Thursday, 30 July 2020
Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
3. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills her views on whether expanded classrooms or additional prefabs will be required to be erected to facilitate appropriate distancing of pupils; if there will be initiatives to reduce the pupil-teacher ratio, particularly in circumstances in which it relates to schools with classrooms of over 30 pupils; and the funding her Department will provide to facilitate same. [20148/20]
This question was tabled before the roadmap to reopen schools was published during the week. Primary and secondary schools throughout the country will have to employ extra cleaning staff due to the imminent reopening of schools. Will the Minister outline the way this cleaning budget will be allocated to schools, especially primary schools? Is it a separate grant for schools or a raising of the capitation grant, which is required also?
As the Deputy is aware, on Monday the Government published Roadmap for the Full Return to School, along with details of a financial package of over €375 million to support the implementation of the measures in the roadmap, following approval by the Government. The range of supports being made available to schools includes additional financial supports to provide for additional staffing, management supports, enhanced cleaning, hand hygiene and personal protective equipment, PPE, costs under the Covid-19 response plans.
A Covid-19-specific capitation payment will be used as the mechanism to support the implementation of enhanced cleaning regimes in schools, with close to an additional €53 million for this purpose. This will be provided on a sliding scale in line with pupil enrolments as at 30 September 2019, with €63 per mainstream pupil at primary level and €40 per pupil and post-primary level.
Arrangements have also been made for a drawdown framework to be established to enable schools to purchase hand sanitisers and other PPE supplies for use in the school and classroom from pre-approved suppliers. The procurement process for this framework has already commenced, and it is intended that these materials will be available in early August. The funding for these materials will be provided in the form of a grant which will issue in instalments, the first of which will issue from mid-August to cover the period to December 2020. Enhanced Covid-19 rates are payable in respect of students attending special schools and special classes attached to mainstream schools to assist with the extra costs associated with the cleaning of classrooms operating in specialist provision.
I thank the Minister very much for that clarity. Like every other Deputy, I have been inundated with calls in recent weeks from schools - in Belgooly, Bandon, Clonakilty, Skibbereen, Castletownbere, Kilcrohane, Schull and Ballydehob, to name but a few in west Cork - and not just with regard to this issue. In fairness, the Minister has provided clarity with regard to many of those schools, and I will ask more questions later this evening on the private school sector. I am aware of the difficulty schools face in getting funds, having been on a board of management for years. It is sad and disappointing to see parents' associations and boards of management fundraising to fill the oil tanks and pay the secretaries and the cleaning staff. In this situation with Covid-19, they cannot be short-changed in terms of getting their schools up to a standard of cleanliness. I hope the budget the Minister has outlined will be enough to allow these schools to carry out this work without asking boards of management and parents' associations to fundraise.
I thank the Deputy for raising that important point. I appreciate the pressures on schools and parents. Every effort is being made to ensure substantial funding is put in place to ensure no additional burden is placed on the school or on parents. There is a budget of €53 million for cleaning and all that involves, which is a substantial package of funding. We have also put in place further aid to ensure schools will be in a position to employ extra personnel in the month of August to help them to do the work that needs to be done on the ground. A further €4.3 million is being made available for that. It is a substantial resource and I have every confidence it will be well drawn down and well utilised by the schools.
I appreciate that the extra €4.3 million will be of great assistance to schools. I received phone calls as late as yesterday evening and some of our rural schools in west Cork are concerned that the roadmap for reopening seems to be aimed more at city schools rather than rural schools in relation to any of the entitlements. Will the Minister clarify this?
I would not accept that assertion at all. The roadmap is inclusive of all schools whether urban or rural. I come from a constituency that marries both so I am greatly conscious that the packages are made available on an urban and rural basis. A key innovation, perhaps more to the benefit of rural schools is the additional one day which will be given to teaching principals which is something of which they are richly deserving, and takes cognisance of the burden placed on them by the administrative work they need to do. A suite of measures has been put in place to the benefit of both urban and rural schools and for the benefit, most especially, of the children and young people that we serve in the education sector, irrespective of whether they are urban or rural.