Thursday, 26 May 2011
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me raise this matter on the Adjournment which is to do with the smooth running of secondary schools. We all acknowledge the difficult economic times for the country and the moratorium on appointments. However, when these measures were introduced some years ago it was found that they had an effect on the functioning of schools with regard to the appointment of assistant principal teachers or "A" posts. The Government at the time introduced alleviation measures. For instance, a school with a normal complement of eight assistant post holders was reduced to a complement of four or whatever. Without notice, the previous Government withdrew these alleviation measures in a particular school. The functions of these post holders include year head teachers who oversee a year class, are in charge of pastoral care and examinations. A reduction in the number of posts is understandable in the economic circumstances but what has happened in some schools is that with the retirement of teachers, schools are left without any assistant post holders to help run the school. The only management person is the principal of the school.
Many schools have contacted me on the issue but I refer to Mount St. Michael school in Claremorris in my constituency. According to the alleviation measures as this school had between 400 and 500 pupils it would have been originally entitled to eight posts but this has been reduced to four by the cutbacks. A teacher retired on 31 December 2010. Because of the alleviation measures the principal was under the impression that the school would be entitled to replace the post. The first indication of the change was in a letter from the Department which stated that the alleviation measures had been withdrawn and therefore sanction for the fourth appointment could not be granted. Schools need a minimum number of post holders. Teachers do much extra voluntary work in schools such as training teams or extra-curricular activities such as debating. These posts are needed so that the school can function efficiently. Some schools are at breaking point as a result of the cutbacks.
This Government had neither hand, act nor part in taking away the alleviation measures as this was done by the previous Government. I appeal to the Minister to consider the situation. Whole school evaluation inspections cost thousands of euro and they are necessary. However, in the case of some schools, the whole school evaluation report will state that they are not fulfilling the policies stipulated by the Department. The reason is that they cannot carry out these policies because the appointments have not been sanctioned. I appeal to the Minister to examine this situation to see if there is a way to alleviate it. I have referred to the school in question in Claremorris with the full agreement of the school in order to illustrate the point.
I am taking this adjournment matter on behalf of my colleague, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, the Minister for Education and Skills who regrets he is unable to be present today. I thank the Deputy for raising this issue as it affords me the opportunity to outline the position with regard to the issue of posts of responsibility in post-primary schools.
When the moratorium was introduced, the Government exempted principal and deputy principal posts in all secondary schools and these continue to be replaced in the normal manner. The impact of the moratorium is therefore limited to the director of adult education, assistant principal and special duties allowances payable to teachers on promotion. Vacancies at this level arise due to retirements in the specific grades and typically also from the knock-on effect of filling principal and deputy principal posts. Some further limited alleviation was introduced for post-primary schools most acutely affected by the impact of the moratorium and these alleviation arrangements are set out in Circular 42/2010. This provided some delegated sanction for post-primary schools to fill assistant principal vacancies if they fall below certain minimum thresholds.
Most of the limited alleviation focused at director of adult education and assistant principal level. I am conscious that the impact of the moratorium on middle management posts has applied unevenly in post-primary schools and the limited alleviation measures were aimed at helping those schools that have been significantly impacted by the moratorium. It is a matter for each school authority to re-organise and prioritise the appropriate duties for holders of posts of responsibility in the context of implementing the moratorium. Given the current budgetary position there is a public service-wide challenge about how to deliver public services with a reduced level of resources.
The Department will liaise with the Department of Finance regarding a limited alleviation of the moratorium on the filling of posts of responsibility for the 2011-12 school year.
This Government will endeavour to protect front-line education services as best as possible. However, this must be done within the context of bringing our overall public expenditure back into line with what we can afford as a country. The challenge will be to ensure the resources being provided are used to maximum effect to achieve the best possible outcomes for pupils. I thank Deputy O'Mahony for raising this issue.
The loss of 250 English language teachers from September is double the cut that schools had expected and the Minister needs to explain how he can implement these measures which will impact on an education system that is already failing the literacy needs of many of its children. The extent of the cut came as a surprise to many in the education system as it is double the reduction expected. It is a decision that will have the most profound impact on primary schools. The timing of the announcement last Friday was clearly an attempt to bury bad news when the media focus was on the visit of the English Queen, President Obama and the death of a former Taoiseach, Dr. Garret FitzGerald.
At present, 1,400 posts are dedicated to supporting children whose English is weak and 80% of these posts are in the primary sector. The loss of 250 posts represents a cut of 18% to the number of language support teachers currently working in the system.
How can any Minister for Education and Skills justify cutting of 250 English language teachers when just last year an OECD report found a dramatic fall in literacy standards in Irish schools across this State? Has the Minister and his Department considered the impact this decision will have on children from international backgrounds who cannot speak English or whose English is too weak to enable them to thrive in the classroom? It also affects other children within the classroom. For example, I am aware of a school in my area where at one stage 50 countries were represented in that school. The reduction will create major problems in the school.
I am aware that the Labour Party's "Plan for Fairness in Education" pledged to reintroduce up to 250 teaching posts of the 1,200 posts being taken out of the system under the four year plan proposed by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. I challenge the Minister to explain how he can implement these cuts after making this commitment, while accepting the difficult situation in respect of finances. The Minister does have an envelope and it is up to him how he spends it. I do not think this is the correct approach to move forward.
The Irish National Teachers Organisation rightly pointed out that these cuts by a Labour Minister are yet another attack on disadvantaged and marginalised children. It raises serious questions about the Government which claims it is committed to improving literacy standards in schools yet it cuts vital resources needed to achieve these aims.
Many of the children are in schools in areas which are deemed disadvantaged, areas where their parents can get rented accommodation. The cut does not affect many of the middle class areas but it is a further attack on the disadvantaged children, particularly the cuts in SNAs and the Traveller education support service. The cut is a double whammy for many of those schools and will seriously affect outputs and the proper running of those schools.
I am taking this Adjournment matter on behalf of the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, who unfortunately cannot be present.
As was recently announced, the numbers of students staying in the education system as a whole will be significantly higher than expected in the 2011-12 school year. The increase meets the objective of this Government to reduce the incidence of early school leaving nationally.
However, this also raises a challenge for us, as approximately 160 additional mainstream teachers are required, primarily to facilitate these additional numbers. In view of the restrictions on numbers employed in the public service imposed by the employment control framework, it is not possible for us to simply recruit more teachers. This is a reality within which we all have to operate.
At present there are about 1,125 language support posts in primary schools and 275 such posts at second level. These 1,400 posts are in addition to mainstream classroom teachers. They allow schools to withdraw pupils for varying amounts of time to concentrate on the teaching of English.
The previous Government announced that this number would be reduced by 125 from September, and by the same amount annually over the next three years. In other words a reduction of 500 posts over four years. Regrettably, we have now had to take a decision to speed up this process.
The result is that the number of language support teachers will be reduced by a further 125 posts from this September, leading to a total reduction of 250 posts this year. This will impact in two main ways. First, schools where less than 25% of pupils need language support will limit that support to two years. This change will affect about 2,500 students, all of whom have already received two years support. Second, schools that missed the deadline for applications of 5 May will not be told until the autumn what support, if any, they will get. In previous years, applications have been permitted all year round but this year it will be very difficult to meet demand from any applications received after the deadline of which all schools were notified.
The change will have little or no impact on schools with high concentrations of pupils in need of language support, that is, greater than 25%. A reduced number of positions will also be made available to the primary staffing appeals board for some additional language support posts. These positions will be reserved for schools with more than 25% of their students in need of language support.
I thank the Deputy for raising this matter.