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Other Questions. - Disadvantaged Status.

Wednesday, 18 December 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 559 No. 6

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 32. Mr. Rabbitte Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  asked the Minister for Education and Science Information on Noel Dempsey Zoom on Noel Dempsey  his specific proposals to meet the commitment given in An Agreed Programme for Government to implement changes to retention and support policies which will assist schools in areas of significant disadvantage to recruit and retain teachers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26711/02]

 46. Mr. P. Breen Information on Pat Breen Zoom on Pat Breen  asked the Minister for Education and Science Information on Noel Dempsey Zoom on Noel Dempsey  his plans to give teachers in disadvantaged areas an extra allowance to encourage them to remain in these areas or to take up posts in these areas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26594/02]

 87. Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin Information on Breeda Moynihan-Cronin Zoom on Breeda Moynihan-Cronin  asked the Minister for Education and Science Information on Noel Dempsey Zoom on Noel Dempsey  if his attention has been drawn to claims in the report, An Action Plan to End Education Disadvantage, that schools in disadvantaged areas were at crisis point in regard to attracting and retraining teachers; his plans to act on the calls made in the report for financial and other incentives to keep teachers in areas of disadvantage; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26704/02]

 88. Mr. G. Mitchell Information on Gay Mitchell Zoom on Gay Mitchell  asked the Minister for Education and Science Information on Noel Dempsey Zoom on Noel Dempsey  the way in which he intends to address the problem of recruitment and staff retention in disadvantaged schools. [26595/02]

Mr. N. Dempsey: Information on Noel Dempsey Zoom on Noel Dempsey I propose to take Questions Nos. 32, 46, 87 and 88 together.

An Agreed Programme for Government sets out a commitment to implement changes to retention and support policies which will assist schools in areas of significant disadvantage to recruit and retain teachers. My Department is committed to providing support for teachers in all primary schools. Following negotiations with teacher representatives, there have been many improvements in the conditions of service of teachers in recent times. These include the introduction of release time for teaching principals, improvements in conditions for the appointment of administrative principals, the introduction of payments in respect of supervision duties and the provision of increased substitute cover for absences.

My Department is in ongoing discussion with teachers' representatives concerning the conditions of service of primary teachers. The recruitment and retention of teaching staff is a difficulty for many boards of management at present due to the current shortage. The difficulty is not confined to disadvantaged schools alone. The action being taken to increase the teacher supply generally will ensure the current difficulties with regard to teacher supply will be eliminated. The difficulties currently experienced are aggravated by the number of teachers currently availing of the career break and job sharing schemes.

In the context of the commitment concerning retention and support policies referred to in the programme for Government, I have asked officials of my Department to examine how best this commitment can be implemented over the [1477]next five years and to consult with the partners in education in that regard. I understand a subgroup of the statutory committee on disadvantage is currently examining the recruitment and retention of teachers within schools in disadvantaged areas. I will examine any recommendations which this sub-committee may make on the issues.

Ms O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan Is the Minister alarmed by the recent report which reveals that more than 1,000 untrained teachers are working in primary schools and that the majority of the schools affected are in disadvantaged areas? I ask him to treat this as a matter of urgency because children who are already disadvantaged by virtue of where they live and their family backgrounds are being doubly disadvantaged by being taught by untrained teachers. Will he introduce measures to reduce class size and class contact time for teachers in disadvantaged schools? These would support and assist teachers who are, in many cases, under considerable pressure and stress. Does he have plans to involve community programmes in schools and provide support for communities in order to address the issue in a holistic way?

Mr. N. Dempsey: Information on Noel Dempsey Zoom on Noel Dempsey As the Deputy will appreciate, it is not possible for me to produce teachers from my back pocket. The problem of teacher shortages arose because the number of graduates allowed to enter primary teaching colleges fell to 150 in the 1995-96 period. This was addressed in a very substantial way in the past four to five years. Although it takes time to train teachers, fortunately, some 1,400 new teachers came through the system this year and the current level will be maintained.

It is a little contradictory to call for fewer children to be taught by untrained teachers while, at the same time, seeking a reduction in class contact times and pupil-teacher ratios as well as improved conditions for teachers. Every time one improves the lot of teachers by removing them from class contact, one exacerbates the problem on the other side. As I said recently, if all the qualified teachers on career breaks, on force majeure leave and on the other schemes in operation, which were designed not only for teachers but for everybody and to which they are entitled, were back in the system, there would not be a shortage.

My priority is to provide teachers and ensure children, particularly those in disadvantaged areas, have trained teachers. That may mean making decisions on other matters which will not reduce class contact hours for teachers or, effectively, reduce PT hours except in disadvantaged areas. They are the types of choices I will have to make. I am sure I will have the full support of the INTO which has said its members will not teach in schools with untrained teachers after 2005. If the INTO is serious, it will support me in trying to ensure we train the teachers we need and that they are in place by 2005, so that situation will [1478]not arise. It is incompatible to be shouting about reducing class sizes and PT hours while looking for more time off for teachers or more breaks. There must be a balance and I intend to balance it in favour of the pupils.

Ms Enright: Information on Olwyn Enright Zoom on Olwyn Enright Further to his comments a fortnight ago, does the Minister intend to pay bonuses to try to retain teachers in these schools? Where does he intend to get the funding to do that? There is a difference between disadvantaged areas and disadvantaged children. Does the Minister accept that many of the special programmes are targeted at relatively few urban schools in what would technically be called disadvantaged areas and that over 60% of disadvantaged pupils come from rural communities and towns? Does he have any proposals to spread those programmes out to those types of schools or will he target other programmes to try to deal with these children who may be scattered over a large number of schools in different areas?

Mr. N. Dempsey: Information on Noel Dempsey Zoom on Noel Dempsey There has been a move from disadvantaged areas and schools to disadvantaged pupils. That is something which is being considered. There is a certain validity in the argument that each child should be targeted. If one reduces the pupil teacher ratio in a school, it may not benefit the most disadvantaged pupils. It will, however, benefit them if the teacher uses the extra time he or she has to work with weaker students. There is a tendency with these blanket schemes that those who are already advantaged are even more advantaged and those who are disadvantaged are further disadvantaged. That is a problem we must address.

The Breaking the Cycle programme applies to urban and rural schools and the school completion programme will apply to both as well. We need to take a thorough look at all these schemes and at how we target disadvantage. The Deputies spoke about all the schemes and I think they were a bit unfair when they said they were not making a difference because they are. The question is whether they make enough of a difference. I agree with Deputies that they do not.

Mr. Gogarty: Information on Paul Nicholas Gogarty Zoom on Paul Nicholas Gogarty The Minister said job sharing and career breaks are affecting teacher numbers but said previously that he was looking at a plan to encourage people to work in disadvantaged areas for some form of non-financial incentive. Resource teachers sometimes take two or three children from each class in the morning and afternoon. Does he agree there is plenty of scope for job sharing as an incentive for resource teachers in particular? This could be targeted in a cost effective way.

Mr. Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton The Minister spoke primarily about primary schools. What suggestions has he in regard to second level schools? What are his views on weighted payments for teachers teaching in stressful conditions and on the home school [1479]liaison programme? Does he have plans to expand that programme?

Mr. N. Dempsey: Information on Noel Dempsey Zoom on Noel Dempsey I would have no difficulty with any scheme which got teachers into schools, whether resource, part-time or otherwise. The [1480]home school community liaison scheme appears to be working well and has had positive effects. It is a scheme at which we should look, particularly in light of the welfare board being put in place. There is room for more synergy there.

The Dáil adjourned at 6.15 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 29 January 2003.

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