Tuesday, 24 October 2006
Question 100: To ask the Minister for Education and Science her views on whether her Department has failed to invest sufficiently in second level education as reflected in Ireland's position at 29th out of 30 countries in the OECD league table by GDP and 24th by GNP and that, notwithstanding investment in special needs and international students, the vast majority of second level students here have not seen a reduction in class sizes; if she will commit to providing 1,000 additional second level teachers in 2007; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34240/06]
I am pleased to inform the House that funding for second level education has improved significantly since 2003, the financial year indicated in the OECD report referred to by the Deputy.
Spending by my Department on second level education increased by 17% between 2003 and 2005. In 2005, €2.7 billion was spent on second-level education, up from €2.3 billion in 2003 and €1.25 billion in 1997. These increases have allowed major progress to be made both in the staffing and in the day-to-day funding of our schools.
With regard to funding, the standard capitation rate increased from €266 per pupil in 2003 to €298 per pupil from 1 January last. In addition, the support services grant for secondary schools has been increased from €127 per pupil in 2003 to €159 per pupil from January last. This per capita grant is in addition to a range of equalisation grants of up to some €15,500 per school per annum that were also approved for voluntary secondary schools. A secondary school with 500 students will this year gain €270,000 for general expenses and support services.
Significant improvements have also been made in the staffing of our second level schools in recent years. With the creation of over 2,000 additional posts and the retention of over 2,100 posts which would otherwise have been lost due to the fall in enrolments, there is now one teacher for every 13 students at second level.
This increase in staffing has dramatically improved the support available to children with special needs at second level. Indeed, there are now over 1,800 teachers working specifically with students with special needs in our second level schools — up from only about 200 such teachers in 1998. In addition, there are more than 500 learning support teachers and more than 1,300 special needs assistants in our second level schools.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House.
The number of language support teachers at second level catering for pupils for whom English is a second language has also grown significantly from just over 100 teachers in the 2001-02 school year to nearly 350 such teachers in the current school year.
Guidance provision has also been improved, with an additional 100 guidance posts allocated in the 2005-06 school year. The additional posts included provision for a further improvement in the allocation of guidance hours for post-primary schools participating in the DEIS programme. There are currently a total of 683 whole-time equivalent posts allocated for guidance in post-primary schools.
With regard to class size as referred to by the Deputy, it is significant to note that at lower second level, Irish schools had the fifth lowest average class size in 2004 among OECD countries. Ireland's average class size was 19.8 compared to the OECD average of 23.8. Class size will vary between subjects and levels and schools are given discretion as to how they use their teaching staff.
Major improvements have been made in both the funding and the staffing of our second level schools in recent years. I assure the Deputy that I will continue to prioritise further progress in both these areas.
No more than the Minister's commitment in An Agreed Programme for Government to reduce class sizes in primary schools, will she admit that she has failed with regard to educational investment at second level? Will she acknowledge she is using this special needs and language support argument as a hoary old chestnut? The reality is she is not spending enough on education and as a result, 30,000 second level students are in classes of more than 30 students. Will she also acknowledge that although there has been an increase in the past number of years, we are still in the bottom half of OECD spending? Ireland was ranked 29th out of 30 countries using GDP figures and 24th out of 30 OECD countries using GNP figures. Will the Minister acknowledge this is a shame in terms of educational investment?
It is a case of dealing with mainstream students and special needs students and the Minister has failed the mainstream students. It is not a case of "either, or". The Minister should not use that chestnut in this House with me.