Written answers

Thursday, 6 May 2021

Department of Education and Skills

Island Communities

Photo of Claire KerraneClaire Kerrane (Roscommon-Galway, Sinn Fein)
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104. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the strategies that are in place to support small schools and schools on island communities; the funding allocations that are made specifically to schools and education on the islands; the breakdown of educational funding for each island; the educational supports and technology that is made available to island communities to facilitate education on islands; if plans are in place to protect small schools and island schools; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23488/21]

Photo of Norma FoleyNorma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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My Department recognises the very important role played by small schools and island schools in maintaining the communities and culture of the islands, and is therefore strongly committed to the maintenance of the schools on the islands. For this reason and in recognition of the unique challenges faced by island schools my Department has provided additional supports to such schools.

As provided for in Circular 0012/2021 on the Gaeltacht School Recogntion Scheme and in previous circulars from 2017, each of the 8 primary schools on the islands in the Scheme have access to additional resources and supports to strengthen immersion education. Most of the island primary schools are allocated an additional 5 hours or 7.5 hours per week, in line with pupil enrolment as set out in Circular 0012/2021. These schools are also in receipt of an annual grant to purchase Irish-medium resources.

Each of the 5 island post-primary schools are also participating in the Gaeltacht School Recognition Scheme and are in receipt of 7 additional teaching hours per week, in line with school enrolment, for additional Irish-language support. From 2018 onwards, a grant of €1200 has been paid to each post-primary Gaeltacht school to purchase Irish-language teaching resources.

From 2019 onwards, the 5 island post-primary Gaeltacht schools have been given an opportunity to participate in the e-hub pilot project that utilises an online blended-learning provision to provide access to students to Leaving Certificate Physics.

3 island post-primary schools opted to participate in the e-Hub project schools and these schools have been provided with additional resources including once-off funding (€5,000) for each school to purchase technology equipment. An additional allocation of 4 teaching hours per week has been provided for each of the three participating post-primary schools where an e-mentor is required to support students.

The Digital Strategy for schools 2015-2020 sets out the Department’s current policy on the use of digital technologies in teaching, learning and assessment across the school sector. The implementation of the strategy in schools is supported by a Digital Learning Framework (DLF) and comprehensive digital learning planning guidelines, extensive CPD, resources and supports for teachers and school leaders. These supports are available to all schools. In 2020, €100m in grant funding issued to schools for ICT Infrastructure including some €70,000 that issued to the Island schools. All schools have broadband connectivity funded directly by the Department through its Schools Broadband Access Programme. The development of a new digital strategy is underway.

Following the submission of correspondence to the Department, including the Oireachtas report identifying the unique challenges facing island schools,an intradepartmentalworking group was established in the Department of Education to explore the options for addressing these challenges and to set out recommendations to support post-primary schools located on islands in the Gaeltacht.

A package of additional supports was provided for each of the five island post-primary schools from September 2018 onwards. These supports are available in addition to the supports schools receive as part of the Gaeltacht Schools Recognition Scheme. The package of supports comprises:

- an additional teacher allocation for each of the island post-primary schools from an allocation of 1 full-time equivalent post to 1.5 full-time equivalent posts

- an additional ring-fenced budget of €15,000 per annum for each school

- the establishment of Coláiste Naomh Eoin, that previously had the status of an Aonad Teanga, as an independent stand-alone post-primary school on Inis Meáin, County Galway.

While Budget 2012 increased the appointment and retention ratios for small primary schools (i.e., schools with up to four classroom teachers), improvements to the staffing of these schools have been made in the last number of years. Improved retention thresholds for the 2nd, 3rd and 4th classroom teacher and also the improved appointment and retention thresholds for two-teacher schools, situated 8km or more from the nearest school of the same type of patronage and/or language of instruction were introduced for the 2015/16 school year. Budget 2017 announced two adjustments in relation to one teacher schools.

Where the school is the sole primary school on an island, the school will be able to appoint a second teacher. An additional appeal option was introduced for single teacher schools with pupils across 6 or more class groups, allowing them to apply for the appointment or retention of a second teacher on reduced enrolment thresholds. Small schools have also benefitted from the improvements to the staffing schedule introduced in 2016 and 2018.

For the 2021/22 school year, an improvement of one point in the appointment threshold in primary schools has been introduced and schools will be provided with class teachers on the basis of 1 teacher for every 25 pupils which is a historical low ratio. In addition, a three point reduction in the retention scale has also been introduced for September 2021. These measures will help to ensure that less pupils are required to recruit or retain a teacher.

Below in tabular format is an overview of the payments that have been made from my Department to the 12 primary island schoolsin 2020 and 2021 to date. These grant payments are administered from various areas within my Department.

My Department provides each Educational Training Board (ETB) with pay and non-pay budgets to support its individual ETB schools, colleges, head office and other centres of education, which would include the 5 Post-Primary island schools. It is a matter for each ETB how best to utilise such resources across the schools in their region. In the 2020/2021 school year, Galway Roscommon ETB was allocated 15 teaching posts and Donegal ETB was allocated 9 teaching posts in respect of island schools, small schools, Gaeltacht schools and co-ed schools in single catchment areas.

The Department of Education will continue to be represented on the Inter-Departmental Committee for the Development of the Islands, which was established by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in 2019.


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