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 Header Item Special Educational Needs Service Provision (Continued)
 Header Item Teaching Qualifications
 Header Item Schools Building Projects Status

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 971 No. 2

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Deputy Michael Moynihan: Information on Michael Moynihan Zoom on Michael Moynihan Special needs assistant, SNA, allocations for September have been made in the past couple of weeks. In some instances, where there have been three SNAs in a school, a small amount of time has been added to the SNA allocation. It is divided between the SNAs, giving the impression that four are working in the school, but a minuscule amount of time has been added to the overall allocation. Has there been an attempt by the Department to give the impression that more SNAs are working in schools when the hours added equate to 0.2 of a working unit? There seems to be an attempt to give the impression that there are more SNAs, but the amount of time involved is minuscule.

Deputy Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne Deputy Margaret Murphy O'Mahony raised a point that I mentioned last week and which was made in written questions yesterday. It relates to nursing. The written reply concerned the concerns of the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, about nursing support in schools. It is very worrying that the Minister does not seem to be acting on it. A report has been compiled, but it has not been published. The Minister has said he is looking at what can be done. It is not a costly or expensive option, but, as Deputy Margaret Murphy O'Mahony said today, as I said last week and as the NCSE indicated a year and a half ago, there will be a medical crisis in schools if there is no nursing support for SNAs. I urge the Minister to show more urgency in providing nursing support for students with complex medical needs.

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton I welcome the interest in the report. There is the question of complex medical needs that is clearly highlighted in the report. The NCSE calls for a new approach that would involve ring-fencing nursing support in order that it would be part of a new approach to supporting schools and involve a range of therapies. As of today, nursing support provision is the responsibility of the Department of Health, not the Department of Education and Skills. The provision of nursing support for the schools will be through the Department of Health. What is at stake is the delivery of a new model. The Deputy is right in saying we sat down, in the light of the NCSE's concerns, and work is ongoing between my Department and the Department of Health to improve such support. There are 1,090 full-time equivalent SNAs being allocated; 800 were allocated recently and more will be allocated at the start of the coming year, in January. There has been no change in the way SNAs are allocated. They are allocated on the basis of the profiled need within a school. Every child who needs an SNA has one provided under this process. The NCSE independently decides on the level of need.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy I am very reluctant to cut across Members on such an important matter. Although we are way over time, I will allow quick final questions from the Deputies and a reply from the Minister.

Deputy Margaret Murphy O'Mahony: Information on Margaret Murphy O'Mahony Zoom on Margaret Murphy O'Mahony I am worth it. The report also mentions the renaming of SNAs as "inclusion support assistants". Will that recommendation be implemented? The term SNA is very well known at this stage and I wonder if it is necessary to change the title. Irrespective of that happening, how will the Minister ensure SNAs will only do the job they are meant to do? The NCSE's report gives a number of examples of other roles they are carrying out, including teaching, which they are not qualified to do. This happens, despite circulars indicating that SNAs are there to assist teachers in meeting the care needs of students and that they do not have a teaching role. They are also asked to do other things that are not included in their job description.

Deputy Michael Moynihan: Information on Michael Moynihan Zoom on Michael Moynihan Will the Minister have look at the case I raised if I give him the details?

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton Yes, of course. The NCSE has recommended use of the term "inclusion support assistants" to move away from the idea of special need and in order to emphasise student independence. It is about allowing pupils to be included, gain their independence and develop. It is seen to be more appropriate as a pupil gets older and the concept of special needs assistant is less attuned with a growing adolescent.

I acknowledge the interesting research included in the NCSE;s report that demonstrates where SNAs are involved in teaching, it damages a child's progress. It is right that we be clear on what an SNA does. A national training programme for SNAs is envisaged to enhance the role and quality of service they can deliver.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy As I am endeavouring to get in three more questions, I suggest Deputies forgo the introductions.

Teaching Qualifications

 63. Deputy Kathleen Funchion Information on Kathleen Funchion Zoom on Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton if guidelines or provisions will be put in place to ensure second level students are taught maths by a teacher with a degree in the area in view of the fact that a recent report (details supplied) revealed that 20% of second year students were taught by a teacher with no specialist degree in the area, compared with the international average of 13%; and if provisions will be made to ensure adequate tutoring time is given to mathematics and science in view of the fact that this is also below the international average.  [29368/18]

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton This question relates to the teaching of maths and whether those teaching it have the appropriate degrees. The Deputy will note that the performance of students in Ireland in mathematics and science is relatively high by international standards. The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, TIMMS, to which she is referring, found that only six from 39 countries obtained significantly higher mean scores than Ireland in mathematics, with none of those in Europe. The report also notes that there does not appear to be a direct relationship between instructional time and student achievement. Whereas many of the highest performing countries devoted more instructional time to mathematics than Ireland, not all did.

The science, technology, engineering and mathematics, STEM, policy statement and implementation plan which I launched in November 2017 aims to make Ireland the best in Europe in STEM subjects by 2026. Within the school system, new initiatives and curriculum developments will support greater participation and improved performance in STEM subjects. Curricular reform at junior and senior cycle will provide enhanced opportunities for teaching and learning in these subjects. This will build on the good progress already made. A report published in 2010 by the University of Limerick indicated that in a study of 51 schools, 48% of teachers included in the study did not have a major teaching qualification in mathematics. On foot of this, with funding from the Department, more than 1,300 out-of-field maths teachers will have gained a postgraduate qualification through the a programme led by EPI-STEM, the national centre for STEM education at the University of Limerick. Whereas the findings are not directly comparable, the TIMMS report suggests the position on out-of-field mathematics teachers taking classes in schools has improved compared with that in 2010.

Deputy Kathleen Funchion: Information on Kathleen Funchion Zoom on Kathleen Funchion I will only need one minute on this question and will not need to come back with a supplementary question. We are raising it on the back of a report conducted that studied fourth class and second year students. It was indicated that 20% were being taught by persons with no specialist degree. That figure is much higher than the international average of 13%. Given that it is a very difficult and specialised subject, we hope students will be taught by persons with a specialist degree. I understand what the Minister is saying about the general standard, but it seems from the study that as pupils progress from primary to secondary school, the level deteriorates or drops off. That coincides with students seeking maths grinds in fifth and sixth year. Clearly, there is some difficulty. It is about highlighting it and receiving some assurances that, in general, we will try to aim to reach the international average of 13%.

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton We were near the top of the group at primary level and only Northern Ireland was ahead of us among European countries. At second level, no other European country was significantly ahead of us. We are not behind. The investment of €7 million and the 1,300 upgraded maths teachers have made an impact. We need to continue to work on the issue of teacher supply and it is something we have discussed here. Maths and physics will be the key subjects on which there will be a focus.

Schools Building Projects Status

 64. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan Information on Maureen O'Sullivan Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton if his attention has been drawn to the need to fully complete the building project at a school (details supplied) including addressing heating and water systems and so on; if correspondence has been received from the school; his plans to liaise with a local sports club on parking and playing space; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [29217/18]

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton This question relates to Gaelscoil Bharra in Cabra. The school building was handed over for occupation on 1 September 2017. However, as part of the contract for the project, some outstanding works remain to be completed at the adjacent Naomh Fionnbarra GAA Club, including completion of the all-weather pitch and car park reinstatement work. There are also a number of snags to be resolved in the school building, including issues with the heating system.

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