Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection Debate

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Mr. Gerry Bennett:]  On one or two final points, the percentage of total funding from fund-raising and the voluntary parental contribution together, 6.14%, shows clearly that the voluntary secondary schools are much more dependent on discretionary payments than other schools. Thus, an average of over 12% of all income in the voluntary secondary schools comes from the parents, compared to 5% in the community schools. Faced with the recent and current economic conditions, this militates even more against the voluntary secondary schools, where parents do not have the funds to up the difference between what these schools are getting and what the VECs and community and comprehensive schools are getting.

The ESRI report has pointed out that the cost of the trusteeship function, what we do and what we are tasked to do under the Education Act - a large amount of work - is not funded by anybody. We are funded from the Christian Brothers with a seed grant, we have some funds that come from the schools for capitation for the students we have and apart from that we look after everything else in terms of the school. According to the ESRI report, the cost of the trusteeship function for the student is €25 per head.

Chairman: Information on Joanna Tuffy Zoom on Joanna Tuffy Would the logic behind that be that when it comes to the education and training boards, ETBs, their schools are owned by the State, but trusts such as the Edmund Rice Schools Trust owns its buildings? The trust cannot have it both ways. It cannot look for the same State funding and keep its private assets.

Mr. Gerry Bennett: The opposite could be true. Could we not turn that argument on its head and say the voluntary secondary schools paid for their school buildings? They provided the school buildings for the State, whereas the other schools did not. Therefore, we can turn that argument on its head.

Chairman: Information on Joanna Tuffy Zoom on Joanna Tuffy Would the solution not then be that the assets could be handed over to the State?

Mr. Gerry Bennett: The assets of the school are there as a school. They are worth nothing to us. They are a school building and not worth a penny to us. We must run them, but they are not worth anything. We are not going to sell a school. The ESRI has published a significant report and that is our agenda.

Chairman: Information on Joanna Tuffy Zoom on Joanna Tuffy When was that report published?

Mr. Gerry Bennett: In 2013.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Mr. Bennett is making a very interesting point, because many of those schools are now derelict. Many of them have nobody in them and many of them have had to pay significant moneys to keep older members of those communities in homes and may have to sell parts of the schools. However, he is making a point about an unintended consequence of raising a caste system - of a percentage for one and a lesser percentage for another.

Mr. Gerry Bennett: It would seem - the ESRI has pointed this out - that there was a historical situation in the past whereby, for various reasons, VECs were given additional funding to provide certain types of education. However, in terms of what schools are providing, the educational sector is similar across the country now. Why then should we continue to provide increased funding to two sections of the community but not provide it at all to the other? We are finding that our schools are under more and more pressure, yet 58% of students attend these schools.

We want it put on the agenda of this committee that this is not something small. This is a strategic and structural issue. It is about the future of education in Ireland and the future of trusteeship in Ireland. It is a big question and we would like it to be put on the agenda and taken seriously. If the committee wants to meet us again to discuss and go through the issue, or if it wants us to meet a small sub-committee, we would be willing to do that, as we feel this is so important.

Chairman: Information on Joanna Tuffy Zoom on Joanna Tuffy As a committee, we would be happy to look further into this. However, the solution is something that would have to be negotiated between the State and the trust and other voluntary bodies. I am sure there is a solution, but it will have to be negotiated.

Mr. Gerry Bennett: We need people from all sides to sit down and discuss this seriously. It will not be simple to achieve a solution, but there could be other ways of looking at the issue to address it. Certain sectors have been disadvantaged.

Chairman: Information on Joanna Tuffy Zoom on Joanna Tuffy I have found this meeting very helpful.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell It got better as it went along.

Chairman: Information on Joanna Tuffy Zoom on Joanna Tuffy I thank the witnesses for their contributions and they should keep an eye out for our discussion next week also because similar issues may arise. We will be in touch with them about the issues they have raised.

  Sitting suspended at 2.26 p.m. and resumed at 2.27 p.m.

Recent Closures of English Language Schools: Discussion

Chairman: Information on Joanna Tuffy Zoom on Joanna Tuffy We resume in public session. I wish to draw the witnesses' attention to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to this committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence in relation to a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise nor make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

  In this session we are dealing with the closure of private colleges and language schools. Over the past two months or so, five private colleges have closed, and the possibility of further closures has not been ruled out. Many students attached to these colleges have been affected by the closures. Many have lost substantial fees and many face an uncertain situation in regard to their continuing immigration status as a result of the closure.

  I welcome the Irish Council for International Students, represented by Mr. Dave Moore and Mr. Bruno Mateus Francio. I invite Mr. Moore to make his presentation.

Mr. Dave Moore: On behalf of the Irish Council for International Students, ICOS, I would like to thank the committee for the opportunity to share the views and experience of our organisation and of the students with whom we have been working. ICOS is an independent organisation, founded in 1970, advocating for the rights of all international students in Ireland. We have been responding to the many issues related to the recent closure of five private colleges that occurred in a five-week period during April and May. Some students have now spent more than nine weeks out of class. The closures displaced several hundred international students who were already in Ireland and have jeopardised the studies of many more who had booked and paid but were yet to travel. The students we are working with are mostly young adults, with a high proportion coming from Brazil, Venezuela and other countries in Latin America to study English.

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