Tuesday, 15 April 2014
I am taking this Adjournment matter on behalf of my colleague, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, Minister for Education and Skills. I thank the Senator for giving me the opportunity to outline to the Seanad the position regarding staffing arrangements in primary schools.
The staffing schedule is the mechanism used for allocating mainstream teaching posts to all schools. It operates in a clear and transparent manner and treats all similar types of school equally, irrespective of location. It currently operates on the basis of a general average of one classroom teacher for every 28 pupils, with lower thresholds for DEIS band 1 schools.
As part of the budget 2012 decisions, there was a phased increase in the number of pupils required to gain and retain a classroom teaching post in small primary schools with four teachers or fewer. The first phase of the budget measure took effect from September 2012 and the final phase of the budget measure will take effect from September 2014. An appeals process is available to small schools that have had their staff numbers reduced as a result of the budget measure. A school with four classroom teachers or fewer which is losing a teacher or has failed to gain an additional teacher as a result of the budget 2012 measure can submit an appeal to the Primary Staffing Appeals Board. Details of the appeals process are published annually as part of the staffing arrangements for primary schools which are set out in Circular 7/2014 and available on the Department's website.
Labasheeda national school has two classroom teachers in the current school year based on an enrolment of 21 pupils at 30 September 2012. The enrolment at 30 September 2013 was 17 pupils, which entitled the school to one classroom teacher for the coming school year. The school is projecting an enrolment of 16 pupils for 30 September 2014. The school submitted an appeal to the February 2014 meeting of the Primary Staffing Appeals Board under the small school criterion. It sought the retention of its second classroom post for the 2014-2015 school year based on the projected enrolment of 16 pupils at 30 September 2014. A projected enrolment of at least 20 pupils at 30 September 2014 would be required for the school to remain as a two-teacher school. Given that it projected just 16 pupils, the appeal was deemed ineligible for consideration by the board on the basis that the grounds of the appeal did not meet with the appeal criteria. The board of management of the school has been notified of this decision. The appeals board operates independently of the Department and its decision is final. If other pupils decide to enrol in the school and its projected enrolment in September 2014 increases to the required 20 pupils, it can submit a new appeal to the appeals board.
The Government recognises that small schools are an important part of the social fabric of rural communities. They will continue to be a feature of our education landscape. In these extremely challenging times, all public servants are being asked to deliver public services on a reduced level of resources, and teachers in small schools cannot be immune from this requirement.
How best to sustain provision for widely dispersed and small local communities does present as a particular challenge, especially in any locality where enrolment is declining to single figures. The Government is intent on fostering pluralism in school provision. Supporting small communities, including minorities, in maintaining their schools is part of that policy.
The Minister is mindful of the concerns of smaller schools and rural schools. Our overall primary school enrolment has grown rapidly in recent years, and this is set to continue. In managing the resource consequences of this situation, it is important that decisions on school provision and organisation are based on a rigorous evaluation of requirements and needs not just at a local level but also at regional and national levels.
Our current configuration of small primary schools has been examined by the Department in a value for money review. The review took account of the ethos of schools and the locations of small schools relative to other schools of a similar type. The Minister is currently considering the report of the value for money review of small primary schools. He is doing so in consultation with his Government colleagues. His intention is to publish the report on completion of this consideration process. I am not in a position to give a precise publication date at this time.