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

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 809 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan: Information on Maureen O'Sullivan Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan] The system we have is very fair and it is anonymous and students buy into it. It is very good so why are we changing it? I am not convinced. I think they are getting this holistic stuff from what goes on in schools anyway.

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue I too have grave concerns about the way the Minister is reforming the junior certificate. There is a need for an impartial examination which can have a benefit in ensuring standards throughout the country. That is crucial. As Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan pointed out, teachers routinely correct examinations. In terms of whether the junior certificate is a high stakes examination anymore, it is important we do not set it as one or encourage students to prioritise it in terms of being of major importance in the context of the examination results. However, it is crucial in terms of ensuring standards and giving students a fair benchmark of their progression. My concern is that if we remove it, how do we ensure uniform standards? If the school is doing the correcting, how do we ensure there are not real differences between how schools correct the examinations? There will always be an incentive for schools to mark examinations in a certain way.

Britain is moving away from this and is looking at more standard examinations at junior certificate level. Junior certificate reform is welcome but there are serious concerns about that aspect of it.

Deputy Sean Sherlock: Information on Seán Sherlock Zoom on Seán Sherlock In general terms, we understand the concerns expressed by the Deputies. There is no intention whatsoever to move away from the model of interaction with parents and that kind of continual monitoring of the students' work and their interaction in the classroom and so on with teachers. We want to ensure we continue to have standardised testing in areas such as English reading, science and mathematics, so those standards are in place, and to have a set of guidelines in place to monitor the quality assurance aspect of this. We want to ensure guidelines on moderation, which will be confirmed by the principal. If there are any vagaries in the system, a mechanism will be put in place to monitor them and to ensure a data profile is set up, so that the national and the individual schools' profiles will be monitored. The results awarded in every school will be sent to the Department, so that there is a national monitoring system in place. It will also be subjected to national and international assessments and a full reporting mechanism will be put in place by 2017.

The concerns raised by the Deputies are being worked through the system in advance of the roll-out of the new junior cycle. The first one will be through English in 2014. There will be much learning from that experience in terms of how it will pan out. A significant amount of continuing professional development will be put in place for teachers not only on the pedagogy or the subject side, but also in terms of the modalities of the assessment. There is still some way to go on this.

Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan: Information on Maureen O'Sullivan Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan Teachers are professionally developed-out at this stage given all of the changes they have taken on board and all the professional development they have done. I am a great supporter of the leaving certificate applied. It works, in terms of the way it is corrected, etc., because the numbers are much smaller. I think the Minister is taking a sledge hammer to something which could be dealt with by a very tiny mallet. I do not think our students will be prepared for the leaving certificate without having had that sort of terminal, outside-corrected junior certificate. I know there are other plans for that but there is not enough joined up thinking on this. The Minister has shown he is able to reconsider and I hope there will be much more debate on this.

Deputy Sean Sherlock: Information on Seán Sherlock Zoom on Seán Sherlock I take the points the Deputy made but I do not agree with her that teachers are professionally developed-out; they are not. As in any profession, we must ensure 100% of the profession take up continuing professional development when it is offered, including the various types of continuing professional development which will become available for this very process. This is an evolving process and there is still some way to go on this. We genuinely recognise the concern articulated by the Deputy and we are very conscious that we are asking teachers to do a lot. We have asked them to do quite a lot in terms of project mathematics and other subject areas and changing the thinking in regard to moving away from learning by rote to a more collaborative learning type of system, which is difficult to do if one has been teaching a certain system for quite a number of years. We are conscious of that which is why we want to ensure the supports are put in place for those teachers who, as the Deputy said, are professionals in their own right. We want to ensure it is a smooth a transition as possible.

Special Educational Needs Services Provision

 9. Deputy Joe Higgins Information on Joe Higgins Zoom on Joe Higgins asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn if he will reassure parents and teachers there will be no cuts to other education services following his announcement not to implement his planned cuts to resource hours. [32241/13]

 12. Deputy Joan Collins Information on Joan Collins Zoom on Joan Collins asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn if he will clarify his statement that pupil teacher ratios in schools may be increased to pay for the reversal of planned cuts to supports for children with special needs. [32053/13]

 16. Deputy Willie O'Dea Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn the implications for the education budget in 2014 of the additional resource teachers announced on 25 June 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32249/13]

 23. Deputy Pearse Doherty Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn if he will provide assurances that the allocation of an additional 500 resource teachers to meet the increase in the percentage of children with special needs who are attending school from September 2013 onwards will result in funding being withdrawn from the overall education budget; if he will confirm that he has no plans to increase the pupil-teacher ratio. [32216/13]

 24. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn the implications for the education budget in 2014 of the additional resource teachers announced on 25 June 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32280/13]

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn I propose to take Questions Nos. 9, 12, 16, 23 and 24 together.

I have authorised the NCSE to restore the level of resource teaching allocations to be provided for students with special educational needs to the 2012-13 levels. There will not now be a reduction in resource teaching time for these pupils for the coming school year. The first tranche of resource teaching posts have now been allocated to schools by the NCSE.

A number of additional posts will be required to ensure that allocations can continue to be made for valid applications for resource teaching support received for the coming school year. The full extent of this demand will not be known until September but it may require the allocation of up to 500 additional resource teacher posts.

The implications of this for my Department's employment control framework and Vote will be raised with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and will also be addressed in the forthcoming process in formulating budget 2014. The reality is that the allocation of 500 additional resource teachers could require additional expenditure of up to €22 million by Government in 2014. This is in addition to the pre-existing requirement to identify net savings of €44 million to meet the 2014 ceiling set out for my Department in the expenditure report 2013.

I am not in a position at this time to anticipate future budgetary decisions. All of these issues will have to be considered as part of the normal budgetary and Estimates process for 2014 and beyond.

Deputy Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins Zoom on Joan Collins The Minister was not clear whether that would definitely happen, even though he raised it in the recent reports. By doing that, many people are scared the pupil-teacher ratio will be increased. This sounds very much like the last time, with the decision to reverse the cuts to the DEIS schools and the cuts to the grants to schools. The Minister is accepting the constraints of his budgets. There is supposed to be €1 billion available, which he could source. Is he banging the table or whispering in the ears of Ministers to say we need extra resources to protect people who need this support? We cannot allow any more cuts to people who need resource teachers or special needs assistants. Many schools have cut the number of special needs assistants. Last week, three people in Blanchardstown lost their jobs as special needs assistants. This is an area where the Minister, as a Labour Party Minister for Education and Skills, must put the boot in and say: "No more cuts. The money must come from somewhere else." Has he considered increasing the financial transaction tax by a percentage to ring-fence money for the education of the most vulnerable people in schools?

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