Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 29 May 2013
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Social Protection
Pupil-Teacher Ratio in Gaeltacht Schools: Discussion
We will resume in public session. The topic we are discussing today is the impact on small rural Gaeltacht schools of recent changes in the pupil-teacher ratio. I welcome the representatives of Eagraíocht na Scoileanna Gaeltachta who will make a presentation to the committee on this important matter of ongoing concern. Their spokespersons today are Ms Treasa Ní Mhainín and Ms Anna Ní Chartúir. I also welcome the officials from the Department of Education and Skills who will advise us further on this issue. We are joined by Mr. Hubert Loftus, who is a principal officer in the schools division; Ms Josephine O'Connor, who is an assistant principal officer in the schools division; and Ms Treasa Kirk, who is a primary division inspector.
I wish to draw the witnesses' attention to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to this committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. I wish to advise the witnesses that the opening statements they have submitted to this committee will be published on the committee's website after this meeting. Members are also reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice I have just outlined. I invite Ms Treasa Ní Mhainín to make her opening remarks on behalf of Eagraíocht na Scoileanna Gaeltachta. I remind members that an English-language interpretation of this presentation is available.
Ms Treasa Ní Mhainín:
A Chathaoirligh, a Teachtaí Dála agus a Sheanadóirí, gabhaim buíochas libh as ucht an cuireadh anseo inniu chun cur i láthair a dhéanamh ar thionchar bhuiséad 2012 ar uimhreacha ceapacháin na múinteoirí ranga i mbunscoileanna beaga Gaeltachta. Ba mhaith liom a mheabhrú go bhfuil an cur i láthair seo as Gaeilge, mar a chuir Cathaoirleach an chomhchoiste in iúl. Tá leagan Béarla den chur i láthair faighte ag comhaltaí an choiste. Tá sé ar fáil ó leathanach 8 den cháipéis.
Ba mhian liom aird an choiste a dhíriú ar trí phointe ar leith inniu. Rachfaidh mé tríothu tapaidh go maith. Ní maith liom iomarca ama a chaitheamh leis an méid ata scríofa cheana féin. Tá sé i gceist agam labhairt faoi trí phointe: na dualgais reachtúla atá ar na scoileanna Gaeltachta faoin Acht Oideachais 1998, straitéis 20 bliain don Ghaeilge 2010-30 agus tionchar buiséid 2012 ar scoileanna beaga Gaeltachta.
Faoin Acht Oideachais 1998, tá dualgais reachtúla ar leith ar na scoileanna Gaeltachta nach bhfuil ar aon scoil eile sa tír. Caithfidh siad a chinntiú go maireann an Ghaeilge mar teanga na scoile agus mar teanga an phobail ina bhfuil an scoil lonnaithe. Tá cur síos ar leathanach 3 den leagan Gaeilge d'ár gcáipéis ar chuspóirí an Achta, leagtha amach i ndá mhír ar leith, a chuireann dualgais reachtúla ar na scoileanna Gaeltachta. De réir mír 6(i), caithfidh na scoileanna "cuidiú le réadú beartas agus cuspóirí náisiúnta i ndáil le leathadh an dátheangachais i sochaí na hÉireann agus go háirithe go mbainfí úsáid níos mó as an nGaeilge ar scoil agus sa phobal". Baineann an dualgas reachtúil seo le gach scoil sa tír. Tá míniú faoi leith leis an dualgas áirithe sin i gcomhthéacs na scoileanna Gaeltachta, áfach, ag glacadh san áireamh go mbíonn orthu déileáil le go leor beartais náisiúnta agus straitéisí, srl. De réir mír 6(j), a bhaineann go sonrach leis na scoileanna Gaeltachta, tá dualgas reachtúla orthu, faoi chuspóirí an Achta, "cuidiú leis an nGaeilge a choinneáil mar phríomhtheanga an phobail i limistéir Ghaeltachta". De réir mír 9(h), a bhaineann le feidhmeanna na scoile faoin Acht, "i gcás scoileanna atá lonnaithe i limistéar Gaeltachta [tá sé de dhualgas orthu] cuidiú leis an nGaeilge a choinneáil mar phríomhtheanga an phobail". Tá na dualgais reachtúla atá ar na scoileanna Gaeltachta i ndubh agus i mbán laistigh den Acht Oideachais 1998.
Bogfaidh mé ar aghaidh go dtí an straitéis 20 bliain don Ghaeilge. Go bunúsach, chun feidhm a thabhairt don straitéis, ní mór go gcuirfear na tacaíochtaí cuí ar fáil don chóras oideachais Ghaeltachta a chuirfidh ar chumas na scoileanna agus na bpáirtithe leasmhara eile sa chóras sin, a dheimhniú go mbeidh buanú na Gaeilge sa Ghaeltacht mar thoradh ar a gcuid gníomhaíochtaí oideachais. Chuige seo, molaimid gur cheart plean oideachais idirghabhálach chuimsitheach a dhréachtú don oideachas Gaeltachta ó réimse na réamhscolaíochta ar aghaidh go dtí an tríú leibhéal agus d'oiliúint mhúinteoirí. Tuigimid go bhfuil an coiste ard-leibhéal atá bunaithe faoin straitéis 20 bliain ag plé le ullmhú plean polasaí oideachais Gaeltachta faoi láthair. I ndáiríre, caithfear é seo a bhrostú ar aghaidh. Tiocfaidh mé ar ais chuige seo ag deireadh mo chuid cainte. Faoi láthair, faoin straitéis 20 bliain, tá plean teanga le hullmhú i ngach pobal Gaeltachta. Mar chuid den phlean teanga seo, táthar ag súil go mbeidh ról lárnach ag na scoileanna Gaeltachta laistigh de na pobail, agus ag glacadh san áireamh na dualgais reachtúla atá ar na scoileanna féin. Conas gur féidir le scoileanna páirt lárnach a ghlacadh in aon saghas pleanáil teanga nuair nach bhfuil treoir shoiléir le fáil ón Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna?
Bogfaidh mé ar aghaidh go dtí tionchar na harduithe a rinneadh ar na huimhreacha ceapacháin agus coimeádta do na scoileanna beaga Gaeltachta. Fógraíodh sa bhliain 2011 go raibh grúpa ardleibhéil chun tabhairt faoi athbhreithniú ar luach ar airgid na scoileanna beaga. Fáiltíodh go fíor-chroíflaithiúil roimh an athbhreithniú seo ag an am. Níl torthaí an VFM, mar a tugtar air, fós ar fáil. Níl tuairim againn cén luach ar airgid atáthar ag sábhail trí bhrú cónascadh a chur ar scoileanna beaga Gaeltachta. Fáiltímid go mór roimh an ráiteas a dhein Ard-Rúnaí na Roinne Oideachais agus Scileanna an tseachtain seo caite, go bhfuil athbhreithniú le déanamh ar an oideachas Gaeltachta i gcomhthéacs na cúinsí teangeolaíochta éagsúla. Is iontach go deo an rud go bhfuil an Roinn ag tabhairt faoin athbhreithniú seo. Níl a fhios againn go fóill céard iad na téarmaí tagartha a bheidh i gceist. Is dócha nach féidir linn aon bhreithiúnas a thabhairt ar cad go díreach a bheidh i gceist go dtí go mbeidh na téarmaí tagartha againn.
Is scoileanna Gaeltachta iad thart ar 4% de líon iomlán bunscoileanna na tíre seo. Tá 3,200 bunscoil sa tír ag an bpointe seo agus is scoileanna Gaeltachta iad 142 dóibh. Tá ceathrar oide nó níos lú ag 78% de na scoileanna Gaeltachta seo. Iarraim ar bhaill an choiste an staitistic sin a choimeád ina n-aigní. Ba mhaith liom dul ar ais go dtí na hardaithe a fógraíodh agus aird an choiste a dhíriú ar leathanach 15 and leathanach 16 den chur i láthair. Leagann an tábla ar leathanach 15 amach an sceideal ceapacháin a fógraíodh le haghaidh an scoilbhliain 2011-12. Tá mé ag díriú go háirithe ar na colúin sa tábla a bhaineann le scoileanna Gaeltachta le ceathrar oide nó níos lú. Is féidir na huimhreacha ceapacháin agus coimeádta - appointment and retention numbers - a fheiceáil. I gcás scoil le príomhoide agus múinteoir amháin, is é 12 an uimhir ceapacháin agus is é 12 an uimhir coimeádta. I gcás scoil le príomhoide agus beirt mhúinteoir, is é 49 an uimhir sa dá chás. Is gcás scoil le príomhoide agus triúr múinteoirí, is é 81 an uimhir ceapacháin agus is é 76 an uimhir coimeádta.
Tabharfaidh na comhaltaí faoi deara ar an gcolún deireanach, ar taobh na láimhe deise, go raibh buntáiste faoi leith ag scoileanna Gaeltachta roimhe seo. Má théann siad ar aghaidh go dtí leathanach 16, feicfidh siad na hathruithe a tháinig i bhfeidhm tar éis an buiséad a fhógraíodh i mí na Nollag 2011. Feictear ar an gcolún ar taobh na láimhe deise arís gur tháinig ardú de bheirt dhalta ar na huimhreacha a bhaineann le scoileanna le príomhoide agus múinteoir amháin agus scoileanna le príomhoide agus beirt mhúinteoir. I gcás scoileanna le príomhoide agus triúr múinteoirí, tháinig ardú de bheirt dhalta ar an uimhir ceapacháin agus ardú de seachtar páiste ar an uimhir coimeádta. Ní fios dúinn go dtí an lá atá inniu ann cén fáth a rinneadh an t-athrú ollmhór sin, tar éis seachtar páiste. Ní bhfuaireamar freagra sásúil go fóill. B'fhéidir go bhfaighimid inniu é - ní bheadh a fhios agat. I ndáiríre, cuireann na hathruithe sin isteach go mór ar go leor scoileanna Gaeltachta. Sa bhreis ar sin, tá sé leagtha amach ag bun an tábla go n-ardófar an uimhir sin go dtí 86 i gceann dhá bhliain eile. Ina iomlán, beidh ardú iomlán de ochtar páistí i gceist.
Níl sé sásúil gur tháinig árdú chomh mór sin - ceathrar oide - i bhfeidhm do na scoileanna. Níor glacadh san áireamh sa chinneadh seo - ó thaobh na hardaithe - go bhfuil suíomh éagsúil teangeolaíoch laistigh de gach limistéir Gaeltachta. Aithníodh na ceantair seo sa staidéar chuimsitheach teangeolaíoch. Tá na ceantair Gaeltachta éagsúla agus na catagóirí Gaeltachta soiléir ar an mapa ar leathanach 5 sa leagan Gaeilge d'ár gcáipéis. Tá an píosa is duibhe-----
Ms Treasa Ní Mhainín:
Críochnóidh mé go tapaidh mar sin. Léiríonn an léarscáil ar leathanach 5 na ceantair éagsúla Gaeltachta. Baineann catagóir A leis na háiteanna ina bhfuil os cionn 67% den phobal fós ag úsáid na Gaeilge ar bhonn laethúil. Is iad na pócaí is lú Gaeltachta atá i gceist i gcatagóir A. Is é catagóir C an catagóir is mó ar fad. Ta mé ag iarraidh a léiriú don choiste nach bhfuil fágtha ach 39 scoil i gcatagóir A sna Gaeltachtaí ar fud na tíre. Tá 12 scoil i gcatagóir B agus 82 scoil i gcatagóir C - na ceantair is laige Gaeltachta. Ba mhaith liom brú ar aghaidh agus trí moladh a chur faoi bhráid an chomhchoiste inniu. Táimid ag lorg bhur dtacaíocht i leith na moltaí.
Ar an gcéad dul síos, táimid ag moladh go ndéanfar cinneadh bhuiséid 2012 maidir le hardú uimhreacha ceapacháin múinteoirí do scoileanna bheaga Gaeltachta a aistarraingt láithreach chun a chinntiú nach bhfuil sé ag teacht salach ar mholtaí na straitéise 20 bliain don Ghaeilge agus go dtí go mbeidh plean oideachais Gaeltachta agus polasaí ullmhaithe ag leibhéal an Stáit, agus á ghlacadh san áireamh sa phleanáil teanga atá le déanamh i ngach ceantar Gaeltachta.
Ar an dara dul síos, ba mhaith linn go n-ullmhófar polasaí oideachais Ghaeltachta, a fheidhmeoidh mar threoir do scoileanna na Gaeltachta agus do na páirtithe leasmhara oideachais eile agus iad ag forfheidhmiú polasaí agus straitéis an Rialtais i leith na Gaeltachta, ar bhonn práinne.
Ar an tríú dul síos, i gcomhthéacs struchtúr oideachais don Ghaeltacht, táimid ag moladh go mbunófar bord nó údarás faoi leith a bheadh freagrach as pleanáil straitéiseach agus as forbairt inniúlachta an chórais oideachais Ghaeltachta i gcoitinne. Bheadh sé seo an-éasca le déanamh ó tharla go bhfuil COGG ann cheana féin agus obair an-mhaith ar siúl acu. Tá meas agus muinín ag na scoileanna Gaeltachta agus na gaelscoileanna ar fud na tíre ar COGG de bharr na hoibre iontach atá déanta acu ó bunaíodh iad roinnt blianta o shin. D’fheadfadh COGG feidhmiú mar údarás oideachais don Ghaeltacht agus don ghaelscolaíocht. Ní bheadh ag teastáil ach go mbeadh an Rialtas sásta na cumhachtaí breise sin a thabhairt dóibh agus acmhainní riachtanacha a chur ar fáil.
Críochnaíonn sé sin an méid atá le rá agam. Creidim go bhfuil focal nó dhó le rá ag Anna Ní Chartúir, más féidir.
We will resume now. I have been informed that the translation service was interrupted when the division bell started ringing to signal there was a vote in the Dáil. I understand Ms Ní Chartúir would like to say a few words before I call the officials from the Department.
Ms Anna Ní Chartúir:
Is cúis bhróid agus áthais dom bheith anseo os comhair an choiste chun cás a dhéanamh ar son scoileanna Gaeltachta. Tá mé mar mhúinteoir agus mar phríomhoide i gceann de na scoileanna seo. Sílim gur féidir liom a rá go bhfuil dea-thoil ag an tír seo don Ghaeilge.
Tá sé léirithe go minic ag baill an choiste go bhfuil dea-thoil acu don Ghaeilge freisin. Deireann siad linn é sna meáin agus ar an teilifís. Bhí sé sin an-soiléir nuair a fuair an straitéis 20 bliain don Ghaeilge tacaíocht traspháirtí. Bhí sé soiléir freisin sa taighde éagsúil a dhéanadh, mar shampla an staidéar cuimsitheach teangeolaíoch agus an tuarascáil ar staid reatha na scoileanna Gaeltachta. Tá a fhios againn go bhfuil dea-thoil ag an bpobal don Ghaeilge. Tá sé sin soiléir. Táimid ar fad ar an eolas faoi sin. Tá tráth na cinniúna buailte linn, áfach. Tá sé thar am againn anois beart a dhéanamh de réir ár mbriathar.
Tá mise anseo chun plé a dhéanamh leis an gcoiste faoin tionchar atá ag na ciorruithe a fógraíodh i mbuiséid 2011 ar scoileanna na Gaeltachta. Mar a luaigh Treasa Ní Mhainín níos luaithe, tá 142 bunscoil Gaeltachta ann as 3,200 bunscoil go náisiúnta. Táimid ag caint faoi na scoileanna is láidre ó thaobh na Gaeilge de sa tír ar fad. Tarlaíonn sé go bhfuil na scoileanna sin sna ceantair Gaeltachta. Is scoileanna náisiúnta iad - is figiúr náisiúnta atá ann. Cuireann an 142 scoil seo oideachais ar fáil, go huile agus go hiomlán trí mheán na Gaeilge, do na gasúir a thagann isteach an doras. Tá Gaeilge ón gcliabhán ag céatadán áirithe dóibh sin. I scoileanna atá i gcatagóir A, labhrann 70% den phobal an Ghaeilge go laethúil. I scoileanna atá i gcatagóir B, labhrann idir 44% agus 70% den phobal an Ghaeilge go laethúil. Tá scoileanna sa chatagóir ina labhrann níos lú ná 44% den phobal an Ghaeilge go laethúil. Is uirlis í an Ghaeilge do na daoine seo lena gcuid oideachais a fháil. Mairíonn siad saol beo beithíoch trí mheán na Gaeilge. Labhrann siad an Ghaeilge ar scoil ar maidin agus sa tráthnóna. Ní uirlis oideachais amháin atá sa Ghaeilge do na gasúir seo.
Faraoir, tá na ceantair Gaeltachta agus, dá réir, na scoileanna sna ceantair seo á mbánú le roinnt blianta anuas, go háirithe ó fógraíodh na ciorruithe seo i mbuiséad 2011. Ní cheart go ndéanfaimís dearmad go mbaineann tábhacht ar leith don Ghaeilge agus don náisiún leis na scoileanna sna ceantair seo. Táimid ag brath ar na scoileanna seo leis an nGaeilge a thabhairt don chéad glúin eile sa Ghaeltacht. Táimid ag brath orthu freisin le múinteoirí ar ardchaighdeán Ghaeilge a chur ar fáil do scoileanna na tíre. Gheobhaidh éinne a shiúlann isteach in aon ghaelscoil sa tír amach go bhfuil roinnt múinteoirí le cúlra Gaeltachta ag múineadh ann. Táimid ag brath ar bunscoileanna na Gaeltachta le daoine óga le ardchaighdéan oideachais trí mheán na Gaeilge a chur ar aghaidh go dí an tríú leibhéal ionas go mbeidh siad ar fáil faoi dheireadh i réimsí éagsúla den tsaol, ina measc an dlí, an leigheas, na meáin, an teilifís, an iriseoireacht agus an eacnamaíocht. Muna gcuireann scoileanna na Gaeltachta daoine leis an ardchaighdéan seo i nGaeilge ar fáil, ní bheidh siad ann. Cén toradh a bheidh aige sin ar an straitéis 20 bliain don Ghaeilge?
Níos mó ná riamh i stair na tíre seo, tá tábhacht ar leith ag baint le féiniúlacht agus mórtas cine a bheith againn, agus iad a bheith chun cinn sa saol polaitiúil agus sa saol poiblí. Tá ár dteanga náisiúnta - an Ghaeilge - fite fuaite leis sin agus tá sé thar a bheith tábhachtach go mbeadh. Cén toradh go díreach a bheidh ar chiorruithe an bhuiséad ar na scoileanna Gaeltachta? Go gearrthréimhseach, beidh scoileanna aon-oide le múinteoir amháin againn sna ceantair is láidre Gaeltachta - na ceantair ina labhrann 70% den phobal an Ghaeilge chuile lá. An bhfuil tuismitheoirí ag iarraidh go mbeidh a leanaí ag dul go dtí scoil aon-oide, nó ab fhearr leo go mbeadh a leanaí ag dul go dtí scoil le níos mó oidí? Má dhúntar na scoileanna seo, beidh na ceantair seo thíos leis. Ná bíodh aon amhras orainn go ndúnfar scoileanna sna ceantair is láidre Gaeltachta mar thoradh ar chiorruithe an bhuiséad. Níl aon phlean ann agus níl aon treoir ón Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna maidir leis an ngéarchéim ina bhfuilimid.
Maidir leis an scoileanna le triúr nó ceathrar oide, is é an toradh a bheidh ar chiorruithe an bhuiséad ná go mbeidh ranganna níos mó á múineadh ag múinteoirí. Tá 12 ábhar sa churaclam bunscoile. Má tá ceithre rang faoi chúram aon mhúinteoir amháin, beidh ar an múinteoir sin díriú ar 48 ábhar curaclam in aon seachtain amháin. Tá sé beagnach dodhéanta. Má tá rang níos mó ag an múinteoir sin, beidh níos lú ama aige nó aici chun é sin a dhéanamh. Níl na foghlaimeorí go léir sa Ghaeltacht ar an gcaighdeán céanna lena chéile. Tá a fhios againn ar fad go bhfuil réimsí éagsúla teanga sna scoileanna Gaeltachta. Beidh níos mó brú ar an teanga - ar an nGaeilge - i scoileanna níos mó mar go mbeidh meascán níos mó de chainteoirí dúchais agus de fhoglaimeoirí Gaeilge le chéile. Tá a fhios againn ón dtaighde a rinne Tina Hickey agus ón dtaighde a rinneadh go hidirnáisiúnta go bhfaigheann an mórtheanga an ceann in uachtar nuair a bhíonn mionteanga agus mórtheanga meascaithe le chéile. I gcás na scoileanna Gaeltachta, tá an-seans agus baol án-láidir ann go bhfaighfidh an Béarla an ceann is fearr.
Go dtí seo, bhí figiúrí cóimheasa níos fábhracha ag scoileanna Gaeltachta. Bhí figiúrí níos ísle acu i gcomparáid leis an gcuid eile den tír. Bhí an Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna sásta iad a chur ar fáil dúinn. Chabhraigh siad linn dul i ngleic leis na dúshláin eile a bhí againn - an easpa áiseanna teagaisc trí mhéan na Gaeilge a bhí againn, an easpa seirbhísí tacaíochta a bhí againn, an easpa scrúdaithe caighdeánach a bhí againn agus an easpa tástálacha caighdeánach a bhí againn chur seirbhísí urlabhraíochta agus seirbhísí tacaíochta siceolaíochta a chur ar fáil do ghasúir na Gaeltachta. Chabhraigh an cóimheas fábhrach sin linn aghaidh a thabhairt ar na dúshláin. Sílim gur éirigh go maith linn. Níl aon taighde go bhfios dom amuigh ansin a léiríonn go mbaineann gasúir i scoileanna beaga oideachas ar chaighdeán níos ísle ná gasúir i scoileanna móra.
Is iad sin na dúshláin a bhí againn. Beidh siad i bhfad níos tréine agus i bhfad níos treise de bharr ciorruithe an bhuiséad. Impím ar baill an choiste beart a dhéanamh de réir a mbunbhriathar agus pé cumhacht atá acu a úsáid chun na ciorruithe sin a chur i leataobh agus deis a thabhairt dúinn agus don Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna suí síos i gcomhthéacs an athbhreithnithe atá fógraithe acu agus an cheist seo - an tionchar a bheidh ag na corruithe ar an nGaeilge agus ar an náisiún - a phlé. Críochnóidh mé le roinnt ceisteanna a chur. Cé mhéad airgid a shábhálfar i ndáiríre trí mhúinteoirí atá ag múineadh trí mheán na Gaeilge a bhaint amach ó scoileanna Gaeltachta? Cén tionchar a bheidh aige sin ar ár gcuid scoileanna? An féidir linn luach airgid a chur ar ár n-oidhreacht agus ár dteanga náisiúnta?
Mr. Hubert Loftus:
B'fhearr liom caint as Béarla ná Gaeilge, más é do thoil é.
The 20-year strategy for the Irish language highlights the important role that Gaeltacht schools can play in fostering Irish language competence and usage to ensure the survival and sustainability of Gaeltacht communities. The strategy prioritises actions to support the provision of Irish-medium education in Gaeltacht areas and schools. This was further reinforced by the Gaeltacht Act 2012. In line with the strategy, the Department is committed to providing Gaeltacht students with the opportunity to receive their education through the medium of Irish by implementing a range of measures that aim to improve and enhance Irish generally as well as measures that relate specifically to schools in the Gaeltacht. To date, the Department has prioritised the implementation of educational actions in the 20-year strategy relating to curriculum, assessment and teacher education. These measures have been introduced in tandem with the implementation of the national literacy and numeracy strategy, developments in initial teacher education and the reform of the junior cycle. The Department meets regularly with the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to discuss progress on the implementation of the educational measures in the 20-year strategy.
The Department of Education and Skills also plans to carry out a detailed analysis during the coming school year of the particular challenges facing Gaeltacht schools of varying linguistic profiles, with a view to identifying policy options for Irish-medium instruction in these schools that will be consistent with the needs of Gaeltacht communities. The findings of this analysis will enable good forward planning of educational provision in Gaeltacht areas. This analysis by the Department is occurring in a context in which each Gaeltacht community will be expected to prepare a language plan and clarify its status as a Gaeltacht area in accordance with the Gaeltacht Act 2012.
One of the criteria for recognition as a Gaeltacht language planning area relates to the extent to which there is provision for Irish-medium instruction in schools in a community in accordance with the policy of the Department of Education and Skills.
On the staffing of schools, it is important to note that the Department, like all other Departments, is operating in the context of a budgetary programme that is designed to put the public finances on a sustainable footing. It is particularly challenging to achieve savings in the education sector given the ongoing and significant increases in demographics across all levels. Notwithstanding this, and unlike in most other areas of the public service, vacancies in schools continue to be filled in the normal manner.
The criteria used to allocate teachers to primary schools, including those in the Gaeltacht, are published annually on the Department's website. The published criteria are commonly referred to as the staffing schedule. The staffing schedule for the 2013-14 school year has been provided in the briefing material for the committee members. The staffing schedule operates on the basis of enrolment bands and does so in a clear and transparent manner. It currently operates on the basis of a general average of one classroom teacher for every 28 pupils, with lower thresholds for DEIS band one schools. The staffing schedule significantly benefits small primary schools. For example, a two-classroom or two-teacher school with 30 pupils has an average class size of 15 pupils, while a typical ten-classroom school with 272 pupils has an average class size of 27.2 pupils. One of the savings measures in budget 2012 was a phased increase in the pupil threshold for the allocation of classroom teachers in small primary schools, including those in the Gaeltacht. The impact of the budget measure means that the staffing levels in small primary schools will no longer be as favourable as they were previously, but it is important to note that they will still be better than the general average of 28:1 that operates in all other schools under the staffing schedule.
A new appeals process for small schools was introduced as part of the budget 2012 measure. This enables small schools that are due to lose a classroom post as a result of the budget measure to retain the classroom post on the basis of their projected enrolments. In 2012, six small schools in the Gaeltacht lost a classroom post as a result of the budget 2012 measure and those six are out of a total of more than 600 teachers in those schools. The staffing arrangements at post-primary level, including for schools in the Gaeltacht, are outlined in the briefing material provided to committee members.
In an overall context, it is important to note that all public servants are being asked to do more with less. The teachers in our schools, including those in Gaeltacht schools, cannot be exempt from this requirement. The challenge for all schools is to ensure that they utilise their allocated resources to best effect to maximise teaching and learning outcomes. We have given more detail in the briefing material provided to the committee. We are happy to take questions from members.
I join the Chairman in welcoming Ms Ní Chartúir and Ms Ni Mhainín as well as Mr. Loftus and his departmental team to discuss this issue. I particularly welcome Mr. Loftus, as this is his first time to appear before the committee, and I thank him for raising this as an issue and putting together his presentation on it.
The point of view from which I approach this issue is that we need to protect our educational services. In my party's last pre-budget submission we provided for no cuts in the education budget and instead proposed more cuts in other Departments. Nevertheless, my party reduced spending on education when in government. However, we must recognise that we have got to a stage in education at which there is no potential for any more cuts, as anything that is introduced has a large effect on educational services. That is no more so the case than in one-, two-, three- and four-teacher schools, and that is particularly visible in the Gaeltacht schools which the our guests are here today to discuss. They have had to absorb a number of very difficult cuts which have undoubtedly had an impact on the schools. They have outlined the impact, in particular, on the pupil-teacher ratio. For Gaeltacht schools, 80% of which have four teachers or fewer, the cuts in the capitation grant and particularly the cut in the minor works grant are having a significant impact. The value of the minor works grant would be a minimum of €5,000 for any applicant school, regardless of how small, and the cut in the payment of that grant is having an impact. Last autumn was the first time that grant was not paid. Research has been done and there is evidence to show that more than half of primary schools are now in deficit and ran a deficit last year. That grant will not be paid this autumn and it is then we will see a funding cliff for many of our primary schools.
I recently visited a 70-teacher school that had applied for a minor works grant of €7,000 the year prior to the cutting of the grant for carrying out essential repairs. The grant was not paid to schools last year and it will not be paid this year. In the case of that school, it had to fund-raise to gather that €7,000 on top of everything else. That figure would amount to €100 per pupil, but the families of those pupils would not have the potential to absorb that expense as they are otherwise under exceptional financial stress.
On the point concerning pupil-teacher ratios, will our guests from the schools division and from the Department outline the genesis of the lower retention rate for Gaeltacht schools? If we go back to 2011-12, the number of pupils required for the retention of three teachers was 76 for a Gaeltacht school, as opposed to 83 for Gaelscoileanna and for primary schools, and the number of pupils required to retain four teachers was 96 for a Gaeltacht school, as opposed to 115 for Gaelscoileanna and for primary schools. I am interested in the rationale for a lower retention rate for Gaeltacht schools vis-à-vis other schools of a similar size that are English-speaking, and particularly in the reason it applies to Gaeltacht schools but not Gaelscoileanna. I have no doubt that lower retention rate has made a big difference, but why was it not in place for other schools?
Focusing on the pupil-teacher ratio that has had to be applied by Gaeltacht schools and other small schools in recent times, from 2012 the ratio for one-teacher schools will increase from 12 pupils to 20 pupils. Any school that does not have a minimum of 20 pupils this September will lose a teacher the following year. For two-teacher schools, the figure will increase from 49 to 56 pupils this September and for three-teacher schools it will increase from 81 to 86 this September. As our guest rightly pointed out, the impact of that change for Gaeltacht schools is even more significant, with the figure increasing from 76 to 86. Those are significant increases and they will make it difficult for schools to continue to teach students in the way they would like to and have done up to now. The reason there is a preferential pupil-teacher ratio for smaller schools is that it is more difficult for one teacher to teach a number of classes than it is for a teacher in schools with eight or more teachers to teach one class, although there may be different learning grades within it. I would like an answer to those questions. I would like our guests to outline what they want the Department to do on foot of this meeting and what they would request the Minister to do. I have a good idea what that is but I would like them to specify their requests.
On the three recommendations that were made, I wish to touch on the third one, the establishment of special board or authority with responsibility for strategic planning and development. I would like our guests to expand on that. If this would involve the setting up of an education authority, I presume that would require legislation, and in that respect, what extra powers would be needed to provide those necessary resources? I would like to get the views of the officials on that recommendation. Do they believe there is merit in considering it, or are there issues in regard to it?
Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis na haíonna as ucht an méid a chur siad os ár gcomhair inniu. B'fhéidir go bhfuil sé ait go bhfuil tuiscint ar leith agam maidir le scoileanna Gaeltachta cé go dtagaim ó mBaile Átha Cliath.
Tá tuiscint ar leith agam maidir le scoileanna Gaeltachta. D'fhreastail mé ar thrí cinn acu ar feadh tréimhse difriúla, Scoil Dhún Chaoin ar feadh tréimshe cuibheasach fada nuair a bhí raic ann agus sinn ar lorg aitheantais don scoil sin ach go háirithe. D'fhreastail mé ar an Muiríoch agus Baile an Fheirtéaraigh mar chuid de chúrsa trí mhí sa Ghaeltacht ag Gael Linn, rud a bhí an-mhaith ag an am.
Tuigim féin ach b'fhéidir nach dtuigeann a lán daoine eile na deacrachtaí ar leith atá i gceist. Tá roinnt de na deacrachtaí sin ag gach uile scoil bheag. Tá deacrachtaí ar leith maidir le scoileanna Gaeltachta. Tá siad leagtha amach go maith ag an eagraíocht. An dualgas breise go háirithe, áfach, ní raibh a fhios agam fiú gur ann dóibh agus is fiú a chraobhscaoileadh níos mó. Aontaím gur drochlá a bhí ann nuair a glacadh an cinneadh is déanaí maidir le ciorruithe. Tá sé go maith go bhfuil na finnéithe os ár gcomhair, is trua nár éirigh linn iad a thabhairt os comhair an choiste roimh seo chun díriú isteach air seo.
D'fhreagair an tUas Loftus roinnt de na ceisteanna a bhí agam maidir le líon na múinteoirí agus cén méid a chaill post. B'fhéidir go mbeidh a fhios acu trí amharc ar na figiúirí cén méid a chaillfidh post sa bhliain atá romhainn. Dúirt an tUas Loftus go bhfuil sé phost caillte cheana féin agus glacaim go mbeidh níos mó agus i roinnt cásanna, beidh scoileanna á ndúnadh dá thairbhe sin.
He said that everybody is being asked to do more for less. That would be fine if the playing field were level but it is not because there is a specific statutory responsibility, which was outlined today, for Gaeltacht schools. It is not a level playing field and that is not just because these are small, isolated schools but because other supports are required. As a parent whose children go to a Gaelscoil in the city I can see the need for text books at primary and secondary level at the same time as the English medium books are published. Often the Irish language textbooks appear two or three years after the curriculum has changed or even later. There are schools which are still working with photocopies. They are the additional challenges that face Irish language schools, whether Gaelscoileanna or Gaeltacht schools. Go raibh maith agaibh as an méid a dúirt sibh go dtí seo. Tá súil agam go mbeidh éisteacht ceart ón Aire agus ó na hoifigigh.
Mr. Loftus mentioned a review. I cannot see the logic of this review happening after the fact rather than before it. It is in the nature of this and previous Governments to cut first and then examine the consequences or problems. If the review was carried out and the Department could stand over a cut we could argue on a different level. It seems illogical that the Department studies it after the fact and might end up having to row back on it.
I welcome the ladies. I know Ms Ní Mhainín but I have not met Ms Ní Chartúir before. I also welcome the Department officials. Well over a year ago we attended a public meeting in Dingle and a big crowd came out that night to support the retention of the Gaelscoileanna. I got a quick lesson that night on the difference between Gaelscoileanna and Gaeltacht schools because when I referred to the Gaeltacht schools as Gaelscoileanna, Ms Ní Mhainín was not long about putting me in the picture. I have not forgotten it. Can the witnesses indicate when we can have the results of the review for small schools? Will they be brought to this committee for discussion?
As Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, doing the review after the job is done is a bit like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. Will Gaeltacht schools close down as a result of these changes? The Department is a year into the changes and Mr. Loftus said that six posts have been lost. If Gaeltacht schools do close down will the students be placed in English medium schools or will they be put into Gaelscoileanna where they are taught through the medium of Irish? This can cause a huge problem, especially if the children go on to be educated through Irish. I recall somebody saying to me once that they did not send their child to a Gaelscoil because they could not help the child with homework as they did not know the names of the mountains and rivers as Gaeilge. If children taught for several years through Irish are suddenly landed into an English medium school it will be hard for them, for example, to study geography. It will be like learning a new language all over again. I would appreciate if Mr. Loftus could indicate the impact of this on the Gaeltacht schools and whether they will eventually close down, and if so, is it proposed to amalgamate them with English medium schools?
Cuirim fáilte roimh na finnéithe. Mo leithscéal nach raibh mé anseo ar dtús. I appreciate the presentations made here and I take on board the points that have been made. I am on the record as calling for the measures in the 2012 budget to be reversed. As late as yesterday I put down several parliamentary questions which unfortunately were not taken in the House because of the lottery system we have for oral answers. The change in threshold numbers for small schools throughout the country, not just in the Gaeltacht, is regressive. That there could be 55 children across eight streams in two classrooms, including perhaps children with special needs, is not good enough. I agree with Mr. Loftus that we cannot put a value on the language and we need to take this matter more seriously.
As a Government backbencher I will continue to work to see if these measures can be halted or even reversed. The reasoning behind these thresholds is given as cost-cutting and encouraging amalgamation but there are more proactive ways to encourage amalgamation. I have not seen any proactive approach from the Department that involves engaging with school communities and showing the benefits that would exist in some cases where amalgamation might be a positive option. The one-cap-fits-all approach is completely ludicrous. I find it very frustrating that this is happening over three years. It needs attention.
There is also an attitude in the Department to places that are far away. In my constituency, Corca Dhuibhne, west of Dingle there are seven primary schools. I saw a television documentary 12 months ago in which officials in the Minister's office found it amazing and ludicrous that there were seven schools west of Dingle. That, however, made my job in my constituency much easier because people have since told me that now they know what I am dealing with. There are seven schools west of Dingle because it is a large hinterland and the people there are entitled to their seven schools.
This is because it is a large hinterland, covering a large area, and the people living in the communities west of Dingle are entitled to their seven schools. It is completely ludicrous for someone to sit in an office in Dublin, look at the map and simply think the world should end at Dingle, with the next stop at Newfoundland. There must be a serious rethink on the part of the Government on the entire approach. In an attempt to have an informed debate on this issue, I have been calling for publication of the value-for-money report into small schools for a long time. As recently as yesterday, in the response to a parliamentary question I had tabled, I was informed the report is nearing finality. However, I was told the same thing approximately 12 months ago. I believe this to be a case of putting the cart before the horse. If there is to be an informed and open debate on this matter, the relevant facts and information are also necessary. I will use this opportunity to call for the immediate publication of the aforementioned document. It is something of which members must have sight without delay.
Ms Treasa Ní Mhainín:
Both Ms Ní Chartúir and I might take up the questions. On the pupil-teacher ratio, up to approximately three years ago, gaelscoileanna had a more favourable retention rate - the Department will be able to clarify this - but then they lost it. My understanding is the more favourable retention rate was to ensure that, as Ms Anna Ní Chartúir already had stated, teachers need to put in more time because there was a lot more work to do, including translation, for schools that were teaching through the medium of Irish. This is my understanding of it anyway. There was a lot more work to do in such schools, be they in a Gaeltacht or in a Gaelscoil setting. Consequently, Gaeltacht schools had a more preferential retention rate until last year, after which it basically was wiped out.
As for the recommendations we have made, in a nutshell, proper education planning and accounting must happen that would take into account the varying linguistic challenges that lie in each Gaeltacht area. This must be done by the Department of Education and Skills before making any changes to pupil-teacher ratios or anything else pertaining to education in the Gaeltacht from now on. This is actually stated in the 20-year strategy for the Irish language, which sets out in black and white what the Department must do. As for the absence of educational planning, while everyone understands that cuts must be made, why make them and then carry out reviews, value-for-money reports and everything else? Why always put the cart before the horse? Could we not for once have proper planning, whereby we approach education in the manner it should be approached, as teachers do in schools? As they plan their classes, lessons and year, can this not be done at a higher level?
As for the question the Deputy asked regarding An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta, COGG, that recommendation has been made time and again through various studies that have been published from 2005 onwards. It has been recommended that a separate entity or body be set up to ensure that Gaeltacht schools are fulfilling their statutory regulations under the Education Act but that such a body be separate from the Department. I believe that had such an entity be set up, we would not be talking about it before the joint committee today. No planning has been done by the Department of Education and Skills, even though views have been expressed, as well as this, that and the other thing. However, these are bits and pieces coming year after year or whatever. This should have been done before any cuts or before anything else. We should have known what we were talking about and what was going to come in the future. That basically is the source of this recommendation. The studies to which I refer primarily are Staid Reatha na Scoileanna Gaeltachta, which was published in 2004, Struchtúr Oideachais na Gaeltachta, which I think was published in 2007 and an Staidéar Cuimsitheach Teangeolaíoch ar Úsáid na Gaeilge sa Ghaeltacht, which also was published in 2007. They are the three primary studies that were published and which recommended that such a separate entity would be set up.
As for the review, is dóigh liom gurb é an Teachta Ó Snodaigh a d'iarr mar gheall ar an athbhreithniú atá le déanamh. Tagaim ar ais go dtí pointe a rinne an tUasal Loftus mar gheall ar forward planning. Is iontach go deo an rud é má tá an Roinn ag féachaint ar phleanáil chun cinn a dhéanamh maidir leis an oideachas Gaeltachta. While it would be great if the Department is looking at this review as a means of forward planning for Gaeltacht education, I reiterate the point I have made continuously today, which is it should have been done before any cuts were made.
Senator Moloney asked whether Gaeltacht schools will close. I can give her one example of a Gaeltacht school that has closed. It has not actually closed because of numbers but it closed because their numbers fell too low for the school to remain viable. However, on the point the Senator made, it was a Gaeltacht school in category B. In other words, it was neither the weakest nor the strongest but was in the middle of the road. However, it was a wonderful school that had a wonderful Irish policy and everything else. The children concerned moved to a Gaeltacht school that teaches through the medium of English and were completely and utterly lost for months. My organisation carried out a survey from the middle of last month up to the end of the first week of this month, approximately. However, we then were obliged to call a halt to it even though schools were still responding to us. To give the Senator an indication in respect of the points she raised, in the eventuality that schools must amalgamate because of the changes in the pupil-teacher ratio, 10% of Gaeltacht schools have indicated to us that they would be amalgamating with English-medium schools. Moreover, 50% of the schools have indicated they will be under severe pressure to amalgamate because of the changes in the pupil-teacher ratio. As to whether there would be a category change for the schools, 27% of the schools responded there would be. Moreover, as has been recognised, this would involve going down the linguistic categories, not going up. As for whether schools will be threatened with closure, 32% responded they would. These are the statistics that have come back to us as an indication of the survey we carried out
I will make two other brief points in response to the last two speakers. A proactive approach certainly is needed from the Department in respect of amalgamations. Time and again, the schools have told us they would love the Department to be involved in the process of amalgamation. They would welcome guidance of some kind or that something was available to them as to how to go about it. Schools are clueless, as they are there to teach children, not to go through the business of amalgamating, which is another kettle of fish. As for the one-size-fits-all approach, an interesting point I wish to take up is that time and again, due consideration is not given to the language aspect where Gaeltacht schools are concerned. This was highlighted the most with Circular 0044/2007 on language and literacy in infant classes in Irish-medium schools. While it was withdrawn, I think it is coming back in again and when that happens, will be prescribed in the primary curriculum. What was good for the goose was good for the gander in this regard because it satisfied Gaelscoileanna to a certain point. I believe the Department's view is that if it is okay for gaelscoileanna, then it is fine for the Gaeltacht schools. However, that is not satisfactory at all. As members themselves have stated today, a proactive approach is needed, as well as a very different attitude towards the Gaeltacht when it comes to education and planning for the future.
Mr. Hubert Loftus:
I deal with a lot of the staffing side of things in the Department. I will let Ms Treasa Kirk talk about some of the issues from the perspective of the inspectorate. As for the lower retention rate for Gaeltacht schools, the context in this regard is that in the late 1990s or thereabouts, improvements were being made in the staffing schedule for primary schools.
At that time 28 pupils were needed for the second teacher in a school. There was one teacher with up to 27 pupils. It is important to bear that in mind. The number was reduced to 12 and now we are bringing it back up to 20 but that is still well below what it was.
The historical retention rates were there at certain points in the staffing schedule for Gaeltacht schools and Gaelscoileanna. They were introduced as part of the improvements. Money was available in the late 1990s and early 2000s and there were slight reductions in our demographics which were stable or falling a bit. We had scope in funding and teacher numbers to make some improvements and the policy decisions at that time were to make improvements in small schools. We are in the opposite position now. We have no money and we have significant increases in our demographics. We are trying to manage our funding in such a way that we are able to have a teacher in all the classrooms which need one. As a result, as part of these phased increases, there are more pupils in the classroom but the most important factor in education provision is the quality of the teacher and the supports the teacher has, as distinct from whether there are one or two extra pupils in the classroom.
Reference was made to the review and analysis the Department is undertaking of Gaeltacht provision and forward planning and in a sense putting the cart before the horse. It is important to recognise that the review and the recommendations that might flow from it need to be done in the context of what we can afford as a country in staffing small schools. That report will be published and all the stakeholders and colleagues here will be involved in that. There is no point doing a review that does not reflect the fact that the country cannot afford a high level of staffing resources because we do not have the money.
Deputy McConalogue mentioned that the lower retention rate for Gaelscoileanna was standardised and that retention rate was withdrawn for Gaelscoileanna as part of budget measures for budget 2011 under the previous Government. That budget measure would have resulted in some higher jumps for the schools at that point and it was done in one single jump. The current budget measures for small schools generally, including for Gaeltacht schools, are being introduced on a phased basis. The other key change, compared with the budget measure for Gaelscoileanna, is that there is a new appeals process was introduced for the small schools that enables them to retain their teacher based on projected enrolments for the following September. The net effect of that in 2012 was that the budget measure, as it affected Gaeltacht schools, was a loss of six classroom posts. The overall staff in Gaeltacht schools is over 600. That helps to put things in context. The budget impact on Gaeltacht schools in 2013 is evolving but as of now there are four schools that will definitely lose a classroom post. That might rise marginally but it will be of that order. Where a classroom post is lost there are standard redeployment arrangements in place for teachers in those posts and they are redeployed in line with those.
The small schools value-for-money review was also mentioned today. My colleagues in Tullamore lead that review but as far as I understand that review is now completed and went recently to the Minister. It is on his desk and he will be considering it with his Cabinet colleagues. That will be published in due course. The Minister has indicated that when that is published it will be given to this committee for discussion here.
Ms Treasa Kirk:
Good afternoon, Chairman, Deputies and Senators. I would like to highlight the Department's ultimate commitment to the implementation of the expectations and targets set out in the 20 year strategy, in line with available resources. The Department has decided to undertake a review of Gaeltacht provision mainly because in the language strategy the Gaeltacht communities are highlighted as being absolutely fundamental to promoting the sustainability of the Irish language and Gaeltacht schools are part and parcel of that provision. The purpose of the review is to clarify Department policy on educational provision in Gaeltacht communities. In order to do that it is necessary to examine the primary research that has been undertaken to date nationally and Ms Treasa Ní Mheanín and Ms Anna Ni Chartúir have referred to some of the studies undertaken by An Comhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscoilíochta, COGG, the Educational Research Centre and by various third level institutions. We will also be examining current international research, studies that have already been conducted, based on communities with similar sociolinguistic conditions, for example, the Basque region, Alberta, Wales and other jurisdictions. As Ms Ní Mheanín and Ms Ni Chartúir have highlighted, the Gaeltacht context is very complex for a range of reasons. We have already mentioned school size, sparse distribution of the population, inward migration, various economic circumstances and unemployment in some cases, and the fact that two-thirds of the Gaeltacht schools are two to three teacher schools with an average enrolment of 77. The standards for oral competency in the language vary widely and English can be the medium of instruction in some cases. Parental choice is another issue. There are many challenges in that sector. The purpose of the review is to identify options and clarify Department policy to ensure that appropriate provision is made for the future in Gaeltacht communities.
Senator Moloney asked about the timeframe. It is planned that this review would be undertaken within this year. A report will be published in 2014. The terms of reference have been developed in collaboration with the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and those terms of reference will be shared with the various bodies involved in Irish medium education. Someone referred to the importance of strategic groups. The Taoiseach chairs the Cabinet sub-committee. There is also an inter-departmental group and a high level bilateral group involving officials from the Departments of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the Department of Education and Skills. There is also a high level group involving officials from the Departments of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, and Education and Skills, COGG, Údarás na Gaeltachta and Foras na Gaeilge.
It is envisaged that this partnership approach would be essential for a positive outcome and to clarify planning for the Gaeltacht communities and Gaeltacht schools. There is also a designated team within the Department, with responsibility for Gaeilge and Irish medium education, including Gaeltacht schools, to ensure this happens.
A number of evaluations have been carried out by the inspectorate over recent years with a focus on the past three years. A total of 68 evaluations were carried out by the inspectorate in that period, 41 in primary schools and 27 in post-primary schools. There are 20 post-primary schools located in Gaeltacht areas so that is approximately 90% coverage of Gaeltacht schools and about 31% coverage in the primary sector.
It is interesting to note that in the case of Gaeltacht schools, a number of very positive features are in place and these have been reported on by inspectors. All the reports are published on the website. There is very encouraging evidence of good practice. Where best practice exists it is accompanied by positive, proactive leadership, great involvement of the whole school community, and active boards of management and parents' associations. There is also a positive ethos in such schools with good pastoral care systems and a very good focus on well-being and mentoring at over-arching, whole-school level. There are also high levels of language proficiency among the teams in those schools, of involvement of student councils, as well as of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities in some cases. In those effective schools, the class lessons are very well structured with a very strong emphasis on the development of language competency, the use of co-operative group work and the use of teacher modelling of the language. Children are given the opportunity to practise the language. That is what makes a difference to language competency. Such schools provide good opportunities for students to use ICT, and it is used very effectively.
Parents and pupils are surveyed as part of an inspectorate evaluation. All those 68 evaluations which were reviewed by the inspectorate indicate that parents and pupils, generally speaking, are happy with the provision in those schools. However, areas which need to be developed are also recognised in the inspection reports.
Another positive aspect relates to resources. The reports are available on the website and they show that inspectors report that the schools are well equipped with a good range of teaching and learning resources. I wish to pay tribute to COGG, An Comhairle Um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta, on the substantial work undertaken over the past five to ten years on the development of resources across primary, post-primary and early childhood education.
It is important to highlight the inspectors' recommendations as to what areas need to be developed. Many of the reports refer to the importance of developing strategic plans, particularly with regard to the development of language plans which were mentioned earlier and the requirements under the Education Act to ensure Irish language plans promote the culture as well as the language in those communities. There is also reference in the reports to the need to strengthen the role of school level management and to ensure all schools hold parent-teacher meetings.
Gabhaim buíochas leis na finnéithe as ucht an cur i láthair. Bhí sé thar a bheith suimiúil. Is breá an rud é go bhfuil ár gcuairteoirí anseo. Tá a fhios agam go raibh siad píosa fada ag fanacht go mbeadh an lá seo againn.
Tá imní orm nach bhfeiceann an Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna aon difríocht idir scoil beag tuaithe sa Ghalltacht agus scoil beag tuaithe sa Ghaeltacht. Tháinig an bunfhadhb nuair a d'athraigh an cóimheas daltaí le múinteoir. Baineadh ó na scoileanna Gaeltachta an t-aitheantas breise a bhí ann dóibh. Chuir sé sin amach an teachtaireacht nach bhfeictear difríocht dá laghad idir an mhúinteoireacht atá ar bun i scoil i dtuaisceart Chonamara atá ag feidhmiú trí mheán an Bhéarla agus scoil i ndeisceart Chonamara atá ag feidhmiú trí mheán na Gaeilge. Sílim go bhfuil an bunfhadhb sin feiceálach i bpolasaithe éagsúla ón Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna ar leibhéil éagsúla; mar shampla, nuair a baineadh an deontas de na hábhair oidí a bhíodh ag dul go dtí an Ghaeltacht.
Nuair a bhí na grúpaí éagsúla ag teacht go dtí an cruinniú inniu, thuig siad go raibh orthu obair bhreise a dhéanamh mar gheall go mbeadh an cruinniú ar siúl trí mhéan na Gaeilge. Tá mé ag labhairt leo i nGaeilge faoi láthair. Caithfidh grúpaí níos mó oibre a dhéanamh nuair atá siad ag smaoineamh níos mó agus nuair atá níos mó réamhullmhúcháin le déanamh. Is mar a gcéanna atá sé i gcás na múinteoirí a fheidhmíonn sna scoileanna Gaeltachta. Nuair a labhair mé le grúpa ábhair oidí a bhí ar an gCeathrú Rua aimsir na Cásca - bhí 200 duine atá ag dul leis an mbunmhúinteoireacht ann - d'iarr mé orthu cé acu a mheas go bhfuil sé níos éasca múineadh i mbunscoil atá ag feidhmiú trí mheán an Bhéarla ná i mbunscoil atá ag feidhmiú trí mheán na Gaeilge. Chuir 99% dóibh a lámha suas chun a léiriú gur dóigh leo go bhfuil sé níos éasca obair i mbunscoil a fheidhmíonn trí mheán an Bhéarla. Nuair a d'iarr mé orthu cén fáth, dúirt said go bhfuil an méid sin áiseanna teagaisc agus ábhair tacaíochta, srl., i mBéarla ar an Idirlíon nach bhfuil leath an oiread obair le déanamh acu nuair atá siad ag ullmhú ranganna roimh ré. Nuair atá siad ag múineadh trí mhéan na Gaeilge, caithfidh said a gcuid stuif féin a chur le chéile. Tá uaireanta breise oibre i gceist.
Is léir ón mbunchoincheap sin go gcaithfidh an Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna an sean-cóimheas a thabhairt ar ais. Tuigim agus glacaim leis nach bhfuil á dhéanamh ag an triúr fheidhmeannaigh atá i láthair ach polasaí an Rialtais a chur i bhfeidhm, ach impím orthu teachtaireacht ar an méid atá ráite agam a thabhairt ar ais go dtí an Roinn. Is dóigh liom go bhfuil dá pholasaí Stáit ag troid le chéile anseo. Tuigim cén fáth go mbeadh an Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna ag iarraidh caitheamh le gach duine mar a chéile ar fud na tíre. Tá siad ag iarraidh polasaí oideachais a bheadh cothrom do gach scoil a chur in áit. Is é an bunphointe atá anseo ná go bhfuil riachtanais faoi leith ag scoileanna Gaeltachta. Bhí aitheantas breise acu ach tá an t-aitheantas sin tógtha uathu. Tá sé iontach tábhachtach an t-aitheantas sin a thabhairt ar ais i bhfoirm an cóimheas daltaí le múinteoir agus i bhfoirm na tacaíochtaí breise.
Ba mhaith liom díriú ar chuid eile de na pointí eagsúla eile a ardaíodh. Cén sábháilt atá déanta ag an Roinn, i ndáiríre, ó thaobh an sé phost atá caillte? De réir mo thuisceana, tá na postanna á cailleadh sna scoileanna is faide siar. Ní raibh an Roinn in ann cuid de na múinteoirí a bhí ar an bpainéal a bhogadh go dtí scoileanna eile sa cheantar, mar bheidís ag dul níos faide ná mar atá ceadaithe de réir rialacha an phainéil. Coinníodh cuid de na daoine sin sa cheantar mar gheall ar an gcóras painéala. Dúirt Hubert Loftus gur cailleadh sé phost i mbliana agus go bhfuil ceithre phost - nó b'fhéidir ceann nó dhó sa bhreis - le cailleadh sa bhliain atá ag teacht. Is beag é sin i gcomhthéacs buiséad iomlán na Roinne Oideachais agus Scileanna, ach is mór é i gcomhthéasc caomhnú scoileanna Gaeltachta. Beidh impleachtaí i bhfad níos mó i gceist má thiteann an tóin as na scoileanna Gaeltachta. Sílim gurb é sin an pointe a rinne Anna Ní Chartúir, agus rinne sí go maith é. Táimid ag brath ar na scoileanna Gaeltachta seo le ábhair oidí, aturnaetha, Teachtaí Dála agus Státseirbhísigh le Gaeilge a theagasc. Is é sin an tobar as a dtiocfaidh cuid mhaith de na dreamanna seo. Táimid ar brath orthu freisin chun eiseamláir a thabhairt do na Gaelgóirí taobh amuigh den Ghaeltacht, atá ag iarraidh teacht ar phobal a bhíonn ag labhairt na Gaeilge ó lá go lá.
Tá mé ag cabhrú leis na finnéithe chun an t-aitheantas breise seo a fháil do na scoileanna Gaeltachta os rud é go bhfuil dualgais sa bhreis i gceist. Mar atá ráite, tá obair bhreise ar na scoileanna seo de réir an Acht Oideachais 1998. Tá na dualgais bhreise seo leagtha amach sa straitéis 20 bliain don Ghaeilge freisin. I gcead do Treasa Kirk, tá na staidéirí seo - ó thaobh ráitis Rialtais, an staidéar cuimsitheach teangeolaíoch agus an staidéar a déanadh ar na scoileanna beaga Gaeltachta, srl. - ag teacht amach as ár gcuid cluasa. Tá an saineolas idirnáisiúnta léite agus pléite. Tá a fhios againn go bhfuil difríochtaí suntasacha ann ó thaobh na scoileanna Gaeltachta. Tá sé in am don Rialtas an t-aitheantas sin a thabhairt ar ais do na scoileanna Gaeltachta. Tá dualgas breise pobail le bheith ar na scoileanna i gcomhthéacs na straitéise 20 bliain. Níl sé soiléir céard a bheidh i gceist ansin.
Tá mé i mo chónaí ar an gCeathrú Rua. Tá sé ráite leis an gcomharchumann áitiúil go mbeidh orthu plean teanga a dhéanamh i gcomhar leis na scoileanna áitiúla. Glacaim leis go bhfuil sé i gceist go mbeidh ról ag an dá bunscoil áitiúla sa phleanáil sin. Is obair breise é sin, agus obair an-mhór ó thaobh na scoileanna de. Cén chaoi a bheidh orthu an ról sin a imirt taobh istigh den straitéis 20 bliain?
Bhí cúpla rud eile luaite sa straitéis ó thaobh oiliúnt muinteoirí. Bhí sé i gceist go mbeadh ionad oiliúna iomlán-Gaelach le haghaidh múinteoirí bhunscoile ann. Níl a fhios agam cá bhfuil an moladh sin imithe. An bhfuil ceist ar bith faoi? Bhí sé i gceist go mbeadh socruithe maidir le cláracha breise oideachais d'ábhair múinteoirí. Cá bhfuil siad sin? Tá imní orainn sa chomhthéacs seo. Tá a fhios againn cad a tharla i réimse an leighis, mar shampla. Tá sé i bhfad níos deacra dochtúirí le Gaeilge a mhealladh go dtí ceantair Gaeltachta. I gcás Gaeltacht Chonamara, mar shampla, táimid ag iarraidh orthu dul go dtí ceantair tuaithe atá i bhfad siar ó cathair na Gaillimhe agus feidhmiú i bpobal atá casta ó thaobh na sláinte de. Baineann na ceisteanna céanna leis na múinteoirí. Tá sé an-deacair múinteoirí óga a mhealladh go dtí na scoileanna Gaeltachta. B'fhéadir nach dteastaíonn uathu bheith siar chomh fada sin i gceantar tuaithe. Chomh maith le sin, b'fhéidir go mbeidh imní orthu nach bhfuil a gcuid Gaeilge maith a dhóthain chun na hábhair éagsúla a múineadh trí mheán na Gaeilge. Mar a dúradh níos luaithe, má tá ceithre rang acu i scoil beag, caithfidh siad an 12 ábhar atá ar an gcuraclam a múineadh go dtí gach ceann acu. Má tá rogha acu idir é sin a dhéanamh agus rang a cúig a thógáil i gcathair na Gaillimhe agus a bheith saor ag a 3 a chlog gach tráthnóna gan breis ullmhúcháin a bheith le déanamh acu, déanfaidh siad an rogha is simplí. Beidh sé i bhfad níos deacra na múinteoirí a mhealladh le fanacht sa Ghaeltacht.
Ní cheart dearmad a dhéanamh, go háirithe ó thaobh na Gaeltachta de, go gcónaíonn cuid mhaith de na múinteoirí seo sa phobal. Tá ról an-tábhachtach ag daoine a chónaíonn i measc an phobail; mar shampla, bíonn baint acu le cumainn GAA, cumainn ceoil agus cumainn spóirt. Bíónn siad ag plé le i bhfad níos mó réimsí an phobail. Sílim gur cheart don Roinn dul ar ais agus aitheantas faoi leith a thabhairt don Ghaeltacht arís. Tá Eagraíocht na Scoileanna Gaeltachta tar éis é sin a rá. Cuireadh aighneachtaí ar aghaidh chuig an Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna maidir leis an straitéis 20 bliain. Ghlac chuile pháirtí leis an straitéis sin, rud a bhí an-neamhghnách. Bhí gach páirtí aontaithe faoi sin. Bhí na Ranna aontaithe faoi. Déanadh aighneachtaí faoin straitéis. Bhí deis ag gach éinne, agus tá an plean ann anois. Muna dtacaíonn oifigigh na Roinne leis an gcéad dá éileamh, ach go háirithe, agus an tríú ceann, beidh siad ag dul siar ar an rud a aontaíodh cheana. Impím orthu agus impím ar an Aire éisteacht leis an gcás atá déanta inniu.
How do I follow that contribution? I could not speak for that length of time as Béarla nó as Gaeilge. I have an observation and a question. Is this open to legal challenge by people living in the Gaeltacht? Is it their constitutional right, having been born in a Gaeltacht area to Gaeltacht parents who speak Irish, to be taught through the medium of Irish? I ask the question because these things are not beyond the bounds of possibility. I wonder why there is a discrepancy between the figures as to the number of Gaeltacht primary schools. One witness has stated there are 142 schools and another witness states there are 132. I ask for clarification on which is correct.
I do not wish to cast aspersions but it is regarded as a small problem because there is a little pocket here and another pocket there. I note this is evident in the attendance at this meeting. The people remaining in the room today are the people with Gaeltacht areas in their constituency. The attitude of those who do not is that it is not their problem and they are out the door. That is the reality. The four members remaining have Gaeltacht areas in their constituencies. Is the Department taking the approach that this is only a small problem because there are only small pockets here and there? I would appreciate the comments of the witnesses.
I wish to point out that some members may have other meetings. For instance, the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, is answering questions in the Dáil. I know at least one Deputy had to leave the meeting because he is the Opposition spokesperson in that area and must ask questions of the Minister.
I thank the witnesses for their contributions. This Department and other Departments look at figures and statistics. The six teaching posts in question are very important because hundreds of children are affected by those six posts. The entire school communities associated with the six different schools are affected. There may have been a 1% reduction in the overall staffing levels, but hundreds of children have been affected in their formative years as a result of that policy change. The appeals mechanism is welcome in that it helps to make a bad situation a little bit better. However, what it has done is to take the very unfair retrospective element out of the process but it has not really done anything else. Last year in County Kerry, two posts were lost and five posts were saved through the appeals mechanism. It is a case of kicking the can a little further down the road because with the increasing thresholds, all the appeals mechanism can do is give the schools a chance at least. People will say it should not have been retrospective in the first place. It is very scant consolation.
The level of actual savings achieved is much less than originally anticipated. I stand open to correction on the figures. I asked parliamentary questions on this subject and the reply gave a figure of approximately €2.5 million, which is a very small amount in the overall scheme but it has caused a significant level of upset, anger and frustration. It is easy to say here that this needs to be reviewed, but there has not been any significant financial saving for the Department. Senator Ó Clochartaigh touched on this aspect in his contribution. It would be a different matter if it made up a significant part of the annual savings required by the Department. There is good reason to rethink this policy because there is not a massive financial saving associated with it.
Ms Treasa Ní Mheanín:
I have also noted this point which also refers to the Chairman's point about the demographic changes. I may be open to correction because I did not look up this information before I came to the meeting. I think that the most recent census showed a small decrease in population but nothing that was hugely significant. However, the Connemara Gaeltacht west of the city has seen a significant increase in population for obvious reasons. Overall, there has been a small decrease in population but it is not hugely significant.
Ms Ní Chartúir wishes to add to the discussion about the posts that have been lost and to which Deputy Griffin referred. Six posts were lost in the 2012 to 2013 period. There will be four and possibly more posts lost. I wish to deal with another aspect of this issue. Last year, 30 hours of learning support in Gaeltacht schools were lost because of the loss of those six teaching posts. This has a significant impact on those children. A minimum of four posts, which is another 20 hours, will be lost in learning support for children in Gaeltacht areas this September. There is a significant knock-on effect with regard to the pupil-teacher ratio, PTR, and the tacaíocht foghlama.
My colleague, Ms Ní Chartúir, will expand on some of the points raised.
Ms Anna Ní Chartúir:
Maidir leis an bhun-difríocht idir scoil Ghaeltachta agus scoil a mhúineann trí mheán an Bhéarla. Múintear chuile ábhar trí mheán na Gaeilge i scoil Ghaeltachta agus múintear chuile ábhar tríd an Bhéarla i scoil lasmuigh den Ghaeltacht seachas Gaeilge. Tá sé de dhualgas, áfach, ar scoileanna Gaeltachta caighdeán an chainteora dúchais a bhaint amach i ngasúr Ghaeltachta sa Bhéarla agus sa Ghaeilge. Tá tástálacha caighdeáin ag an Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna agus caithfimid na torthaí a chur ar ais chucu. Sin brú agus freagracht bhreise ar mhúinteoirí sna scoileanna Gaeltachta. Ghlac siad leis an bhfreagracht sin, go deimhin ní raibh tástálacha caighdeánacha Gaeilge ann go dtí cúpla bliain anuas a tháinig COGG ar an bhfód. Táimid ag caint faoi fhigiúirí agus sé phost caillte. Cén méid airgid dáiríre atá sábháilte don Stát aige sin? Glacaim leis an méid a dúradh gur cost saving measure atá ann agus mar sin, ach ní féidir luach a chur ar an teanga. Nuair a bheidh caite, breathnóimid siar agus beidh aifeála orainn go ndearnadh an cinneadh seo agus nár thóg muid mar ionadaithe pobail seasamh ar an gceist.
Luadh an cheist maidir le redeployment. Níl aon mhúinteoir atá ag múineadh i scoil Ghaeltacht ag iarraidh taistil leis na socruithe atá ann faoi láthair maidir leis an bpainéal. Nuair a chailltear post sa scoil aige, níl sé ag iarraidh dul ag múineadh i scoil Bhéarla. B’fhearr leis an saineolas agus an taithí atá aige a roinnt le scoileanna sa Ghaeltacht. Beidh an saineolas agus an taithí sin caillte.
Chuir an Teachta McConalogue cén fáth go raibh an cóimheas níos fabhraí ann. Is chun aghaidh a thabhairt ar na dúshláin atá ag scoileanna Gaeltachta nach bhfuil ag scoileanna eile. Tá clár bán luach €2,500 as chuile sheomra ranga i chuile scoil Ghaeltachta faoi láthair. An t-ábhar chun an clár bán sin a úsáid, go dtí an leibhéal is airde, níl sé ann, níl sé ar fáil.
Níl tástálacha síceolaíocha ann trí Ghaeilge fós, níl tástálacha caighdeánach teiripe urlabhra ann fós, níl slat tomhais ann chun deacrachtaí foghlama atá ag páistí na Gaeltachta trí Ghaeilge ann chun iad a mheas.
Sin an fáth go raibh an cóimheas níos fabhraí ann. Tuigimid go dúirt an tUas Loftus go raibh níos mó airgid ann agus go raibh an Roinn ag iarraidh buntáiste a thabhairt dúinn ach cén méid sábháilte atá déanta?
Tá scoileanna atá ag cailleadh múinteoirí. Níl aon chur chuige córasach ann. There is nó procedure or process of engagement with the schools. Fágtar faoi na scoileanna é. Má chailleann scoil oide, gheobhaidh na múinteoirí amach tríd an staffing schedule, ní bhfaighidh an scoil litir ón Roinn le rá go bhfuil múinteoir le cailleadh. Tá sin an-deacair ar scoileanna.
Táimid ag caint ar na scoileanna is láidre ó thaobh na Gaeilge go náisiúnta sa tír. Beidh scoileanna dúnta - scoileanna aon-oide, sé an t-aon bhóthar atá rompu ná dúnadh. Ní inniu, inné nó amárach a fheicfimid é sin ach i gceann cúpla bliain eile. Táimid ag iarraidh dul i gcion ar an choiste inniu próiseas comhairliúchán a chur ar bun leis an Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna faoi na ceisteanna seo, níos luaithe seachas níos deireanaí.
Mr. Hubert Loftus:
Thank you, Chairman. I will deal with the questions regarding teacher allocations. The increases in staffing schedules were introduced in budget 2012 and are being phased over a three-year period. The decision to do so was not taken lightly. It was done because the Department had a tight budget to manage, with no additional money available to us, and it was necessary to make difficult choices in order to achieve savings. This is one of the cost-saving measures that was selected. It was done as fairly as possible in terms of phased increases and the introduction, for the first time, of an appeals process in respect of projected enrolments.
This budget measure is designed to achieve total savings of €15 million per annum when fully implemented, yielding 250 posts over a three-year period. The phased structure means that the projected savings are 100 in the first year, 75 in year two and 75 in year three, giving a total of 250. For 2012, which is year one of the three-year process, approximately two thirds of the projected savings were achieved. That number would probably have been closer to the full initial projection if the appeals process was not in place. We are anxious, however, to ease the picture as best as possible.
Where posts are lost, teachers are redeployed. In 2012, as again in 2013, we were working in a climate where no school could be left with a surplus permanent teacher. We are operating a system of 100% redeployment. In fact, we are one of the most effective sectors within the public service in terms of staff redeployment. We achieved our 100% deployment target in 2012 and expect to do the same this year. Our approach in this regard is that any school vacancy is not fillable until the 100% target is achieved.
Deputy Brendan Griffin referred to the impact of the loss of six jobs. Those schools will have teachers remaining, who will have extra pupils in their classes. One of the greatest impacts we must bear in mind relates to the very significant increases in our demographics. We want to avoid a situation where in those areas which are experiencing significant demographic growth, there would be classrooms with no teacher because the payroll does not support it. We are operating in a context whereby overall teacher numbers in our schools, even with the impact of this and other budget measures that affect schools at both primary and post-primary level, will be higher this coming September than they were last September. The challenge is to balance the requirement for difficult budget decisions against the reality of increasing enrolments. We are trying to stretch our money as far as we can, and that, unfortunately, necessitates difficult decisions.
In terms of the number of schools affected, our records show 132, which does not quite match up with the figure of 142 that was mentioned. We will clarify this issue with our statistics section and come back to the committee. Some of the information coming through that section is not broken down to the same level of detail for every category of school.
Senator Marie Moloney asked whether this particular measure could be open to legal challenge. The reality is that any measure is potentially open to such challenge, in which case it is up to the courts to decide. We would vigorously defend our position that we have been fair and reasonable in the approach we have taken with this and other budget measures. We are working with finite resources and cannot do everything we could do in the past. Some of the historical arrangements we have discussed were introduced at a time when demographics were declining and we had a great deal more money. We are in the opposite scenario now and must cut our cloth to measure.
Ms Treasa Kirk:
I will address the point raised by Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh. Tá dul chun cinn suntasach déanta ag gnéithe éagsúla de na cuspoirí éagsúla atá leagtha síos ann. Tá oiliúnt sna teangacha á láidriú sna cúrsaí éagsúla.
Tá méadú i bhfad na gclár oideachais a tháinig chun cinn ó mhí Mheán Fómhair seo caite. In ionad trí bliana oiliúna anois, tá ceithre bliana oiliúna ann do na hoidí nuacháilithe atá sna coláistí faoi láthair.
Chomh maith leis sin, tá achoimriú déanta ar ábhar na gclár éagsúla agus tá socrúchán Gaeltachta atá leathnaithe amach. Roimhe seo bhíodh trí seachtaine ag na hoidí ag freastal ar chúrsaí Gaeltachta. Tá sin méadaithe anois chuig dhá thréimhse de dhá choicís, mí ar fad. Tá sin mar ghné lárnach don chúrsa. Is dul chun cinn é sin.
Tá an Chomhairle Mhúinteoireachta ag iarraidh ar na coláistí díriú isteach ar chláir éagsúla a úsáid le linn an chláir oideachais do na múinteoirí, mar shampla, CLIL, content and language integrated learning. Colleges are implementing some of these programmes to promote different strategies to enhance the language.
It is also important to point out that the NCCA, which advises the Minister in respect of the curriculum, is undertaking a number of various curricular initiatives to support language teaching. In the context of the primary sector, for example, a language integrated curriculum is being developed for pupils from junior infants up to second class. This curriculum will soon be available for the purposes of consultation and schools, teachers and the various partners will be given the opportunity to comment on and provide input in respect of it. In addition, and specifically for Gaeltacht schools in Irish-medium education, the curriculum is very much based on learning outcomes. There will be higher targets or targets set at a particular level for pupils in such schools. The expectations would be such that immersion education would allow for the learning outcomes to come together and merge at a certain time. The Department is very much committed to immersion education.
In the post-primary sector, the language curriculum continues into the junior cycle framework. Members will be aware of the announcement made by the Minister last October or November in respect of the that framework. The NCCA is developing an Irish-medium syllabus or curriculum - at junior cycle level - for post-primary schools. The Minister has also requested that the NCCA develop a specialised short course for Irish-medium Gaeltacht schools, with a particular emphasis on teaching literature so that the saibhreas teanga do na scoláirí i bhfad níos fearr ná mar atá sé faoi láthair.
The Educational Research Centre, ERC, carried out national assessments of English reading and mathematics in 2010 in respect of 49% - a total of 51 - Gaeltacht schools. This was a representative sample. The pupils surveyed in respect of their English reading in 2010 outscored those who were surveyed in 2009. The same was true in respect of mathematics. It is interesting to note that the survey also highlights that very few children in Gaeltacht schools have reading problems. That is encouraging and it is obviously due to very good teaching on the part of staff in such schools.
I could not allow Mr. Loftus leave without challenging what he said about phased increases being fair and equal. That was not the case because the Department took away the preferential ratio which previously obtained in respect of Gaeltacht schools. That is the crux of the problem. I am interested in the thinking behind that move, particularly as the Department seems to be of the view that an English-medium school in a non-Gaeltacht - possibly rural - area and a Gaeltacht school are exactly the same. We are trying to explain that they are not the same. Mr. Loftus also stated that there had been 100% redeployment. If that were the case, where did the savings arise? The Department is still employing the same number of teachers. Does what was done involve a bias towards urban schools, which have obtained additional teachers, and rural Gaeltacht schools, which have lost teachers? If there were such a bias, then I have an issue with it. The change to the pupil-teacher ratio gave rise to a double whammy for Gaeltacht schools. Not only did the Department increase the ratio in respect of schools with between one and four teachers, it also removed the preferential rate which applied to Gaeltacht schools. What would have happened if the preferential rate had been left in place and if the ratio for Gaeltacht schools had been increased by the same number? Mr. Loftus stated that six posts had been lost. If the Department had gone halfway, then three posts would have been lost and a further two in the 2013-2014 school year. I contend that this would not be of major significance in the context of the overall savings made by the Department. Perhaps it might review the position.
Díreach ar an bpointe a rinne Treasa Ní Mhainin - glacaim leis an méid atá le rá aici - tá knock-on effect ag na ciorruithe sna bunscoileanna ar na meánscoileanna. Tá géarchéim ag an dara leibhéal maidir le soláthar múinteoirí le Gaeilge chun na hábhair éagsúla ar fad a múineadh. Muna bhfuil dóthain daltaí ag teacht tríd na bunscoileanna le Gaeilge mhaith, ní bheidh dóthain daltaí le Gaeilge mhaith ag dul ar aghaidh le múineadh sna meánscoileanna. Tá fadhb ollmhór faoi láthair. Tá ganntanas múinteoirí cáilithe le cumas sa Ghaeilge ann le hábhair eile a múineadh i scoileanna Gaeltachta agus gaelcholáistí. Sa chomhthéacs sin, iarraim ar na finnéithe breathnú ar an gcuóta atá ar an dioplóma gairmiúil san oideachas in Ollscoil na hÉireann, Gaillimh. Faoi láthair, tá sé sin teoranta ag 40 duine. Dá méadófaí an figiúr sin, d'fhéadaí níos mó mic léinn a thógáil tríd an gcúrsa agus cabhródh sé sin leis an ganntanas mór millteannach atá ann faoi láthair ó thaobh múinteoirí iar-bhunscoile le Gaeilge mhaith. Má leanann na ciorruithe ar aghaidh ag leibhéal na bunscoile, beidh tionchar aige sin ar an meánscoil, ar an tríú leibhéal agus ar gach leibhéal eile. Is é sin an fáth go bhfuil an bunphrionsabail seo - aitheantas Gaeltachta sa Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna a thabhairt ar ais - ríthábhachtach.
Mr. Herbert Loftus:
In terms of contracts of fairness, the Gaeltacht schools had a much more favourable schedule. The standardisation with all other small schools was done as part of the attempt to achieve budget savings. In that context, it occurred as a result of a policy decision by the Government and I cannot comment upon that. However, part of that policy decision was to treat all small schools equally. The only differentiation made was in respect of DEIS band 1 schools, which are the most disadvantaged. All other small schools were treated in the same way. I tried to make the point earlier that if one compares this to the type of change that was implemented - via the budgetary process - by the previous Government in respect of gaelscoileanna, which had a more favourable staffing schedule, one will see that this was done in one go and that there was no appeals process. For the Gaeltacht schools, this was done on a phased basis and an appeals process was put in place.
Savings relating to redeployment are achieved by way of the Department not being obliged to foot an additional cost for filling teaching vacancies in other schools through the recruitment of new teachers. This year, for example, a total of 400 surplus permanent teachers were on our redeployment panels. Approximately, 80% to 90% of these have already been redeployed. The redeployment of these teachers - some of whom came from Gaeltacht schools - saves the Department the additional cost of employing 400 new teachers if it did not redeploy. All of those teachers will be redeployed to take up vacancies in other schools. Surplus permanent teachers are protected under the Croke Park agreement that was previous in place - the Haddington Road agreement will also apply to them - and they can be redeployed to fill vacancies where they arise.
Mr. Herbert Loftus:
In a sense. The reason for this is that I must consider the national picture, which shows thousands of additional pupils entering the school system each year. Their arrival triggers the need for hundreds of extra teachers.
I am trying to reduce additional teacher numbers through the various budget measures so we can achieve cost savings.
Mr. Hubert Loftus:
No. This year, there will be around 400 extra teachers going on the payroll compared to last year because of the change in demographics. The last budget measure that tried to ease the impact on the school system generally, the Department, payroll costs and teacher numbers focused solely on fee-charging schools in the post-primary sector, instituting a two-point increase in their staffing schedule from 21:1 to 23:1. Previously, they were at 19:1. What the various budget measures over the years, including this one, have done is to help steady the ship in terms of the number of extra teachers required to cater for changing demographics.
I hope I have the support of other members. Arising from today's meeting, I ask that we write to the Minister in strong support of the three recommendations made in the presentation today and ask him to implement them.
If we were to have a vote on it, I am not so sure it would go through. The Deputy is in a Government party and the Minister is obviously confined by budgetary constraints. We can do that, and seek an update, but we should not overly politicise it.
I presume we are only seeking an update on three recommendations that the Minister has no intention of implementing. That is not what was being proposed. What is being proposed is that the committee write in support of these recommendations and ask the Minister to implement them, rather than asking for an update on what he is not going to do.
Ms Treasa Kirk:
It is important to highlight that in the review that will be carried out over the next year, various stakeholders will be consulted and the report will be published. The Department of Education and Skills is committed to providing continuing professional development through various organisations such as COGG and An tSeirbhís um Fhorbairt Ghairmiúil do Mhúinteoirí, which is also known as the PDST. Cuireann na coistí gairmoideachais cúrsaí ar fáil saor in aisce chomh maith. Mar a dúirt an Seanadóir Ó Clochartaigh, tá cúrsaí iarchéime ar fáil i nGaillimh freisin.