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Priority Questions - School Staffing

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 752 No. 2

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 1.  Deputy Brendan Smith Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith  asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  if he is committed to reversing in full the decision taken in budget 2012 to cut 428 DEIS posts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3109/12]

 2.  Deputy Seán Crowe Information on Sean Crowe Zoom on Sean Crowe  asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  in view of his public statement in relation to budget 2012, and its negative impact on DEIS band schools, if he will clarify the terms of reference of the review he intends to carry out; and the implications this review will have on the 428 legacy teaching posts that predate DEIS. [3233/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn): Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 and 2 together.

I announced in the House on 11 January that my Department will be reporting to me within four weeks on the impact of the withdrawal of certain posts allocated under previous disadvantaged schemes in DEIS Band 1 and Band 2 primary schools, following concerns raised with me by some schools that will be adversely affected by these budget measures.

[274]This report will detail the facts for each individual school affected by this measure, applying the most up-to-date enrolments for September 2011. In addition, the report will take account of the net effect of a range of factors on teacher allocations in these schools, for example, increasing and decreasing enrolments and reforms to the existing teacher allocations process, all of which will determine the staffing requirement for these schools for the 2012-2013 school year.

It is only when this report is made available to me that I will be in a position to make a decision on the final outcome for the individual schools involved.

Deputy Brendan Smith: Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith I thank the Minister for his reply. I am glad that last week he admitted that the wrong option had been taken on DEIS. I am not making a meal of it; I do not believe in such commentary. We get on with the business.

There is evidence, from the Educational Research Centre and from speaking to parents and teachers, that DEIS has been very successful. In a comparison of the same pupils’ achievements on two occasions in the three years covered by the education research review, the measurement of their achievements in second class in 2007 and fifth class in 2010 showed significant improvements.

My understanding is that the Department offered the dramatic reduction in DEIS as one of the spending options to the Minister’s colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, in September last. Surely there was an onus to undertake a proper and detailed analysis on the implications of reducing DEIS posts. The Minister, Deputy Quinn, has correctly spoken about the need to improve numeracy and literacy and all of us in this House have agreed with him in all our discussions, through parliamentary questions, Private Members’ business or whatever, in this House. There is evidence that numeracy and literacy has been improved due to DEIS and the different allocations of extra support available for those schools in disadvantaged areas.

Is the Minister indicating that only certain posts will be restored? There is a view out there that the proposals announced on the implications of the budget for the DEIS scheme would be reversed and the Minister is saying today that they will not be reversed in total.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn There never was any intention to remove any of the DEIS Band 1 and Band 2 allocations to those schools. What was proposed with the introduction of DEIS in the mid-2000s was that in schools located in DEIS areas which, prior to the introduction of DEIS, had received disadvantaged status of a particular kind and had received, as a consequence, some posts — a much smaller number than those of DEIS and not based on the same overall criteria as that of DEIS — which were left intact in those schools, those posts would be removed. For reasons that I do not know or do not understand, those existing posts were left intact before DEIS was rolled out and when DEIS was rolled out, those posts were left intact. Therefore, one could have two DEIS schools side by side, with one that had posts from previous disadvantaged scheme with the same profile of disadvantage having more resources than another DEIS school that came into the system in the first instance. What was proposed was that we would remove those extra posts in real terms as part and parcel of the overall necessary reduction.

I merely want to clarify that there is nothing in the intentions in the past or in the future that would diminish the status of DEIS schools as DEIS schools. What is proposed is to look at the examination. There is also the possibility if enrolment numbers have dropped, given the general allocation model, GAM, that we are now obliged to alter because circumstances [275]change, there is also a necessity for us to look at the impact of the new allocation of resources or GAM which may bring about changes in that school that would have nothing to do with its disadvantage status but would have everything to do with its enrolment.

Deputy Seán Crowe: Information on Sean Crowe Zoom on Sean Crowe I have just come from the INTO rally at Marlborough House where the common theme was that people were confused about the review and what exactly is involved in it.

I listened to what the Minister stated about the 428 legacy posts. Some of those legacy posts came to schools due to Breaking the Cycle. There was an acceptance that there was disadvantage in certain schools but in some of those schools the disadvantage was even more extreme. The Minister’s predecessor looked at that and some schools were assigned a 15:1 allocation for specific problems within them.

I have a couple of questions, on the review itself but, first, on the 428 legacy posts. We all know the possible removal of those posts is the crux of the matter of concern. I do not believe anyone has a difficulty where there are falling enrolments. That is not coming into the equation with anyone on the matter of losing teacher posts in schools. The concern was that some of the schools would lose up to a third or a quarter of their teachers, perhaps ten teachers, which is not sustainable.

The Minister met his party’s Members and gave assurances that he would look at schools individually. Will the review be done on an individual school basis? Will it be done purely on a number-crunching basis? Will the Department look at the issues in each school? The Minister stated it would be a four-week review. When he gets the review back, what then will be the timescale?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt I thank the Deputy.

Deputy Seán Crowe: Information on Sean Crowe Zoom on Sean Crowe If possible, if the Minister does not have time today, he should get that information out there. There is considerable confusion right across the board, not only among principals but among parents and children, and it is not helping the situation in education.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn I agree with the Deputy Crowe analysis of the perception out there.

An existing DEIS school that does not have any legacy posts could be scheduled to lose a post because numbers have fallen under the general allocation model. That number projected to possibly come out of the system was presented by some of the schools’ advocates to Members of the Oireachtas as part and parcel of the specific reduction of this measure. That is confusing. I was confronted with a serious of calculations presented to Members such as Deputy Crowe and his constituency colleagues that was totally at variance with what I understood to be the impact of the measure.

What I have done is say: “Hold on, let us compare the figures that are coming from the schools themselves with what we had intended to propose”. This measure was supposed to be implemented over a period of three years and it is conceivable, and for reasons that we all understand, that somebody stated that the net impact of this decision, knowing that maybe their school had lost numbers, was their school would lose X number of teachers whereas the information that the Department had was that it would be a different number. I decided that we get clarity on the facts, agree them and then decide what action must be taken.

As I have stated elsewhere, whatever savings I must find will have to come from within the primary school section of the overall budget because of the totality of the sums that I have to [276]achieve. The budget is over and it has been voted on. I have to find alternative savings within that framework.

Deputy Brendan Smith: Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith As we all know, 30 September is the important date for school enrolments. Surely when the Department presented possible options to the Minister for making savings and reducing expenditure, his decision should have been based on the most up to date information on school enrolments. We have access to modern technology and we pride ourselves on quick access to information. There is no reason that a school could not be obliged to supply the relevant data to the Department by early October. Either enrolment is a certain figure on 30 September or it is not. It is wrong to base decisions on outdated enrolments. As the Minister will be aware from speaking to parents, teachers and his Department’s inspectors, DEIS has been very successful.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn Nobody is disputing that.

Deputy Brendan Smith: Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith I implore him to complete the review at the earliest opportunity to ensure the maximum support is provided to these schools. There is concern that the Minister’s proposals will spread the 428 legacy posts across the mainstream system. Teachers fear they will be taken from DEIS schools and employed elsewhere. Is the Minister indicating that posts will still be cut at these schools or will he await the completion of the review? Will he be contacting principals and how will the review be carried out?

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn On Deputy Smith’s question, unfortunately my predecessors — his colleagues — did not upgrade the information gathering system and we still use pigeon post to send the data. The census is completed manually by each school at the end of September and then it has to be collated manually.

Deputy Brendan Smith: Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith The exercise is not that big.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn It is an enormous exercise considering that 3,200 primary schools must fill in, perhaps, 20 fields of information. The information cannot even be filed electronically. We had the data from the previous year last September. I am hoping to address the issue but the Department’s data system is not great and, unlike the Department of Social Protection, the data do not speak to each other.

I agree with the Deputy in regard to DEIS. This is not an attack on DEIS whatsoever, although it suited some people to understand it that way. This is an identification of inequality within the DEIS system, whereby certain schools have retained more resources than the school down the road with the same characteristics of deprivation.

To answer Deputy Crowe’s question, I am going to wait until I get up-to-date facts before deciding my options. I am not in a position today to indicate what I will do. I now hope to have the necessary facts within the next three and a half weeks given that last week I indicated a timeframe of four weeks. At the end of the process, and irrespective of what decisions are made, it will go out in a general allocation to all the primary schools. As we have brought back the process by three months, there will be sufficient time for any school to appeal its allocation and provide for the recruitment, retention or deployment of resources for next September.

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