Dáil Éireann - Volume 507 - 30 June, 1999

Adjournment Debate. - School Staffing.

Mr. McGinley: I thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this important matter on the Adjournment and I thank the Minister for being present in the House at this late hour.

On 30 September 1998 there were 86 pupils enrolled in Convoy joint national school. These pupils were divided into three multi-grade classes. Junior and senior infants were grouped in one class, giving a total of 28 pupils. First, second, third and part of fourth class were grouped, giving a total of 32 pupils in that classroom. The rest of fourth class, together with fifth and sixth classes, were grouped, which gave a total of 26 pupils in the higher classes. These groupings were arranged after the most careful consideration and assessment of the abilities of the pupils involved. The middle class exceeded the recommended maximum class group by two pupils, which is clearly in breach of the national guidelines for maximum class numbers, which I understand to be 30.

The Minister met representatives from the school in Letterkenny during his visit to Donegal last September and they had an opportunity of putting the case for a third assistant teacher. I [690] understand that the Minister was very positive in his response that day. The school representatives had high hopes that an additional teacher would be appointed, but we have reached the end of the school year and nothing has happened.

For the coming school year the situation will become even more critical. From September next it is estimated that a minimum of 90 pupils will be enrolled in Convoy joint national school. In addition, 24 local authority houses are about to be allocated in Convoy, which could increase that enrolment beyond 90. I understand 90 is the required number of pupils for the appointment of a third assistant teacher. From next September the classes will be divided as follows: 32 pupils in junior classes, 32 pupils in the middle class and 26 pupils in the senior classes. Therefore, for the next school year two class groupings will be in excess of 30, which is the recommended maximum class number. This is simply unacceptable and should not be tolerated.

Convoy joint national school is also participating in the Breaking the Cycle scheme, which is designed to cater for educationally disadvantaged schools. A recent in-school survey revealed that 35 per cent of pupils in the school are performing below average and a number of pupils who have been assessed were border line special education cases. I visited Convoy joint national school and witnessed how both teachers and pupils are operating under most difficult circumstances. It is completely unacceptable that in excess of 30 pupils are crammed into a multi-grade classroom designed to cater for fewer students. Neither teachers nor pupils are given a fair chance in such circumstances.

To allocate an extra assistant teacher to this school would not incur or require any additional capital costs. An empty classroom is already available in the school. The only extra cost involved would be the salary of the new teacher.

The Minister is on record as saying that no primary school class grouping should exceed 30 pupils. Convoy joint national school will clearly be in breach of these guidelines for the 1999-2000 school year. Indeed, the school was also in breach for the year which has just ended. In view of this, the fact the school is in the breaking the cycle scheme and the level of disadvantage, I am appealing to the Minister to sanction a third assistant teacher as soon as possible, even on a temporary basis, to relieve the pressure on teachers and pupils in this school. On the basis of enrolment alone, the school will be entitled to the third assistant from September 2000.

As a millennium gesture and the fact that two class groupings will be in excess of 30 pupils, I ask the Minister to approve the extra teacher from 1 September next.

Mr. Martin: Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil don Teachta Dála as ucht an cheist a chur ós comhair an Dáil anocht. The staffing of primary schools is determined by reference to the enrol[691] ment of the school on 30 September of the previous school year. That has been the norm for the past decade and is in accordance with guidelines agreed between this Department and the education partners.

The current staffing of Convoy joint national school is a principal and two mainstream class teachers, based on an enrolment of 79 pupils as at 30 September 1997. The school also has the services of a shared remedial teacher and a breaking the cycle teacher.

The enrolment as at 30 September 1998, on which the staffing for the 1999-2000 school year is based, was 86 pupils. Despite the fact that I have implemented substantial improvements in the staffing schedule for the 1999-2000 school year, this enrolment does not meet the minimum requirement of 90 pupils for the appointment of a third assistant teacher.

In the circumstances, I regret that there is no [692] basis at present whereby I can sanction the appointment of an additional teacher for Convoy joint national school. If there are any special needs children in the school and where professional assessments are provided to the Department, there is an automatic entitlement of additional teaching resources, be they part-time, whole-time or child care assistance for such children, separate to the overall pupil-teacher ratio for the school. If it has not already done so, I would urge the school to make applications in respect of any such children through the local inspector to the special education section of the Department.

If the numbers in the school increase significantly in September, the situation can be reviewed. However, in line with existing policies, it is not possible to make an exception for this school over any other.

The Dáil adjourned at 11.05 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 1 July 1999.

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