Tuesday, 20 April 2010
I welcome the opportunity to raise this issue. I was recently asked to meet the chairpersons and principals of the two national schools in Togher, which are sited on the one campus on the south western side of the city, in an area that was designated as disadvantaged and has many social problems, which manifest themselves in the school population.
Recent changes to RAPID areas have left the schools just outside such an area, and they have lost RAPID status and DEIS status, a double blow. The girls' school, which has an enrolment of 280 children, has lost four teaching posts. It has ten class teachers, losing two concessionary posts it has had since 1986, a home-school liaison post and a language teacher post. A special duties post has been also lost. This has had an enormous effect on pupils and teachers. Will the Minister outline the thinking behind the reduction in these posts for this school?
The area has a lot of social housing and rental accommodation, which attracts a high proportion of non-nationals. This is reflected in the populations of both schools, where almost 30% of students are from a non-English speaking background. The girls' school, however, has only two language support teachers for almost 90 children. Integrating those children who do not speak English into the school population is an impossible task that causes stress for teachers, who are in some cases dealing with class sizes of between 23 and 35. Without the necessary language supports those classes will suffer.
There is no home-school liaison teacher to provide assistance, which has a knock-on effect on parents, who do not get the help and support they need at home. The teachers, principal, chairpersons and board of management are concerned about the impact this will have on the community. We all know the value to a community of a school that is well integrated into that community.
The impact of these cuts on the schools, with four teaching posts being lost in a school that now has ten teachers, is significant. It has a traumatic effect on the school. There will not be a review of DEIS until 2012 and with a growing population and the demographic change, some support must be introduced. The school and the children in it are suffering.
I thank the Deputy for raising this issue today and I am pleased to be able to outline the general position regarding staffing at primary level. The staffing schedule impacts on individual schools in different ways depending on whether enrolment is rising or declining. In terms of the position at individual school level, the key factor for determining the level of resources provided by the Department is the pupil enrolment.
While the staffing schedule at primary level allocates on the basis of an average number of pupils, each individual school decides on how to arrange its classes. Combined classes are a feature of the majority of primary schools in the country and this arrangement has no adverse implications for the quality of the education children receive. From an educational perspective it is important to note that numerous influential reports have highlighted the fact that teacher quality is the single most important factor - far and above anything else - in improving educational outcomes for children.
The Deputy will be aware that the renewed programme for Government commits the Government to no further increase in the pupil teacher ratio in primary and second level schools for the lifetime of this Government. It also states that 500 teaching posts will be provided between primary and second levels over the next three years.
A hundred of these posts have been allocated to each sector, primary and post-primary, in the current school year. At primary level the posts have been allocated to schools that had increased enrolments in the current school year and which, as a result of last year's pupil-teacher ratio change, lost out on a teaching post in this year by either one, two or three pupils. For the coming school year the additional posts have also enabled some improvement to be made to the staffing schedule at primary level, which is available on the Department's website. These improvements are targeted at medium to larger schools which are typically under the greatest pressure in regard to class sizes.
The level of teaching resources allocated to individual schools for special needs and language support will be determined following completion of the allocation processes for these posts during the spring and summer periods. It is only when all the various allocation processes, including the appeals mechanisms, are fully completed that the final staffing position for individual schools will be fully determined.
It is important for all schools to ensure that whatever teaching resources the Government can afford in these unprecedented economic times are used to maximum effect to achieve the best possible outcomes for children. Again, I thank the Deputy for raising this matter.