Written answers

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Department of Education and Science

School Staffing

8:00 pm

Photo of Arthur MorganArthur Morgan (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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Question 378: To ask the Minister for Education and Science the number of laboratory technicians and assistants employed in secondary schools; and if she will act upon the recommendation of the Task Force on the Physical Sciences which recommended the employment of laboratory technicians and assistants in all second level schools. [22350/07]

Photo of Margaret ConlonMargaret Conlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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Question 400: To ask the Minister for Education and Science if she will approve the employment of laboratory technicians in all second level schools; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22625/07]

Photo of Brian O'SheaBrian O'Shea (Waterford, Labour)
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Question 429: To ask the Minister for Education and Science the proposals she has to provide laboratory technicians in all second level schools (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22844/07]

Photo of Mary HanafinMary Hanafin (Minister, Department of Education and Science; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 378, 400 and 429 together.

Significant progress has been made in progressing a range of areas highlighted in the Report of the Task Force on the Physical Sciences e.g. A new science curriculum has been introduced at primary level supported by a resource grant in December 2004 of €1000 per school plus €10 per pupil.

A revised syllabus in Junior Certificate Science was introduced in 2003 and it was examined for the first time in June 2006. Revised syllabi in Leaving Certificate Physics, Chemistry and Biology have also been introduced and examined within the last five years. Work on the revision of the two remaining Leaving Certificate subjects — Agricultural Science and Physics and Chemistry (combined) — is well advanced. The introduction of each of the revised syllabi has been supported by comprehensive in-service programmes for teachers.

Additional equipment grants have been provided to schools, and laboratories continue to be refurbished as part of the ongoing school building programme. In that context, €16 million was issued to schools in 2004 to support the implementation of the revised Junior Certificate Science syllabus.

Investment in the Programme of Research in Third Level Institutes (PRTLI) is continuing apace to enhance and promote world class standards in research, innovation and development.

My Department does not allocate provision for laboratory technicians/assistants in second level schools. The recommendation made by the Task Force Report in this area, in 2002 prices, was costed at €18.8m annually. The current cost of such provision is estimated at c. €24.6m for science subjects only, but could exceed €120m annually if applied to other practical subjects. While I have made it clear that I am not yet convinced of the need for lab assistants and that I believe that their provision would lead to demands for similar assistance in other subjects with a strong practical component, the Government is committed under the Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation to re-visiting the issue. A decision on this issue can only be made in the context of the resources available from time to time in the Estimates.

As the Deputy will be aware, the Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation 2006 to 2013 sets out a range of measures to further strengthen science teaching and learning and improve the uptake of senior cycle Physics and Chemistry. These include ensuring that the project based hands-on investigative approach now in place at junior cycle is extended to senior cycle, that the appropriate type of assessment is used and that there is an emphasis on the inter-disciplinary nature of science in society.

Other aspects of the Plan include: reviewing the implementation of the primary science curriculum to ensure its effectiveness in stimulating interest and awareness in science at a very young age, strengthening teacher training in this area, reforming maths and Leaving Certificate Physics and Chemistry curricula, promotion of science initiatives in Transition Year; and, the provision of information and brochures on science opportunities and careers, linking effectively with school guidance services.

Taken together, the comprehensive set of measures provided for in the SSTI will build on the improvements made in recent years and ensure even greater support for science education.

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