Dáil Éireann - Volume 605 - 28 June, 2005

Written Answers - School Staffing.

[946]   681. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Education and Science if her attention has been drawn to the fact that a school (details supplied) in Dublin 24 is losing one and a half teachers under the general allocation system; her views on whether this is a serious and unacceptable decrease in resources for a school designated as disadvantaged; the steps she will take to have these positions restored; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22129/05]

  Ms Hanafin:The school to which the Deputy refers is included in the disadvantaged areas scheme, the Giving Children an Even Break programme and the support teacher scheme.

Under the disadvantaged areas scheme, the school benefits from the allocation of one concessionary teaching post, additional capitation grants of €38.09 per capita, a refund of the television licence fee and eligibility for 95% building grants for building projects. Designated disadvantaged schools are included in the home-school community liaison scheme and this school has the service of a shared home-school community liaison co-ordinator.

Giving Children an Even Break subsumes the previous process of designation of schools that serve areas of educational disadvantage and my Department’s approach is now refined to ensure that individual at-risk pupils are targeted. Rather than the old method of designating additional schools, under this scheme my Department provides support that is commensurate with the levels of concentration in schools of pupils with characteristics that are associated with educational disadvantage and early school-leaving.

The school referred to by the Deputy is included in the urban dimension of Giving Children an Even Break. The school is benefiting from supplementary funding to provide additional educational supports for the children concerned. The school is not considered eligible for additional teaching staff based on the level of concentration of at-risk pupils within the school.

The support teacher project supports 47 designated schools with 41 teachers. It aims to co-ordinate a whole school approach to designing and implementing good practice and strategies. These strategies will help to prevent the occurrence of disruptive behaviour and to teach and counsel small groups and individuals who exhibit persistent behavioural difficulties in the classroom. The school to which the Deputy refers has one full support teacher project post.

The new action plan for educational inclusion, DEIS — delivering equality of opportunity in schools — which I launched recently provides for a standardised system for identifying levels of disadvantage and a new integrated school support programme which will bring together and build upon a number of existing interventions for schools with a concentrated level of disadvantage. The new action plan will be introduced on a [947] phased basis starting in the next school year and will involve an additional annual investment of €40 million on full implementation. It will also involve the provision of some 300 additional posts across the education system.

A key element of this new action plan is the better identification of levels of disadvantage in our schools which will result in improved targeting of resources at those most in need. The first stage of the identification process which is being conducted on behalf of my Department by the Educational Research Centre is under way. Questionnaires issued to all mainstream primary schools and were due to be returned to the ERC by 31 May 2005. The identification process is being supported by an advisory group which includes representation from the INTO and the Irish Primary Principals’ Network.

Approximately 600 primary schools, comprising 300 urban-town and 300 rural and 150 post-primary schools, will be included in the school support programme. Existing schemes and programmes will be integrated into the school support programme on a phased basis over the implementation period.

As the Deputy is aware, a new general allocation scheme has been announced under which schools will be provided with resource teaching hours, based on their enrolment figures, to cater for children with high incidence special needs such as dyslexia and those with learning support needs. The introduction of this new system will involve the provision of an estimated additional 340 permanent posts in primary schools from September next. A further 320 posts are being provided on a temporary basis to facilitate the transition to the new system and to ensure continuity of service for children who have previously been given an individual allocation until those children leave the primary school system.

The general allocation for the school in question is one full-time permanent teaching post. In addition, the school may be entitled to retain part-time hours under transitional arrangements to cater for the needs of individual pupils with high incidence special needs until such time as these pupils leave the school. The school in question has made an application to retain part-time hours under transitional arrangements. My officials are examining this proposal and the school authorities will be notified of the outcome in due course.

I can also confirm that the school’s resource teaching allocation under the new scheme is based on its status as a boys’ school: the first post is allocated at 135:1. Schools whose allocations are based on 80:1 are those disadvantaged schools that are specifically eligible for additional staffing under the urban dimension of the Giving Children an Even Break scheme. As the school is not eligible for such additional staffing, it does not qualify for the special 80:1 ratio for resource teacher allocation.

[948]   682. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of schools which are designated as disadvantaged; the number of schools which have staffing concessions; the number of schools which are losing posts under the revised system of allocation to schools with special education needs; the location of these schools; her proposals, in view of this, to support such schools to ensure no decrease in their resources; if she will review the situation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22130/05]

  Ms Hanafin:The Giving Children an Even Break programme was launched in 2001 and subsumes the previous process of designation of schools that serve areas of educational disadvantage and my Department’s approach is now refined to ensure that individual at-risk pupils are targeted. Rather than the old method of designating additional schools, under this scheme my Department provides support that is commensurate with the levels of concentration in schools of pupils with characteristics associated with educational disadvantage and early school-leaving. Some 242 primary schools are considered for staffing under this scheme with 309 teaching posts allocated for the 2005-06 school year.

The new action plan for educational inclusion, DEIS — delivering equality of opportunity in schools — which I launched recently provides for a standardised system for identifying levels of disadvantage and a new integrated school support programme which will bring together and build upon a number of existing interventions for schools with a concentrated level of disadvantage. The new action plan will be introduced on a phased basis, starting in the next school year and will involve an additional annual investment of €40 million on full implementation. It will also involve the provision of some 300 additional posts across the education system.

A key element of this new action plan is the better identification of levels of disadvantage in our schools which will result in improved targeting of resources at those most in need. The first stage of the identification process which is being conducted on behalf of my Department by the Educational Research Centre is under way. Questionnaires issued to all mainstream primary schools and were due to be returned to the ERC by 31 May 2005. The identification process is being supported by an advisory group which includes representation from the INTO and the Irish Primary Principals’ Network.

Approximately 600 primary schools comprising 300 urban-town and 300 rural and 150 post-primary schools will be included in the school support programme. Existing schemes and programmes will be integrated into the school support programme on a phased basis over the implementation period.

A new scheme for allocating resource teachers to schools to cater for the needs of children with [949] high incidence special needs and learning support needs was announced last month. The reason for the new scheme is simple. Children with special needs such as dyslexia or mild learning difficulties are found in almost every school. It makes sense then that every school should have a number of resource teaching hours based on the number of pupils in the school.

This is a major improvement on the previous system, under which children with high incidence special needs required a psychological assessment before they were given resource teaching hours by the Department. This was a time consuming process that often led to delays in children getting the support they needed. Resource teachers will now be in place in the school from the start of the school year in order that children who need their assistance can get it straight away.

Under the new arrangement disadvantaged schools, boys schools and mixed schools get extra resources, as research shows that pupils in these schools are more likely to have learning difficulties. To ensure that every school has enough resource teaching hours to meet the needs of its pupils, an extra 660 resource teaching posts are being put in place for next September. Of these, 340 are permanent posts and 320 are temporary posts being provided to ensure that children who had been given an individual allocation of resource teaching hours by my Department will keep these in situations where the general allocation to the school would not be sufficient to allow the school to provide these hours from within its general allocation.

The provision of these temporary posts will ensure that no child who has been allocated a specific number of hours with a resource teacher by my Department will lose these under these new arrangements. In fact, the reality is that the majority of schools are gaining resource teaching hours under the new scheme. I am grateful to the Minister for Finance for providing me with the resources to ensure that the new system could be put in place. As of next September there will be over 5,000 teachers in our primary schools working directly with children with special needs, including those requiring learning support. This compares to under 1,500 in 1998. One out of every five primary school teachers is now working specifically with children with special needs.

The Government and I, as Minister for Education and Science, are deeply committed to improving services for children with special needs. In addition to the massive increase in resource teachers in recent years, the introduction of this new general allocation scheme will ensure a faster and more flexible response for children with special needs.