Dáil Éireann - Volume 499 - 28 January, 1999

Adjournment Debate. - School Staffing.

Mr. Gormley: I thank the Minister for being present, which I greatly appreciate. However, I may have to leave because I have an interview at 5.30 p.m., so I may not catch all of his reply.

The Minister is probably aware that, not far from here, is the mythical place called Dublin 4. In our vision of Dublin 4 we think of Shrewsbury Road, Donnybrook and people who have access to power and money. As Eoghan Harris said, it is almost a state of mind. However, there is another part of Dublin 4, which I know very well, where there is 70 per cent unemployment, drug problems and deprivation. We do not hear much about that part of Dublin 4. Haddington Road school is part of that Dublin 4 and it needs the Minister's help. When Deputy Ryan and I approached the Minister in the past he was forthcoming. For example, he met the parents and teachers in connection with the City Quay area and produced the goods. I hope he has a positive response to this matter.

I believe the Minister shares my views on education. It is like watering a plant. If nourishment is not provided the result will be a dead society. I believe in society; I do not believe in the Thatcherite notion that there is no such thing as society.

This is a deserving case. I am sure the Minister is familiar with it because he has received correspondence on the matter. St. Brigid's national school requires a remedial teacher for fifth and sixth classes. These classes are vital because they are the years before pupils enter secondary school. Our aspiration should be that pupils will go through secondary school and have an ambition to go on to third level. However, if we do not tend the grassroots and take care of primary schools, we can forget about a vision of society because it is at that level people learn about aspiration and ambition. They are important qualities, but the Minister probably knows people in his constituency who do not have them.

I ask the Minister to consider the way this school has been disadvantaged. He will note that it is in a catchment area. Most of the pupils are not from Dublin 4, but from Dublin 2, including areas like Pearse Street. Many go to the school in City Quay, but because St. Brigid's national school is located in Dublin 4 people take the view it is not necessary to fund it on the basis that it is a well off school. That is not the case. The school [758] has 11 teachers. The remedial teachers and home-school liaison service are shared. It has no resource teacher, psychological service, Department funded secretary or caretaker. In terms of facilities, the school has no hall or all-purpose room. It rents the parish hall one day a week when it is not being used by people from the parish. It has no computer room or parent meeting room.

I know the parents and they are passionately concerned about the welfare of their children and the school. They want their children to receive a good education. They feel they are being pushed to one side and that they are not a priority. This is discrimination for all the wrong reasons. I ask the Minister to meet the parents if possible and to do everything he can to facilitate their request.

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin): I thank the Deputy for raising the need for a remedial teacher at St. Brigid's national school, Haddington Road. As has been indicated to the House in the past, remedial education at primary level is a matter in the first instance for the ordinary class teachers. The majority of pupils with remedial needs would, therefore, be helped within the scope of the normal teaching service. However, it is acknowledged that remedial teachers constitute the main additional resource for addressing the problem of under-achievement in primary schools. St. Brigid's national school, Haddington Road, Dublin 4, has the service of a remedial teacher on a shared basis with St. Mary's boys national school, Haddington Road.

I recently allocated 60 remedial teaching posts to national schools with effect from September 1998. There are now 1,302 remedial teacher posts in place in national schools. It is estimated that 91 per cent of primary school pupils attend schools which are served by a remedial teacher. Of the 405 primary schools in County Dublin, 383 have the services of a remedial teacher, either on a full-time or shared basis. This means 98 per cent of primary school pupils in County Dublin have access to a remedial teacher.

My capacity to allocate additional remedial teaching posts in any given year depends on resource availability and the level of competing demands from other special needs areas. I am pleased to advise the Deputy that I recently announced a major initiative to tackle educational disadvantage at all levels. As part of this initiative I have arranged for a remedial teacher service to be made available to all primary schools with effect from September 1999. Mainstream schools with a pupil-teacher ratio of below 10:1, and which currently have no service, may apply for a service where they can demonstrate the particular needs of their pupils.

Part of the issue here is an historic deficit. There are still approximately 700 primary schools with no service, not even on a shared basis. I con[759] sidered my priority from the budget package should be to create a service for these schools. We will look again at the situation pertaining to St. Brigid's national school. I cannot promise any- thing between now and May, but we will consider the matter again before September, given what the Deputy has outlined, to see if we can be of further assistance to the school and the area generally.

I accept the Deputy's comments on percep[760] tions. I was not in office when the designated disadvantaged scheme was initiated. I presume the scheme did not operate on the basis of addresses or perceptions. I hope it operated on the basis of incomes, the socio-economic status of parents, etc. However, times change and situations can deteriorate. I will do what we can to be of assistance to the school in the forthcoming school year.

The Dáil adjourned at 5.25 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 2 February 1999.