Dáil debates

Thursday, 18 October 2007

3:00 pm

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Dublin South East, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I acknowledge the presence in the House of the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Hanafin. I appreciate that she has chosen to reply to this matter, as in my experience this has not necessarily been the practice.

The measure of any good bureaucracy is its ability to be both consistent and flexible at the same time. The allocation of resources, especially public resources, must respect the taxpayer and be fair in terms of distribution, especially when there are so many competing demands. The allocation of an additional primary school teacher to existing school is a good example of what I mean.

The system has worked well in St. Mary's boys national school in Haddington Road. Advance notice in spring 2007 of an increase in numbers resulted in the Department indicating to the school that it would be entitled to take on an extra teacher, which it duly did. In order to do so a classroom was found within the building, but this led to the closure of a pre-school group which affected many parents of children already in the school and others, and the redundancy of two pre-school teachers whose redundancy payments had to be funded out of the internal resources fund-raised by the school, which went for non-visible expenditure.

By the end of September this year, under the bureaucratic system I described with some praise, which I mean, the school properly informed the statistical unit within the Department it was three pupils short of the total number of extra children required. In this instance the unit in question replied that it operated on a numerical basis but an appeals procedure existed. I address this appeal to the Minister who recently visited the school. When she had a brief word with the principal in question, Liam Ó Frighil, he brought the matter to her attention. She may not recall the details as she is a busy person.

The net point of this appeal is the following. We know five extra children will be in the school by Christmas. The school caters for a large section of newcomers, as the school describes these foreign nationals. I will not use the term non-Irish population which is a most insulting designation of people. The Minister may have had a chance to read the documentation sent to her Department which outlines that many of them are people who have come here to ensure the Celtic tiger continues to work. Three of the young children who will arrive in the school before Christmas are Filipinos. They are the sons of people who are making our health system work. By Christmas the school will have the required numbers to meet the understandable criteria that have been set by the Minister and her predecessors in the Department. I urge her to exercise the discretion she possesses to look at the details of the files in her Department, which I do not propose to go into given the time constraints, and to ensure that this happens. The consequence of not doing so is the internal disruption of the school. The Minister will know what that means as she is a professional teacher. It will give rise to mixed classes.

The Minister, Deputy Gormley, who shares a constituency with me will share my concern that the closure of the pre-school and the non-appearance of the extra school teacher will be blamed on the newcomers and their children. That will have a negative effect which none of us wishes to see. I should have acknowledged the presence of another Dublin South-East Member, Deputy Chris Andrews from Fianna Fáil who is seated behind the Minister.

We all know the good work done by both the girls school and boys school. The boys come from junior and senior infants into the boys school. I ask that the Minister read the file of the case carefully and make the decision the three Deputies present would wish her to make.

5:00 pm

Photo of Mary HanafinMary Hanafin (Minister, Department of Education and Science; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue and thank the Minister, Deputy Gormley, and Deputy Andrews for being present. As noted by Deputy Quinn, I met the school principal in the forecourt of the girls school, which I was visiting, and he outlined the situation raised by Deputy Quinn, namely, that new students will be arriving at the school. The school is part of the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools, DEIS, disadvantage programme, which is an inclusive programme that for the first time draws together schools, pre-schools and second level schools in an integrated programme. We have all recognised in the past that funding needs to be focused on the most disadvantaged, which is happening for the first time in DEIS, rather than having a scattered approach where funding is spread among too many schools.

St. Mary's boys national school, Haddington Road, is in band 2 of DEIS but it is as a result of its previous participation in the Giving Children an Even Break programme that it qualified for the class sizes allocation, which is 20:1 in the junior classes and 27:1 in the senior classes. This obviously allows for the allocation of additional posts.

There is a very objective system for the allocation of teachers.

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Dublin South East, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

There has to be.

Photo of Mary HanafinMary Hanafin (Minister, Department of Education and Science; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

There has to be. It works on the following basis. There are 4,000 schools in the country. Traditionally, the only way teachers were allocated was on the basis of numbers on 30 September of the preceding year. Given increasing population and school numbers, we then introduced allocation on the basis of projected numbers. It was on this basis that St. Mary's boys national school made its submission and was allocated the teaching post. I was not aware it had shut down a pre-school, nor am I aware from where it got the money to pay for the two pre-school teachers — I am sure it did not come from its capitation or DEIS funding.

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Dublin South East, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

It came from the fund raised by the parents.

Photo of Mary HanafinMary Hanafin (Minister, Department of Education and Science; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

The allocation was made on the condition it would reach the required enrolment by 30 September 2007. The school wrote to the Department stating it had not reached the enrolment.

Notwithstanding this, there is an independent appeals process. There are two times when this adjudication panel meets: the first is when the original allocations are made early in the summer and the second when schools apply for a review in the first week of October, as I understand it. The independent panel is genuinely independent of the Department of Education and Science and the Minister. Were any Minister to get involved with an individual school, not only would the Minister have 4,000 schools coming after him or her, but 165 Deputies, 60 Senators and everyone else would do so also. That would not be an objective way to allocate teachers.

The allocations are not made on the basis that the pupils are newcomers or do not have English as a first language. There are classes throughout west County Dublin which hardly have native-born Irish pupils due to arrival of many newcomers. Teachers are not allocated on that basis.

I suggested to the principal of the boys school that he should indicate increased numbers were arriving and that he knew this for a fact. He indicated to me that the class guidelines under the Giving Children an Even Break scheme would be broken but that he still would not have very large classes when compared to others. However, he is making his appeal on the basis of newcomers arriving and the fact that he genuinely thought he would have them. Many schools——

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Dublin South East, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

They will be there by Christmas. If the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform issued the visas and all the other——

Photo of Mary HanafinMary Hanafin (Minister, Department of Education and Science; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

The principal is making his appeal on that basis but he lost out on the September number because some families moved — I remember him telling me this.

It is a very objective system. At the outset Deputy Quinn stated the school was only down by three pupils but there are schools which are down by only two or one. Teachers are employed in different schools on the basis of a panel. It is a good system that has worked well given 28,000 primary teachers are now employed.

The principal's appeal will be considered on 23 October, which is next week. I hope he will be successful in that.

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Dublin South East, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

The Minister can find a way.