Thursday, 15 March 2012
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and first wish to acknowledge there was good news for Carrick-on-Suir earlier this week. I commend the Minister for Education and Skills on including a new VEC school for Carrick-on-Suir in the five-year capital programme. The Minister of State, Deputy Kelly, visited Carrick-on-Suir within the past ten days, when he and I discussed this matter, with which he is familiar. The present position, according to correspondence received by Presentation primary school on 2 March, is the school is to lose eight teachers from September 2012 in the event of the proposed cuts going ahead. Four of these teachers were in legacy posts put in place through the giving children an even break scheme, two posts derived from the general allocation model and one post was allocated as part of the English as an additional language scheme. In addition, because of a reduction in numbers, a further teacher will be lost to the school. The school has the highest number of teacher losses of the 15 non-DEIS schools in its category. In 2001, the school was allocated four posts as part of the giving children an even break scheme. When the school applied for DEIS status in 2005, it unfortunately was unsuccessful but the aforementioned four posts remained in place and this position has continued until the present.
Carrick-on-Suir actually went backwards economically during the Celtic tiger period and the benefits of the latter did not reach that town. As a result, when the RAPID programme areas were brought into being, Carrick-on-Suir was designated as an RAPID town because of its levels of disadvantage. The South Tipperary social inclusion report of 2008 was based on the 2006 census and makes reference to deprivation indices. The relative deprivation score for the south east is 3.5 but that for Carrick-on-Suir is minus 13.9, which indicates it is an electoral district with one of the highest levels of disadvantage within the country. The report highlighted the problems of unemployment and high levels of lone parent-headed families. It states that Carrick-on-Suir and district are educationally disadvantaged, with unemployment currently running at 20% within the town.
Another issue within the town of Carrick-on-Suir is the high number of asylum seekers and I note that 120 asylum seekers from 12 different nationalities are based in the Bridgewater House hostel in Carrick-on-Suir. The number of foreign nationals within the area has increased from comprising 2.9% of the population in 2002 to a total of 407 in 2006. As a result, the school currently has an English as an additional language teacher with a class of 24. Despite the class having 24 pupils, this post is due to be extinguished as a result of these cutbacks.
I earnestly ask the Minister of State to consider how a school with 26 teachers will have its complement cut by eight teachers or almost one third. It is not practical to run a school in this way. Both the parents' council and the teaching staff understand and realise there must be some clawback of posts. However, I ask that this would be done in a structured fashion and over a number of years, rather than in one fell swoop. I seek a favourable response in this regard.
I thank Senator Landy for raising this matter, to which I am responding on behalf of the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn. I wish to outline to Members the allocation process for primary schools, including the reforms to the teacher allocation process that are being made and that will take effect from September 2012, and in so doing I will address some of the Senator's concerns.
The relevant appointment and retention figures for mainstream staffing for the forthcoming school year have been published on the Department's website. However, the staffing arrangements in schools for the 2012-13 school year, including the one referred to by the Senator, can also be affected by changes in enrolment, the impact of other budgetary measures and reforms to the teacher allocation process. The reform of the teacher allocation process has been designed to bring about a more equitable distribution of existing posts between schools. Inevitably, some schools will lose posts, while others will gain them.
While the Government has tried to protect as best as possible front-line services, difficult choices had to be made to identify savings across all Departments in line with the requirements of the EU-IMF programme of support for Ireland. Achieving savings in education is particularly difficult, given the significant increases in the overall numbers of pupils in schools. Notwithstanding this, the Government has protected the 28:1 pupil-teacher ratio at primary level, prioritised targeted support for the most disadvantaged schools and maintained the overall numbers of resource teachers and special needs assistants, SNAs, to support children with special needs.
The new arrangements incorporate a long overdue updating of the general allocation model, GAM, learning support allocation for all schools. Inevitably, this involves changes to existing clustering arrangements, whereby a teacher is shared between schools. A further change is that schools in any locality are empowered to cluster and arrange their GAM resources in a manner that best suits local needs. This should be completed by schools by 16 March.
There are new and separate arrangements for how resource hours for individual pupils are converted into teaching posts in schools. The requirement for resource hours in a school varies from year to year, depending on the number, if any, of its pupils with autism, etc. Small schools generally have a lower requirement for resource hours. The new arrangements take account of the later timescale for the allocation of these hours necessitated by individual assessment by the National Council for Special Education. All the changes have been designed to enable a more efficient operation of the teacher allocation and redeployment process in the new climate of a fixed ceiling of teacher numbers.
Budget 2012 provided for the phased withdrawal of approximately 428 posts allocated to some schools under disadvantage programmes prior to the introduction of the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools, DEIS, initiative in 2005. As announced, the withdrawal of 192 posts from primary schools outside DEIS band 1 and 2 and DEIS second level schools will proceed, including the 38 posts from 15 non-DEIS schools which include the four posts in the school in question. Three posts will also be withdrawn as a consequence of a combination of falling enrolments and reforms to the teacher allocation processes. The school has the option to cluster 15 GAM-English hours as additional language hours with a neighbouring school to retain a further post.
The staffing schedule also includes an appeals mechanism for schools to submit an appeal under certain criteria to an independent appeal board. Details of the criteria for appeals are contained in primary Circular 0007/2012. The existing staffing appeals criteria have been extended to enable limited phasing arrangements for schools where the combination of budget and reform measures impacts in a particularly adverse manner on a school's overall allocation. Schools such as the one in question that are due to lose three or more posts as a result of a combination of budget and reform measures will be able to apply to the staffing appeal board with a view to having a portion of the loss of posts deferred to the 2013-14 school year. This may assist the school in question. The closing date for submission of appeals for the April meeting of the staffing appeal board is 23 March. The board operates independently of the Department and its decision is final. It is intended that the board meeting will take place on Wednesday, 18 April, which will be prior to the release of the main redeployment panel and allow for any impact of the board's decision on redeployment panels to be taken into account. However, it is important to note that all schools that have surplus teachers for redeployment are required to return the completed redeployment forms to the Department on or before Friday, 16 March.
I acknowledge the Senator's concerns and see the issue in the light in which he presented it. The Department will be working with schools and the relevant education partners to ensure the new arrangements operate as efficiently as possible.
I thank the Minister of State for his reply on behalf of the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn. The school in question is preparing its appeal which I understand has almost been finalised. I hope common sense will prevail, as the school wants to continue to operate. It is already operating in difficult circumstances. I have outlined the position of disadvantage in the town and that the school is also providing an education for 24 asylum seeker children living in the town. I am glad the Minister of State has said cognisance will be taken of local circumstances.