Tuesday, 1 May 2012
Seanad Éireann Debate
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Cuirim céad fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Níl locht ar bith agam ar an Aire Stáit, ach os rud é go raibh an tAire Oideachais agus Scileanna anseo níos túisce, tá díomá orm nach raibh séábalta fanacht don díospóireacht seo. Táim ag ardú cás Scoil Náisiúnta Mhuire, an Tuairín agus tá a fhios agam go bhfuil eolas ag an Aire Stáit ar an scoil seo. Tá a fhios agam freisin go bhfuil gach duine ag léimneach suas agus anuas agus ag clamhsán faoi gach scoil atá ag cailleadh múinteora, ach sílim go bhfuil cás eisceachtúil sa chás seo. Chas mé le foireann na scoile maidin inné agus d’iarr siad orm é seo a ardú mar ábhar práinneach. Bhí 78 gasúr ar an rolla sa scoil i Meán Fómhair 2011. Suas go dtí an buiséad, bhí 76 gasúr ag teastáil, mar gur scoil Gaeltachta atá i gceist, leis an ceathrú múinteoir a choinneáil. Tá na huimhreacha sin athruithe anois, de bharr na hathruithe a thug an tAire isteach sa bhuiséad, go dtí 81. Tá beagáinín éiginnteacht faoi chéard atá ag tarlú sa chás seo mar rinne siad athchomharc ar an chinneadh a rinne an Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna go mbeadh siad ag cailleadh an ceathrú múinteoir. Beidh 83 dalta acu ar na rollaí, ach dúradh leo go dteastaíonn 85 dalta le haghaidh an ceathrú múinteoir a choinneáil. I gciorclán eile atá eisithe ag an Roinn, deirtear má tá scoil trí oide ann a bhfuil 83 dalta acu, tá siad i dteideal an ceathrú múinteoir a bheith acu. Tá beagáinín neamhchinnteacht ansin.
To clarify, I know the Minister is aware of the position at the school. The school will have 83 children on its roll. When the position was reviewed the school was told it would need 85 children, as opposed to 83, to retain the fourth teacher. Apparently, another circular states that if a three teacher school has 83 students it will be allowed a fourth teacher, therefore, how is it the school cannot be given leeway in this scenario? The figures show that in the following year the school will have 87 students. I understand the Minister has said that if there is a decline in population there must be a reduction in the number of teachers. This appears to be a temporary blip for one year. The numbers are increasing and the school can prove it. We ask the Minister to take the case on board. The numbers will increase to 87 students. If it was a three teacher school with 83 pupils, apparently the Department would allow a fourth teacher. As the school has been told it needs 85 pupils to keep the fourth teacher there appears to be an anomaly.
What is the criteria used in assessing the school? It appears to be based on numbers only. I argue that is against the ethos of the 20 year strategy for the Irish language which the Department has bought into and plays a significant part in its delivery. The strategy is about defending the teaching of Irish in Gaeltacht schools. We know there is an uphill battle on to keep Irish as a living language. The school is doing a good job in that respect and has a strong Irish language ethos. To lose a teacher at this stage would be detrimental to the school. The double whammy is that it would get the teacher back in the following year. The teacher who has worked for a number of years with the children with special educational needs would have to leave and all that expertise would be lost. A teacher would start from scratch next year. The school would also lose five hours of tacaíocht foghlama — learning support that is available to pupils.
I have raised this issue on a number of occasions in the Seanad and I know from the Minister’s response that if a pattern of continuous decline in pupil numbers can be seen over a number of years, he would cut the number of teachers. I accept his rationale, but I do not agree with it. He also said, however, that if the blip was temporary, he would give some leeway and look again at the situation. I appreciate that the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, will reply in a second, but may I request to meet the Minister to discuss this school? This is a very important issue. Not only will the school lose this post but as a result of the review of the DEIS schools and the reallocation of staff to urban areas, the school suffered the double whammy of losing part of the capitation grant again.
Deputy Ciarán Cannon: Táim ag tógail an ghnó an tráth seo thar ceann mo chomhghleacaí, an t-Aire Oideachais agus Scileanna, an Teachta Ruairí Quinn. I thank the Senator for giving me an opportunity to talk about the staffing appeals process for primary schools.
The key factor for determining the level of staffing resources provided at individual school level is the staffing schedule for the relevant school year and pupil enrolments on the previous 30 September. The staffing schedule for the 2012-13 school year was published on my Department’s website and includes an appeals mechanism for schools to submit an appeal under certain criteria to an independent appeals board. Details of the criteria for appeal are contained in my Department Staffing Circular 0007/2012.
As part of the new staffing arrangements my Department has expanded the existing appeals process so that it is accessible to the small primary schools that are losing a classroom post as a result of the budget measure. Such schools will not lose their classroom post if they are projecting increased enrolments in September 2012 that would be sufficient to allow them to retain their existing classroom posts over the longer term.
The school referred to by the Senator is in the Gaeltacht. It submitted an appeal to the staffing appeals board. All appeals submitted to the primary staffing appeals board were considered in accordance with the published appeals criteria. This was done at its meeting on 18 and 19 April. The appeal by the school referred to by the Senator was unsuccessful on the basis that the school did not meet the published appeal criteria. The board operates independently of the Department and its decision is final. However, the appeals board will review this decision if the school’s actual enrolment in September 2012 increases to the required level.
A total of 367 schools submitted appeals to the appeals board of which 205 schools had their appeals upheld by the staffing appeals board. A summary outcome of the appeals is now published on my Department’s website. Individual schools have been notified of the outcome of their appeals. The next meeting of staffing appeals board is due to be held on 14 June 2012. The latest date for other schools to submit appeals is 1 June 2012.
The final staffing position for all schools will ultimately not be known until the autumn. At that stage the allocation process will be fully completed and all appeals to the staffing appeals board will have been considered.
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Tá. Níl aon ghlacadh agam le freagra an Aire Stáit, i ndáirire. Tá an pointe a rinne mé fós ag seasamh. Tá titim bliana, beirt dhaltaí, i gceist i gcás scoil an Tuairin. Tá na figiúirí ag ardú agus níl a fhios agam ar tógadh sin san áireamh.
I do not know if the appeals board took into consideration that although there will be an increase in enrolment, it is not up to the figure of 83, which is needed, but in the following year they will have 87 pupils. I appeal to the Minister of State to discuss this and arrange for the local elected representatives and a number of representatives to meet the Minister for Education and Skills. What will be lost is the expertise of the teacher who has been working with the children with special needs for the past number of years, yet the post will be re-advertised in the following year. That would be a significant blow to the school. I appeal to the Minister of State to see if there is anyway this can be reconsidered before September
Deputy Ciarán Cannon: As the Senator is aware, the new addition to the appeals process, whereby small rural schools could make the case to retain a teacher arose as a result of a significant discussion with rural representatives from both the Fine Gael and Labour parties, who asked for such an appeals process to be put in place. I am pleased that it has been put in place and that 205 from the 367 schools that submitted an appeal were successful in having that appeal upheld. The Minister rightly pointed out at the very beginning of the appeals process that it would be completely transparent and that schools making the appeal would have the criteria for the appeal published on the Department’s website so that everybody would be aware of the targets that had to be reached in order to be able to lodge a successful appeal. Unfortunately, at this point, the school in question has not reached that target. It may reach that target in the future and, if so, under the normal staffing allocation process, it will be entitled to have an extra teacher awarded to it. There is no flexibility either in the appeals system or in the normal teacher allocation process to be able to look forward a year or two years in advance and conclude that a new teacher or a teaching post would be required at that point and have that post put in place immediately. That has never been the case as that is not the way the system works.
Between now and September, the enrolment could be proven to be slightly higher than 83 pupils or over 85, as the Senator pointed out, which would give the school the flexibility to re-engage with the appeals board to make the case. If the enrolment figure of 85 pupils cannot be reached, there is no point in further engagement.
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