Wednesday, 30 April 1997
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to raise this important matter on the Adjournment. It concerns the need to appoint a remedial teacher to the primary schools in Bodyke, Broadford, O'Callaghan's Mills, Ogonnolloe, Kilbane and Tuamgraney. These are all rural schools with two or three teachers and, as is the case in every primary school, a number of their pupils require remedial teaching. That proportion  could be as high as 23 per cent but the average is 20 per cent.
The schools submitted an application to the Department of Education for the provision of a remedial teacher. They are not being very demanding in their request as they would appreciate the provision of one teacher for the six schools. These are rural, isolated schools which are within a reasonable distance of each other. Their pupils have no access to any remedial services in the surrounding area and they need some in-house help in the schools. I appeal to the Minister of State to recognise the needs of these children in rural areas, many of whom have limited means. Some parents are in a position to pay for after school remedial teaching, which costs about £10 an hour. However, most parents cannot afford to provide such a service on an extensive basis.
In view of the circumstances, particularly the rural isolation of these children, there is a very strong case for the provision of such a teacher. I implore the Minister of State to recognise the circumstances and to assess the application very positively with a view to appointing a teacher in the near future. The six schools are within a reasonable distance of each other and a teacher could commute between them.
The Minister of State will agree that children who do not get a proper primary education have very little chance of succeeding at second level, never mind proceeding to third level education. The least we owe our children, particularly those with special needs, is to provide the services which give them extra assistance so that they can proceed through their lives without any great difficulties. Unless corrective action is introduced at primary level by the provision of a remedial teacher to take care of the special needs which only become apparent at that stage, such children will have great difficulties at second level.
I think the Minister appreciates that, but while much great work has been done at first, second and third levels, we must never lose sight of the fact that every citizen is entitled to be taught the three Rs — reading, writing and arithmetic. We will not meet that target unless we provide special services for pupils who require such assistance in the form of a remedial teacher. I appeal to the Minister, in view of the circumstances of this application and the relatively minor demand which is being made, to seriously consider the provision of a remedial teacher for those schools.
Minister of State at the Department of Education (Mr. Currie): The Minister for Education is currently considering the possibility of making additional remedial teacher posts available to primary schools for the forthcoming school year. I can assure the Senator that the needs of the schools to which she referred will be taken into account as part of this process.
As has been indicated to the House in the past, remedial education at primary level is a matter in the first instance for the ordinary class teachers.  The majority of pupils with remedial needs would, therefore, be helped within the scope of the normal teaching service. However, it is acknowledged that remedial teachers constitute the main additional resource for addressing the problem of underachievement in primary schools.
Substantial additional resources have been allocated to this area in recent years. In 1995 an additional 55 remedial teachers were appointed to primary schools and 223 schools benefited from this allocation. This brought the total number of remedial teachers in place to 1,188. Of the 3,209 ordinary national schools throughout the country, approximately 2,285 now have the services of a remedial teacher, either on a full-time or shared basis.
At this stage 87 per cent of the pupils in our primary schools have the possibility of access to a remedial teacher. This is a big improvement on the position when the Minister for Education took office in 1993, when 77 per cent of pupils had the possibility of such access. It is a matter of regret to the Minister that it is not possible at present to meet the needs of all pupils for remedial teaching as, unfortunately, she does not have unlimited resources.
There are 122 ordinary national schools in County Clare. Some 63 of these schools, with an enrolment of 8,941 pupils on 30 September 1995, have the services of a remedial teacher, either on a full-time or shared basis, available to them. This includes five schools allocated a remedial service with effect from the commencement of the 1995-6 school year as part of the distribution of the 55 posts to which I referred earlier. These posts were allocated on the basis of priority of need, following the collection and analysis of information from the schools by the Department's primary inspectorate and also having consideration for data submitted by schools. This means that 73 per cent of pupils attending ordinary national schools in County Clare currently enjoy access to a remedial service.
It is important that such a substantial resource should be used to best effect and deployed in line with evolving need. The Minister considers it is now appropriate to carry out a review of all these posts to ensure they are being used in the most efficient and effective manner. Remedial teachers are allocated to schools to enable them to reduce the number of pupils who might have difficulties in learning literacy and mathematical skills and to support schools in teaching those who experience serious problems in acquiring these skills.
Research — for example, the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) English reading survey in 1993 — indicates that between 6.5 per cent and 9 per cent of pupils at 11 years of age, or fifth class, and at 14 years of age have serious learning problems in those areas. The focus of the remedial teachers' work should be on those pupils who have the greatest needs, both in terms of prevention and remediation.
 An initial survey carried out by the Department's inspectorate in 1995 has raised concerns that some pupils may be receiving remedial teaching who do not need it. This suggests there needs to be a much sharper focus on ensuring the service is targeted on those who need it most. The key target group would be the lowest functioning 10 per cent of pupils.
The survey has demonstrated there is a serious need to ensure the existing provision is correctly targeted. There is a need to place a much greater emphasis on preventative strategies in schools. There is a need to focus on early identification strategies and differentiated teaching.
The Department has commenced, in consultation with the education partners, a comprehensive remedial education study in 1997. The study will survey principal teachers and remedial teachers and will focus on the numbers of pupils attending remedial classes, the criteria for inclusion in and withdrawal from remedial classes, the organisation of remedial teaching in schools, the development and implementation of policy on remedial teaching in schools and record keeping and reporting. It will also review the instructional programmes of pupils in remedial classes, examine the progress made by pupils receiving remedial teaching and will analyse data on remedial education participation.
The Minister regards this study, which it is hoped to complete by the end of 1997, as an important step in basing future advances in the remedial service on up to date research, knowledge of how the current remedial provision operates and of what progress has been made by pupils. This research, to be conducted by the Education Research Centre in co-operation with the partners in education, will inform further advances in remedial provision in our schools.
As I indicated earlier, the Minister for Education is currently considering the possibility of making additional remedial teacher posts available to primary schools in the 1997-8 school year. The needs of the schools referred to by the Senator will receive every consideration.
Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: Would the Minister of State agree that it would be more appropriate for the Minister for Education to take a firm decision to make additional remedial teacher posts available rather than considering the possibility of making them available in the school year 1997-8? Does he agree that these schools are a deserving case?
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