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 Header Item Childhood Obesity (Continued)
 Header Item Special Educational Needs Staff
 Header Item Other Questions
 Header Item School Accommodation Provision

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 900 No. 1

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  10 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue] The bulk of the food is sold from vending machines in all our schools yet the Department refuses to do away with it and issue a guideline and a requirement that schools not serve that food and replace the vending machines with nutritious food. That is one simple measure the Department has not taken and I get no indication that it is willing to do that. Will the Minister of State reconsider that approach?

Deputy Damien English: Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English The health promoting schools, HPS, initiative is a Europe-wide programme aimed to strengthen a school’s capacity to be a healthy setting for learning and working by focusing on whole-school level and all the conditions that affect health and well-being. As part of the HPS initiative, health promotion officers and members of the well-being pillar of professional health and service for teachers collaborate on a regional basis to ensure schools are supported in meeting the health needs of their students. That is the Department’s role, to provide the supports, guidance and policies. It is not to lecture to every school about what it has to do in every situation. That is not necessarily our role. We try to encourage responsible thinking and development and put the supports in place to do that.

That is a planning matter. That is a local decision. In most of these towns there are premises that serve food of all kinds. It is not a straightforward question of dealing with new applications. In many school settings there are already premises in the vicinity which makes it a little more difficult when it comes to planning. It has worked out properly in most cases. Planning authorities generally do a sound job when it comes to making these decisions. That is their job. It is not the job of the Department of Education and Skills to have a role in the planning matters of every town and village in the country.

Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: Information on Jonathan O'Brien Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien It is also an issue for local development plans.

Special Educational Needs Staff

 5. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien Information on Jonathan O'Brien Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan the status of the pilot scheme for allocating special needs resources; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44043/15]

Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: Information on Jonathan O'Brien Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien Will the Minister for Education and Skills give an update on the status of the pilot project?

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan The National Council for Special Education, NCSE, published advice in 2013 which identified that the current model for allocating resource teachers to schools is potentially inequitable and recommended the development of a new allocation model. A new model based on the profiled needs of each school rather than on the diagnosed disability of individual children has been developed. This new model will reduce the inequities in the current system and also ensure we are not unnecessarily labelling children from a young age. Work on this model is almost complete.

I have established a pilot of the new model which is under way in 47 schools and will run for the duration of the current school year. The pilot will test the practical impacts of the new model prior to full implementation. Significant guidance has been prepared and provided to schools involved. During the pilot all participating schools will complete an assessment questionnaire to gather information on their experiences. All participating schools attended a pilot information day on 15 September and a further information day took place on Friday last.

Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: Information on Jonathan O'Brien Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien Will the Minister confirm that there was no limit to the resources for the model in the NCSE pilot project? I have been in contact with several principals who are concerned about the new model. The model apparently can be reviewed only every two years. There is a concern that some schools bringing in junior infants, who have special educational needs may not get the additional resources because of the two-year period.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan There was no reduction in the resource hours given to the schools. There were extra supporting materials for the schools and the testing of the pupil planning process and the outcome of reporting. There were not unlimited resources. They have received their resource allocation for 2015-2016 and schools that might gain under the new model presumably would have got extra resources.

This is a pilot and the purpose is to learn from it. If the message the Deputy raises comes back from schools about the two-year review, it will be heeded. We want to learn as much as we can about how the new model works this year. That is why the sample schools are a mix of different social backgrounds, etc. We want to see if practical issues come up in the pilots and apply the lessons from those.

Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: Information on Jonathan O'Brien Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien Until we get the results of the pilot we will not know the potential pitfalls of the new model. Everyone agrees the old model is broken, is not fit for purpose and a new one is needed. I understood that when the NCSE was tasked with the job of coming up with a new model, there was no limitation on resources. Whatever model it thought best for allocating resources would be put forward. That may include additional resources being put in place by the Department. Will the Minister confirm that?

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan There would have to be some limit on resources. We could not give an unlimited number of resource hours to a school, whether in a pilot or a new model. My understanding is that a school would not have reduced resources but there would not be unlimited resources. If I can clarify that further at a later stage for the Deputy, I will do so. There will be enough resources to ensure the new model can operate in an effective way in the schools concerned.

Other Questions

School Accommodation Provision

 6. Deputy Mick Wallace Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan the measures she is taking to address the ongoing lack of secondary school places in Wexford town, which is forcing many parents to send their children 25 kilometres each way to schools in Enniscorthy in County Wexford; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43783/15]

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace There are not enough places for children in and around Wexford town for children to attend school close to their homes. The waiting list has reached crisis level. What does the Minister plan to do about it? The national programme is not really tackling the severe problem in Wexford town. Are there any further plans on the cards to deal with it?

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan As the Deputy will be aware, I announced in November last the need for the establishment of four new primary schools and nine post-primary schools to cater for increased demographics across a number of locations in 2017 and 2018. The demographic projections for the Wexford town area do not indicate that a new post primary school is required.

As part of the Department's school capital investment programme, a number of building projects in Wexford schools are being progressed, including Loreto secondary school and Wexford CBS, that will provide for increased capacity in the area. In addition, an application for additional accommodation was received last week from Selskar College, which is being considered.

My Department is also monitoring the position in the area taking into account the latest pupil enrolment data and the impact of planned expansion of school capacity. My colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, last week met representatives of the five second level schools in Wexford town to discuss the pressures they face. It was agreed that the principals will share with the Department of Education and Skills the details of those who are enrolled for next year in order that we can identify whether these are cases where the same children are enrolled in multiple schools or if there are other factors which are creating unanticipated pressure on Wexford schools.

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace At present, four of the five schools in Wexford town have a waiting list of between 160 and 180 students. This is projected to get worse in the coming years. Loreto has capacity for 720 and that will increase with the new school to 900, an extra 180 places, but it alone has a waiting list of approximately 320 places. That will take six years to complete. We are not even close to addressing the problem.


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