Seanad debates

Wednesday, 23 February 2005

7:00 pm

Photo of James BannonJames Bannon (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I welcome the Minister and thank him for taking this motion regarding St. Mary's national school in Drumlish, County Longford, roll number 166655. It is a six-teacher school with four full-time members of the teaching staff, one learning support teacher and one part-time resource teacher for ten hours per week. With 84 pupils on the roll, the school employs a part-time secretary and cleaner as they lack the funding to retain the necessary full-time assistants. It lacks the funding to retain the very necessary full-time assistants. However, the nub of the matter is that the school cannot afford to pay even part-time staff as it receives only €10,414 per annum and needs a minimum of another €7,000 to pay for a full-time secretary and cleaner. In common with school principals around the country who must be all things to all people, the principal of St. Mary's finds that with the need for staff as outlined, the daily three hours of assistance provided by the secretary is quite inadequate to meet the school needs. If the school had the extra funding it could employ the secretary during the school holidays to catch up with important school work.

It is unacceptable to expect the principal to fill the role of school secretary during the hours when the secretary is not there, but that is the reality. When I spoke to the principal this morning, not only was she teaching a class, carrying out her duty as principal, but she had taken three phone calls between 9.30 a.m. and 11.15 a.m. which took her away from her class. She also had to look after a sick pupil and clean up the classroom after the child vomited. This is not an uncommon occurrence, with school nurse duties being added to the work of the already overstretched principal.

In no other sector would one person be expected to undertake so many roles. It is not surprising that the number of applications for the post of school principal has steadily fallen since 1996 and that several schools have no principal because nobody wants the job. A position advertised in any other sector which requires one person to be a teacher, an administrator, a personal manager, a caretaker, a social worker and a nurse would have no takers. I am sure the Minister of State agrees, yet this is what we expect of our school principals. They are not given the funding to employ the necessary back-up services.

The part-time cleaner in St. Mary's is employed only on Wednesdays and Saturdays so the pupils must empty classroom bins at the end of each day to ensure an acceptable standard of hygiene and cleanliness in the school. No school can operate without the necessary backup and St. Mary's is no exception. With demands on funding for essential extra resources, learning supports and audiovisual equipment, which are the backbone of any modern teaching environment, it is shameful to see money diverted into the provision of services which should be provided as a matter of course.

I ask the Minister of State to make up the shortfall in funding for St. Mary's national school and to allow the principal and teachers to have the time and necessary backup to get on with the job they do best, namely, teaching the children in Drumlish. I compliment and thank the principal, Ms Elizabeth Brady, the board of management, the teachers, staff, students and their parents for the wonderful work they are doing in St. Mary's school. Despite the funding difficulties and the day-to-day struggle for necessary resources, this is a happy and motivated learning environment. I hope the Minister of State will take note of what I have said and facilitate the school. A very small sum is needed to give the necessary backup to the principal and her staff, a mere €7,000 per annum. I plead with the Minister of State to give due consideration to the request and I hope his response contains good news.

Photo of Seán PowerSeán Power (Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I thank the Senator for raising this matter on the Adjournment as it affords me an opportunity to advise the House of the position with regard to the provision made by the Department of Education and Science in respect of secretarial and cleaning services in primary schools.

The Department provides funding towards the cost of secretarial and caretaking services in primary schools under two separate schemes. One scheme is the 1978-79 scheme for the employment of full-time secretaries and caretakers in primary schools, under which the Department meets the full cost of the salary. This scheme is being phased out as posts become vacant and has been superseded by a more extensive grant scheme now referred to as the ancillary services grant, under which St. Mary's national school, Drumlish, receives funding.

The ancillary services grant provides additional funding for primary schools towards the cost of secretarial and caretaking services. The scheme is by its nature flexible and gives boards of management discretion regarding which secretarial and caretaking services are provided. The standard rate of grant per pupil under the scheme was increased from €102 in 2002 to €133 this year. The amount of grant paid to an individual school is determined by the enrolment in the school subject to a minimum grant of €7,980 in the case of a school with 60 pupils or fewer and a maximum grant of €66,500 in the case of a school with 500 or more pupils, provided the school in question does not already have either caretaking or secretarial services under an existing Department scheme.

Where a school already has either caretaking or secretarial services under an existing Department scheme, the rate of grant payable will be €66.50 per pupil and the minimum and maximum grants payable are €3,990 and €33,250, respectively. It is expected that the appropriate amount of grants at the revised rate will be issued to all primary schools in March, including St. Mary's national school, Drumlish.

The running costs of primary schools have been traditionally met by the Department's scheme of capitation grants which are the main source of funding for those running costs. These grants are intended to contribute towards the general operating costs of national schools which include heating, lighting, cleaning, insurance, painting, teaching aids and other miscellaneous charges, and represent a major source of funding for primary schools. The scheme of funding is flexible in nature and affords boards of management discretion as to how the funding is used in meeting a school's day-to-day running costs.

The capitation grant to primary schools has also been increased substantially in recent years. The standard capitation grant at primary level, which stood at £45 (€57.14) in 1997, increased to €121.58 per pupil with effect from 1 January 2004 and is being increased by a further €12.00 per pupil with effect from 1 January 2005, bringing it to €133.58 per pupil. This represents an increase of almost 134% in the standard rate of capitation grant since 1997. The first payment of the capitation grant for the current school year was issued by electronic funds transfer to the bank account of each recognised primary school on 21 January 2005. The latest increase in the rate of both the ancillary services grant and the capitation grant will be of assistance to all primary schools in meeting their running costs, including the costs associated with the provision of secretarial and cleaning services, and is a reflection of the Government's commitment to further improving funding to the education sector.

I thank the Senator again for raising this matter in the House.

Photo of James BannonJames Bannon (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I think the Minister of State is a former teacher or was involved with the teaching profession. Does he think it totally inadequate to offer any school €10,000 per annum to pay a salary to both a secretary and a cleaner in this day and age? The schools are totally underfunded. The Government needs to look at this area.

Rory Kiely (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

That is a statement, not a question.

Photo of James BannonJames Bannon (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I am speaking not only on behalf of one school but of all the schools in the country. I ask the Minister of State to consider increasing the funding to schools.

Photo of Seán PowerSeán Power (Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

We realise the necessity for funds and for that reason, since 1997 we have increased the grant by 134%, which in anyone's language is a significant increase. We hope we can continue with that type of increase.