Dáil debates

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Adjournment Debate

School Libraries.

9:00 pm

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise the issue of the school library service, SLS, which is available in every county. There are structures in place to provide school books to every national school in a county on a rotating basis. For example, the books purchased by the service in Galway are made available to all schools in the city and county. Every school is visited twice a year. They return books that have been read and they are provided with a new and different selection for the upcoming term. A number of reading projects run by the SLS have been of great benefit to schools, including the class novel scheme under which any school that wishes to read a class novel during a term can borrow up to 15 copies. The novels are written by well known authors and some are chosen to reflect aspects of the curriculum such as Irish history. Other projects included the Interschool Book Club, which forges links between schools, the Big Books project for infants and parents and the Reading Tree project.

The SLS has been in place in County Galway for 40 years. It has survived some lean and tough years and it would be a shame if all the hard work that was put into building up this service should be wasted if provision is not made in the Estimates. The school book grant provided by the Department of Education and Science amounts to €2.1 million for the entire State. It is a small sum in the context of the €8 billion budget of the Department. This resulted in an allocation of €117,000 for County Galway or €4.50 per child in 2008, which is a small percentage of the Department's budget. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and local authorities more than match the grant of the Department of Education and Science, as they cover the salaries of professional librarians and the cost of library vans and book materials.

The grant was not available in 2009 and I would like it to be reintroduced in 2010. I hope the library service can be part of the smart school programme, under which €150 million will be provided for laptops and whiteboards. The restoration of the book grant for the SLS requires only €2 million. There is a danger with all the focus on the technology that we will forget about reading. Reading should be encouraged from a young age and reading for pleasure should not become a thing of the past. It is important that this facility be provided and, as a former teacher, it is important that we encourage both reading and writing. I used to welcome the library van to the school in which I taught and I hope that service will continue.

I had the privilege of serving as a Minister of State in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and I had responsibility for libraries. I pushed hard for library development and I would be disappointed if, while this Department was promoting library services, the Department of Education and Science did not restore the book grant. I appeal to the Minister to restore the grant, to encourage both the reading of books from an early age and the rotation and exchange of books and to show that recreational reading is something we treasure in this country, particularly in our primary schools.

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Minister of State with special responsibility for Public Service Transformation and Labour Affairs, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Deputy Kitt for raising this issue and I acknowledge the work he did as a Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. I will reply to him on behalf of the Minister, Deputy O'Keeffe, and the Minister of State, Deputy Haughey.

The Deputy is aware that a number of difficult decisions have had to be taken with regard to the management of the public finances. In this regard, education, while a priority for the Government, could not be completely spared. These decisions included the decision to discontinue the funding the Department made available to local authorities to support school library services. The priority of budgets since October 2008 has been to provide as much as possible of available resources directly to schools. Unfortunately, it was not possible in this context to continue to provide funding, which in 2008 amounted to just over €2 million, to local authorities to support school library services.

The Minister strongly believes in the importance of encouraging reading. Literacy is an essential life skill through which children access all areas of the curriculum. Educational policy places a central emphasis on ensuring that the needs of children with literacy difficulties are identified and addressed early. Standardised testing in English reading and mathematics has been introduced for all children at two stages of the primary cycle, and a range of intervention measures are provided in the form of professional development of teachers, provision of learning support, and additional supports for children with learning disabilities.

Under the DEIS strategy additional teaching and non-pay funds are provided to schools designated as disadvantaged and there are three specific projects. The reading recovery programme is a school-based early intervention programme designed to reduce literacy problems in schools. It provides intensive individual help for children who have not responded to the standard instructional programme in reading and writing after one year in school. A total of 228 DEIS schools are now included in the reading recovery programme, with 54 of these included in 2009-10 school year. An additional 2,017 children are being taught throughout Ireland in 2009-10, bringing the total to 6,908 to date since the programme was introduced in 2001. It is expected that 550 teachers in total will have been trained in this programme by June 2010.

The first steps initiative is a research-based literacy resource including professional development courses and support materials for primary teachers. The overarching aim of first steps is to support schools as they help all children make measurable and observable progress in language and literacy development. Teacher-training in first steps will continue. There are a number of strands to the first steps programme; the three being introduced to urban DEIS schools are first steps writing, first steps reading and first steps speaking and listening. A total of 332 DEIS schools are now included in the first steps programme. This roll-out will continue in 2010.

The junior certificate school programme, JCSP, literacy strategy promotes a whole-school approach to literacy development at junior cycle. The JCSP literacy strategy encourages schools to involve all subject teachers in adopting specific techniques in teaching the literacy demands of their subject areas. A between the lines literacy handbook and training video were produced and distributed to schools in 2002 and they form the basis of the teacher training. The JCSP demonstration library project began in 2001 and school libraries were established initially in ten schools. The libraries are staffed by full-time qualified librarians. A total of 25 DEIS schools are included in the demonstration library project. I again thank Deputy Kitt for raising this matter.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.45 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 21 January 2010.