Tuesday, 25 May 2021
Department of Education and Skills
345. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if the staffing appeal for the 2021-2022 academic year for a school (details supplied) will be considered on the basis that a loss of a staff member would result in the overcrowding of 26 pupils in a 45 metre sq. classroom making social distancing very challenging to implement; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27754/21]
The key factor for determining the level of staffing resources provided at individual school level is the staffing schedule for the relevant school year and pupil enrolments on the previous 30 September. The staffing schedule operates in a clear and transparent manner and treats all similar types of schools equally irrespective of location.
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.
My Department has published a suite of helpful guidance for the safe and sustainable operation of schools including illustrative Primary Classroom Layouts to facilitate physical distancing requirements for primary schools. Each school should use their COVID-19 Response Plan for the safe operation through the prevention, early detection and control of COVID-19 in line with the public health advice. This guidance is focused on the practical steps school must take to minimise the risk of transmission of infection.
The configuration of classes and the deployment of classroom teachers are done at local school level. The Department's guidance to schools is that the number of pupils in any class is kept as low as possible taking all relevant contextual factors into account (e.g. classroom accommodation, fluctuating enrolment etc.).
The staffing process contains an appeals mechanism for schools to submit a staffing appeal under certain criteria to an independent Primary Staffing Appeals Board. The school referred to by the Deputy submitted a staffing appeal which was deemed ineligible by the Appeals Board as the grounds of the appeal did not meet the published appeals criteria. The school has been notified of this decision. The Primary Staffing Appeals Board operates independently of the Department and its decision is final.
346. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if she will address the significant inequalities in pay, conditions and pension and other entitlements facing many school secretaries. [27812/21]
I am keenly aware of the vital contribution of secretaries and caretakers within school communities and I recognise the very important work done by these staff, and the other support staff in the running of our schools.
In recognition of their role, I have put special arrangements in place for this school year whereby schools will be funded to employ a replacement secretary or caretaker in the event that staff who are at very high risk of contracting serious illness from COVID-19 cannot work on the school premises. I have also extended the Employee Assistance Service to all school staff including secretaries and caretakers.
The majority of primary and voluntary secondary schools receive assistance to provide for secretarial, caretaking and cleaning services under grant schemes. Where a school employs a staff member to support those functions those staff are employees of individual schools and responsibility for terms of employment rests with the school.
On foot of a Chairman’s Note to the Lansdowne Road Agreement, my Department implemented the 2015 recommendations of an independent arbitrator. The Arbitrator recommended a cumulative pay increase of 10% between 2016 and 2019 and that a minimum hourly pay rate of €13 be phased in over that period. This arbitration agreement covered the period up to 31 December 2019 and has been fully implemented and increased funding was provided by my Department.
The arbitration agreement was designed to be of greatest benefit to lower-paid secretaries and caretakers. For example, a secretary or caretaker who was paid the then minimum wage of €8.65 per hour in 2015 prior to the arbitration has from 1 January 2019 been paid €13 per hour which is a 50% increase in that individual’s hourly pay.
Fórsa trade union has tabled a follow-on claim from the 2015 agreement. Officials from my Department, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and School Management Bodies have been engaging with Fórsa on the claim. On the 27th of October 2020, under the auspices of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), an understanding was agreed on a pathway to progress the issues. Several key strands have been identified, and a phased approach is being taken to the development of proposals. The parties continue to engage under the auspices of the WRC and I support meaningful engagement on this issue by all parties.