Seanad debates

Tuesday, 21 June 2005

6:00 pm

Photo of Brian HayesBrian Hayes (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Cathaoirleach for selecting this matter on the Adjournment and I welcome the Minster of State to the House. St. Kevin's boys' national school in Kilnamanagh, Tallaght, is one of two local national schools in the Kilnamanagh area. I wish to highlight to the Minister for Education and Science the very genuine concerns of this school community in connection with the teaching allocation from September of this year. This matter has been brought to my attention by the parents of children in the school who urgently want the Department to reverse its decision to effectively reduce the total number of teachers in the school from 16 to 13 from September 2005. If this decision is pushed through by the Department, the school will lose 20% of its staff from September of this year, despite the fact that the actual number of pupils in the school will have increased from 238 in September 2004 to at least 244 in September 2005.

The effect of recent announcements concerning special needs education will mean there are more children to teach in this school and fewer teachers to teach them. It will also mean that in at least one of the junior classes which will be enrolled this September, 34 junior infants will be in a classroom with just one teacher. This is an example of the Government's continued failure to honour its commitment at the last election to improve the pupil teacher ratios in our national schools.

The reason we see such a radical reduction in the number of teachers in this school is due, of course, to the introduction of the weighted model in respect of special education. The school in this case readily accepts that its pupils have gained from the additional special education resource in recent years. However, the transition from the old to the new system will cause havoc in schools like this throughout the country.

The Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Hanafin, has been upfront in accepting that new hardship cases will result from the new rules in respect of allocating teaching resources to special needs students. The Minister is on the record as favouring some flexibility where hardship cases, such as the one we are discussing this evening, are presented. I understand that on 30 May, the principal wrote to the Department of Education and Science — a copy has gone to the Minister — outlining the very severe difficulties that will result from September in this school, if a serious appeal is not considered by the Department. I plead with the Minister to show flexibility even at this late hour and to accede to the request on behalf of this school in advance of the next school year.

To lose three teachers from this school in one year would have a very serious impact, not just on the school but on the wider community. This is a school that showed remarkable resilience when faced some years ago with the possibility of an amalgamation. Parents have raised significant sums of money to help their children's educational experience, and this should be recognised by the Department of Education and Science. No one doubts the significant new resources that have been put into special education in recent years, but the current "one size fits all" approach by the Department, when it comes to making resources available in this area, needs to be urgently addressed.

Photo of Seán PowerSeán Power (Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senator Brian Hayes for affording me the opportunity to outline to the House the position of the Department of Education and Science concerning the staffing of St. Kevin's boys' national school, Tallaght, Dublin 24.

The mainstream staffing of a primary school is determined by applying the enrolment of the school on 30 September of the previous school year to a staffing schedule, agreed between the Department of Education and Science and the education partners. In the current school year the staffing of the school referred to by the Senator comprises a principal and ten mainstream class teachers based on an enrolment of 273 pupils at 30 September 2003. In addition, the school has two learning support posts and three resource teaching posts.

In accordance with the staffing schedule which issued recently to boards of management, the mainstream staffing of the school for the 2005-06 school year will be a principal and nine mainstream class teachers based on an enrolment of 238 pupils at 30 September 2004. To ensure openness and transparency in the system an independent appeals board is now in place. The criteria under which an appeal can be made are set out in the Department of Education and Science's primary circular 19/02 which is also available on its website. The appeals board met on 14 June and will meet again in July and October to consider appeals on the mainstream teaching allocation to schools for the 2005-06 school year.

The closing dates for appeals for the forthcoming July and October meetings are 24 June and 7 October 2005, respectively. Appeals must be submitted to the primary payments section, Department of Education and Science, Athlone, on the standard application form, clearly stating the criteria under which they being made. The application form is available from the primary payments section or on the Department's website.

I am sure the Senator will appreciate that it would not be appropriate for the Minister for Education and Science to intervene in the operation of the independent appeals board. The Minister recently announced the introduction of a general allocation model to provide for teaching supports for pupils with high-incidence disabilities and those with learning support requirements. Two posts have been allocated to St.Kevin's in respect of this cohort of pupils.

I would like to advise the Senator that individual allocations of resource teaching support for pupils with low incidence disabilities will continue to be provided on the basis of an individual application for each child. Such applications are processed by the local special educational needs organiser. The Department's records indicate that St. Kevin's is eligible to retain one post in respect of pupils with low-incidence special educational needs for the forthcoming school year. The net effect is that St. Kevin's is retaining three of its special education posts to cater for the needs of pupils with learning difficulties and special educational needs for the forthcoming school year. The levels are appropriate in the context of reducing enrolments and the current number of pupils with special educational needs requiring a service.

The Department of Education and Science is satisfied that the resources available to the school are sufficient to provide for the ongoing needs of these pupils. I thank the Senator, once again, for raising this matter.