Tuesday, 4 November 2008
Question 101: To ask the Minister for Education and Science if his attention has been drawn to the discrepancies between the ability of primary school communities in middle income areas and disadvantaged areas to raise funds voluntarily in order to ensure that the basic running costs of schools are met; his views on whether regardless of the socio-economic profiles of primary schools, adequate funding has not been provided through the capitation grant for primary schools across the country and that the recent failure to increase the capitation grant in budget 2009 from €178 to €356 per pupil is further evidence of this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38025/08]
The Government's continued prioritisation of education during the past 11 years is evident from our investment in 2009 of €9.6 billion, more than treble what it was in 1997. The increase of €302 million in the education budget for 2009 is a real achievement in the current economic climate. Education is one of only three Departments to have increased funding in 2009.
Regarding day-to-day funding of schools, I have prioritised funding for primary schools. The education budget for 2009 has provided for improvements to the overall level of day-to-day funding for primary schools, which will see funding increase from €167 million in 2008 to almost €190 million in 2009. This builds on the progress made in recent years, which has seen the primary school capitation grant increase from €81.26 per pupil in 2000 to its current rate of €200. This represents an increase of 146% in the standard rate of capitation grant since 2000. The primary capitation grant has been increased by more than €21 to bring the rate to €200 per pupil and the ancillary services grant for primary schools will also be improved by €3.50 to €155 per pupil.
Taken together, these increases mean that primary schools eligible for the full ancillary services grant will get €355 per pupil, almost €25 extra, in this school year to cover their day-to-day running costs, with a primary school of 300 pupils getting an additional €7,475. In 2000, a primary school with 300 pupils was in receipt of less than €40,000 to meet its day-to-day running costs. Under the new rates, that same school will receive €106,500, excluding the salary of teachers and special needs assistants, which are paid by the Department.
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 schools. The current rates range from €512 to €986 per pupil, an increase of 59% from the 2006 rate.
My Department recognises the additional funding pressures that arise in schools serving disadvantaged areas. A significant number of schools, approximately one fifth of all primary schools and almost one third of second level schools, are within the Department's Delivering Equality of Opportunities in School, DEIS, programme for disadvantaged schools and get additional funding accordingly.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House.
While making difficult decisions for the 2009 Estimates, particularly in the current financial climate, my main focus was to target resources on the schools most in need and to retain resources in the schools targeted under the DEIS initiative. This approach is in line with the broad thrust of the recommendations of the Comptroller and Auditor General. Those DEIS schools that benefit from a reduced pupil-teacher ratio will not be affected by the general increase in the ratio and all DEIS schools will maintain access to the home-school community liaison, HSCL, scheme, the school completion programme, SCP, additional capitation funding based on level of disadvantage and funding arising from the book grant scheme.
This year, approximately €800 million will be spent by the Department on tackling educational disadvantage at all levels from preschool to further and higher education. This represents an increase of nearly €70 million on the comparable 2007 figure and is testament to the Government's determination to prioritise social inclusion and ensure that children and young people get the supports they need to do well at school.
We are committed to investing in education, but we must invest at a level consistent with what we can afford and what is sustainable at the moment given economic circumstances. I am confident that, as the global economy improves, it will be possible to build again on the significant achievements of recent years and to do so in a manner consistent with overall prudent management of the economy.
I thank the Minister for his reply. Unfortunately, he did not get to the nub of the issue. Were the Minister to run a course in his Department for curt replies or to provide Deputies with a code for the various paragraphs regurgitated at every Question Time, a rain forest might be spared. However, that is another matter and my time is tight.
My explanation will be in "injury time" so that it will not affect Question Time. Each Priority Question has six minutes, two of which are for the Minister's initial reply. Given that I allowed him three minutes, he has used more than half of the time available for this question.
My question is simple. As the Minister knows from his constituency work if not his Department, there are middle income areas in his extensive constituency where raising additional money to cover basic funding is not a problem. There are voluntary contributions at the tax efficient level of €250, which is the norm. They are not mandatory, but one receives contribution rates of up to 80%. In another part of the Minister's constituency, this does not occur. The board of management or, primarily, the principal must look for funding. The historical increase in funding does not cover operating costs because increases in the rate of inflation are less than increases in the rates of education inflation and operation.
Previously, patrons of primary schools, some 93% of which are run by the Catholic church, contributed towards the deficit in operational costs. According to my research, this is no longer the case. The burden falls on principals and parents, not necessarily on the parish, although there is an urban-rural divide. In this regard, does the Minister not have any questions as to the continued right of governance proclaimed by patrons?
I made it clear in the House that I was unsatisfied with the level of capitation, particularly at primary level. In spite of our financial difficulties, the Government believed it appropriate to increase the capitation grant level. In excess of 80% of school patrons, particularly those of primary schools, are with the Catholic church.
I have been given no indication of the churches and parishes not making contributions. In certain schools, voluntary contributions can be made by parents. I often wonder whether this is a bad thing. Social capital is rising out of our new, emerging society in the sense that it brings people together and creates communities. Schools can mirror communities. A bond between parents and the community is outstanding for the school.
We must be careful to ensure that no one is forced into making a voluntary contribution or that it is structured in such a way as to make people feel excluded or embarrassed if they are unable to contribute. However, all of our experiences in this regard have been positive.
The Minister will consolidate social disadvantage if he goes down this road. What is provided in DEIS I and DEIS II does not compensate for a middle income area consolidating its school. From a principal's point of view, there are serious management problems associated with the running of schools in terms of how the Department pays the capitation grant and during what period of the education year it is paid. If the Minister receives from the primary education providers a request to meet with them to discuss how the Department can improve its act in terms of cashflow and other supports, will he do so and will he deal constructively with them?
I have no difficulty meeting them and I have already met privately with them. I have indicated my willingness to meet with all of the education partners. I want to co-operate and work with them to the best possible extent.
I met last week with the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland, ASTI, and following requests for a meeting from the Irish National Teachers' Organisation, INTO, and the Teachers Union of Ireland, TUI, I will also meet with them.