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Adjournment Debate. - Blackrock (Louth) Teacher Loss.

Tuesday, 8 October 1996

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 469 No. 5

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Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern Zoom on Dermot Ahern I thank the Minister of State for taking this matter but I am sorry the Minister for Education is not here. I suppose if the Minister for Education were to reply to an Adjournment Debate we would be surprised because her record is not great.

This issue relates to my local national school which is attended by two of my young children. The school has been thrown into turmoil as a result of decisions made by the Minister. Some time ago the Minister decided that rather than allow a number of teachers, in the region of 250, to stay in the system and not go on a panel, she would take 100 of them and give extra teachers to disadvantaged schools around the country. Certain schools would lose a teacher because of falling numbers. It was a laudable suggestion by the Minister but has had dramatic effects on particular schools.

[1677] I make the case for this school because it is in an area which has an expanding population. For the last five or six years there has been an increase in enrolment. Unfortunately, this year the enrolment figures dropped in comparison to last year thereby allowing the Minister to reduce the number of teachers by one. The figures for the coming year, based on September's figures, show that this additional teacher will return. We are caught in a ludicrous situation where in an area which has the second highest increase in population in County Louth according to the census figures, the local school will lose a teacher. It has gained a teacher over the last couple of years because of rising figures. As a result of a blip in the system it has lost a teacher this year and next year it will gain a teacher. In future years it may even require an additional teacher and additional accommodation.

I ask the Minister of State to pass on the severe objections of the people in the locality. I attended a meeting which was called immediately after this issue came to light. There was general consensus that this was most unfair in an area where there was an upward trend in population. The teachers, board of management and parents are making the case that out of about 30 schools affected around the country this is one of the few — it may be the only one based on the figures — which shows an upward trend in pupil intake. I question taking teachers out of schools. From my information, 150 teachers will be deployed into the system elsewhere. With regard to this particular school it is losing a teacher for this year only and will gain one next year.

One teacher who was appointed recently had to move from the school on 1 October. This teacher was in the school for the first time and was settling in. It has caused huge disruption and six different classes have been affected. The pupil-teacher ratio in some of the classes is at the limit. I ask the Minister [1678] to make an exception with regard to this school. The figures show an upward trend rather than the general downward trend in the rest of the country. The school was nine pupils short based on September's figures.

The Minister made some concessions where she originally allowed three extra teachers over the limit and has now given up to five. That does not take into account the fact that the population trend in this area is increasing rather than decreasing. Will the Minister of State pass on to the Minister a request made by me and other Oireachtas Members in the constituency on behalf of the various interests in the school that she meet a deputation from the school so that they can put their case directly to her?

When I left my children to the school this morning I witnessed the grave disruption there as a result of removing the teacher. The people are very annoyed because they believed that settlement of the dispute between the INTO and the Department would result in the teacher being left in the school. Unfortunately, just before that school and a number of others were due to go on strike, they learnt that they would not benefit from the settlement. It is ludicrous for the Minister to decide, based on numbers in a particular year, that a teacher will be removed given that next year the teacher will be replaced.

Mr. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan I thank the Deputy for affording me this opportunity to reply to the debate on behalf of the Minister for Education. The Minister is keenly aware of the position as set out by Deputy Ahern and is anxious to assist in every way possible. She has gone to considerable lengths to see what can be done.

The thirteenth assistant's post at Blackrock national school was suppressed at the end of the 1995-96 school year due to declining enrolments. The authorised staffing at the school for the [1679] current school year consists of a principal and 12 assistant teachers. The Deputy is no doubt aware that the staffing of a primary school is determined by reference to the enrolment of the school on 30 September of the previous year. This accords with an agreement on staffing entered into between the Government and the INTO.

The enrolment of Blackrock national school on 30 September 1996 was 383 pupils. The retention figure for the thirteenth assistant's post was 392 pupils. Accordingly, not only was the enrolment at Blackrock national school nine points below the retention figure for the thirteenth assistant's post, but additionally, the enrolment at the school had decreased by 26 pupils between 1994 and 1995. In the circumstances, the thirteenth assistant's post at the school was suppressed in June 1996. The most junior assistant teacher in the school exercised her option of having her name placed on the diocesan panel for redeployment, which has now occurred.

I would also point out to the Deputy that in addition to the staffing which I mentioned above, this school also has the services of a full-time remedial teacher. The staffing agreement mentioned above can be deviated from and additional posts allocated to a school in the current school year if one of two circumstances exists.

The first circumstance refers to a situation whereby a school achieves developing school status. This occurs as a result of rapid enrolment growth. In the case of Blackrock national school, in order for it to achieve developing school status, it would need to increase its enrolment in September, 1996 to 413 pupils. I understand that the enrolment at Blackrock national school in the current year has increased to 396. If this is a valid enrolment, it will be sufficient for the reappointment of the thirteenth assistant's post from the start of the 1997-98 school year. However, it is [1680] clearly not sufficient to qualify the school for developing school status.

The second circumstance arises when a school is in breach of maximum class size guidelines. Maximum class size guidelines in the current school year are as follows: 35 applies in the case of a single grade class grouping, 34 in the case of two consecutive class groupings, 31 in the case of multi-grade class groups and 29 in the case of schools designated as disadvantaged. Clearly, if the managerial authorities at the school are unable to manage the existing enrolment within the recommended guidelines mentioned above, it is open to authorities to contact my Department in the matter.

While the staffing schedule attached to the annual staffing circular 13/96 remains unaltered, it was decided to implement some interim changes in a number of the retention figures. I emphasise that these were once off adjustments for the 1996-97 school year only and occurred at the retention points for the third to the fourteenth assistant inclusive. Even allowing for these amendments, it was still not posible to save the thirteenth assistant's post at Blackrock national school.

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