provisions for in-service programmes.
Mr. Martin: There will be provision for one-teacher schools this year. The Government intends to live up to its commitments. Nobody said we would achieve everything in the first 12 months. The Government intends to be in office for the next four to five years.
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