Written answers

Thursday, 4 July 2024

Department of Education and Skills

Education Costs

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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287. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the estimated full-year cost of making primary- and post-primary education totally free, i.e., abolishing all charges (including voluntary contributions), providing free school uniforms, books and all other required equipment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28846/24]

Photo of Norma FoleyNorma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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As the Deputy will be aware, my Department was voted over €10.9bn gross expenditure in the annual REV for 2024. This represents a substantial investment in our education system and in our children and young people.

There are many different aspects to a child progressing through our school system and costs associated with these. These include school books, school uniforms, school transport and extra-curricular activities such as school trips. These vary from pupil to pupil and therefore, it is not possible to put a figure on all these costs, as requested by the Deputy.

However, I can confirm that my Department provides grant funding to schools to cater for various costs, including school running costs, ancillary services and minor works. There are various circulars from my Department that give guidance on the use of such funding. They also provide discretion to the school authorities in determining the level of activities, equipment and other resources needed by pupils enrolled in their individual schools. This recognises that schools are best-positioned to determine the priorities in their own particular school environment.

In recognition of the particular challenges facing some schools, the Delivering Equality of Opportunity (DEIS) Programme addresses educational disadvantage at school level in a targeted and equitable way. I have increased the overall allocation for the DEIS programme to over €180 million in 2024.

In addition, I have introduced a free school book scheme for primary school pupils for the current school year. This free school book scheme will be expanded to Junior Cycle pupils from September for the coming school year 2024/25. I have allocated over €110m to these schemes, which will benefit some 770,000 pupils.

I have also maintained the reduced charges on school transport for the coming 2024/25 school year and continued the waiver for this year’s entry fees for students sitting the Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate examinations.

When allocating the additional cost of living funding of €90m in 2022 and a further €60m in 2023 to support schools facing increased running costs, my Department made clear my expectation that this additional funding should mean that schools would not have to seek additional contributions from parents as a consequence of the increased in the cost of living. While voluntary contributions may be requested by schools, it is important to note that it must be made absolutely clear to parents that there is no requirement to pay, and that, in making a contribution, they are doing so of their own choice. In addition to these significant financial supports towards the running costs of schools, I also secured a permanent increase in the basic rate of capitation to €200 and €345 for primary and post primary pupils respectively for the coming school year, through an additional investment of €21 million.

In addition, supports are provided to parents of children attending school by my colleague the Minister for Social Protection through the payment of the Back to School Clothing and Footwear allowance on an annual basis along with the new free school meals initiative that is currently being rolled out further within certain schools.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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288. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the estimated full-year cost of doubling capitation grants to primary schools; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28847/24]

Photo of Norma FoleyNorma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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My Department is committed to providing funding to recognised primary and post-primary schools in the free education scheme by way of per capita grants. The two main grants are the Capitation grant to cater for day to day running costs such as heating, lighting, cleaning, insurance and general up-keep, and the Ancillary grant to cater for the cost of employing ancillary services staff. Schools have the flexibility to use capitation funding provided for general running costs and ancillary funding provided for caretaking and secretarial services as a common grant from which the Board of Management can allocate according to its own priorities.

The current standard rate of Capitation grant is €183 per student and the current rate of the Ancillary grant is €173 per student in primary schools. Primary schools with less than 60 pupils are paid the Capitation and the Ancillary grants on the basis of having 60 pupils.

As part of the capitation package in Budget 2024 I am pleased to have secured €21 million as a permanent increase in capitation funding to assist schools now and longer term with increased day-to-day running costs. This will support a permanent restoration of funding for all primary and post-primary schools from September 2024. This will bring the basic rate of capitation grant to the pre-2011 level of €200 per student in primary schools. Enhanced rates will also be paid in respect of pupils with Special Educational Needs and Traveller pupils. This represents an increase of circa 9.2% of current standard and enhanced capitation rates.

Based on the current standard rate of Capitation grant, the estimated cost of a 100% increase in the rate of Capitation grant for 2024/2025 academic year at primary level is a first year cost of €34 million and a full year cost of €99.8 million.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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289. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the estimated full-year cost of providing universal access to the school transport scheme and providing access to all applicants based on applications made last year; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28848/24]

Photo of Norma FoleyNorma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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The School Transport Scheme is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department of Education. In the current school year over 161,600 children, including over 135,000 pupils travelling on primary and post primary services, 19,800 pupils with special educational needs, and 6,800 pupils who have arrived to Ireland from Ukraine are transported on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country.

The total cost of the scheme in 2023 was €382.02m.

The scheme is a demand led scheme and costs can vary from year to year based on the number of children for whom services are provided for in any given year and any additional costs incurred due to external factors such as for example the impact of Covid-19, the requirement to provide transport for children who have arrived to Ireland from Ukraine and the cost of living measures agreed by Government as they related to school transport.

The full cost of operating the scheme has increased from €200.2m in 2018 to €382.02m in 2023. The number of pupils travelling on school transport services over the period 2018/19 to 2022/23 has increased from some 117,800 pupils to over 161,600 pupils.

In general the unit cost for transporting mainstream students is approx. €1,400 per annum, while the unit cost for transporting students with special educational needs can be upwards of €10,000 per student depending on whether a School Transport Escort is required.

It is worth noting that there are other costs associated with the School Transport Scheme such as the provision of Special Transport Grants and Remote Area Grants where these grants are required.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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290. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the estimated full-year cost of increasing expenditure on education to the OECD average per student of 27% per capita GDP; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28849/24]

Photo of Norma FoleyNorma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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As the Deputy will be aware, my Department’s voted estimate for capital and current expenditure for 2024 stands at over €10.9 billion. This represents an increase of over €2.8 billion or 35% since 2019. This is the third largest budget across Government, and the largest ever investment in our schools. This indicates the strong commitment to investment in education by this Government.

In the lead up to the 2025 Budget, as Minister for Education, I will continue to deliver on the priorities outlined in the Programme for Government and to continue to support the students, staff and families in the education sector. As I am sure the Deputy appreciates, it would not be appropriate for me to outline any more specific plans at this stage of the Budgetary process but over the last four years, I have delivered substantial increases in investment in our Education system, and I remain committed to this vision of a world class education system for all.

The OECD average, as referenced by the Deputy, is taken from the annual ‘OECD Education at a Glance’ report. This report uses GDP as the base against which to compare investment in education across different OECD members. As the Deputy will be aware, senior academics and other independent analysts have raised questions regarding the use of GDP as the most appropriate measure of the size of the Irish economy. To assist with this, my department published a paper on this matter in October 2022 to assist users of these statistics to understand this issue. This paper is available on www.gov.ie under OECD briefing notes.

This paper outlines how the very large increase of 34% in GDP between 2014 and 2015 raised questions about the usefulness of GDP as an accounting standard for Ireland and its distorting effects on measures such as spend per capita on education. In order to help in analysis of the Irish macroeconomy and in the derivation of other such development indicators, a special measure, GNI-Star (GNI*), which excludes these distorting factors by (for example) excluding the net profits of companies that have been sent abroad, rather than staying in the Irish economy. GNI* has been calculated by the Central Statistics Office (2016) and is available as a continuous series (alongside GDP) from 1995. For context, according to the CSO, in 2021 GNI* was about 30 per cent below the level of GDP. An indication of the more appropriate value of GNI* versus GDP is that GNI* is now being used instead of GDP in national policy for example, the National Development Plan, 2021-2030. The Department of Finance uses GNI* in meeting the Government’s European budgetary requirements with debt-to-GNI* figures rather than debt-to-GDP.

The briefing paper referenced above outlines how, using the alternative measure of GNI*, education expenditure in 2020 as a percentage of GNI* stood at 5.8%. This compares favorably to the OECD average for education expenditure as a percentage of national income, which stood at 5.1% in 2020. The document also looks at Ireland’s spend on education as a percentage of total Government spending and this also compares well internationally.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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291. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the estimated full-year cost of increasing the ancillary grant to a level sufficient to cover average school running costs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28850/24]

Photo of Norma FoleyNorma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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My Department is committed to providing funding to recognised primary and post-primary schools in the free education scheme by way of per capita grants. The two main grants are the Capitation grant to cater for day to day running costs such as heating, lighting, cleaning, insurance and general up-keep, and the Ancillary grant to cater for the cost of employing ancillary services staff. Schools have the flexibility to use capitation funding provided for general running costs and ancillary funding provided for caretaking and secretarial services as a common grant from which the Board of Management can allocate according to its own priorities, except for cases where a secretary is now paid from my Department’s payroll as per circular 36/2022.

The current standard rate of Capitation grant is €183 per student and the current rate of the Ancillary grant is €173 per student in primary schools. Primary schools with less than 60 pupils are paid the Capitation and the Ancillary grants on the basis of having 60 pupils.

In addition to these grants, €20 million in funding was issued in October 2023, to support all recognised primary and post-primary schools in the free education scheme. This funding was the first tranche of an overall additional €60 million funding announced as part of Budget 2024 measures designed to assist schools with increased day-to-day running costs such as heating and electricity. A further €40 million in funding was delivered in early 2024.

As part of the capitation package in Budget 2024 I am pleased to have secured €21 million as a permanent increase in capitation funding to assist schools now and longer term with increased day-to-day running costs. This will support a permanent restoration of funding for all primary and post-primary schools from September 2024. This will bring the basic rate of capitation grant to the pre-2011 level of €200 per student in primary schools. Enhanced rates will also be paid in respect of pupils with Special Educational Needs and Traveller pupils. This represents an increase of circa 9.2% of current standard and enhanced capitation rates.

As you may be aware, - following the acceptance by Fórsa of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) agreement in respect of salaries and various leave entitlements for grant-funded school secretaries, - those secretaries who accepted the terms of this agreement were placed on a payroll operated by my Department from September 2023. Therefore, ancillary related-grant funding has been revised to reflect the fact that schools are no longer paying these salaries directly.

The arrangements for the 2023/24 school year are based on reducing grants by the value of the salary schools paid to grant-funded secretaries prior to their acceptance of the new terms and conditions. Schools provided my Department with these details and this information is now being used to reduce the ancillary-related grant funding.

Correspondence issued to all schools on 20th December 2023 providing details of these arrangements for the period September to December 2023. Further correspondence issued on 26th April 2024 setting out the position for the period January to August 2024.

In the 2023/24 school year, schools have been paid the usual ancillary grant amount, minus the amount that schools previously paid to grant-funded secretaries prior to their acceptance of the new terms and conditions. Schools are in no way disadvantaged by this, as the grant is reduced only by the amount they previously paid to their secretaries.

Schools have been advised that work and engagement is ongoing to identify a method of standardising the reduction to the Ancillary and SSSF Grants for the longer term, where school secretaries are being paid via a payroll operated by my Department. It is not possible to provide an estimated costing for an increase in this grant funding at present.

Any possible further increases will be part of Budget 2025 negotiations. While not wishing to pre-empt the outcomes of any future Budget negotiations or fiscal parameters agreed by Government, the Department of Education will continue to seek and prioritise the additional funding required to meet the ongoing costs of running schools as part of the annual Estimates process.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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292. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the estimated full-year cost of reinstating the numbers of assistant principals to the highest previous level. [28851/24]

Photo of Norma FoleyNorma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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I recognise the key role school leadership has in promoting a school environment which is welcoming, inclusive and accountable

Budget 2017 allowed for the commencement of restoration of middle management posts as part of an agreed distributed leadership model and meant lifting the rigidity of the longstanding moratorium on these posts. The equivalent of approximately 1,300 middle management posts (Assistant Principal I and Assistant Principal II) were restored at both primary and second-level. (2,600 in total)

My Department committed to annually revising the allocation of Posts of Responsibility to take into account retirements during the school year which has ensured that the current level of Posts of Responsibility (PORs) are maintained in the school system. The Sectoral Bargaining process under Building Momentum for the primary sector has been used to increase posts of responsibility (POR) in primary and special schools by 1,450 posts.

Budget 2024 has also provided for an additional 1000 post of responsibility (500 APII posts in both primary and second-level) for the 2024/25 school year and a revised Post of Responsibility Schedule has issued to schools to reflect this increase in Assistant Principal II posts available to schools from September 2024.

In the intervening period to enhance middle management structures in schools, enrolment thresholds for Deputy Principals were altered to allow for additional Deputy Principals in our second-level schools. The number of posts allocated in respect of the Deputy Principal allocation has increased from 393 in 2016 to 1024 for 2024/25 school year i.e. a significant increase of over 630 Deputy Principal posts in 8 years. These additional posts provide resources to focus on leadership and management in our schools.

As a result of Budget 2022, I ensured that all primary schools with a teaching principal have a minimum of 37 Principal Release Days. i.e. one administrative day per week since September 2022. Schools with one special class have 4 additional release days, a total of 41 in the school year and schools with 2 special classes have admin principal status.

Other measures introduced at primary level in the intervening period in relation to School Management structures include:

  • all teachers in 2 teacher schools gaining Deputy Principal status as opposed to holding AP II posts.
  • Administrative Principal pupil threshold reduced from an enrolment of 178 to 169 with Deputy Admin Principal threshold reduced from and enrolment of 655 to 573.
As well as general teaching posts improvements, a new leadership framework introduced in 2017 allows for flexibility in identifying and prioritising the evolving leadership and management needs of schools. This shared leadership model supports school leaders in the overall management and operation of schools. It provides for the assignment and re-assignment of post holders to specific roles and responsibilities to meet a school’s evolving needs. Today, 1 in 3 primary and second-level teachers hold management positions in our schools.

My Department and I are currently turning our thoughts to Education 2050 and how we take the best elements of our schools and build on this to create a system for future generations. The small schools project is an example of school communities coming together to explore and trail new ideas for the future including how admin supports can assist teaching principals with their administrative duties. It is acknowledged by my department that implementing policies while teaching can be challenging.

As well as general teaching posts improvements, a new leadership framework introduced in 2017 allows for flexibility in identifying and prioritising the evolving leadership and management needs of schools. This shared leadership model supports school leaders in the overall management and operation of schools. It provides for the assignment and re-assignment of post holders to specific roles and responsibilities to meet a school’s evolving needs.

The estimated full-year cost of reinstating the numbers of assistant principals to the highest previous level is €27.7m i.e. €4.4m at primary level and €23.3m at second-level.

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