Tuesday, 4 November 2008
Question 100: To ask the Minister for Education and Science the number of primary schools that will lose a teacher or teachers from September 2009 in view of his recent announcement on the increase in the staffing schedule; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38359/08]
As I made clear during the lengthy debate in the House last week, the 2009 budget required difficult choices to be made across all areas of public expenditure. These decisions were made to control public expenditure and to ensure sustainability in the long run. In this respect education while protected to a much greater extent than most other areas of public expenditure could not be totally spared. Prudent management of the Government finances is vital at this time of global economic uncertainty when tax revenue has fallen so significantly and when world economic conditions are so serious. Even with the budget measures in place there will still be a significantly increased borrowing requirement in 2009.
When the country was able to afford it we reduced the basis on which primary teachers are allocated to schools from being based on an average number of pupils per teacher of 35 pupils down to the current level of 27 pupils. The change to a new average of 28 pupils per teacher must be viewed in that context. It means primary schools will be staffed exactly as they were during the 2006-07 school year during which they operated well.
Since 1997 primary teacher numbers have increased by approximately 10,000, with approximately 7,000 of these teachers entering the system in the past six years alone. The continuation of this level of annual increase of the order of 1,000 primary teachers each year was just not sustainable for 2009 in the current economic climate. Although it reverses some of the progress that we have made in recent years I had no option but to curtail the annual increase in teacher numbers. While I appreciate this will impact on class sizes the reality is that it will not impact on every school and rather the change will impact on the total number of teachers in some 10% to 15% of primary schools.
Regarding the number of teaching posts involved in this change, I have already said the net overall position is a reduction of approximately 200 posts from the primary teacher payroll next September compared with this September across all the staffing measures involving primary schools.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House.
This is calculated on the basis of a removal of up to 1,100 posts of which some 400 to 500 posts are expected to be due to the staffing schedule change specifically. This will be offset by the creation of 900 posts that will be required to meet increasing enrolments and as resource teachers for special needs. The estimated impact of the staffing schedule change is calculated on the same basis under which estimates of the cost of improving the staffing schedule were calculated in the past.
In terms of the position in respect of any one school for September 2009, schools are currently returning data to my Department on their enrolment as of 30 September last. My Department has commenced processing this data although not all schools have yet made their returns. The allocation process including notification to schools will commence early in the new year. The allocation process includes appellate mechanisms under which schools can appeal against the allocation due to them under the staffing schedules. The final allocation to a school is also a function of the operation of the redeployment panels which provide for the retention of a teacher in an existing school if a new post is not available within the agreed terms of the scheme. The allocation process for language support teachers is an annual one and existing provision is not rolled over automatically. Schools will be applying afresh in the spring and early summer of 2009 for the 2009-10 school year, based on their assessment of the prospective needs of existing pupils and any new pupils they are enrolling.
It will be necessary in the more testing economic climate ahead for us to continue to target and prioritise our resources to maximum effect for everyone. While teacher numbers are important numerous influential reports have highlighted that teacher quality is the single most important factor far and above anything else in improving educational outcomes for children. Ensuring high-quality teaching and learning is a challenge and dealing with factors that inhibit it represent a challenge for the Government, the Department, school management and the teacher unions.
I am confident that as the global economy improves it will be possible to build again on the significant achievements of recent years and do so in a manner consistent with the overall prudent management of the economy.
Of course there would be an additional 1,000 teachers. However, given that we have increasing demographics we estimate that 1,100 teachers will be taken out and that 900 will come in as a result of demographics and other factors.
In my question I asked the Minister how many schools would be affected by this change. He maintains that it will be somewhere between 10% and 15%, which on my reckoning is approximately 340 to 400 schools. Am I right in suggesting that?
Effectively the Minister is saying that 400 schools will lose a teacher from next September. In his reply the Minister referred to the staffing schedule that existed in 2006-07. Would he not accept that since that time an additional 35,000 children have entered primary schools? We will have 500 fewer language support teachers within the system. For 28,000 children English is not their primary language. Can I put it to him that his comparison with 2006-07 is not fair and accurate given the situation that exists in primary education now?
Given the overall budget and financial situation, I had a choice of taking a 3% cut across the board. If we had taken that choice, we would have taken out 2,500 teachers. Instead, reverting one year to the 2006-07 level would have the least impact. In terms of language support teachers, for example, we were conscious to leave ourselves an opportunity to retain the option of supporting the schools experiencing a major influx of pupils.
It is clear that the programme for Government's commitment to reducing the staffing schedule from 27:1 to 24:1 in the first three years will not come about, given the increase to 28:1. Will the Minister admit that there is no possibility of the commitment being honoured during the Government's lifetime?
Will the Minister publish each school's enrolment figures, which were given to his Department on 30 September? If he cannot do so soon, at what point will he be able to publish them? Each school would be able to see where it stands in respect of the savage cutbacks.
As the Deputy knows, the programme for Government was based on a 4.4% annual increase. Given that it appears there will be a reduction in 2009, circumstances have changed. When we examined the figures in July, the tax take was to have decreased by €3.5 billion. When we re-examined them at the end of September, the tax deficit was going to be €6.5 billion. In July, the Government did not touch any front-line teaching or special needs assistant, SNA, posts, but we took a 3% cut across the board.
The Deputy knows well that 80% of all funding in education comprises payments to teachers, SNAs, their pensions, etc. There was no room for manoeuvre. In those circumstances, we took the least disruptive option.
No. We were not keen on rowing back on the pupil-teacher ratio commitment. I have made it clear that I want to restore the ratio when economic circumstances allow. It is my intention that, as the economy grows, we will re-examine the situation.