Education Cuts – Darndale Junior National School

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Today I spoke in the Seanad about the impact of education cuts to schools in Darndale.

 

SEANAD EIREANN, 15TH DECEMBER 2011

SPEECH BY SENATOR AVERIL POWER
I refer to the impact on disadvantaged areas of the education cuts included in last week’s Budget. I ask the Minister for the rationale behind cuts. It is extraordinary that the Government decided to target some of the most severely disadvantaged areas in the country for such savage cuts. It belies the claim by the Government that it was protecting  the most vulnerable people in society from cutbacks. It is a great shame that it is undoing much of the progress that has been made in those schools in recent years.

The Minister met some of the principals this week, including the principal of Darndale Junior National School. The school currently has 15 children in each class. With small classes and excellent staff, who are committed and hard-working teachers, they have made incredible progress over the past few years. The Minister is aware of their literacy programme. Within two years they managed to increase achievement levels among first and second class pupils and increased the numbers of pupils performing among the best in their age from no one reaching that level to 20% of children, which is incredible. This is a positive sign for the future in a community that has struggled and has taken a long time to make this progress. It is a shame to put this in jeopardy as a result of cutbacks.

The increase from 15 to 22 pupils per class is an increase of 50%, which is an incredible difference in a teaching environment that is getting good results. I urge the Minister to examine this matter. I wonder if he was aware of the impact on individual schools when he made the decision. Had he seen a list of the schools and did he know that they would be hit this much? Darndale is losing five teachers out of 16 and I wonder if the Minister was aware it would be so significant for individual schools. The Taoiseach was unaware because, when he answered questions from our party leader in the Dáil this week, he said that existing DEIS schools would not be affected. I found this incredible. There was reference to legacy issues, which is an unhelpful term because it implies that the only reason teachers were there was because their positions were granted a long time ago and that they have not been making a contribution since, which is unfair.

Darndale JNS has been making great progress, progress that the Department has recognised and lauded and which was held this up as an example for other schools serving disadvantaged communities that could get good results.

Did the Department carry out a cost-benefit analysis on the long-term impact of this? Whatever about it being socially regressive to take teachers out of these schools, it does not add up economically, particularly not when we look at the long-term costs not just to the Department of Education and Skills but on the Garda budget and the Department of Social Protection. There is no economic rationale for it. Was the long-term economic impact considered?

Darndale JNS and otherblocal schools will also be affected by the changes for special needs children and the disimprovement in the ratio for the general allocation model.
This is unfortunate and while I appreciate cuts must be made in the budget – our party accepts that €3.8 billion had to be found – there is a fairer way to do it and education should have been prioritised. I am sure the Minister fought as hard as he could for his Department but the Cabinet as a whole should see this as an area that should be protected with a view to the future of Irish society.

I urge the Minister to rethink this. I welcome the movement on the disability cuts, which were perhaps not thought through, and I hope this will be another area where changes can be made before long-term damage is done.

RESPONSE BY MINISTER RUAIRI QUINN

The Government has prioritised targeted supports for schools with the most concentrated levels of educational disadvantage. These supports will continue to be targeted through the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools scheme, which is focussed on 670 primary schools and 195 post-primary schools with particularly high levels of disadvantage. This scheme is designed to ensure that the most disadvantaged schools benefit from a comprehensive package of supports.

The creation of a dedicated DEIS band 1 pupil-teacher ratio of 22:1 in the budget will secure a more favourable staffing allocation for these primary schools in comparison to the mainstream pupil-teacher ratio of 28:1. While the new staffing schedule gives greater autonomy to DEIS band 1 schools, the schools should continue to prioritise their staffing allocation to implement more favourable pupil-teacher ratios in junior classes, in line with DEIS policy.

The Government is also providing €13 million in enhanced funding for DEIS schools, €2 million in school book funding for DEIS schools, as well as a €26 million investment in the home school community liaison scheme. All of these areas have been protected from reductions in expenditure for 2012. In addition €27 million will be provided next year for the school completion programme, a major component of DEIS, funded by theDepartment of Children and Youth Affairs. Furthermore DEIS post-primary schools will be targeted for additional support through an improved staffing schedule of 18.25:1, which is a 0.75 point improvement compared to the existing standard 19:1 that applies in post-primary schools that do not charge fees, or compared to the 21:1 ratio that will apply in fee-charging schools.

To ensure fairness in the distribution of resources available under the DEIS plan, it is no longer possible to allow some schools to retain legacy posts on a concessionary basis that predate the introduction of the DEIS scheme. As a result, a decision has been taken to withdraw 428 posts from earlier disadvantage programmes/schemes in 270 primary schools and 163 post primary schools that exceed what equivalent schools are entitled to under DEIS or to which non-DEIS schools are not entitled.

I am aware that some schools will be particularly impacted by the withdrawal of the legacy disadvantage posts. I met with a group of school principals on Tuesday so I could listen directly to their concerns about the impact of this measure on their schools.

Consequently, the Department will hold a number of teaching posts in reserve to reduce the impact of changes to schools most acutely affected.

As part of the alleviation measures, DEIS band 1 junior schools will be placed on a staffing schedule based on an average of one teacher for 20 pupils. A further 32 schools that have legacy posts that provided for one teacher for every 15 pupils in junior classes only will now have a staffing schedule that operates on the basis of an average of one teacher for 18 junior pupils.

The special position of DEIS schools will also be recognised in adjustments to the general allocation model, which is used to allocate learning and language support teaching posts to schools. The Department is not in a position at present to give details as to how this measure will affect individual schools, including schools referred to by the Senator. In addition to the budget measures, consideration must be given to the effect of increases and decreases in enrolment on schools’ staffing entitlements annually.

All schools will be notified in January 2012, three months earlier than normal, of their staffing entitlements under the new arrangement including any alleviation measures that may apply. This will allow schools to plan for the school year beginning in September.
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REPLY BY SENATOR AVERIL POWER
I acknowledge the Minister has stated he intends to put in place some alleviation measures. However, I do not understand how he can stand over these changes in general. There is a need to simply reverse them altogether. Again, I ask whether the long-term cost of this measure was considered, not simply in the departmental budget but across Government expenditure as a whole. Time still remains for the Minister to reverse this decision and I hope he will. I acknowledge he has met the principals who have put the case to him but I genuinely fail to discern how he can stand over the measure. I again stress my request to the Minister to reverse this decision because the long-term impact on the most disadvantaged areas will be phenomenal. In the current environment, these are the people who should be protected the most, rather than being targeted. The Minister referred to fairness in his response but I fail to see how anyone could consider this measure to be fair.

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