Wednesday, 24 October 2007
This is a fairly straightforward matter for the Minister of State to address. It involves the fundamental rights of approximately 2,500 deaf parents of hearing children who are currently denied automatic rights in terms of being able to sign with teachers and principals in the primary and post-primary school system. This is not a new issue. This matter has been on desks in the Department of Education and Science for five or six years. The society that represents these parents wants this issue to be resolved finally.
If the Minister was a parent and his child was in school, one of the most basic rights that he would have is to speak, on a regular or six-monthly basis, with a principal or teacher. That right is currently denied to the 2,500 deaf parents of hearing children here. Those parents face particular difficulties as a result. I am aware of cases where some schools refuse to provide Irish sign language interpreters for parents to access meetings that take place in the school. Some deaf parents are forced to pay for their own interpreters before a meeting with a teacher or principal. Many deaf parents are afraid to tackle schools over interpreters and are understandably embarrassed by such requests. Some parents are forced to use written communication with teachers even though they have literacy problems.
This situation has gone on for five or six years. The former Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Noel Dempsey, said in 2002 that this issue could be resolved by the Disability Bill, in terms of putting in place a national interpreter system for deaf people. However, nothing happened because the Bill was only enacted in the latter days of the last Dáil. In recent times, in correspondence between the Irish Deaf Society and the Department, the view of the Department is that schools have capitation budgets they should use if they want to provide this facility.
I ask the Minister of State, in the first instance, to immediately issue a circular to all primary and post-primary schools demanding that the 2,500 deaf parents of hearing children are afforded some respect and decency in our school system and informing them that principals and teachers have an absolute obligation to ensure those parents are given information. Second, I ask him to give a commitment to the House to provide funding for these schools where parents are in this situation. Such parents find themselves in a very difficult position, where their children are communicating, can hear and are part and parcel of society but the parents are embarrassed by their situation. The Irish State, PLC, for the past five years, has given them bureaucratic reasons they do not have the right to sign in the context of the primary and post-primary sector.
I ask the Minister of State, who is a compassionate man and a person of commonsense, to deal with this issue now and desist from reiterating the kind of nonsense we have heard from the Department of Education and Science in Marlborough Street for the past five years.
I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue and will convey the contents of his contribution to the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Hanafin, who is unavoidably absent.
I wish to clarify the position regarding the provision to schools of interpreters, or funding, to assist deaf parents in communicating with teachers. Schools' running costs are met by the Department's scheme of capitation grants, which affords schools considerable flexibility in the use of resources to cater for the needs of all their pupils. The Minister believes this is a preferable approach to putting in place grants for specific items.
As Deputy Hayes is aware, the primary school capitation grant has been increased substantially in recent years. Since 1997 the standard rate of capitation grant has been increased from €57.14 per pupil to €163.58 per pupil. This represents an increase of more than 186% in the standard rate of capitation grant since 1997.
There have been other significant improvements in the level of funding provided to primary schools in recent years. Since 1997 the standard rate of the ancillary services grant has increased from €38.09 per pupil to €145.50 per pupil at present. The amount of grant paid to an individual school is determined by the enrolment in the school, subject to a minimum grant of €8,730 for 60 pupils or fewer and a maximum grant of €72,750 for 500 or more pupils. Furthermore, enhanced rates of capitation funding are paid in respect of children with special educational needs who attend special schools or special classes attached to mainstream primary schools. The current rates range from €418 to €805 per pupil.
Significant improvements have been made in recent years in the level of funding for voluntary secondary schools. With effect from January 2007, the standard per capita grant was increased by €18 per pupil and now amounts to €316 per pupil. In addition, voluntary secondary schools have benefited by the increase of €30 per pupil in 2007 in the support services grant, bringing that grant to €189 per pupil.
The cumulative increase of €48 per pupil in a voluntary secondary school brings the aggregate grant to over €500 per pupil. These grants are in addition to the per capita funding of up to €40,000 per school that is also provided by the Department to secondary schools to meet the costs of secretarial and caretaking services. For example, in the case of a secondary school with 500 pupils, the annual grants towards general expenses and support services are over €290,000. This represents an increase of 83% since 2000.
Budget allocations for schools in the VEC, and community and comprehensive sectors are increased on a pro rata basis with increases in the per capita grant. All schools are eligible for recurrent per capita grants towards special classes and curricular support grants.
Both primary and post-primary schools have benefited from major increases in funding in recent years. Schools can use some of this funding to pay for interpreters. The Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Hanafin, has no intention of introducing specific grants for this purpose. However, she will continue to prioritise increases in capitation and other grants paid to schools.