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 Header Item Special Educational Needs Services Provision (Continued)
 Header Item School Staffing
 Header Item State Examinations Issues

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 809 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn] There is also the question of considering outcomes as distinct from inputs in order to see whether the model is working in the way we want it to work and whether we are ensuring that youngsters in their mid-teens are developing the skill sets they require in order to continue in the mainstream system. All of these are specialist matters and I am not qualified to provide a professional opinion on them. We must depend on people examining best practice in other countries and, given the circumstances in which we find ourselves, recommending what we might do. Other than what I said with regard to what will happen in September, I am not in a position to provide any more definite information.

School Staffing

 7. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien Information on Jonathan O'Brien Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn the number of resource teachers that will lose their jobs or have their teaching hours reduced in the 2013/14 academic year; if he will confirm that principals and school boards of management have the flexibility to employ mainstream teachers without full-time timetables into roles that should be filled by specially trained resource teachers.  [32206/13]

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn Resource teaching allocations are being preserved at 2012-13 school year levels. I do not, therefore, anticipate any significant change in the overall number of resource teachers. The arrangements for the deployment of individual teachers within each school to undertake resource and mainstream provision are dealt with at local school level. It has been the policy of my Department for some time that only qualified and registered teachers should be employed by schools. This is set out most recently in circular letters 31/2011 and 0025/2013. Current recruitment procedures direct schools to ensure that teachers, including resource teachers, proposed for appointment to publicly paid posts must be registered with the Teaching Council and have qualifications appropriate to the sector and suitable to the posts for which they are proposed.

Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: Information on Jonathan O'Brien Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien I wish to focus on the position at post-primary level, if possible. When I was researching this matter, I discovered that a circular relating to primary schools and the allocation of learning support and resource teachers was issued by the Department. I also became aware of that the general allocation and low-incidence hours can be combined. In the context of post-primary schools which are over quota, is there a policy or circular which states that individual schools can allocate hours to mainstream teachers as opposed to resource teachers? I am aware of this happening at a particular school in Dublin which was over quota and where a resource teacher lost her position. What policy or circular governs the allocation of resource teaching hours at post-primary level?

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn I am not clear if I fully understand the Deputy's question. Is he referring to a situation where, as a result of a change in the number of pupils, the resource teacher was no longer required and that the school was over quota or is he referring to one where, because of a fall in overall numbers, the school was over quota in the context of its contingent of mainstream teachers and that in order for a particular teacher to remain in the school, he or she would have been given responsibility for resource teaching activities?

Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: Information on Jonathan O'Brien Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien I am referring to the latter. As a result of changes in the pupil-teacher ratio, the school was going to lose a mainstream teacher so a decision was taken at local level to retain that teacher who then assumed responsibility for some resource teaching activities and the dedicated resource teacher lost her position. Are decisions of this nature made at the discretion of individual schools or does a departmental circular or policy govern the position?

Deputy Anthony Lawlor: Information on Anthony Lawlor Zoom on Anthony Lawlor I wish to inquire about circular 07/2012, which relates to resource and learning support hours. All-girls schools are only entitled to four hours per week, whereas all-boys schools are entitled to five. Will the Minister indicate whether he is going to change this policy in order to equalise the position between all-girls and all-boys schools?

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue Will the Minister indicate why schools and principals were only informed last week about the allocation of resource teaching hours and those relating to special needs assistants, SNAs, for the coming school year? I understand that the allocation regarding resource teaching was available four weeks in advance of the provision relating to SNAs. Why were both not released together?

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn I will be obliged to obtain specific information in respect of the question Deputy O'Brien posed. I do not have the full details in my possession and I would not be able to offer an explanation without them. I do not understand the reason for the discrimination or difference regarding the allocation of five hours to all-boys schools and four to all-girls schools. I will obtain that information for Deputy Lawlor. In light of his knowledge of the education sector, I do not doubt that what he has outlined is the situation.

In the context of the announcements relating to SNAs and resource teachers, it has always been the case that the total package is made public at the same time but I accept that clarity emerges sooner in respect of one side of the equation. I will obtain further information on that matter for Deputy McConalogue. To the best of my knowledge, SNA and resource teaching allocations have always been announced together. This is because these allocations both relate to the same special needs space. When all the details relating to both are obtained, the announcements relating to the allocations are made at the same time.

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue It was reported widely in the newspapers that the Minister's Department specifically asked the National Council for Special Education not to release the resource teaching allocations for a period of three to four weeks. Those allocations only arrived after the commencement of the school holidays. This has created immense difficulties in the context of trying to match up resource teaching hours among schools. As the Minister is aware, it is often the case that two, three or four schools may be obliged to come together in order to make up a resource teaching post. I am of the view that the resource teaching allocations should have been announced earlier. I was not aware that the previous practice was to announce them in conjunction with those relating to SNAs. I was of the view that in previous years the allocations had been announced much earlier. Perhaps the Minister might provide further information on that matter.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn The precise details sought by the Deputy are not contained in the supplementary information provided to me. It is my understanding that they were announced conterminously - that is, at the same time - in the past. I will obtain the exact information relating to this matter and relay it to the Deputy.

State Examinations Issues

 8. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan Information on Maureen O'Sullivan Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn the basis on which he decided teachers would correct the junior certificate examination work of their own students and schools would provide their own individual certification. [32005/13]

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills (Deputy Sean Sherlock): Evidence has repeatedly shown that "unless the examination changes, nothing else will." Ireland is highly unusual in international terms in having externally set, moderated and marked examinations at the end of lower secondary school. As some 90% of students now complete senior cycle, the junior certificate is no longer a high-stakes examination for the overwhelming majority of students. Treating it as such has been shown to have an unintended negative backwash effect on teaching, learning and assessment in the classroom. The new school certificate and report will reflect the learning of students across the three-year cycle. This reporting method will be much more analogous to the current reporting system used at primary level - which contemplates the holistic experience of students - and will give a much more rounded picture of student achievement.

Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan: Information on Maureen O'Sullivan Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan I cannot agree with the Minister of State's assertion that the junior certificate is not a high-stakes examination. He ought to visit second level schools when students are preparing to sit that examination, which is a high-stakes proposition for those students and their teachers. I am still not convinced that what is proposed will lead to benefits for students. At present, teachers correct homework and other assignments and also Christmas and summer examinations. They are well used to doing so and they keep records of results etc. Those records form the basis for the discussions which take place at parent-teacher meetings. I have spoken to those in the teaching profession and they are all satisfied that we have an examination that is fair and that every student is treated in the same way because the process is anonymous. There is great benefit in that. I am still trying to figure out how the envisaged new system will benefit students. What the Minister of State is suggesting happens all the time in schools. Teachers correct homework and they talk to students and their parents.

Teachers are not averse to correcting. I have difficulties, as have many schools, with the proposed new school-based certificate because the certificates awarded by certain schools will be seen as being more prestigious than those awarded by others. We are aware that there is not a level playing field in the area of education and I am of the view that the proposed school-based certificate could give rise to even greater inequality. There is a very fair appeals system in place at present. Will an appeals system be put in place in respect of the new school-based certificate and report? It is my opinion that what is proposed is going to lead to an enormous increase in the workload of both schools and the education system. Those are my main reservations.


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