Dáil debates

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

3:00 pm

Photo of John O'MahonyJohn O'Mahony (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Question 104: To ask the Minister for Education and Science the impact of the budget 2009 provisions on the participation of primary and post-primary schools in organised sports competitions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38362/08]

Photo of Batt O'KeeffeBatt O'Keeffe (Minister, Department of Education and Science; Cork North West, Fianna Fail)
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Notwithstanding the increase of €302 million in the education budget for 2009, in making the announcement of the budget measures for education, I stressed that tough choices had to be made in meeting the needs of the education sector in these difficult times. The resources available to the Department have meant that these choices have been very challenging and the decision made to suspend the substitution cover for school business in second-level schools was a difficult one. The provision of substitute cover for school business at second level was only introduced in 2003. The supervision and substitution scheme was also introduced at that time.

Substitution cover for official school business such as absences of teachers when schools are participating in sports competitions relates to second level schools only. I emphasise that accordingly, there is no change to the position in primary schools for participation in sports competitions. The supervision and substitution scheme will continue to operate without any changes and teachers who agree to participate will continue to receive an annual payment of €1,789 in addition to their normal salary. Some cover for official school business is available to second-level schools within this scheme.

I am aware that from January, the changes regarding substitution will present particular challenges for school managers but I considered that suspending part of the improvements made in 2003 to the substitution scheme was preferable to impacting more significantly on teacher numbers. Prior to 2003, schools managed without any of this provision and this did not impede on their capacity to participate, for example, in football and other sports competitions.

I fully accept this was possible through flexibility and goodwill by all. As we manage through this difficult period I am asking teachers in all schools to co-operate fully with school managers in coping with this change in the interest of the students. I am also requesting the school managerial bodies to ensure that the supervision and substitution scheme is operated with maximum effectiveness in all schools.

Photo of John O'MahonyJohn O'Mahony (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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The Minister comes from a county where the players are well able to stand up for themselves. The children of this country, particularly those at second level whom the Minister spoke about who are involved in sport, depend on the teachers and parents. They came in their thousands to the outside of the Dáil last week. These children depend on the Minister and us as Deputies to stand up for them regarding the provision of sports activities outside the school.

The Minister is in the educational system but I am not sure he is fully aware of how vital these sports are, particularly with team games where people learn how to win and lose, along with discipline. I do not expect the Minister to agree with those on this side of the House when we say the budget was botched but we should look at it a bit more positively in the sense that given the inequity shown against the elderly and the disabled, there was some good sense in rowing back on the schemes or changing them.

The Minister referred to reduced tender prices. I presume that will mean fewer millions of euro spent on prefabs. I appeal to the Minister, as a former teacher, to look at this issue particularly with regard to the provision of sporting competitions. Sport makes school bearable for children and in view of this will the Minister reconsider the matter? Unless this matter is revisited, teams will be pulling out of sporting activities.

Photo of Brian HayesBrian Hayes (Dublin South West, Fine Gael)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Batt O'KeeffeBatt O'Keeffe (Minister, Department of Education and Science; Cork North West, Fianna Fail)
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The important point to make is that I share with Deputy O'Mahony an interest in sport. I participated myself and neither I nor other members of the Government wished to take this decision. Unfortunately, it is worth considering what has happened since 2003.

In the 2007-08 school year, the Department paid for 2.05 million hours, or 362,000 days, of substitution cover in primary schools at a cost of €65 million. The projected cost of substitution in 2008-09 is €85 million. In the post-primary sector, the estimated level of substitution cover provided, based on the assumption that the level of usage by vocational education committees will be 56%, is 1.683 million hours, or 382,000 days. This cost €64 million and the projected costs for 2008-09 are €67 million. The level of substitution hours paid in 2007-08 to teachers and casuals in VECs, at €37 per hour, was 1.023 million hours. Moreover, 1.14 million hours were paid for primary schools, costing €56 million. In addition, the cost in the current financial year of expenditure on the supervision substitute scheme is €56 million for primary and €35 million for the secondary community. Moreover, there were 34,000 single day absences for uncertified sick leave.

Photo of John O'MahonyJohn O'Mahony (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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That is not the question. That is not what I am talking about.

Photo of Batt O'KeeffeBatt O'Keeffe (Minister, Department of Education and Science; Cork North West, Fianna Fail)
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There are 31,000 primary teachers. My point is that the cost has risen from approximately €20 million when it was first introduced to an unbelievable figure of €150 million at present.

Photo of Brian HayesBrian Hayes (Dublin South West, Fine Gael)
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There are 50% more teachers.

Photo of Batt O'KeeffeBatt O'Keeffe (Minister, Department of Education and Science; Cork North West, Fianna Fail)
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This is not sustainable and it is very difficult to continue with that level of funding. I ask for support and co-operation.

Photo of John O'MahonyJohn O'Mahony (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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This does not address the question.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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The Deputy may ask a brief supplementary question.

Photo of John O'MahonyJohn O'Mahony (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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I ask that the question of promoting sport in secondary school should be considered separately to help to provide it. As for primary schools, the Minister stated they were not affected. The reason is the teachers take out their teams in the evenings. It pertains to teachers' goodwill.

Photo of Brian HayesBrian Hayes (Dublin South West, Fine Gael)
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That is right.

Photo of John O'MahonyJohn O'Mahony (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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I suggest the Minister has broken the teachers' goodwill in this regard. I visited a school yesterday in which its voluntary system for supervision when teachers are absent at sports will be taken away, unless a little goodwill is shown on the Minister's part. I again appeal to him in this regard.

Photo of Brian HayesBrian Hayes (Dublin South West, Fine Gael)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Batt O'KeeffeBatt O'Keeffe (Minister, Department of Education and Science; Cork North West, Fianna Fail)
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With due respect to Deputy O'Mahony, I am aware of the voluntarism associated with sport over the years. Having been involved myself, I have seen the amount of time that people put in, as well as the commitment of school teachers throughout this period. The last thing I wish to take away is their goodwill. My point is certain provisions now must be taken on the basis we cannot afford to continue to pay in 2009 the present level of supports. It was a choice either of this or of taking out teachers. I believe that having as many teachers as possible in the classroom is paramount. I ask teachers' unions, managements and everyone involved, given the times we face, to get out of this fiscal mess——

Photo of John O'MahonyJohn O'Mahony (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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If the Minister shows goodwill, so will the teachers.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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We will move on to other questions.

Photo of Batt O'KeeffeBatt O'Keeffe (Minister, Department of Education and Science; Cork North West, Fianna Fail)
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I seek their goodwill and support.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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That concludes Priority Questions.