Primary Education: Motion

Wednesday, 11 February 1998

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 154 No. 3

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An Cathaoirleach: Information on Brian Mullooly Zoom on Brian Mullooly I welcome the Minister for Education and Science to the House.

Item 8, motion 13, deals with primary education. Senator Norris's name has been added to the motion.

Mr. O'Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole Zoom on Joe John O'Toole I move:

That Seanad Éireann calls on the Minister for Education and Science to introduce immediately, strategies to

(1) make remedial teachers accessible to every school in the State;

(2) give children with Special Needs the same level of support as is the European norm;

(3) extend the Breaking the Cycle project to all the schools designated as disadvantaged by the Department of Education and Science;

(4) bring the class sizes in Irish primary schools down to the European average;

(5) extend the panel of supply teachers to the country as a whole ensuring the safety of pupils through the provision of qualified teachers for teachers absent through illness; and

(6) indicate the number of teachers required to implement these and other Government policy measures, taking into account the current shortage of teachers and the expected increase in primary school intake following from the increased birth rate.

I thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for the opportunity to move this motion. I also thank the Minister for Education and Science for taking time out from his busy schedule. I did not expect him to be here and I appreciate the fact that he is.

While the matters I want to refer to are critical in terms of what needs to be done, I cannot point the finger at the current Minister or his predecessors. It is a combination of bad advice from [217] the Department of Finance, in particular, that has led us to the problem we have at the moment.

Mr. B. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan Zoom on Brendan Ryan Hear, hear.

Mr. O'Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole Zoom on Joe John O'Toole We are now facing a crucial teacher shortage as a direct result of serious planning and strategy deficits. Some 28 schools rang the INTO's Dublin office this morning seeking cover from trained substitute teachers — some for a period of a week or a fortnight and in some cases for maternity leave — but we could not find one trained teacher.

As far as I am aware, the only county where trained qualified teachers are now available for substitute work at primary level is Kerry, where there are approximately 60. I had a meeting with those 60 people recently and they thought there should be a new set of rules for County Kerry. I am not proposing that because I do not think the Minister would accept it.

I have been dealing with this issue for eight years and I have been able to identify trends correctly. In 1989 I was able to identify the fact that we would run out of teachers in the early 1990s, which we did. The Minister of the day had to increase the intake to teacher training colleges through graduate courses to meet the need, but we still have a huge problem.

I would like to define where the problem lies. The motion states what I am trying to achieve, but if the Minister decided to concede immediately, I would have to say it could not be implemented because the teachers are not there. Consequently, the only outcome I am seeking is a commitment to do what the motion asks over a five year plan as well as increasing the intake to the colleges. I accept this proposal will require the back up of the Government and the Department of Finance. I am seeking the Minister's commitment to raise the matter at Government and national level.

There are five reasons there is a problem with teacher numbers: the birth rate, the number of additional pupils coming back into the school system with immigrating parents, the huge number of teacher retirements over the next ten years, the growth in the economy and, consequently, better off people wanting to have more children, and the European factor.

Today, the leader of one political party told me that since the birth rate has risen three years in a row one can no longer call it a blip, it is now a trend. If the Minister looks at the 1990 report of the Primary Education Review Body he will see that his Department is working on the basis of an average birth rate of 46,000 in the 1996-2000 period. However, births exceeded 50,000 in 1996 and were over 53,000 last year, although we do not have the exact 1997 figures yet. This year's figure will be the same or slightly up and there is no indication of any change.

From the Minister's point of view that means that, on average, more than 5,000 additional [218] pupils will be coming into the schools when the children born in 1996 start coming into the system, that is, from the year 2000 onwards. However, because the upward trend began earlier than 1996 we are already feeling the effects.

Some 5,000 extra pupils divided by the pupil-teacher ration of 22 or 23:1 means the Minister requires 200 additional teachers in the system this year just to stand still, without improving the worst class sizes in Europe and without providing an additional remedial teacher or teacher/counsellor for special education needs. While I accept the statistics are somewhat simplistic, they provide us with an indication of the problem.

The second factor concerns immigrants — Irish people in the main. Over the past five years, 35,000 children have come back into the education system, an average of 7,000 per year. The figure is actually higher than that at the moment and it is growing. Two-thirds of these children are entering the primary sector — that is another 5,000 — and no matter what the Minister does he cannot hold that position without additional teachers. None of these figures is taken out of the air; they are factual and they must be faced.

The retirement issue also presents a problem. In the early 1950s post-war colleges of education were reopening. There was an investment in education stemming from the first and second national economic plans and we are reaping the benefit now. The colleges expanded and teachers emerged. Consequently, a huge number of teachers are now at retirement age. I am talking about the compulsory retirement of people who cannot stay in the system beyond the years I have mentioned. In 1994 the number of teachers retiring on compulsory grounds was 141. While some might retire early, the figure is based on people staying on until retirement age. That is the figure we have to go on because it gives us the picture. That figure will more than double this year to 295. By the year 2010 525 teachers will be retiring annually. This means the Minister will be short that number of teachers at that time.

The fourth reason there is a problem with teacher numbers is that people are deciding to have more children because of the growth in the economy. The fifth reason is the European factor. The fertility rate graph in every country in Europe shows a similar trend. Births peaked in this country in 1980 — I assume it had something to do with the Pope's visit in 1979 — but it has gone down steadily since then. I would like to bring the Pope back to help the situation.

The introduction of contraception meant there was a rapid drop in the fertility rate in most European countries, particularly in northern and central Europe. It dropped below what is called the replacement fertility rate of 2.1 — in other words, the number of children an average woman would need to have to ensure the population replaced itself. As soon as it did, European countries started to adopt pro-natal policies. The Government [219] is currently discussing maternity leave. There is up to 18 months maternity leave in certain areas in Scandinavia. France also adopted pro-natal policies because it wanted more white babies, which was one of the worst reasons for doing so. This led to a gradual increase in the birth rate.

It took the three European Catholic countries — Italy, Spain and Ireland — some time to find out how it worked. They were slow to go into a decline and they are coming out of it a little later. Although the birth rate has increased, it has been reinforced by remarriage, second relationships and economic factors. There is no doubt that the figure will remain over 50,000 a year and that it will not drop to 40,000 in the next ten or 15 years.

The Minister will not be able to do what he has in good faith set out to do. He will not be able to get the resources because there are not enough qualified teachers. A remedial teacher in the Minister's own county is trying to cope with teaching in ten different primary schools in one week. Others in single schools are trying to deal with up to 60 or 70 remedial pupils in a week. The Minister has given a commitment to one teacher schools and to do something about the number of classes with over 30 pupils. However, he cannot expand special education or help the disadvantaged without teachers.

The Minister should provide an additional 800 places in the colleges of education. If a graduate course started in the next couple of months, graduates would be ready to come on stream in September of next year. If there were two graduate courses over the next two years and an additional intake to BEd courses in the colleges of education this year, there would be 800 graduates coming on stream three years in a row. Assuming that those numbers are enough to deal with the natural wastage from retirement, it would be possible to solve the substitute problem by setting up a substitute panel of approximately 850 teachers. The Minister would also be able to reduce the largest class sizes in Europe by one per year over each of these years, which would solve the remedial problem.

The Department will argue that it will take another 300 teachers to ensure there is enough remedial coverage nationwide, to which everyone in this House, including the Minister, is committed. However, it would take approximately 500 teachers to do that. The Department's figure is based on the assumption that teachers will continue the nonsensical practice of covering ten schools in one week. An additional number of teachers is needed to give a proper service which could be done in three years.

I do not want to appear coy because what I am asking for will be costly. We need an extra 1,000 teachers to deal with class sizes, 500 teachers for remedial services, 850 substitute teachers, 400 teachers to act as administrative principals for smaller schools of 150 or more pupils, 800 or 900 [220] teachers for the disadvantaged and 500 teachers for special education. I accept that is over 4,000 extra teachers at an additional cost to the Exchequer of £80 million a year, which is approximately 4 per cent of the total education budget.

I appreciate the Minister coming here tonight. This issue will continue to be raised. We are doing research at present on its impact on the various areas I discussed and we will put that information together over the next couple of months. There is a huge problem at school level which must be addressed. I recognise and accept that the Minister does not have the resources at present. However, I hope he makes the hard decisions quickly.

Mr. B. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan Zoom on Brendan Ryan I second the motion. I am nervous that if the number of national teachers keeps expanding at the rate Senator O'Toole cogently argued they must, it will not be long until the INTO will be looking for a second seat in the NUI constituency. There will be so many teachers to vote for whoever Senator O'Toole casts his mantle on that the rest of us will feel even more threatened by him.

Many academic commentators have tried to create a spurious competition between first, second and third level education and have in some cases mischievously used arguments about the per capita expenditure on primary, secondary and third level education to suggest that we need a redistribution of resources from one level of education to another when, in fact, we are still underspending. It is not often a Minister for Education will get as many compliments in this House as the current office holder. I accept his bona fides and the fact that he has done a considerable number of good things in his time. However, a problem is emerging. This is not one of the redistribution of resources within education but an ideological problem not in the Department but elsewhere. I will not name it for a while as it has been named too often but it believes that public expenditure is a bad thing.

The issues raised in this motion are in that rare category of issues where two things of fundamental importance are dealt with at the same time. One is social justice and the other is economic performance. While there are many who try to pretend that there is a tension between the two, particularly those of the low tax do not spend brigade who are represented by the minority party in Government, there are many who recognise that the only way our economy can perform successfully in the future is if we continue to invest in education. If we abandon forever the notion of education as a social expenditure and a subsidy to the poor, education is the most productive investment this country has ever made and the empirical evidence is now overwhelming. Only the ideologically blinded can now discount the value of investing in education which involves [221] investment not just in plant and equipment but in the people who work in education.

The observed value of that is that it produces a workforce that can respond flexibly and intelligently to the changes in trade and the world markets. The other value and the reason this motion serves two purposes is that to invest particularly in primary education is to invest dramatically and effectively in social equality. There is no more effective route that I know to improving equality in society than investment in the type of things listed in this motion.

There is a library full of research which indicates that these are measures which need to be introduced to promote social equality. In the spirit of the times I have to declare an interest — all of my children went to schools which were classified as disadvantaged. One is still in such a school and deservedly so because of the extraordinary social mix in the school. These issues need to be addressed if we are to tackle the most scandalous form of social injustice in this country — child poverty. Child poverty is measured in terms of income. Under these terms, one quarter of our children live in poverty. However, there is no hope of these children escaping from inequality when they enter an education system which is unsuited to their needs, where the deprivation which is already institutionalised before they enter primary school is confirmed by large classes, inadequate remedial education resources and the burden of multiple deprivation which poorly equipped, first level education involves.

When it comes to second and third level education we run into the much talked about skills shortage. This is because, potentially, 25 per cent of the population do not have the educational capacity to handle new technology and the new world.

I am sure that the Minister accepts that these are great ideas. The peculiarly worded Government amendment accepts that these measures are necessary. It is only a matter of words as to whether we call on the Government to introduce them or say please. The real question is not whether we can afford to do this but whether we have the political will to do so. This is no longer a poor country, it is not short of resources. It is now making decisions as to how to allocate those resources. If we can afford to change our capital gains tax to give one of our best known speculators a £600,000 gift because he sells his shares in Golden Vale, then we have the resources to look after our deprived children. If it is a choice, it is not between third level and first level but between Dermot Desmond and the poor children of our society who deserve a decent start in education.

Ms Ormonde: Information on Ann Ormonde Zoom on Ann Ormonde I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “Seanad Éireann” and substitute the following:

“notes—

[222] the need to continue to invest in the primary education sector;

that provision for children with special needs should be a particular priority; that policies should ensure that areas of significant disadvantage are targeted;

that support is also needed for rural one-teacher schools;

that these priorities form an integral part of the Government's Action Programme for the Millennium; and

that the Government has allocated a 9 per cent increase in primary funding in the 1998 Estimates.”.

The Government amendment seeks to focus attention on investment in primary education over the next five years; the targeting of special needs and the disadvantaged and the integrated plan for the next millennium. I am here to defend the Minister. It will be hard to do so after the statistics quoted by Senator O'Toole. However, I will do my best. The Minister has set out his plans. He should be allowed the time to implement them during the next five years and deliver on the priorities specified by the Senator's motion.

There is a 9 per cent increase in funding for the primary sector in the 1998 Estimates. We should start on a positive note. We have a quality education system.

Ms Quill: Information on Máirín Quill Zoom on Máirín Quill Accessible to all.

Ms Ormonde: Information on Ann Ormonde Zoom on Ann Ormonde We need to tidy up areas where there are defects. No system will ever be absolutely right. The Minister's five points indicate how he will commit himself to identifying the priority areas and deliver on them over the next five years. We must look at the issue of substitute teacher panels. I spoke to a primary teacher who confirmed that there is a problem with finding substitute teachers. If a teacher is out for three days the INTO cannot supply a replacement. By the time a replacement is supplied the original teacher has returned. There are weaknesses in the system.

The Minister will agree with Senator O'Toole that there is a particular need for remedial and special needs teachers in schools. He has committed himself to delivering on this issue. One only has to look at the role played by a remedial teacher in a disadvantaged school. I would be worried if we did not have a remedial teacher in every school. From my own experience, no matter how socially secure the environment, at least 3 per cent of pupils in every class will need a remedial teacher. We must define the word “remedial”. It can mean a deficit in literacy and numeracy. This could result from psychological, emotional or family problems. The children might [223] be very bright but they have difficulties because of an emotional problem.

I welcome the Minister's decision to introduce a national psychological service for schools. If we tackle problems at source we will solve many of the problems which would otherwise have to be addressed at a later stage. Every student should have access to a psychological service from the age of four. This service should be brought to the school — the student should not be brought to a child guidance clinic in the Mater Hospital, Castleknock or wherever it may be. Many parents and children fear moving away from the school and do not wish to go to a hospital. The Minister has made a commitment on this issue.

Special needs is an area of great concern to me. The Minister is aware of this as he has heard many Senators speaking on the issue. Special needs students are not the same as those needing remedial education. They are students with a learning deficit of some kind. This may result from many background reasons. They cannot be contained in a classroom but there is no place for them as schools do not have the necessary resources. Remedial teachers can deal with remedial problems but they cannot provide the one to one attention which special needs children require. If these children are to be integrated into a normal school there must be a resource teacher available to move between a number of schools. This is not available at present so special needs students do not have the education suitable to their needs as do other children. I am concerned that we tackle the areas of remedial and special needs teachers.

That brings me to the pilot programme called Breaking the Cycle. It is a very worthwhile project and I would like to see it extended. I know the Minister has already referred to it and made a commitment to the project. This scheme brings the schools into the community and the community into the school. It is not one dimensional thinking in our learning. It embraces the parents, the home-school link, the community at large and all the voluntary agencies and sees how best we can dovetail those at four years of age, where the kernel of the problem is.

I have mentioned the key areas. I would welcome the commitment to implement a national psychological service. I welcome the Minister's commitment that he will look at Breaking the Cycle and the terms of reference and criteria used for assessing schools. He also said he will look at targeting the remedial service and the special schools for those who are not catered for under the remedial service.

I am unconvinced by Senator O'Toole's argument that there are not enough teachers, perhaps he is right.

Mr. O'Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole Zoom on Joe John O'Toole It is not an argument but a statement.

[224]Ms Ormonde: Information on Ann Ormonde Zoom on Ann Ormonde I accept Senator O'Toole's point of view but perhaps the Minister might comment on the issue. I look forward to the other speakers and thank the Minister for his attention.

Mr. O'Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole Zoom on Joe John O'Toole If the Minister knows he should inform us on the matter.

Mr. Coogan: Information on Fintan A. Coogan Zoom on Fintan A. Coogan First, my job is not to defend Senator O'Toole but it is unfair to say he made an attack on the Minister because I thought he was being helpful. I would have thought that in Senator O'Toole's other role as a representative of the INTO his job would have been cut-throat and demanding but instead he was restrained and realistic. He did not apportion blame to anybody which shows how fair he was. In fact the only threat came from Senator Ryan when he implied there was a possibility of a second Senator O'Toole if the numbers of teachers increased. That would be a spectre we would not like to see here, but that is not my own view. I think he has a wonderful contribution to make and he did so by outlining the statistics here. The statistics speak for themselves and the Minister would accept there is a shortage of teachers. The Minister does not have to defend his position because he has inherited it but he must state what he is going to do about it.

The imagery I got when the previous speakers were making their contributions was that of a duck in a very fast stream. The duck appears to be standing still but under the water his legs are going like heck. In this case, particularly at primary level, that duck is slipping a bit downstream. It is going to demand not just the Department of Education and Science but, as Senator O'Toole referred to, the Department of Finance will have to recognise they have to make a contribution. The expression that investment in education is an investment in the future has been bandied about and perhaps sullied at times. But if that contribution is up to £80 million then in the current economic boom it would be an investment.

The truth of the matter is that young people are left out of the education system through the lack of a remedial service. This is caused by a variety of reasons some of which have been mentioned by Senator Ormonde. For example, I know of a case where a young man with bad sight in one eye did not reveal his disability because he did not want to be called names. He cheated on his eye test and slipped through the system for a year. He then had to catch up and would demand remedial teaching. Others come from broken homes and there are a variety of reasons for slowness and late starters. If these young people are left out of the system it is so much harder for them to catch up. They can make a contribution in the future if they are given an opportunity now but that opportunity will not be there unless we make a decision to invest in their future.

I wish to refer to the frightening 1992 OECD statistics on the pupil teacher ratio. Ireland's [225] pupil teacher ratio at primary level is the second highest in the OECD. Ireland with 25.8 pupils per teacher is second only to Turkey at 29.4 pupils per teacher. Italy is as low as 10.5 and Belgium had 13 pupils per teacher. It would be unrealistic to aim for the 17.4 average in just one year. Again, I compliment Senator O'Toole for suggesting to the Minister not to do it overnight. We do not expect him to do it overnight. But giving five years might be a bit too lenient compared to what I would suggest from this side of the House. I would like to hear a timescale in which these trends can be reversed.

This motion is like a scattergun and hits a number of issues. In the short time allocated to us I would like to mention one aspect of it. As Senator Ormonde already mentioned, one of the difficulties the Minister has is the idea of clustering schools together for remedial teachers. This would be difficult because of the geographical spread and it would be nearly impossible to get it right. I am not sure what the answer is. Obviously the simplest answer would be more remedial teachers but clustering is not going to be easy. The Minister might refer to the Australian programme called Reading Recovery when he responds. It is a remedial programme intended to give an intense teaching period of between 16 and 20 weeks. It affords a student who had fallen behind an opportunity to catch up at an earlier stage. As I said earlier, the longer student are left behind the more difficult it is for them to catch up. This programme would also give flexibility in distributing remedial teachers as they would only have to stay in one place for up to 22 weeks. The programme appears to have vastly improved the students' ability to catch up rather than meet more long term aims.

Again, I fully support Senator O'Toole's request to the Minister to give a reasonable timescale for improving the pupil-teacher ratio. Senator Ryan referred to social justice. We all recognise these are the people who need it most. We are their guardians and must protect them. I thank the Minister for being present.

Miss Quill: Information on Máirín Quill Zoom on Máirín Quill I welcome the motion before the House this evening. It gives an opportunity to debate the education issue again. There is no fairminded person in this House not concerned with the idea that we would not put and keep in place the best possible education system. Having said that, I am more confident now than I have been about the future of education here. This Minister is infinitely more interested in approaching every issue from the educational standpoint rather than an ideological one and I feel education is in good hands. I am particularly pleased that plans put in place by the last Government to pump scarce money and badly needed money into administration have been scrapped so that the limited moneys we have can be put into the classroom and into areas with the greatest need. That was the correct decision to make and I applaud it.

[226] I am very encouraged by the emphasis that is put on primary and pre-school education in the joint programme for Government. That is where we have to put our resources. If we do not put a sufficient amount of sources into this sector what we do from there on in is not going to give a fair chance and decent start in life to all of our children. If fair play is our motto we have to put additional and well targeted resources into primary and pre-school education. I am also pleased to see an increase of 9 per cent in this year's budget.

We must give every child a proper educational foundation at primary level. I agree that a substantial number of new teachers is required as is a significant number of special subject teachers. I am not satisfied there is a sufficient level of teaching of music, art or physical education in our schools and that must be taken into account.

Senator O'Toole pointed out that some 900 schools do not have access to remedial education of any kind and that is not acceptable. Even schools which officially have access to remedial education do not have sufficient time for it. My sister is a primary school teacher and tells me that children with severe reading difficulties only have access to one hour of remedial education per week which is insufficient. If young people do not master the art of reading in primary school, they are permanently condemned to be part of the underclasses. Even where schools are seen to have access to remedial education, a thorough investigation must be carried out as to the extent of that provision to see where it can be improved upon.

I am particularly concerned about the 20,000 young people who drop out of education every year without completing the second level cycle. I am even more concerned about the children at primary school level who are not attending school in any kind of a structured way. I would ask the Minister to put in place a tracking system for these young people as a matter of priority. If they do not attend primary school, they will never reach second level. We track cattle and tag their ears for very good reasons. I am not suggesting we should tag children's ears but it is sad that no proper tracking system is in place to trace young people who are not attending school but are instead mitching or playing truant. That problem must be rectified.

Educational deficits are very often marked by a series of social deficits in the home and community. As a starting point a system must be put in place which would ensure that all young people attend primary school and complete their primary school education. That should be the Minister's first objective. What hope have these young people if they drop out of education at seven, eight, nine or ten years of age? They will be condemned to a life on the streets. A tracking system would involve targeting particular areas and targeting interdepartmental and multifaceted resources to reach out to these young people and [227] provide them with a system of education which is meaningful to them and will ensure their attendance at primary school. If that can be done at pre-school and primary school level, the hardship experienced at second level will be halved.

I want to comment on the 20,000 young people who drop out of secondary education without sitting the final State exam. A report carried out by the NESF on youth unemployment contained a very strong recommendation that the Government should put in place a system of education welfare officers. That is something which the Minister should try out on a pilot basis to ascertain if it would interest young people and their parents in education. The system in place at the moment is patently not working. Perhaps a system of education welfare officers would garner these young people into the educational system and provide them with the kind of education which would sufficiently interest them in continuing their schooling.

Reference was made to the Breaking the Cycle scheme. I compliment the Minister on extending it to a school in Knocknaheeny in my constituency. The previous Government's failure to extend the scheme to Knocknaheeny broke my heart. I argued for its extension week after week although it did not result in my getting any extra votes in the election.

Mr. O'Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole Zoom on Joe John O'Toole The INTO certainly agreed with the Senator on that issue.

Miss Quill: Information on Máirín Quill Zoom on Máirín Quill I am aware of schools in my own area which were crying out for additional teachers and which have received them under this Administration. Where the issue of education is concerned I never have sufficient time to speak but I want to make a particular plea to the Minister this evening. We need more teachers but those teachers must be specifically trained in a number of new skills to meet newly emerging situations in the classroom. Those new situations are arising out of a host of social problems which did not exist when I began my career as a teacher. A substantial number of remedial teachers must also be provided. More than anything else, we must reach out to young children and make primary school meaningful to every young person in this country.

If a 99 per cent attendance level at primary school can be achieved during the Minister's term of office, he will have earned his place in history. I am not a member of the Fianna Fáil Party, nor do I intend to be in the future, but in the past some of our outstanding Ministers of Education came from that party, namely, George Colley, Dr. Hillery and Donagh O'Malley. These were people of great vision who did new and creative things in the area of education. We want more teachers but their skills, training and qualifications must be properly targeted. We cannot [228] have too many primary or secondary school teachers.

Dr. Henry: Information on Mary E.F. Henry Zoom on Mary E.F. Henry I welcome the Minister. As a doctor, I frequently see the needs of children with disabilities and it is an issue close to my heart. I am sure the Minister has read the report of The Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities. It is interesting to note that the section on education is one of the largest. Once a child is born and diagnosed as having some special need, its family is in a continuous battle to overcome barriers in every aspect of its life. All parents want their children to participate to the greatest possible extent in every aspect of life and education is an area they naturally focus on. If at all possible parents want their children to be part of the general Irish education system and I am sure the vast majority of us would like to encourage that.

I welcome the Ombudsman's findings that the efforts of a family which sought to prove its child's entitlement to public transport to and from a national school have proved successful. A recommendation has been made for the Minister to publish a schools transport scheme which would particularly focus on the needs of people with disabilities. The child in the case in question was not in a position to avail of free school transport as the child was confined to a wheelchair. The nearest collection point was two miles from the family home and the family was not in a position to hire a taxi to bring the child to it. The Ombudsman found that the necessary subvention should have been given to the family and awarded it retrospectively for two years. I welcome that. I also welcome the Ombudsman's finding that if a family provides its own transport for someone who is so severely disabled they cannot gain access to public transport, they should be recompensed at the same rate as civil servants are when they use their own transport. Such a positive statement regarding the integration of people with special needs into the education system is to be welcomed.

Rural Ireland has particular problems because there are fewer special schools for the child to attend. Unless the child becomes a boarder, it is essential for parents, management of local schools and teachers to come to some compromise as to how the child's best interests can be served within the general State system.

It is interesting that from the time the child is born and it becomes obvious there is something wrong with him or her, the State expects the carers or parents to initiate or instigate everything, rather than some facility being readily available within the State services for them to apply to or to take up. I have had to deal with too many people who have been dealt with in a “pass the parcel” fashion where the problems of their child were sent from one Department or one section of a local authority to another. I am sure other [229] Senators have had experience of similar problems.

When we speak of making education facilities available — in this case I am referring to primary schools — and making them accessible to children with disabilities, it does not just mean making the school accessible to wheelchairs. It must be remembered that the child must get as far as the school gates so that they can enter in their wheelchairs. It is important this be examined because the physical aspect of getting a child to school can be greatly underestimated.

When children get to school, there is a great lack of appropriate equipment, even suitable desks on which children in wheelchairs can operate. It is unfortunate schools seem to be left to themselves to obtain this additional equipment. This is also an area I would like addressed.

The training of teachers to deal with special difficulties has been greatly improved but it is not fully understood how important classroom assistants are. Many teachers with whom I have spoken said there are many good and reliable FÁS trainees who act as classroom assistants, but these are withdrawn after a certain length of time when their tenure is over. Teachers are frequently left unattended or with someone less able to do the job. Only a small number of classroom assistants is employed by the State, so this should be examined to try to increase the number, especially in areas where children with special needs have be to be integrated.

Another area of schooling of which little is said is the speech therapy service. It is very important because primary school teachers cannot be expected to deal with speech disabilities. A child may be of normal intelligence but may not grow to use their full capability because they are not as intelligible as they should be. Speech therapy services must be brought to the forefront of primary education as a matter of urgency. There is no point expecting a child and its parents with no access to facilities to remedy the situation. It requires much care and attention.

It is ridiculous that so many facilities are withdrawn from a child based on its chronological age rather than considering its mental age. We need to be very careful about this because one 11 year old can do things another cannot. We are not in a position to discard children just because we believe they do not measure up to the chronological measurement we have for them. I would also like to see that addressed.

Children with autism and Down's Syndrome have an enormous amount of special needs in primary schools but they may benefit enormously from them. A person who has taught many children with Down's Syndrome told me — I do not know if Senator O'Toole or any others who have taught in primary schools would agree with this — that Down's Syndrome children do very well with reading and writing but seem to run into problems with mathematics. I do not know whether it is better to try to improve the mathematical [230] side or concentrate on their abilities in reading and writing. We must prioritise nonetheless. I am always fascinated when people tell me about children with Down's Syndrome who are educated well enough to be employed in the workforce. It is important we recognise that these are people with definite levels of ability which can be used by and integrated with society so that they can become useful and happy members of it.

The level at which we supply assistance to parents with children with special needs who may want to or may have to work is pathetic. Any woman who has a child with a special education need had better understand that, unless they are well off, she will be expected to give up whatever job she has because all the care outside school hours must be given by her. One or other parent will be expected to be at home and it will usually be the mother. I do not want teachers to think they are perceived as respite care for parents. However, they are an important part of other people participating in the upbringing of these children. To a large extent, they are the only part.

If the needs of people with disability, major or minor, within the education service are not dealt with at primary level, dealing with it at secondary level can be forgotten about. If they are not capable of becoming usefully involved at the primary level of the system, they will not be capable of progressing to further education.

I welcome all efforts made on the continuing education of children in hospital. This is a most important area highlighted by the Association for the Welfare of Children in Hospital about 20 years ago. It is terrible to see children who become long stay patients in hospital fall behind in their education, although it happens less than before. The amount of work done by teachers in the hospital goes unrewarded, but I hope it is at least recognised by us tonight.

Mr. Kett: Information on Tony Kett Zoom on Tony Kett I welcome the Minister and echo Senator Quill's assessment of his contribution to date. I work in an area where 17 teachers work in special education and I have not heard a peep from them since the Minister came into office.

Mr. O'Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole Zoom on Joe John O'Toole Except for the size of the schoolyard.

Mr. Kett: Information on Tony Kett Zoom on Tony Kett As far as I am concerned, the Minister is doing a fine job.

A report issued in 1993 by the special education review committee suggested that 11 to 12 per cent of pupils received some degree of remedial support with the ratio being three boys to two girls. Many teachers estimate that up to 15 per cent of pupils are in need of remedial assistance. The majority of primary schools currently have access to a remedial teacher. Any difficulty is due to demography. In some cases a remedial teacher is shared between a number of schools. There are many cases of remedial teachers serving the needs of three to five schools and a few [231] cases of them serving up to seven. One anecdotal account of which I know concerned one teacher in the west serving 11 schools, but I am sure that has changed since the Minister took office and is long since history.

The special education review committee in 1993 also suggested 77 per cent of the pupil population in 1,700 primary schools had remedial services out of 3,207 at the time. It suggested that many small schools unfortunately still did not have a service. If remedial teaching infers remedial teachers spend some time on a regular basis teaching students with special education needs, then the appointments system should be examined. No remedial teacher should have to spend more than a minimum specified time travelling between schools. Remedial teachers should be appointed to serve an agreed maximum number of schools. It would be great — although Utopian — to have one remedial teacher for every school. Realistically there should be a remedial teacher to a maximum of two to three schools. A maximum case load should also be designed. The Minister has done very positive things in this area and the quietness of teachers, including remedial teachers, in a positive sign.

At present some teachers are assigned to three or more schools. If this is so, it changes the meaning of remedial teaching to one which is closer to resource teaching. These teachers can only give support and advice to class teachers.

The provision of remedial teachers in post primary schools is relatively new and is to be welcomed. Previously, many pupils with special educational needs which were catered for in the primary sector were not receiving such assistance in the post primary. The situation has now improved dramatically. Remedial teachers in second level only devote a variable number of hours to remedial teaching. There is evidence to suggest that in some schools remedial hours are often diverted to subject teaching and, in some instances, to cover absenteeism. Schools in which this is highlighted should be called to book as hours allocated for remedial work should be used for that purpose.

We are aware that not all schools have a remedial service. We are pursuing the correct path in the work being done in this regard. The situation in small schools and those in sparsely populated areas should be addressed as a matter of priority. The more specialised training needs of remedial teachers outside the Dublin area should also be considered. The discussion on technology which we had before the recess suggested that great strides are being made in the context of grants for equipment, which is to be welcomed.

In addition to remedial teachers, there will continue to be a need for resource teachers catering for pupils not catered for in the context of remedial work.

[232] The second part of the motion refers to EU norms. As far as I can ascertain, there is no European norm. In the UK, for example, excluding Scotland, which has a separate Education Act, legislation provides many legal directives for the education of pupils with special education needs. There is a statement of needs for such students which outlines their entitlement to the relevant teaching resources, equipment, support provisions, etc. Countries vary in the degree to which they support an inclusive or segregated system of education. Italy, for example, claims to have a near 100 per cent integrated system with almost all special education need pupils being included in mainstream schools. On the other hand, Holland still supports a wide range of special schools with provision for a variety of categories of special education needs for pupils.

Special needs provisions should be realised through their incorporation into existing and future school provisions from pre-school through third level and continuing education. An important aspect of educational support for pupils with special needs is access to an appropriate curriculum regardless of the type of school they attend. The issue is currently being addressed by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment which has been mandated by the Department of Education and Science to produce curricula for various categories of special needs pupils. These curricula are being developed in consultation with many groups involved in special education as well as persons skilled in curriculum development. The curriculum guidelines will eventually be brought before the Minister for approval and implementation. Some measures are already in place to support the effective education of pupils with special needs in a variety of school settings.

Breaking the Cycle should be immediately evaluated, and modified if necessary, and subsequently extended to include all schools designated as disadvantaged. This has long term implications for pupils in such schools and money spent at this level will result in financial savings later on. There is a European average regarding class sizes, but it means nothing because the systems and legislation are different. However, account could be taken of the inclusion of special need pupils into classes when calculating the maximum class size.

It is difficult to calculate the need for supply teachers, but funding is one area which would cause major hassle. There is also the availability of qualified teachers, particularly in certain rural areas: it may not be possible to keep a panel teacher living in Donegal who is called to Galway for too long. There is a shortage of teachers in many areas for certain subjects. The increased birth rate is currently being documented to allow estimates of pupil numbers entering school to be forecast. Account must be taken of the implications of decisions made on the expansion of the remedial teachers service and any changes in the [233] level of educational support and provision for special education needs pupils in the near future.

I welcome the motion. It is not possible to sufficiently highlight the needs of people with special educational needs. With the Minister at the helm I have no doubt that the situation will improve and I thank him for his contribution to the House.

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin): Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil as ucht an rúin. Tugann sé seans dom an cheist thábhachtach seo de bhun oideachais a phlé libh.

I welcome the varied contributions and am extremely heartened by the concentration on special needs and disadvantage. The collective consensus emerging from the contributions is that people are extremely anxious that we target resources in the direction of special needs children and children from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

The quality of our primary education has provided one of the key pillars on which our education system has supported the development of our country. As I said during the debate on the Education Bill in the Dáil last week, we have much to be proud of but have much more to do. Both in the area of basic mainstream primary and special needs provision, there are a range of existing and developing demands which are not currently being met and which need action.

I wish to outline to the House the various ways in which we need to prioritise issues at primary level. I also wish to outline some of the ways in which we have begun to move towards meeting our objective. This latter point is crucial, because it is simply not accurate to say there is no positive movement on the points raised in the motion.

In its programme the Government has specifically recognised the need to address the funding of primary education. This relates to general funding and the specific issues of special needs provision and the unique educational disadvantage faced in certain one teacher schools. We have already begun to make a significant move towards fulfilling these commitments.

Primary education funding is increasing by 9 per cent in the 1998 Estimates, twice the level of increase in overall Government current expenditure. Some people have commented on the fact that this increase is largely based on payroll costs. I have no difficulty with investing in the quality of our teachers and that the product of their teaching aptly justifies the fact that we reward our teachers more than most OECD countries.

We have also made moves in a number of other areas. These include a 40 per cent increase in capital funding over the 1997 allocation. The allocation is £40 million this year compared with the 1997 provision of £27 million. We have provided for the introduction of one of the most ambitious schools information technology schemes in the world, at a cost of almost £40 million to the Exchequer over the next three years. Of that £40 million, £25 million is capital funding and £15 [234] million is current funding. There is additional funding of £10 million from Telecom Éireann and other companies are expected to get involved. There has also been a significant increase in funds for school books schemes and a new, albeit small, scheme has been introduced to provide funds to schools to develop their school libraries.

There has been provision for a £5 increase in the capitation fee for schools. At 11 per cent, this increase represents a start in the process of increasing capitation grants. We recognise the need to move capitation to a more equitable level vis-á-vis second level, but it is important to note that the second level figure includes a number of items which are paid for through other means in the primary system.

The motion before the House concentrates on the staffing issues relating to primary education and I am glad to have this opportunity to outline my attitude to dealing with these areas. In 1988, the then Minister for Education, my party colleague, Deputy O'Rourke, initiated the policy of retaining teachers who had been freed by falling numbers in primary schools as a result of demographic decline. This policy, known as retaining the demographic dividend, has continued and has led to significant improvements throughout the system. Improvements have been particularly evident in the overall pupil/teacher ratio and in special needs provision.

In advance of the last general election, the INTO asked all political parties if they were committed to retaining the demographic dividend. Our response, together with that of our partners the Progressive Democrats, was that we would retain our commitment to using these posts to improve the quality of education. The Taoiseach and I repeated this at a meeting with the INTO before the election. This remains the case.

The motion overlaps in many ways with the points included in a press release issued yesterday and I wish to address those points. In previous years, discussions between my Department and the INTO about staffing issues in the coming school year tended to begin late in the year. Last year, for example, these discussions did not begin until after the Easter conferences. Indeed, it was only on the eve of the conference that my predecessor agreed that the dividend would be retained within the system. As a result, I had to introduce a Supplementary Estimate late last year to cover the cost of the additional posts.

This year's process began last month when officials from the INTO were facilitated by the primary administration section of my Department in examining staffing profiles for next year. Fuller discussions commenced last week when officials from the Department met Senator O'Toole and other representatives of the INTO. At that meeting, my commitment to introducing further improvements in the areas mentioned in this motion was made clear. In particular, my intention to target additional teacher posts at children [235] with special needs and one teacher schools was outlined.

This approach to consultation reflects the partnership approach which is central to progress in the education area. I accord great importance to this approach and wish to work with the partners in education in developing the primary sector in a way which reflects our shared goals.

The overall pupil-teacher ratio in our primary system is currently 21.7:1. This has declined steadily over recent years from 25.2:1 and will decline further next year, on current projections, to roughly 21.2:1. This is a welcome move which is making a significant contribution to the quality of education. While there are 1,242 remedial teachers in our primary schools, there remain 758 schools without a remedial service. I am aware of this deficiency and am committed to moving towards a situation where all schools have access to a remedial service. That does not simply mean allocating a teacher to five or ten schools, as has been the practice to date. Ideally the ratio should be a realistic one of one teacher to between one and three schools, depending on the geographical and logistical considerations of an area.

Yesterday's press release from the INTO claims there is “little or no evidence” that the recommendations of the special education review committee are being implemented. I wish to correct this inaccurate statement. The SERC report pointed to the need to reach specific levels of PTR in 13 categories of special schools and special classes. This year, the targets will be fulfilled in nine of these categories and the remaining four categories are either one or two short of the targets. All the targets will be met during my period of office.

Other moves have been made on the recommendations in the report, including the provision of resource teachers. There are approximately 76 resource teachers and more are required. I accept the points made by Senator Kett and Senator Henry with regard to special needs children. I will be happy to discuss them further with the Senators particularly with regard to classroom assistants, the integration of children with special needs in mainstream education, ensuring that physical access is no longer a difficulty and the aids and equipment that must be made available to such children.

Before Christmas, the Department cleared the backlog for all children within mainstream primary education who were waiting for computers and other aids. It received an additional £100,000 from the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs and with £400,000 of its own budget it managed to clear the logjam at primary level. Children should not have to wait inordinate lengths of time for something that is basic to their capacity to learn. We are determined to improve in that area of provision. The Department will also progressively increase the number of remedial teachers in the system.

[236] The challenge of properly targeting resources on disadvantaged schools is one of the most important issues of public policy today. There is little doubt that the traditional model of targeting is not effective enough, a fact recognised by both the Combat Poverty Agency and the Educational Research Centre in St. Patrick's College, Drumcondra. The ERC recommended a move away from general schemes towards greater targeting. At present, 17 per cent of pupils and 16 per cent of schools are designated as disadvantaged and receive additional supports. A pilot project, Breaking the Cycle, is currently operating with distinct urban and rural dimensions.

The focus which has been put solely on the reduction in PTR in the urban dimension of the pilot project misses the broader issues. There is more to be considered which relates to how schools plan to meet their needs, how they interact with the community and how they apply extra resources in a focused and productive way. The home/school/community liaison scheme is also making a valuable contribution which should be encouraged and expanded.

Any debate on tackling disadvantage, if it is to be constructive and move away from a one-dimensional approach, must take these wider issues into account. There must be a multi-input approach to disadvantaged schools. Disadvantaged children should have access to psychological, remedial and home/school/community input and there must be a more integrated response than simply to allocate an extra number of teachers to the school. There are other ways of tackling the problems of disadvantaged children. I met a number of representatives of area partnerships who are assisting schools in their areas. They have developed integrated models and they are worth expanding further in terms of how the system helps and assists disadvantaged schools.

A particular form of educational disadvantage can often be experienced in schools with only one teacher. These schools are principally located in rural areas with declining populations. The need to address the isolation felt by both teachers and pupils in these schools has been recognised by many groups, including the INTO, and the Programme for Government commits the Government to providing a second teacher for one teacher schools with more than ten pupils.

The lack of a proper psychological service is clear and the Government is committed to establishing a national schools education psychological service. The planning for the service is at an advanced stage. It is being carried out by the working group I established shortly after I was appointed. The group includes people from both the health and education sectors to ensure there is a coherent education psychological service. We do not want to improve one arm of the service at the expense of the other. In the meantime, an additional 15 psychologists are being appointed to enhance the service. [237] Senator O'Toole has made a number of comments on demographic issues which are incorrect. My Department uses demographic projections which are continually updated in conjunction with the Central Statistics Office. We have consistently made it clear we are not projecting on the basis of an outdated figure of 46,000 births per year, as is claimed in yesterday's press release.

Mr. O'Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole Zoom on Joe John O'Toole Show us the figures.

Mr. Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I will show the Senator the figures. I extend to anyone who wants to come an invitation to my Department where we will examine the statistics. There is nothing to hide.

Mr. O'Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole Zoom on Joe John O'Toole I welcome that.

Mr. Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I have examined the figures myself. I am bamboozled by figures from the departmental statistician for primary, second and third levels. I worry about statistics generally because, ten years on, all the projections do not materialise. One interesting statistic was the 1980 projection for the White Paper on Education where the figure for participation was out by around 30,000. My statistician, whose office is understaffed, had it almost correct for 1997. Her projection of the birth rate for 1997, working on an assumption of at least 51,100, was based on the three quarterly returns and the final figures for 1997 which we are yet to receive. At the minimum the figure will be 51,900. The Department is not totally out of step with what is happening in terms of the birth rate. I accept the Senator's rationale. He has his ear to the ground as regards what is happening in the maternity hospitals. He has a commendable channel of information. I emphasise we are not working with a projection of 46,000; we are updating constantly and when making a projection for 1998 we will update the 1997 figures.

The projections also include an up to date estimate of immigration. For the information of the House, despite the fact that since 1995 the birth rate has risen, which will manifest itself in enrolments in 1999 and beyond, this year there are 11,000 fewer pupils in our primary schools than last year — that is still the demographic reality — and the decline next year is projected at almost 12,000. The increased birth rate is essentially arresting the decline which was pronounced from the 1990s onward. Over the medium term, until 2005, we will be witnessing a significant arrest of a one way trend in the demographic decline. There will still be reduced enrolments over the next ten years. Much will depend on people returning to the country because of economic growth and there is evidence people are returning.

We are committed to an intervention scheme for children aged eight to 15. The European Commission has been helpful with the funding for the scheme — it will be a £3 million project. To [238] take up Senator Quill's point, we intend to introduce a tracking system as part of that eight to 15 pilot project. It is extraordinary that we do not have a tracking system for primary school children. We do not know where every child in the system is at present. The ESRI estimate that 1,000 children are not moving from primary to second level is unacceptable. It must be a fundamental objective of the Department that we deal with that and that every child, through innovative programmes, can at least complete primary level and ultimately second level, this is our target. It is our intention through the eight to 15 pilot project to introduce such a tracking system for every child in the country. The system would also enable us to follow the child's behaviour pattern and academic performance to ensure we can identify early the children who are at risk of leaving school early.

We should maintain a proper supply of qualified teachers. The supply of teachers has reduced in recent years due to a number of factors. Around 900 teachers are availing of career breaks and job sharing schemes. The introduction of an early retirement package and availing of the opportunity to retire after 35 years service have also lead to outflows of teachers. Recognising this I authorised an increased intake into our teacher training colleges of 200 students per year last summer. Another significant move was my decision to remove the Irish language requirement for teachers in special schools and classes. These developments will ensure an improved supply of teachers. We are also examining a graduate conversion course. If I have taken on board one message from the debate, it is the need for more student teacher places within the colleges. Any place available within the teaching colleges will be used.

Mr. O'Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole Zoom on Joe John O'Toole The Minister should reopen Carysfort.

Mr. Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I have been to Mary Immaculate College recently. The director there is very undemanding but she has made tremendous progress with the Department and myself. We must increase the number of places in the teacher training colleges but, as Senator Quill said, we need to look at the whole area of primary teaching: the primary curriculum, new education developments and special needs. The new pre-service programmes should examine special needs and incorporate related modules. We are looking at a general review of the primary teacher training colleges and their programmes. The colleges have approached the Department about certain issues such as course duration and content. It is time for a fundamental review of training in tandem with the expansion of the number of places available.

Turning to the supply panel scheme, I am glad to be able to inform this House that an excellent scheme has been developed to assist in the provision of short-term substitute cover at primary [239] school level. The scheme, which operated initially on a pilot basis, was developed into a permanent scheme from 1 November 1997 and has been extended to 11 new locations throughout the country. I recognise the success of the scheme and the work put into its development by both my Department and the lNTO. Its extension can, of course, only be provided for in the context of general resources.

The scheme is designed primarily to provide substitute cover for permanent and temporary teachers who are absent on short-term certified sick leave. The scheme operates on the basis of a host school employing permanent teachers to perform substitute cover for a range of schools within close proximity of the host school. The host school is responsible for the overall management of the supply scheme within its designated area, including the allocation of the supply teachers to schools requesting substitute cover.

The approach I have outlined concerning the retention of teachers within the system will mean that a large number of teaching posts will be retained in 1998. This represents a very significant financial allocation and honours the commitment we made before the last election. The demand in yesterday's press release, and rearticulated tonight, for an additional 4,200 teaching posts represents an entirely new approach. These new posts would entail an additional cost of in the region of £105 million per year, £25 million more than Senator O'Toole's estimate. It is highly unlikely that any government would be in a position to accept this demand.

In the spirit of partnership we are willing to discuss and advance these issues with the partners in education. Education policy will benefit from the contributions of this House and Dáil Éireann.

As I said at the start the Government is committed to demonstrating a real commitment to primary education. I believe we have already begun to deliver on this through the 9 per cent increase in primary funding included in this year' s Estimate. There is much more to do and we are intent on doing it.

Mr. McDonagh: Information on Jarlath McDonagh Zoom on Jarlath McDonagh Tréaslaím le mo chomhleacaithe a chuir an rún seo os comhair an Tí. Rún fíor thábhachtach é agus tá súil agam go mbeidh toradh sásúil ar an díospóireacht. Cuireann sé gliondar ar mo chroí go bhfuil an t-Aire inár measc agus an díospóireacht seo ar siúl.

The former Minister for Education, Ms Bhreathnach, recognised that a large number of students in the senior cycle of second level schools were unable to cope with the traditional leaving certificate. I am not a member of the Labour Party but I must commend Ms Bhreathnach as a Minister of great vision. I do not mean this as a slight on the present Minister for Education and Science. Because the former Minister recognised the fact that second level students had learning difficulties the Department, with the co-operation [240] of Senator Fergal Quinn, designed the new leaving certificate applied syllabus which we all welcome. Had intervention been made earlier, however, and a remedial service provided in primary and secondary schools many students who are now pursuing the leaving certificate applied course would have been able to pursue the leaving certificate vocational programme or the traditional leaving certificate. I do not cast a reflection on the leaving certificate applied course which has an intrinsic value, and much credit is due to the former Minister and to Senator Quin.

Every student who has a learning difficulty, whether attending a big or small school, should have access to a remedial teacher. In a rural area a remedial teacher could be appointed to a cluster of small schools. I see this system working fairly and succesfully in the parish of Lackagh about ten miles from Galway where we have four schools and one remedial teacher. Similar arrangements are working in many other areas. This scheme could also be provided for second level schools where a school is not large enough to justify a whole-time appointment. I would like to see the Minister review the matter, identify the students who are in need of remedial education and seek the necessary funds to make such appointments to these schools.

While some progress has been made with regard to the reduction of class sizes we have a long way to go. In rural areas teachers often have to teach two or three classes in the same room. These teachers cannot provide the best education. Such schools should have a more favourable teacher allocation. Large schools experience problems of a different kind. These problems can also be helped by the allocation of extra teachers.

Demographers have been telling us for many years that our primary school population is in decline. Senator O'Toole has elaborated on the view of the demographers. The Celtic tiger has reversed this decline somewhat. There is evidence to suggest that the primary school intake will, from now on, be increasing. In Galway the population has increased by 7 per cent in recent times with consequent implications for school attendance. It is important that the Minister ensures that sufficient primary teachers are provided to meet this growing demand. I was sad to read in todays Irish Independent that there is a scarcity of primary teachers. We have been described as the island of saints and scholars. We do not produce as many saints as we used to but there is no reason we should not produce more teachers. We have the greatest teachers in the world and it would be regrettable if this State diminished the number of teachers.

It is recognised that teaching is a very stressful occupation. It is not surprising that many teachers miss work regularly through illness. It is important that we have an adequate substitute panel. Students get only one chance to receive an education and it is encumbent on the Minister for Education and Science to support students and [241] parents. I look forward to debating this matter on another occasion. I commend those who tabled these motions and I wish the Minister well.

Mr. Bonner: Information on Enda Bonner Zoom on Enda Bonner I compliment Senator O'Toole for tabling this motion. It is an important issue. If proper foundations are not laid for a house it will crumble and fall. If a child does not receive a sound primary education he will not go anywhere in life. For many years we took primary education for granted. I compliment Senator O'Toole's profession and, in particular, the members of the organisation of which he is general secretary. My father was a member of that organisation and profession. Many Donegal people are primary teachers and I know that Senator O'Toole has many friends from my own county. Our education system suffers from lack of funding and lack of teachers.

Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire agus comhghairdeas a dhéanamh leis as ucht sárobair a Roinne. Tá súil agam go mbeidh sé ann le fada an lá agus go mbeidh sé ábalta an obair a chríochnú. Tá tosach iontach maith déanta aige agus, mar a deir an seanfhocail, “Tús maith, leath na hoibre.”

Most of the measures introduced by the Minister affect primary education. He granted £250 million for the IT programme, although I am disappointed that more of that funding was not given to national schools. As a parent of three children, I learned how well they adapt to using computers. I would prefer more funding to be given to computer education than to the pilot European language scheme. There is plenty of time to learn a language at second or third level.

The Minister also scrapped regional educational boards, as there is enough bureacracy. I hope the money wasted there will be well spent on primary education.

The 15 per cent additional funding for capital expenditure on new schools and the 25 per cent funding for repairs and renovations allowed in the budget is also an improvement. Many schools are in a bad state of repair, as Senator O'Toole's organisation has claimed for many years. The overall 9 per cent increase in the educational budget is also welcome. However, there was a reduction in the training budget even though many problems in primary education are because teachers are not retrained.

I have had little contact with the educational system since I left school. I was well educated and I owe most of it to my primary school teachers. However, a number of issues in the past few years have reawakened my interest. I am a parent of three children, the last of which has just completed national school. I have always thought the Irish primary school system is the best in the world. Many of my aunts and uncles emigrated to England and when they came home with their families they told me the primary education system here could not be matched anywhere. However, when I hear the problems raised by the [242] INTO and those I have encountered, I wonder what is happening in other countries.

As an accountant, I do the books for a number of secondary schools and I am amazed at the finance given to secondary, as compared to primary, education. While the capitation grant increased from £45 to £50 and to £80 in disadvantaged areas, little money has been given to address other needs. The amount of money for the provision of materials in primary schools is laughable when compared with that given to the teaching of different skills in secondary schools.

Most other speakers mentioned the needs of the primary education sector, including the reduction of the pupil-teacher ratio, which the Minister said is 21:1. I know one school which is way above that. The Minister also provided £40 million funding to address the issue of substandard buildings. The panel of supply teachers needs to be expanded. I spoke to a teacher last night who told me one remedial teacher is covering six schools in his area.

The biggest problem is that not all children are treated equally. Two of my children sailed through primary school without any problems. However, one of my children had great difficulty. He was in fourth class before he was diagnosed as having learning difficulties, and that happened only when a special needs teacher was employed by the school. I praise the work done by the ACLD workshops. If the Minister cannot provide teachers through the Department, he should help the ACLD continue its great work. I was fortunate enough to be able to employ a teacher for a few hours a week. In two to three years, my son has made such progress that he has now completed his first term in a boarding school and is running in the Leinster cross country championships today. I am proud he achieved what he has but I was fortunate to be in a position to help him financially, with the assistance of the ACLD workshop. Otherwise he would have been lost in the education system and would have had a bleak future.

Miss Quill: Information on Máirín Quill Zoom on Máirín Quill That is an interesting example.

Mr. Bonner: Information on Enda Bonner Zoom on Enda Bonner That is why I want to help the schools who seek assistance from me. Tá súil agam go mbeidh réim fada ag an Aire sa Roinn.

Mr. Costello: Information on Joe Costello Zoom on Joe Costello It is not good enough that as the first speaker for the Labour group I am making my contribution at this stage.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Hear, hear. I should have been in by now.

Mr. Costello: Information on Joe Costello Zoom on Joe Costello It is unacceptable that it is almost 7.50 p.m. and the proposer and other Senators want to make contributions before 8 o'clock. I wish to share my time with Senator Norris.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Brian Mullooly Zoom on Brian Mullooly Is that agreed? Agreed.

[243]Mr. Costello: Information on Joe Costello Zoom on Joe Costello I welcome the motion and the amendment — the two should be taken as alternates rather than together. Perhaps the motion should have had an addendum and we could have then accepted both of them, as well as emphasising the £250 million investment fund. The issues covered in the motion are worthwhile — the Breaking the Cycle scheme, extra remedial teachers, the pupil-teacher ratio and the provision of extra teachers.

Education should be seen as an investment — in our children, our future, our society and our business — and not as a draw on taxpayers and money which could be otherwise spent. It is one of the, if not the most, important investments we can make.

Greater personnel and resources should be invested in primary education. We should also have a greater, better and more integrated structure for the delivery of education across the spectrum. This motion proposes what is required in the primary sector. The second level sector has similar problems and issues. The pre-school sector, including nurseries and créches, does not receive any State funding on a national basis. We could also discuss third level and adult education.

The Minister referred to the need to target and focus. There are disadvantaged areas where educational attainment is impossible and youngsters are falling through the system at every level. The support mechanisms have not been integrated into the system to ensure that students obtain an adequate level of education. The single greatest failure of the education system is that no one has inquired why so many young people from disadvantaged areas are not able to make the breakthrough into third level education. Many of them drop out of school when they reach the compulsory age limit. The reason for this is our discreet tiered or layered system which comprises pre-school, primary, second level, third level and adult education. These levels do not dovetail to meet each others needs. For example, primary level is class oriented while second level is course or subject oriented.

We require a system whereby a model of educational delivery can integrate the necessary services and supports. As Senator Quill stated, young people should not pass through the system without being tracked. We must ensure that mechanisms are put in place to stop them dropping out of the system. The element missing from the motion is a requirement that, in addition to extra personnel, support mechanisms and funding, there should be a more integrated structure to ensure adequate delivery at all levels.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I thank Senator Costello for sharing time. I compliment the Minister on his distinguished performance. He departed from his prepared script with great confidence and expanded clearly on many points. His invitation to Senator O'Toole and others to look at the [244] graphs is welcome and shows he is confident and prepared to co-operate.

Everyone is aware that this matter involves the allocation of resources and we have witnessed battles between different Ministers, various groups, etc. , in that regard. Senator O'Toole's case for a commitment to increase teacher training over five years is good. It seems the Minister met him half way on this.

With regard to children with special needs, there should be an assessment of those needs so that they can be catered for at the point of entry. It is not enough to place these children in ordinary schools. It is good that they should be placed in normal environments. For example, a photograph appeared in the newspapers recently which showed blind children happily at work in a school with other children. Occasionally this can backfire in the same way the attempt to develop community psychiatric services backfired, not only in Ireland but also in America. In that instance, people were returned to the community without adequate preparation.

I am aware of one example which underpins my point. A young person with learning difficulties and special needs, who also has serious physical disabilities and is confined to a wheelchair, was admitted to a local school. However, no one took account of the fact that the entrance to the school is situated at the top of 39 steps. Out of the goodness of his heart, a local contractor using a JCB excavated a new entrance. That was a wonderful community effort but we cannot always rely on such behaviour. For that reason, it is important that the needs of such children should be assessed so that school authorities are aware of the facilities required to bring them into the system.

It is not acceptable that schools are being forced to take risks in employing unqualified personnel. Last year a person from Australia managed to sneak into the system despite the fact he had a number of convictions relating to offences involving child pornography in that country. We cannot take this risk. I note with wry amusement that Kerry appears to be the only county with a superfluity of qualified teachers. I wonder if that has anything to do with Senator O'Toole's residing there? This is similar to the phenomenon where there is rarely a pothole within a ten mile radius of a Minister's constituency office.

As Senators Quill and Bonner stated, it is important to identify children at risk. The Minister referred to this in terms of tracking. A recent radio programme highlighted that children in Limerick are dropping out of the system without being noticed and becoming drug addicts or homeless. I thank the Cathaoirleach and Members for their indulgence in allowing me participate in this important debate.

Dr. M. Hayes: Information on Dr Maurice Hayes Zoom on Dr Maurice Hayes I thank the Cathaoirleach for permitting me to contribute. This is one of the most interesting and worthwhile debates I have [245] witnessed since becoming a Member of the Seanad. Debates of this nature can only be of benefit to everyone.

My point relates to the lack of remedial teachers. I am a member of the board of management of Cashel community school, which is a success story in its own right. I live in County Tipperary which has the lowest remedial teacher-student ratio in the country. I hope the Minister will see if something can be done to change that. A survey was recently carried out at Cashel community school in respect of problem children. It emerged that if these young people had access to remedial teachers in primary school some of the problem cases would not have been passed on to secondary schools.

I accept that I am referring to a particular case and that the Minister receives many applications in respect of remedial teachers. However, I ask that he take action to resolve this matter.

Mr. O'Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole Zoom on Joe John O'Toole I have rarely taken part in a debate where speakers showed such comprehensive insight. I have little difficulty with the points made on either side of the House, with the exception of those made by Senator Ormonde. If she considers my earlier contribution an attack on the Minister she should see us when we are debating in private.

Ms Ormonde: Information on Ann Ormonde Zoom on Ann Ormonde I was merely being watchful.

Mr. O'Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole Zoom on Joe John O'Toole It is not my intention to attack the Minister. I have no reason to attack him on his record to date. At the outset, I made clear I am merely highlighting a problem. The Minister correctly stated that he met me and representatives of my organisation before the election when we discussed the demographic dividend. For the record, we sought a commitment on that occasion which was subsequently delivered. However, I am now highlighting a much wider problem. The Minister was very open during his contribution and I will deal with the issues he raised later.

Senator Coogan's contribution on remedial classes was informative and I agree with his point in respect of clusters of schools. Senator Quill raised a number of important issues such as tracking and specialised training. The Minister might give consideration to Senator Henry's point on integrating speech therapy.

Senator Kett's outline of the needs of special education is also worthy of consideration. I was delighted that he and Senator Norris raised the question of a statement of needs in respect of the integration of children with special needs, which is crucial. I could speak at length on Senator Kett's comments on EU class sizes. Even if class sizes in Ireland were the same as those throughout the EU — Members pointed out that they are much larger — we would not have the same level of support which exists in schools in other member states. One problem which was not touched upon during the debate — Members living in [246] rural constituencies will be aware of it — involves the large number of primary schools which do not have the services of a caretaker or secretary.

Senator Bonner stated that he does not have a great insight into this area. However, his contribution belied that. Senator McDonagh and others provided a useful outline on many matters.

A number of issues were covered during the debate and I was glad to hear them from sources other than myself. Senator Costello and I have worked in this area for many years and we are used to considering it from our point of view. It is nice to obtain other views and realise people are considering the issues. If I had time, I could answer many of the questions asked by Members.

I compliment the Minister on his openness during the debate. I am aware his contribution was conceived on the basis of advice, etc. He stated that we have consistently said the figure of 46,000 is not being used. Perhaps it has been used but I never heard it before and I am dealing with these figures constantly. The figure came from a departmental report published in 1990 and was based on advice given to the primary education review body by Professor Gerry Sexton of the ESRI. I was present when he provided the figure and argued for two hours against it. I was not General-Secretary of the INTO at the time but it is significant that the person who refereed the discussion between us is now the Minister's newly appointed Secretary-General, John Dennehy. He will confirm to the Minister that I never thought that figure would come to bear.

The Minister was careful with regard to the other figures he used. I said there was little or no evidence about the Commission on Special Education and he wanted to prove a point. I do not disagree with his point but there is one easy way to deal with it. I would have an audit carried out on the recommendations of the commission and formally send them to the Minister and Members to allow people to make a judgment on who was accurate. It is a case of tweedledum and tweedledee.

Regarding his costing of my proposal for additional teachers, it is up to any of us who came through six classes in primary school dividing the figure of £102 million given to the Minister by his Department, or the figure of £84 million which I used, by 4,200. His figure allows an average annual salary of over £25,000. Considering teachers start on a salary of £15,000 and go up to £26,000, my figures are right and his are wrong.

My statement yesterday was directed very much at the Department of Finance. I do not disagree with the Minister's figures for this year and last. He correctly said — and Garret FitzGerald made the same point in two recent articles — there has been an arrest of the decline, except if one looks at the graph the birth rate has gone up and it will impact on schools next year. The figures for the next six years at least will be wrong because of the impact it will have on schools. I [247] do not know what will happen after that but I know what is happening with regard to teacher numbers.

I welcome the Minister's statement, which is most important, that he would address the need for further action where identified. However, he has acknowledged that it has been identified and needs to be addressed. He said that he will make his statistics available to Members and that is important. We must look at teacher supply and need realistically and come up with a multiannual approach to it. We should stuff the words down the Department of Finance's throat. Officials cannot talk about the need for multiannual budgeting and then refuse the Minister's Department and others to do precisely that. Every year the Department of Finance says that it must plan over a number of years and it never does it itself when it must commit to other Departments.

Ministers are entitled to get from the Department of Finance what it is looking to get from others. I welcome the contributions made and, in recognition of the open way that the Minister approached this, it is not my intention to push the motion to a vote. It would spoil the nature of the debate where people contributed openly and Members opposite were not afraid to raise issues in support of my argument, as did the Minister. There will be a great deal of difficulty with these issues in schools over the next few years, particularly dealing with substitute teachers. I look forward to seeing if it can be resolved but it will not be resolved without additional teachers.

Amendment put and declared carried.

Motion, as amended, agreed to.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Brian Mullooly Zoom on Brian Mullooly When is it proposed to sit again?

Ms Ormonde: Information on Ann Ormonde Zoom on Ann Ormonde At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.


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