Tuesday, 22 June 2004
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Connolly: I thank the House for the opportunity to raise on the Adjournment the necessity for temporary teacher cover in instances where brief drops in pupil enrolment adversely affect educational standards.
I recently received representations regarding a two-teacher school at Knocknagrave, Tydavnet, County Monaghan. A school inspection to determine the number of pupils enrolled at the school was carried out on 30 September 2003. The number of pupils enrolled on that date determined the number of teachers allocated to the school the following September. However, the number of pupils enrolled at Knocknagrave national school at that time dropped below the two-teacher requirement for a period of eight school days. In mid-October 2003, 13 pupils were enrolled at the school, well in excess of that required for the allocation of two teachers the following September. The school principal has indicated that the number of pupils who attending the school in September 2004 would be 18, an indication of the growing number of pupils enrolling at the school.
A number of houses have recently been built in the area and planning permission is currently being sought for five more houses, an indication of a healthy future for that rural community. The board of management appealed the decision to remove one of its two teachers next September and had great faith in the process because they felt they had a good case. However, they were bitterly disappointed to discover the appeals board was sticking rigidly to the number of pupils enrolled on the particular day in 2003 when the number dipped below that required.
Many letters ensued between the Minister, the Department of Education and Science appeals board and the Taoiseach, all of whom stonewalled the school’s case. I am requesting that temporary cover be provided in cases such as that which arose at this school. The system should not be so rigid as to reject such appeals. The Department should consider that an additional 18 pupils are now enrolled at the school, bringing the number to that required for a second teacher. If a second permanent teacher cannot be allocated to the school the Department should provide a temporary or substitute teacher for the 12 months involved. Such a post could also provide a student studying for a higher diploma in education with necessary teaching experience. The teaching methods of such teachers are inspected three times a year. That would be a way of dealing with this issue. Removal of a teacher from the school will have devastating consequences.
On top of having to teach eight classes, the principal of the school is required to prepare children for first communion, confirmation and entrance examinations to secondary schools. She has to take care of sick children and may have to take injured children to hospital. She also has to do administrative work, meet parents, organise school trips, encourage sport and attend to the remedial needs of students in the school. It is impossible to expect any teacher to perform all these tasks. The Department of Education and Science is in such cases paying principals to be glorified babysitters, and that is not acceptable. I am sure I have outlined only some of the principal’s functions.
Some €175,000 was recently spent on Knocknagrave national school. Other national schools complain that there are too many children in their classrooms and that they have to teach in portakabins. Knocknagrave has a lot going for it. There will not be a single national school between Tyndavnet and Clogher, an area of 14 miles, if the current trend continues. I strongly urge the Minister to take on board my suggestion.
Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mary Coughlan): Ba mhaith liom mo leithscéal pearsanta a ghabháil don Teachta nach bhfuil an tAire féin anseo. Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis an Teachta as ucht an ócáid a thabhairt dom cur in iúl don Teach mar gheall ar chúrsaí ins an Roinn. Rith sé liom nuair a bhí mé ag éisteacht leis an Teachta go bhfuil a fhios agam faoin scoil a raibh sé ag caint fói dtaobh di. Bhí mé féin ag caint leis an phríomhoide agus chuir sé in iúl dom na deacrachtaí, pearsanta agus eile, atá aige.
I am aware of the school to which the Deputy refers. I have had occasion to speak with the príomhoide of the school who drew this matter to my attention and, I am sure, to the attention of all elected representatives in the constituency of Cavan-Monaghan.
The mainstream staffing of a primary school is determined by reference to the enrolment of the school on 30 September of the previous year. The number of mainstream posts is determined by reference to a staffing schedule which is finalised for a particular school year following discussions with the education partners. The staffing schedule is set out in a circular which issues from the Department of Education and Science to all primary school boards of management. Accordingly, all boards are aware of the staffing position for their school in any school year.
The staffing schedule for the coming school year, 2004-05, is outlined in the Department’s circular 03/04, which issued to all primary schools in April 2004 and is also available on the Department’s website. The allocation of additional teaching posts in recent years for children with special needs and improvements in the staffing schedule together with a decline in enrolments has helped to ensure that the overall pupil-teacher ratio in primary schools has improved substantially.
An independent appeals board on mainstream staffing allocations was established in August 2002 and commenced operation at the beginning of the 2002-03 school year. The purpose of the board is to allow for the independent consideration of appeals under certain criteria against the mainstream staffing schedule as issued to schools. The appeals board allows for equitable and transparent treatment of all primary schools and its decision is final. It is not open to the Minister for Education and Science or his Department to interfere in this process. Details of the criteria and application date for appeal were issued to all schools.
The staffing schedule is designed to cater for increases and decreases in enrolment. There is no provision for temporary teachers to be allocated in instances where brief drops in pupil enrolment occur. On the basis of the question asked, the reply does not refer to the school mentioned by the Deputy. I appreciate that additional children attended the school after 30 September, but unfortunately the permeation would not be such that it would be part of the emergency schedule. I have listened to what the Deputy had to say and will inform my colleague, the Minister for Education and Science, of the difficulties being experienced by the two-teacher school in north Monaghan. Perhaps this matter can be pressed further outside the realms of the floor of the House.
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