Thursday, 5 March 2020
Department of Education and Skills
213. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if assistance can be provided to a school (details supplied) with regard to the perceived extortionate insurance premiums it is facing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2886/20]
My Department is aware of very significant increases in insurance costs in some special schools, through correspondence received from some special schools, discussions with the National Association of Boards of Management in Special Education (NABMSE) and media reports.
These increases appear due, in some instances, to an annual increase in insurance costs generally and, in some cases, an increase in claims against special schools.
While securing and maintaining adequate and appropriate insurance cover is a matter for the managerial authority of each school, my Department has been working as a matter of urgency with NABMSE and relevant Government departments, including the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the State Claims Agency, to seek a resolution to the issue of increased insurance costs in special schools.
A number of options were identified to address the issue and the development of a group insurance scheme for special schools appeared to be the most viable option.
NABMSE agreed to act as contracting agent and 47 special schools subsequently signed up for the Group Scheme option.
A tender went to market on 20 September 2019. The outcome of this initial tendering process, which was completed late last year, has been disappointing and has not provided NABMSE with options for the establishment of a group scheme, which at a minimum, would provide for a stabilisation of premium rates for individual schools.
My Department was updated on the outcome of this tendering process at a meeting last December
In 2019, a number of special schools contacted my Department directly, advising of financial difficulties arising from significant increases in insurance premiums, ranging between 30% to over 700% in the last 2 years. My Department has advanced school capitation payments on an exceptional basis to a small number of special schools, where they have made direct contact, advising of increases in their insurance costs.
The capitation grant is provided to schools to cater for day to day running costs. Where an advance in capitation is made, my Department will take into account the amount of capitation due to the respective schools, and the impact a full recoupment at once might have on the ability of those schools to meet other costs. With this in mind, my Department will engage with individual schools on methods of recoupment that are manageable.
It is not sustainable however for my Department to continue to advance capitation payments as a way of meeting vastly increased insurance premiums.
Officials from my Department are continuing to engage as a matter of urgency, with NABMSE and relevant Government departments, including the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the State Claims Agency, in order to achieve a resolution for impacted special schools.
All Boards of Managements of schools are obliged to comply with Section 18 of the Education Act 1998 which requires a board to keep all proper and usual accounts and to ensure all such accounts are properly audited or certified in accordance with best accounting practice. Boards are also required to comply with the arrangements set out in my Department’s circulars 0060/2017 and 0002/2018 in relation to the operation of the Financial Services Support Unit (FSSU). This includes the submission of accounts to the FSSU by an external accountant/auditor who has a current Practicing Certificate, Professional Indemnity Insurance and is registered with a prescribed accountancy body in the State.
The independence of an external accountant/auditor provides assurance to the Board and the State that the accounts are prepared in line with good accounting practice and standards.