Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 6 February 2018
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills
Education Inequality and Disadvantage: Discussion
I remind members and witnesses to turn off their mobile telephones or switch them to flight mode as they interfere with the sound system and make it difficult for parliamentary reporters to report the meeting. Interference from mobile phones can also adversely affect television coverage and web streaming.
The purpose of this part of the meeting is to have an engagement with a number of stakeholders on education inequality and disadvantage, an issue about which all members, including me, feel strongly and passionately. On behalf of the joint committee, I welcome Dr. Katriona O'Sullivan, Maynooth University, Dr. John Bissett, community worker with the Canal Communities Local Drugs and Alcohol Task Force, Ms Sinéad Dooley, assistant CEO of Irish Rural Link, Ms Niamh Quinn, senior youth officer in Foróige, Ms Elizabeth Waters, CEO of An Cosán, Ms Deirdre Malone, executive director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust, IPRT, Ms Olive McGovern, principal officer in the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, and Caitriona O’Brien, principal officer in the social inclusion unit of the Department of Education and Skills.
We very much appreciate everybody coming. Two weeks ago when we looked at the programme we wanted to follow and the individuals we wanted to come before us, we were not sure whether we could get somebody from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to do so because of the direct line with the Minister. Therefore, we very much appreciate the fact that we have an opportunity to hear from Ms McGovern and ask her questions.
The format of this part of the meeting is that I will invite the delegates to make a briefing opening statement of a maximum of three minute duration. It will be followed by engagement with members of the committee. Of course, prior to the meeting we also received the formal written submissions.
By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the joint committee. However, if they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to 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 asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. I advise them that any opening statement they make and their written submission will be published on the committee's website after the meeting.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I invite Dr. O'Sullivan to make her opening statement on behalf of NUI Maynooth.
Dr. Katriona O'Sullivan:
When we consider the issue of educational disadvantage, we can sometimes forget that at the heart of the conversation are real people. Therefore, I want to start my statement by telling my story.
I am a doctor of psychology who graduated top of her class from Trinity College Dublin. I have published several research papers and book chapters on widening participation and presented at many conferences worldwide. I currently work in the University of Oxford in partnership with the Department of Education in examining the impact of following alternative access routes. To many, I am your average middle-class woman, but I am also the daughter of two heroin addicts. I was a teen mom having had a baby at the age of 15 years and an early school leaver. For a long time I lived on Benefit Street and felt comfortable working in a café around the corner from here serving people like me fried eggs and bacon, but through many supports and interventions, I have been able to over-achieve and outperform many of my friends in education and employment and navigating the dark arts of the system. However, it has not been easy. It is my view that there is no easy solution to the problem the committee is addressing.
I have been privileged to have read about and research what educational disadvantage is and how it impacts on lives. I have also been able to develop activities and work in areas in which people have been moved successfully from disadvantage to advantage. I bring with me some of the views I hold.
First, I think the DEIS scheme does not work in the stance it has taken. The recent review showed that it only had a significant impact on school planning and that levels of literacy and mathematics had only improved in line with all national improvements and that there were still large disparities between DEIS and all other schools. I would change the programme, including the prescribed sets of activities in which all schools included in the scheme must participate from primary through to second level. They should include subject support, aspiration-building activities and college awareness programmes. It is not enough to ask schools that are already stretched in time and resources to plan their own activities when we have a body of knowledge which shows what works and what does not. I would include an internship programme for all DEIS schools under which companies would commit to taking students from DEIS schools in transition year. I would also provide tax benefits for the companies involved.
On a more national scale, I would reform the higher education access route, HEAR, scheme and make the points reduction bigger and regulate it across higher education institutions. To date, each institution manages its own entry requirements. They are "interpreted" in differing ways. I would formalise the path from the leaving certificate applied programme to third level and from further to higher education. It is not the job of higher education institutions to try to recognise programmes or build relationships with further education colleges to formalise these routes. I would also recognise access routes by creating incentives for higher education institutions to develop routes to their courses from access and community programmes for the hard to reach groups - prisoners, lone parents and those who are severely marginalised.
I thank the joint committee for listening to my views and would welcome questions.
Dr. John Bissett:
I am a community worker on the south side of the city and was a youth worker in the past. One of the things that it is important for me to say is that when I was a PhD student, I used to read about reproduction in education or the reproduction of inequalities in education. After 30 years, I know what reproduction means. It means very little change in the educational circumstances of large numbers of young people, particularly in working-class communities. The key point I want to make is that the education system is philosophically based on the foundation of equality of opportunity. That is a critical mistake and we need to change it. We should replace it with what is called equality of condition, a fundamentally different way of looking at how the education system is structured which has critical connections with the economic and financial system to give people the wherewithal and resources to participate in education in a realistic manner and in a more general sense in the society in which we live.
The philosophy based on equality of opportunity is a liberal philosophy that has become common sense and a doxaas the Greeks call it such that people think it is the only way. In 1960 the Council for Education advised the State that we should not have a fully public secondary school education system. I argue that today equality of opportunity is the new problem we face. It is based on meritocracy - the idea that IQ plus effort equals merit. The problem is that it ignores structural injustices within Irish society, principally in our economic structures. We live in a capitalist society that produces inequalities due to the nature of its structure. The equality of opportunity model presents the system as if everybody can make it if he or she just applies himself or herself and in such a way that those with the most intelligence will rise to the top when, in fact, the problem is that for lots of people the system is rigged from the beginning. The myth of equality of opportunity is very powerful and difficult to break down.
Education is full of class practices. Groups with more resources are able to buy their way through via private education resource packs to privilege or to enable their children to do so. This option is not available to large sections of the population, be they working-class, of other races or ethnic groups or women. Things such as extra tuition, grinds, out-of-school activities and other capital items about which people like Pierre Bourdieu have written extensively are transmitted to and inherited from one generation to the next.
We have had some changes in the education system over 30 or 40 years in terms of participation rates at the various levels.
My argument is that relatively little has changed since the introduction of post-primary free education. One of the key questions is on what values do we want the system to be based. Are they competitiveness and places for the talented few? How will nurturing, trust, solidarity and care fit into the education system? Effectively, we have a system that has been built to manage inequality and is presented as a fait accompli, the natural state of affairs, when we could fix and completely restructure it.
Ms Sinéad Dooley:
We have an opportunity to be radical and take a broad look at the education system. The general perception is that the education system is a good one, but that is a dangerous mentality. When we compare our system to the Finish model, sadly, it is lagging behind. The Finnish model is moving away from the emphasis on subject workload, heavy volumes of homework and rote learning, while in Ireland we use league tables as a barometer of children's success. We encourage students to revise and retain large volumes of sometimes irrelevant information and regurgitate it in a structured form in order to maximise their points.
When we look at extracurricular activities within the school system and the outcomes from young social innovators, young scientist competitions and Concern debates, to name but a few, we see that when young people are allowed to be creative, they excel above all those from other nations. We should have an education system in which innovation and creativity are rewarded, encouraged and recognised as part of the curriculum. Employers are shouting from the rooftops that they require employees with training and skills, as opposed to employees with multiple degrees and no problem solving skills. Encouraging innovation and problem solving skills from an early age would not only benefit the labour market, it would also build confidence and social skills which would enable young people to deal with issues in a logical manner and also reduce the number presenting with anxiety and stress. However, very often there are extra costs associated with participating in extracurricular activities. The Irish League of Credit Unions back to school survey in 2017 showed that 67% of parents surveyed would not have been able to afford extracurricular activities. While the level of early school leaving has decreased, children from disadvantaged areas are still more at risk of leaving school before completing their leaving certificate examinations. There may be a range of factors in a young person leaving school early, one of which is that the student has to conform with the education system. Reducing the average European rate of early school leaving to less than 10% is one of the headline targets of the Europe 2020 strategy in the area of education. It would help towards the integration of young people into the labour market and contribute to breaking the cycle of poverty and deprivation that leads to the social exclusion of too many young people.
The Youthreach programme which was originally intended to meet the needs of the student who felt "detached" from the education system has become more academic. We are suggesting this be reviewed. Funding for the programme, like others, is now outcomes and awards based, with the expected outcome for participants being to obtain a Quality and Qualifications Ireland, QQI, level 4 qualification which equates to basic leaving certificate standard. The programme must revert to adopting a person-centred approach, where it would be tailored to meet the young person's needs. There is a mismatch between outcomes and awards and the skills match to which the Minister continually refers. The programme needs to be practical and skills based in order to be effective and relevant and encourage positive participation.
Too often schools place more of a focus on Central Applications Office, CAO, points and third level courses, highlighting past pupils' achievements by the third level institutes they attend and the level of qualification attained. Apprenticeships are often seen as the Cinderella route to a career, being referred to as the alternative option to explore. Students who choose to opt for an apprenticeship, whether it be in the traditional trades or the new apprenticeships of information and communications technology and finance, should not be made to feel inferior to those who choose to go directly to third level. Teachers and career guidance counsellors need to proactively promote all options available to students.
This opening statement and our brief submission only scratch the surface of the need to engage in further dialogue. Irish Rural Link proposes the establishment of a task force to carry out a critical analysis of the education system, one which will be representative of all education and skills providers and include an analysis of the availability and accessibility of community education programmes to ensure issues of disadvantage and inequality will be addressed adequately across the board.
Ms Niamh Quinn:
I am a senior youth officer with Foróige and a front-line youth officer in Blanchardstown. Foróige is a leading youth work organisation. Much of our work focuses on areas of severe disadvantage in which poverty and other social issues impact negatively on young people's educational attainment. Youth work in Ireland is fundamentally an educational and developmental process, defined by active and voluntary participation and a planned curriculum. It complements the formal education system. Our research and work on the ground indicate that no single factor but a constellation of difficulties leads to educational disadvantage, culminating in early school leaving. Particularly noteworthy are misbehaviour in school and anti-social behaviour in the community; poor parental engagement in the young person's education; possibly a family history of early school leaving and being a member of the Traveller or Roma community. Some research suggests that since measured intelligence only accounts for about 25% of the variance in the level of school success, other non-cognitive factors such as personality, persistence and willingness to study must be important. It is from this perspective that Foróige and youth work can have a vital impact on the young people who may be at risk of educational disadvantage. Key to our role is educating and upskilling young people in the range of soft skills necessary to successfully move from adolescence into adulthood.
We use a range of evidence-based and evidence-informed programmes, as well as an emergent curriculum based on the individual needs of the young person or group of young people in front of us. Programmes we deliver regularly include Foróige's leadership for life programme; Relationships Explored and Life Uncovered, REAL U, a relationships and sexuality programme; the Aldi Foróige youth citizenship programme; drug prevention and education programmes; Be Healthy, Be Happy, an holistic health programme; the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, NFTE, programme; and a range of youth offending behavioural programmes. We support the development of positive family relations through evidence-based programmes and workshops on identified areas of need. We also have a range of family support and teen-parent support programmes nationally. At a community level, Foróige and the youth work sector are active with and passionate advocates for young people.
The education system appears to work for the majority of young people. However, there is a sizeable minority who require a range of additional supports to obtain its benefits. We have a range of potential solutions which might help to bridge the educational attainment gap. We would like to see increased collaboration between the formal and non-formal education sectors to ensure young people who require a youth educational development intervention or support will be identified, referred and supported. This could also take the form of youth work organisations upskilling and supporting the formal education sector in the delivery of appropriate youth education and development programmes such as the REAL U and NFTE programmes.
We would like to see consideration being given to the expansion of the age range covered by the Education Welfare Act 2000 to include those younger than six years and those older than 16. In the younger age range this would enable educational welfare officers to engage with parents whose children's attendance is erratic or poor to address the issue before patterns are established. At the upper age limit, vulnerable young people who may be on the cusp of disengaging from education could be supported to remain or move into employment or training. We would like consideration to be given to the development of early warning system, EWS, indicators of potential disengagement that schools or communities could use to identify those young people who may require additional supports to remain engaged in education. We would like additional resources to be provided to meet the formal and non-formal educational needs of young people from the Traveller and Roma communities, ethnic groups which experience high levels of educational and social disadvantage.
Where children in disadvantaged communities regularly attend at least one preschool year under the early childhood care and education scheme we have found that it improves their school readiness and has a far wider impacts than the impact on the young person; it impacts on the family too.
Ms Elizabeth Waters:
I am chief executive of probably one of the biggest community education initiatives in the country. An Cosán developed in and is located in the community of Tallaght west, but now we have regional and national reach through our fledglings early years services and our virtual community college.
I have been a community education practitioner for over 25 years. I am passionate and I know that education is the only fast-track out of poverty and social exclusion. Educational underachievement is absolutely linked with intergenerational unemployment, poor health and well-being, multiple addictions, mental health issues, homelessness and suicide. These are the outcomes. It takes really resilient creative communities focused on personal and social change to challenge the underlying inequality and disadvantage and to turn that tide. Community education is such a process. Community education is adult education in a particular context. It intersects educational disadvantage, unemployment, social welfare, dependency and poverty. Community education is a community-led educational model. It reflects and values the lived experience of individuals and their communities. It is grounded on principles of justice, equality and inclusiveness. It absolutely results in wide-ranging positive outcomes for individuals and their communities and for society as a whole. For the past 30 years, An Cosán in Tallaght west has facilitated over 16,000 learners to move from basic education to further education and right through to degree level with extremely successful outcomes in terms of access to employment.
Those of us in An Cosán have learned what we call the one-generation solution. If we educate a young woman who is a lone-parent to degree level, she will earn 40% more than her colleagues who have no degrees and she will exit poverty with her children forever. That is one of the most significant issues. The ESRI produced a report last week on the issue of lone parents and the impact of poverty in their lives. Some 23% or one third of lone parents are in consistent poverty.
Community education does not focus on equality of opportunity but on equality of outcomes. It really seeks to put in place all of the supports that are needed to ensure equality of outcomes.
My experience working in prisons and working with homeless young women and with a wide range of marginalised groups has taught me to see the impact where those issues are not resolved. At best we have long-term unemployment but there is also addition and anti-social behaviour and in Tallaght we are constantly faced by the outcome of suicide.
I see the impact on the lives of individuals who have engaged in second-chance education, either through their own determination and courage or perhaps with a gentle nudge from engaged practitioners and organisations like An Cosán. I am here today to advocate for all involved in community education. We work successfully with those on the margins. As a result, we are also marginalised. Everyone knows that we get the crumbs from the educational table - I do not think anyone would debate the point. We are sitting here today discussing the same issues that I talked about 30 years ago. I do not understand why we do not have the long-term vision to know that targeted investment will give us the results we require. I am here to recognise the power of community education and to recognise it as a sector by itself that really impacts on social disadvantage. We need the resources to do that.
Ms Deirdre Malone:
Our area of expertise lies primarily in penal policy and prisons. We believe crime and punishment have to be viewed in the wider context of social policy, marginalisation and exclusion. Fundamentally, that includes education inequality and disadvantage. Victor Hugo said that when we open a school door, we close a prison. Regardless of whether he meant that figuratively or literally, the significant point remains that in responding to crime and the risk of crime, education and genuine access to all forms of education is a vital part of the solution. It is part of prevention and diversion. Even where someone has convictions, whether one or many, it can be part of transformation and rehabilitation.
Our submission identifies five key groups we come across in our work. Each should be relevant to the consideration of educational inequality by the committee. Each has specific needs as well. The first is children affected by parental imprisonment, of which there are at least 6,000. The second is children in care, of which there are more than 6,000. The third is young people who are already in contact with the criminal justice system. The fourth is prisoners and detained children. The final group includes those who have come out but who have criminal convictions.
I will try to assist the committee with a snapshot of the situation in prison. We are grateful to the Irish Prison Service, which allowed us to use some recent statistics gathered. The statistics were taken from 800 prisoners in three prisons. A quarter of those who answered the survey attended no secondary school. More than half left before the junior certificate and 80% left before the leaving certificate. Only one in five had completed the leaving certificate, which compares to three in five in the general population.
It is my view that those children did not fail the education system; the system failed them. We talked to a group of young people between 18 and 24 years who were, by admission, involved in some form of offending behaviour. Every one said they wanted to stay out of trouble and that they were interested in getting a job but they were completely unable to do so because of what had happened along the way in their education.
While our focus is on prison and the penal system, I urge the committee to look at prevention and early intervention. I know that the people sitting here have been talking about this for many years. It is not rocket science. It is straightforward. It requires resources and looking at people as individuals. It requires listened to people who are experiencing this every day. I note that no young people are in this room to tell committee members about their experience and what they think the solution might be. I appeal to the committee to consider that for a future session.
Where someone has gone into prison, the lack of supports available to him or her upon release is problematic. It is a problem even where there has been fantastic engagement with prison education and where people have gone on to do degrees. They come out with no stable accommodation no continuing education and a conviction that acts as a barrier to ever getting a job in future. One concrete thing that could be done is to review the spent convictions legislation. The legislation is posing a major barrier to people looking for employment and further education when they come out.
In summary, five things can be done: prevention and early intervention; identifying and directly supporting at risk groups; recognising diversity in education; looking at the person and not simply the system; and supporting the transitions and people on release.
I thank Ms Malone. The passion of all our guests is absolutely evident. We could genuinely sit around here for hours listening to their stories and experiences. We will now hear from the representatives from the Departments.
Ms McGovern, principal officer at the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, might start.
Ms Olive McGovern:
I thank the committee for the opportunity to speak at this session of its examination of educational inequality and disadvantage.
My Department's interest in the issue arises, in the first instance, in the context of our work to promote the voice of children and young people in decision-making. The Department of Children and Youth Affairs has overall policy responsibility for ensuring that the voices of children and young people are heard in the decisions that affect their lives. In undertaking this role and as members may be aware, it is normal practice for the Department to provide children and young people with the opportunity to speak for themselves. It is very rare that adults like me speak on their behalf. The exception being made today is a reflection of the fact that the specific pieces of work relevant to educational inequality and disadvantage are works in progress. Therefore, the work has not been brought sufficiently to completion to allow for this to be presented by the children and young people directly involved.
That said, it was the view of the Department that the work under way is so strongly connected to the committee's theme, and specifically to its request for insight into the impact of educational disadvantage on the individual, society and a person's outcomes, that the opportunity should not pass without providing the committee with some of the detail coming directly from children and young people themselves.
Dáil na nÓg is the national youth parliament for 12 to 17 year olds. The most recent Dáil na nÓg in December considered the topic of equality under five domains relevant to children and young people's lives: school; home and community; online; public services; and sport and leisure. For each topic, the participants at Dáil na nÓg were invited to consider two broad questions, namely, what are the equality issues in this place and what needs to be done to improve equality in this place? At the end of the discussions, Dáil na nÓg delegates voted on one area of action for change or improvement. School was the area for action selected by the greatest number of delegates.
The key equality issues in the school topic from the most to the least commonly mentioned were: unequal treatment of students by teachers; school uniform and appearance issues; gender inequality in subject choices; LGBTI equality issues; issues related to curriculum; religious equality issues; and Irish language equality issues.
The first meeting of the Comhairle na nÓg national executive for the period 2017 to 2019 took place on Saturday last , 3 February. The executive will work to refine the topic content further and set out a programme of work to make changes or improvements for young people in that regard.
The purpose of this submission is to give insight to the committee into the views of young people and the changes to which they have given early consideration in the context of the December Dáil na nÓg proceedings. It has been a frequent practice of the executive to seek an opportunity to make a submission to this committee as its work develops. As such, the Department expects to be in further contact with the committee as that work progresses.
The Department wishes to bring to members' attention the work of the Children's Equality Commission, which is also a work in progress. The commission was established by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs with the aim of enabling the voices of children who experienced or understood economic hardship or poverty to be heard directly and acted on by policy makers. Three panels of children and young people were established and the topics identified of relevance to the committee's theme are set out in our written submission. The suggestions outlined for change are in the children's own words and provide insight into young people's views when asked directly about this topic.
The work of the Children's Equality Commission has not yet been completed and the intention is that a video format reporting that work will be available in due course. Engagement with the committee once the work has been completed would be a welcome opportunity for the young people.
In my submission, I have detailed some early work under way regarding reform of the school completion programme. While I do not hold policy responsibility for this area, I will be working with the relevant policy unit to support and ensure that the voices of children and young people are central to the reform process.
I look forward to this afternoon's session and hope that I can be of assistance in exploring the important issues identified for discussion.
Ms Caitriona O'Brien:
I thank the committee for the opportunity to address it this afternoon. A key priority for the Minister for Education and Skills and his Department is for education to be a proven pathway to better opportunities for those in communities at risk of educational disadvantage and social exclusion. We have a wide range of policies and supports in place to tackle educational disadvantage across the education continuum from early years to primary through to post-primary and on to further and higher education.
As noted in our submission, the Department does not work in isolation on this issue. Many of the additional supports provided in and around schools come under the remit of other Departments and agencies with whom we work collaboratively and closely to ensure that those most in need are targeted. As the committee can see from the detailed submission provided by the Department, we take the issue seriously and are doing our utmost at all levels to encourage participation, retention and progression in education.
The recent review of the DEIS programme and the introduction of a new DEIS plan last year marked an important step in our ongoing attempts to prioritise the educational needs of children and young people from disadvantaged communities. In the extensive research and evaluations carried out to date by the Department's inspectorate, the Educational Research Centre and other bodies as well as with relevant stakeholders, an overall improvement has been seen in those schools supported by the DEIS programme. The wide-ranging supports provided under DEIS, from teaching to financial resources to access to specific interventions, such as home-school community liaison, the school completion programme and literacy and numeracy programmes, represent an investment by the Department of over €125 million annually. Although the results from the evaluations are encouraging in terms of educational outcomes, attendance, retention, progression and school planning, it is evident that a gap still remains between DEIS and non-DEIS schools. The goals and actions under DEIS Plan 2017 are aimed at narrowing this gap further and a monitoring and evaluation framework is being developed to allow us to better determine which interventions are having the greatest impact as well as providing an evidence base to inform future policy.
As a Department, we are also mindful that success cannot be measured solely by educational outcomes. Other aspects need to be taken into consideration, such as the attitude of the students, their aspirations and the school climate. DEIS Plan 2017 contains actions aimed at supporting well-being, stressing the importance of school climate and encouraging the involvement of the wider community in school life. There are also actions in the plan relating to the importance of transitions across each stage of the education continuum, with the ultimate aim that those who wish to transition to further and higher education should be able to do so.
Equity of access to further and higher education is a fundamental principle of Irish education policy. Both the further education strategy and the National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education 2015-2019 are working on breaking down the barriers for target groups to enrol in and complete their chosen areas of study. We collaborate closely with other Departments and agencies on these issues, and the supports offered include various financial grants and funds made available to those most in need and supports for higher education institutions to encourage participation by under-represented groups.
I look forward to this afternoon's discussion and hope that I can be of assistance.
I thank Ms O'Brien. Before turning to members, I wish to say that youth organisations were invited to attend and young persons could have been the ones to deliver their presentations. The invitation was declined. Comhairle na nÓg has presented to us previously, as has the secondary schools organisation, in which case a secondary school student presented. The WorldSkills group also presented to us on youth apprenticeships. Without a shadow of a doubt, we want to hear the voices of young people and those who have experience of working with them.
I will apologise to everyone, as I am unwell. If a fit of coughing starts, just ignore me.
I thank the witnesses for their presentations. This is a topic close to my heart. I will start with a criticism, though. With all due respect and while I am sorry to shoot the messenger, the contribution from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, a body that represents some of the most vulnerable families in terms of their outcomes in life and their lack of educational attainment, referred to Dáil na nÓg, but that group is not representative of what we were asking about in our questions. We could have heard something valuable from the Department about the kids whom it represents through Tusla and so on. Five direct questions were asked about the outcome of educational disadvantage for the individual, and Dáil na nÓg discussing equality issues within the school setting does not address them. There might be some crossover at stages, but those are two different issues. I just wish to note my disappointment with the quality of what was presented on this topic.
The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection is another Department that sees early school leavers also walk through its doors in their droves to sign up for jobseeker's allowance and SOLAS courses. It refused to make a submission as it felt that the Department of Children and Youth Affairs would adequately cover the concerns.
I have about four questions. Ms Malone gave a very insightful submission which everyone should read. In considering education for prisoners, we think of education while in the prison system, which is like putting a plaster on it. Obviously early intervention is key. In the absence of early intervention and when people end in the prison system, does Ms Malone see a role for the education system within prisons to lead directly into universities or community education? I ask her to give more detail about the problem of the spent convictions and being able to progress further.
I have a simple question for Dr. O'Sullivan. Why are the current systems not working?
I have a question for Dr. Bissett. Can the Irish education system address the inequalities that exist in Irish education and Irish society in general?
I believe Ms Waters touched on the issue of adult education. We look to early intervention, which obviously is the best-case scenario, but there is that ripple effect of education. I was on the pilot of the lone parents two-year programme all those years ago. I notice that it has recently been cut and will no longer exist. That is an amazing programme that works with lone parents, provides child care and has benefitted people like me. I ask Ms Waters to comment on that and what it means for her organisation.
I have one simple question for Foróige on the Education (Welfare) Act. Ms Quinn suggested moving it beyond the age of 16. What supports need to be in place? Women are already punished. They already lose their child benefit if their child leaves school. That may be through no fault of the parent who might be working very hard to get their child to school. Rather than further punishing parents by extending that beyond the age of 16, what supports should we introduce so that the children can positively and actively engage in education? Should we redefine what education means? If they are not necessarily in mainstream schools, should we be looking at changing the definition of education in the Education (Welfare) Act to include Youthreach, community education and apprenticeships? I ask for Ms Quinn's suggestions on that because I know it was a recommendation.
I thank the witnesses for their presentations. I follow on from Senator Ruane's question to Ms Quinn on the expansion of the Education (Welfare) Act 2000. I have been pursuing the matter and have submitted questions to the Minister, Deputy Zappone. I do not know how we can expand something that is already overstretched. Mr. Noel Kelly appeared before the committee before Christmas. The answers I received from the Minister, Deputy Zappone, indicate that we have 89 education welfare officers. That seems pretty poor compared with the 120 in the Six Counties, as advised by Mr. Noel Kelly. Using the Northern Ireland figure for comparison, we would need 300 to run the service properly. At the moment according to the answer to the parliamentary question I submitted to the Minister, Deputy Zappone, I have been told that we have 45 schools per education welfare officer. It is not possible to deal with referrals; they cannot get to the students quickly enough with a ratio of 45 schools per education welfare officer. He reckons that will be 40 by the end of 2018. How can the system work with that? How does the Department of Children and Youth Affairs intend to address that?
Dr. O'Sullivan mentioned that leaving certificate applied students are more likely to be unemployed than those who leave school early. Surely that means there is something wrong with the leaving certificate applied. It is not rocket science, but the lack of a review since its introduction 1995 may be part of the problem. Perhaps the Department should learn from that; no programme should be in place for more than 20 years without being reviewed. I taught in a DEIS school and I taught leaving certificate applied for nearly 20 years. I was never surveyed on the course as to whether I was getting adequate resources and whether I felt students were benefitting enough.
However, I learned that the same teachers get assigned for 20 years. I loved teaching leaving certificate applied. If a teacher had good classroom-management skills and was seen as innovative that was the person who was assigned - and assigned for life - to leaving certificate applied. That is also something that needs to be examined.
There are weaknesses in the module descriptors for leaving certificate applied. It is a case of ticking the box at the end, getting the key assignment done and handing it in. Teachers are told at the September following the student's graduation that there is a possibility that those key assignment might be checked and told to hold on to them until the end of September. How often are they checked? If they are not being checked they may not be done well or extra help might have been given to those key assignments. There are tasks in leaving certificate applied, such as the personal reflection and practical achievement tasks. Sometimes I wonder if teachers are helping students too much, because those are the tasks that are being checked. When they are coming in, the teachers know that that is the one. A teacher wants to help the child as much as possible, but the child is not learning if the teacher is practically doing the task for them. Teachers talk about this frequently. Why are the teachers not being surveyed on this to ensure it is being done properly?
Dr. O'Sullivan made a recommendation on the transition year programme. Why has that programme not been reviewed? One finds that it is the same teachers who teach transition year. Has the Department considered making it compulsory for DEIS schools? I believe it should compulsory for all schools. There is an amazing difference in the maturity level of a child who has gone through transition year. In that break they get to experiment with so many subjects and get a flavour of everything. That difference can be seen in a child who has gone through transition year.
Ms McGovern spoke about the reform of the school completion programme. Some school completion officers have told me of their fear that there will be a move to a regional school completion officer. I do not know how that would work. The school completion officer and the home-school liaison work as a team. They have established trust with the families. They know the families and the families know them. To move to a regional officer would be catastrophic for that programme. It is central to the development of vulnerable children in DEIS schools. Can Ms McGovern shed light on that? There are concerns, which I believe are justified, but it may not be the intention; I hope it is not.
I have been fascinated by all the presentations which were really good. If the witnesses do not mind, I will use them. I may call on the witnesses privately in the coming weeks and months to follow up on some of the points that were made. With all the submissions to the Joint Committee on Education and Skills we now have a body of documents that form an incredible resource. The witnesses may think they have given just an opening statement, but it adds up together to a large library of information for policy makers.
Do any of the witnesses believe that there is a bit of divergence on the Education (Welfare) Act with the involvement of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs? I know the officials cannot give any policy views on that, but they may be able to say something. I think it should be with the Department of Education and Skills and not with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.
I noticed Dr. O'Sullivan disagreed with Ms O'Brien at one point.
Can Dr. O'Sullivan clarify that, as she was nodding her head? While Ms Caitriona O'Brien does great work in the DEIS section, Dr. O'Sullivan seemed to be quibbling with some of the figures. I know there is no malice in her reaction; just a lack of agreement and I would like to hear more on the disagreement.
Dr. Katriona O'Sullivan:
I will explain. I am like a bold child in school, nodding her head in the back. I explained earlier that I was an early school leaver, which is my excuse. My issue was about the misrepresentation, not by Ms O'Brien, but of the success of the DEIS scheme. I was very excited when the DEIS report was released, not only as an academic in the area but as a practitioner. I was peeved when I delved down into the statistics, which showed there were no gains for the DEIS students in literacy, maths or retention in comparison with national averages.
Dr. Katriona O'Sullivan:
No, they did not. I was further peeved to see the DEIS scheme being reformed, which invested more money and expanded the scheme. I have worked in two universities that have developed really meaningful programmes and have worked with adult and community education programmes that have evidence-based activities that do change the lives of children. I have had meetings with people who implement the DEIS scheme and have tried to pitch to them ideas to change what is happening in these schools. What we have had to do is source philanthropic funding for activities we knew were really meaningful for children in DEIS schools. Over the past four years, I have worked in over 20 DEIS schools where the activities aimed at uplift are funded by Google and other organisations because there was no space to change what was happening.
Senator Ruane asked why the current systems are not working. I have many views on that. First, when things are found to be wrong, there is an unwillingness to shift. The leaving certificate applied was referred to. We are having conversations here that not only have been ongoing for 30 years but which sociologists have been having for 100 years and yet, we still have the same problems. People buy into policies and it is very difficult for them to change after massive investment has gone into them. The DEIS scheme is a perfect example of that. The review shows there were no gains.
Another thing which is very problematic is that there is a funding model for higher education and school systems, along with community and adult education, that is competitive. We are not facilitated to work together in a way that involves joined-up thinking to solve the problem but instead have sectors that are competing for funding. We are hiding solutions from one other because we do not want other groups to perform better than us. We compete for publicity in the media, to get Deputies and Senators to present our awards and show everyone how great we are because we are in a model where we are not funded equally and we are not forced to cross-pollinate and share successes and good resources. Nor is the competition only in higher education. We see it in league tables where schools are in competition with one other. I have even seen it in DEIS schools, where there is competition to prove how bad they are in order to remain in the funding scheme, so sometimes they hide their successes to stay in a system that celebrates being a failure.
Another of the many issues I have has been showcased here, namely, the reactive nature of the system. Currently, lone parents are the buzzword. There has been a recent report on lone parents. Maynooth University has recently been awarded programme for access to higher education, PATH 1 funding for a return to teaching programme because we need to diversify teacher education. Trends emerge but as the trends change, the other groups we have been targeting and trying to shift and help are forgotten, such as Traveller activities, which are moved. Sometimes, there is a reaction in policy to what is in the media and what is current, without stopping to ask ourselves what have we done in the past and how can that transfer into what we are doing now. In the PATH 1 fund, we are required to reserve places for lone parents. Previously they were not specified, but now we have to give them places. That is good, it is recognition that this group needs to be targeted, but it means that other groups are no longer targeted.
My final complaint is that we have no funding for evaluation in higher education or in the education system generally. The Government funds institutions such as the ESRI and the Educational Research Centre, ERC, to undertake that sort of thing but there are limits to what they can do. That research is often descriptive and sometimes is supportive of policy. The national access plan for equity has five strands. Educational disadvantage is not only early school leaving, the definition also relates to progression into higher and further education. The plan states that we should be researching and evaluating and establishing quality activities. There is little or no funding for research. Any access office I have been to has no scope to evaluate what it is doing and nor has any school I have visited. We have no evidence base of what works. If I have a good message and a good way of promoting it, that usually is what works.
Ms Elizabeth Waters:
I want to comment as a practitioner, first on early years intervention, specifically the two-year preschool, and its absolute significance. Our experience on the ground in Rainbow House shows that the children who go through the two-year programme that we bring them through have far better outcomes in primary school than the other children going into school. It is really important that we target early intervention in areas of disadvantage in order that they have the resources to really bring those children through, along with their parents. We know the issue is intergenerational and that children's outcomes are really connected in with those of their parents. I will not go into the statistics, which are contained in my report which members have. Not everyone will agree with me but I look at the importance of really targeting the other group. I know it is a buzzword now but lone parents has always been a buzzword for An Cosán. Senator Ruane is a shining example but is not the only example of the young women who are lone parents living in social isolation in a very busy area, who come in and who go through a process over two years, which has brilliant outcomes. It was funded for six years as innovation. After six years, they told me that it was no longer innovation so they could no longer fund it. There was no funding available for something that was proven to have quality outcomes.
There are huge issues is respect of young men aged between 18 and 30. I expect the representatives from Foróige will agree that once one hits 18 years of age, one is on one's own. There is very little support available. There is a need for targeted intervention for that particular group.
Every day, I am out trying to raise philanthropic funds to pay for what the State should resource us to do. I will get it for a period, and I prove the model, but it does not matter. I need this committee's support to say that community education has proven itself as an alternative model for education to work with the groups the committee is discussing and is concerned about. Fund us. The young lone-parents programme is an excellent example of a model that works and is proven to work but it is not funded.
Ms Deirdre Malone:
Senator Ruane asked about the role of the education system within prisons. It is really important to note how highly prisoners speak of teachers who come into prisons. They are people who see them as students for the first time, rather than prisoners or ex-offenders.
They honour aspiration. They do not focus on what a person has done. They focus on what a person would like to do and can do. Changes are needed in resources and budget. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission noted in a recent submission to one of the UN bodies that, between 2013 and 2017, the education budget in the Irish Prison Service was reduced. Staffing shortages also resulted in a reduction of school hours.
The IPS needs sufficient funding to ensure education is open to as many in the prison system as possible. It is also important that employers go into prisons and see the skills and interest there. This is a model-well known in the UK. The Timpson brand, which does key cutting and shoe repairs, has a model of employing ex-prisoners. It makes sure they have training and education in prison and that there is a job waiting for them. Prisoners are welcomed out from prison into a job and a new life. There is continuing support for accommodation for people when they come out and continue education.
Senator Ruane asked about spent convictions legislation. This is legislation that, in limited circumstances, provides for wiping the slate clean. After a seven-year period convictions do not have to be declared. However, it is not reaching the groups that we know. It is limited and it is a long period. A person with convictions at 18 or 19 will have to wait until he or she is 26, 27 or 28 before starting again with an employer. There is an opportunity here for a post-enactment review of the legislation at least to remove or reduce that barrier or the amount of time for people. It is a practical thing that could be done. We have seen people come up against this repeatedly when they have done amazing work within the prison system. Then they come out and they are disillusioned with having to start again.
Dr. John Bissett:
Senator Ruane's question addressed a very important point concerning whether the Irish educational system can address inequalities in Irish education. These are important questions. The Irish education system cannot address many of the issues because it is part of another institutional system, which is the economy. I refer to how our economy is structured in respect of jobs, job opportunities, zero-hour contracts and the collapse of the apprenticeship system. I ask the committee how it is going to understand the connections between the two things. There is a continuum from the local within the education system.
One of the dangers when we have conversations like this is that we all become sectoral very quickly. That is fair because everybody has a view that the work they do is important, and I accept that. Key texts written by people like Michael Apple say that is important to understand. If that basic point is not taken, it means we assume the education system will fulfil all of these functions. It just cannot do that.
Our egos get the better of us. We think we are supermen and superwomen and can sort it all out. That is not to say the education system does not have other important functions to fulfil and things it can do. The education system should be built around the radical equality of condition idea, based on radical education models like Paulo Freire, Jacques Rancière and other people who argue we should reconceptualise how our education system is structured. We need to think about that. Why do we have DEIS schools? Why do they exist? They exist because we accept the inequalities and stratified nature of Irish society is somehow the best we can do. It is not the best we can do. We can abolish the inequalities. That has to be the goal and the education system has to part and parcel of abolishing the inequalities at a global level and not just at a sectoral level.
We are counter-intuitive in the community sector sometimes. We argue for the sustaining of structures which perpetuate the problem we want to get rid of. We need to think at a radical level to reconceptualise. That is the problem with the idea of equality of opportunity. I said at the start it is not just. The education system is just for a talented few. Who in their right minds in the past ten years would think there is a good reason to stay in education except people who really benefit from the system? I refer to the collapse of all of the infrastructure throughout the State. We are talking here after eight years austerity. I refer to all of the programmes that were cut and all of the things that were taken away. Are we delusional to think that this never happened?
At a foundational philosophical level, I am asking the committee how much of a vision it is going to have when it sits down to write its document or report. I am not sure of its journey or where it is going. Are we talking about small bits of sectoral change? Will it be a bit of revision to this and another bit to this or is the committee thinking at a really deep and profound level about what is necessary, to understand what the education system has the capacity to do and what it does not have the capacity to do, and that we are going to take on the broader economic issues, really go after them and name them?
We are here, and I think Dr. O’Sullivan said it in her introduction, to talk about what works and what does not. Let us talk about what we can do. We can have that other conversation later. I want to respond to one or two things.
Ms Malone suggested that we should listen to children. The Chair made the point that we had invited one group. How would the witnesses suggest the committee might go out and visit some young people? If anybody has suggestions, he or she might come back to us. I do not mean Dáil na nÓg. I am talking about children who have issues around feeling they will not progress through the system or their parents have not. That is my first suggestion.
The most shocking figure in all of this is again from Ms Malone. One quarter of people in the research on prisoners had not even gone to post-primary education. I apologise to those who have a particular interest in post-primary but I really think early intervention is really crucial. I want to state that. It makes such an enormous difference. My first question is to Ms McGovern. The early years and the school completion programme are both in her Department. I know Ms McGovern is not responsible for these particular areas. However, are there ways in which her Department has information with regard to early intervention in those early years? That is crucially important.
Both Ms Waters and Ms Quinn spoke of team parenting and, again, early intervention. How can we reach as many parents as possible to break intergenerational disadvantage? The witnesses' programmes are successful. Is it about more resources to reach more people? How many, as a percentage of the community, are being reached as opposed to those not being reached?
On the DEIS schools, there is a network of DEIS primary principals in my constituency in Limerick, and I have spoken to all of those as a group and individually.
It appears to me that DEIS is quite successful at primary level. I know that principals of DEIS schools believe the children in their care have benefited hugely from DEIS. Should there be greater concentration on the more disadvantaged areas in DEIS? Are there communities that have been identified as needing significantly more support than is currently available to schools under DEIS? I know from talking to principals in some of the very disadvantaged communities in my constituency that they would love to be able to help families more. They know the families the children come from and they know also that school is the one place where the children are getting extra support. Should DEIS be more targeted than is already the case? Perhaps the witnesses would respond to that question, in particular Dr. O'Sullivan and Ms O'Brien, if she is in a position to answer a policy question.
In response to earlier questions, Dr. O'Sullivan referred to the agencies hiding solutions from each other. Could community education be linked more with primary education, in particular, for children whose parents are in prison? In what way can this committee help such that the agencies are not all operating in silos and there would be cross-referencing that would make a real difference to families? We are probably talking about a relatively small percentage of families in Ireland where there is chronic intergenerational difficulty that needs to be cracked. Perhaps if we could answer those questions we would address Dr. Bisset's issue a little.
I did not get answers to my questions. I have to leave now but I would like if my questions could be answered and I follow up on the answers later. My questions were on the number of educational welfare officers, the reform of the school completion programme, the appointment of a regional officer, the leaving certificate applied, the lessons to be learned in that regard, if there should be a timeframe for programmes such that they are not allowed to continue for, say, 20 years, without review, and on the Foróige suggestion that transition year be compulsory.
I welcome the witnesses and I thank them for their submissions and opening statements today which I am sure other members, like me, found very educational. How can the benefits of DEIS be expanded to disadvantaged children outside of DEIS schools? I am often asked by parents about what is being done to assist schools outside of the DEIS framework. How can inter-agency work be improved to achieve more effective delivery of a range of supports that are important to DEIS schools?
It was mentioned in one of the opening statements that low levels of education are more likely to lead to death at a young age, particularly in reference to risk factors exclusive to people in rural areas. Perhaps the witnesses would expand on that statement. It was also mentioned that one participant surveyed in the Irish Penal Reform Trust, IPRT, survey of young men with offending behaviour said: "If you can't get a job you're going on the rob." How can we better implement education models to encourage employers to hire rehabilitated offenders? Also, how could the EU Youth Guarantee be better utilised in this country?
I would like to put a few questions to the witnesses before asking them to respond. I agree with much of what has been said by my colleagues in regard to DEIS. Having worked in a DEIS school as a primary school teacher I know that there is no school that does not need resources. Often it does not matter in what way those resources come about. Schools that are in DEIS have more resources and support for the children in their care during school hours and often after school in terms of homework clubs etc., and this enables those children to have a better and more positive experience. In my experience, that works. I am more concerned about the schools that do not get any funding through DEIS status but absolutely need it. I say that coming from a county that not only did not get one additional rural or urban DEIS designation, it lost a DEIS designation at a secondary school, which has had a huge impact on that school. DEIS supports are important.
Dr. O'Sullivan mentioned that sometimes one vulnerable group gets additional support at the cost of another. It is four years since I last visited Maynooth University. At that time, the university operated a programme which encouraged people with intellectual disabilities to do modules at the university. This meant that young people with an intellectual disability were able to go to college and they had a fantastic experience. Funding for that programme has since been withdrawn and so people with intellectual disabilities no longer have that opportunity. That, too, is an important issue.
On transition year students and trying to ensure that children in a DEIS school have the same opportunities, I am working with the head of the local enterprise office, LEO, in Kildare, the president of the chamber of commerce in Kildare and a careers guidance teacher in Kildare on the development of a pilot scheme for schools in Kildare which we are calling "passport to work". We have ten different modules. We are hoping to roll out the programme this September. The aim of the programme is to ensure that from an employer's point of view and the school point of view there is certainty and clarity around the expectation of the student, the school and the business. As a person who is now giving work experience to young people, I am well aware of the disparity in this regard. We hope to roll out the programme in eight schools next September.
When I started teaching, the INTO had produced a really good document called Breaking the Cycle. It was about the generations of families who never achieved more than the generation before. There has been some success in this area but not enough. We have heard some fantastic examples of how this can be done from Ms Waters, Dr. O'Sullivan and others. We need to put far more effort into doing that. Ms Dooley spoke about apprenticeships. The committee has produced a paper on the issue. Encouraging parity of esteem in relation to apprenticeships is hugely important. The committee has done a bit of work on the issue with SOLAS and Education and Training Boards Ireland, ETBI. We hope to continue that important work. The committee has made the suggestion that, similar to the Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition, we should be doing something on a national level about apprenticeships and skills, possibly using the National Ploughing Championships as a means of showcasing particular areas.
If there are issues that the witnesses would like to highlight today but they do not get an opportunity to do so, they can forward further submissions to the committee. All submissions received will form part of our final report on this issue.
On the difference between urban and rural opportunities and disadvantage, some rural areas do not have the same opportunities as urban areas. There are disadvantages in Tallaght and Ballintubber but they are different. It is about focusing on how we can help and support these areas. For example, the small rural school in Coill Dubh, County Kildare, which is dealing with a completely different type of social disadvantage, does not have DEIS status, while a large school in Newbridge does.
I firmly believe that non-formal education is as every bit as important as formal education. We need to invest in supports and resources to develop the rounded person in his or her community, the family and in society, as well to develop his or her resilience and all of that.
On Foróige, Ms Niamh Quinn spoke about intervention with those under six and those over 16. A home-school community liaison officer will work closely with the under sixes and the school completion officer will work with those over 16. We informed the Minister that we felt that position would sit better in the Department of Education and Skills than in the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. Should Foróige work with home-school community liaison scheme? Should it take it over and how would that relationship work?
Ms Olive McGovern:
The invitation to the Department asked for Comhairle na nÓg material for the committee for today. That is why we have material on the voice of children and young people. I can ensure that the committee is provided with broader submissions on a whole range of work for which the Department has responsibility and which impacts on this topic overall.
I have briefing material on the school completion programme, particularly as it is under reform. Nothing in the briefing that I have for today indicates it is moving to a regional service as described but there is a widespread consultation of service review and governance matters.
The material I provided for today relates specifically to the voice of the children. In that context, I brought in the additional piece of work relating to the Children's Equality Commission, which specifically worked with children and young people from youth services, DEIS schools, and, in particular, in initiatives supporting children in homelessness, direct provision and other areas of vulnerability. How they experience their lives and what matters to them has been well documented as part of that initiative. The piece is specific on how they experience school. The direct quotes from the children and young people-----
Ms Olive McGovern:
No, that was the work of the Comhairle na nÓg national executive. This is regarding the Children's Equality Commission which was not just about school but about the children's lives overall and how they experienced economic hardship and deprivation. Obviously, that was not the language used with the children and young people themselves.
The pieces we took from that initiative were what they had to say on school for submission to the committee. I will make sure the Department provides the committee with submissions on prevention and early intervention programmes, the non-formal education sector and the overall education welfare service. We checked with the committee that it had received input from Tusla on the education welfare service. However, it was regarding the voice of the child, which is why the specific focus of our submission was the material which Department has directly from children and young people themselves. As I said, the particular material from the Children's Equality Commission consists of exact quotations, the way the children describe themselves and how they experience inequality in school, if they are living in some economic hardship.
I wanted to clarify that for the committee. I am sure our Secretary General will gladly provide the material the committee wants for the broader area of policy for which the Department has responsibility. Many of those who have spoken to the committee are in service provision at the end of the policies of the Department. Much of that is represented in the practice that other people today have presented.
Ms Niamh Quinn:
I do not see broadening the Education (Welfare) Act and extending it after 16 as punitive. We would like to see is as a support and acknowledgement that the education of over 16s is equally important as that of those under 16. From my practice experience, the retention of young people after the junior certificate is not a priority. They are not encouraged or supported to remain engaged, particularly if they are presenting with potentially troublesome behaviours.
In Blanchardstown, we have an early school leavers programme for those 12 to 15 year olds who, for whatever reason, are not able to remain in formal education. They are presented with opportunities to improve literacy and numeracy, as well as to complete the junior certificate in a youth work setting. They also receive a range of youth work interventions which look at personal effectiveness, ability to self-regulate and all of those issues which proved to be a problem for them in a mainstream school where they were one in 30.
In the case of over 16s in Dublin 15, they struggle to stay in education and identify pathways into employment. Several years ago, the JobPath programme was developed. I worked on the pilot scheme in Mulhuddart, which involved a group of young mothers between 18 and 21 years of age, none of whom had completed the junior certificate and four out of the five of them had been in care. They were presenting with a wide range of issues. They were a particularly passionate group and engaged fully with it. It was that balance of practical skill, academic knowledge and youth work programmes, which look at confidence, efficacy and self-belief, that enabled those members to go out and look for further education and employment opportunities.
In the case of under sixes, based on my personal practice, youth work is best when it is seen as part of the continuum of care. A young person does not come into existence at ten and fall off the planet at 21. We have to work with service providers for children under ten and we must work with them after they reach 18 or 21 to successfully support those who are most vulnerable to be able to access further services. Again, we will work closely with primary and post-primary home-school liaison officers. Sometimes the home-school liaison officer is the right person to work with the parents. Other times, youth work intervention is most appropriate. Youth work is well placed to work with parents because we engage with them where they are, whether that requires sitting with them in their kitchen or talking to them at their door. For some parents, who may have had a negative experience of education themselves, engaging with the youth worker can be seen as softer engagement piece.
On Deputy Jan O'Sullivan's request to meet young people, again in Blanchardstown, we can provide the committee with many opportunities to meet young people who are currently out of school and those who are still within formal education.
Ms Elizabeth Waters:
If one wants to work with people who have been failed by the system, one has to work differently and cannot impose the same. We have a policy whereby our work starts with consultation. The success of the young women's programme was that it emerged from a process of consultation about what they wanted and they needed. It is the same as our young men's programme, which we have just initiated. It is a consultation process that involves an outreach to people. It is the co-creation of programmes that they believe will work successfully.
This works particularly well with young people but also older people. Sometimes we get lost in speaking about young lone parents, young men and so on. The vast majority of the 100,000 people who engage in community education are from disadvantaged communities and most of them are older. A cohort of people aged 30 years and upwards are trying to find their way again. In many ways, they are lost because they are not viewed as being a particular target group. These are the people who are most likely to become actively engaged in their community and bring about the type of social change - the resilience - that is needed.
There is a serious issue with competition for resources. It took 15 years in An Cosán, with which I have been for 25 years, to let go of competitiveness and move into collaboration because I have seen the power of collaboration. This is a long journey when one is fighting for such limited resources. If anything comes out of this meeting, it will be the call to resource community education adequately and recognise independent community education organisations, which work not under SOLAS but collaboratively with SOLAS. Core funding is needed if we are to be able to make the contribution we wish to make. I want to be able to provide funding for lone parents, most of whom are young women, and the young men's programme, which is focused on developing social enterprise with young men aged between 18 and 30 years. That is where we are, namely, pinching for bits and pieces, yet we know they will work.
Ms Sinéad Dooley:
I could listen to Ms Waters all day. If nothing else comes out of this forum, it should be that her message would be taken on board. Her many years of experience have shone through. I was purposefully quiet because I am in awe of the experience of Ms Waters. She said exactly what every rural community group represented by Irish Rural Link is saying, in particular, on reaching women in communities. I am not being sexist. A number of education and training boards do a wonderful job in terms of the courses, apprenticeships and training they provide. However, there is a significant gap in society because many women of my age group and younger do not realise the benefits of returning to community education. As the Chairman is aware, I have 25 or 30 years of experience in community education and as a former public representative. None of this means anything unless one has a piece of paper or degree. Community education instils in people a confidence and ability to find self-worth. Even if they do not move into employment outside their community, they bring back to their local community expertise and experience. Continued multi-annual funding for community education is the key to unlocking disadvantage. When children see their mother or father returning to education, it instils in them a willingness to do better and remain in the education system.
I was envious of two of the other witnesses who arrived with cycling helmets as it occurred to me how nice it must be to be able to cycle to this meeting. However, there is no point in lying because I probably would not cycle even if I was living close to the Oireachtas. It calls to mind one of the major barriers in rural areas, namely, the lack of transport, especially affordable transport, to access community education facilities. I fear that those of us who live in rural areas are facing a return to the 1980s when parents had to choose which of their children would go to third level education. The costs involved are a serious barrier to people living in rural areas because all of the universities are located in cities. While we have some wonderful institutes of technology on our doorsteps, if a child in a rural area aspires to attend university, his or her parents are forced to play God and choose which of their children they can afford to send to college. I did not expect rural areas to return to the economic position in which we found ourselves in the 1980s but that has occurred.
Dr. John Cullinan in NUIG did a study recently with some of his colleagues which found that for every 10 km someone must travel to access a third level institution, the likelihood that he or she will go to college reduces by 2.7%. When one translates this to a requirement to travel 50 km to third level college, the person will be 13.5% more likely not to go to third level. We do not need this.
Dr. Bissett made a wonderful, passionate contribution and he is correct that people should not be geographically displaced or disadvantaged in education in any country. In Japan, cost is not a factor in education and the country is considered to be the best educator in the world for this reason. I acknowledge that Japan has a low level of third level participation for different reasons, but in terms of providing equal educational opportunity from birth until the end of second level, cost is not a factor. It should not be a factor here.
I was surprised by a comment made by Deputy Martin on self-evaluation of teachers in the sector. The Deputy is right that teachers' innovative and entrepreneurial spirt will be quashed if the work they are doing is not evaluated or valued in the educational system. A report by the European Commission provides examples of measures aimed at preventing people from leaving school early. Poland has a very good programme, known as the GOLDEN5, in which teachers engage in self-evaluation by choosing five or six ways to make the classroom more congenial and build better relationships. A 16 week programme is then run in the school which selects students it believes would benefit from the programme. GOLDEN5 has had tremendous outcomes and effects, not only for participating pupils but also for the teachers who see the positives and benefits of self-evaluation.
I referred to the task force in our submission. Arising from today's meeting, I believe we must remove competition and have more cross-departmental and cross-agency support. Solutions are available and we should remove competition and have everybody sit down and produce solutions for resolving the issue once and for all.
Dr. Katriona O'Sullivan:
I will respond to a few points made by Deputy O'Sullivan. In response to the Deputy's question as to what we can change to help the groups in question, I made a note that we must make higher education, further education, school, community education and informal education more accessible for people, whether in terms of travel, grades, online grades or physical access, and we must make education affordable. In the case of the back to education programme, I wrote a document today in which I beg that students who are emerging from the leaving certificate applied programme and need to enter an access programme be given back to education support in a university access programme. The reason is that the applied programme is not recognised under the back to education programme as a further education course. While we may argue that the programme has benefits, they are extremely nuanced, complex and difficult to access. We can have all the services we want but if somebody decides to change his or her life, we must be able to tell that person how it can be done and provide the money to support this decision.
People say there is no representative voice here. I am a representative voice. I grew up in a household that had nothing and I spent half my childhood visiting my dad in prison. I am an early school leaver like all my family and my brother was imprisoned. I could tell a sob story for hours but I am a voice. I did not choose to go on in education because I did not have money or it was not accessible but because I did not know anyone else who had gone further and the option was not sold to me by anyone. I was pushed to the back of the classroom because I was noisy and loud and told to told to shut up and be quiet and not to argue about the rules. Many interventions could and did happen but the pivotal factor for me and many others is to have a meaningful relationship with an older person, either someone from one's community who has been successful - a mentor or role model who has been celebrated - or a teacher.
In the system we have at the moment, we do not recruit teachers for their love of the subject, or at least not all teachers. Much of the time, teachers graduate with a maths or an English degree, wonder where they can work and decide to use their qualification in education. I am not slagging all teachers off, because I love teachers. My role at the moment is to diversify education. However, having meaningful access to role models in our communities is most important, because that is the step up. There are many programmes that do this. It is not reinventing the wheel.
Reference was made to the Delivering Equality of Opportunities in Schools, DEIS, scheme. I do not think we should cut the DEIS scheme. That is not what I am saying. The DEIS scheme should be extended. I would not call it DEIS, because the word "disadvantage" is awful. I would incentivise schools and call them "schools of distinction", because they are succeeding in a system in which they are placed right at the back. They are losing the race before they have even started it. I would flip the whole concept of DEIS if I had the opportunity. It would still have the same resources and support, but I would add leadership and governance. At this point, schools are autonomous within the terms of the DEIS plan. They are allowed to make their own plans and decide what steps to implement, and at the end of the year they are assessed on what they have implemented. Instead, the schools should be presented with a list of activities that are proven to work, as manifested in retentions, academic attainment, progression, and any other measure the Government wants to target. If a school is suffering or not performing in these areas, management should be asked which of these initiatives to implement. Schools should be offered more financial support and whatever else they need to implement those schemes. My proposal is not to scrap DEIS, but rather to extend it.
A speaker referred to the stated views of teachers. Where is the research on that element? We assess DEIS in terms of literacy and maths. Why not ask the children and get their reaction on record? Are children saying that being at school makes them feel better? That is an important message too.
Dr. Katriona O'Sullivan:
Let us base that view on evidence. Teachers are reporting it, and I am not saying it is not true. However, we need evidence. If children are happier in school, that is a metric in and of itself. Maybe that is what we should be assessing in the DEIS plan, rather than the other outcomes, in order to determine whether it is successful. At this point, I would contend that it is not succeeding according to its own aims.
Deputy McLoughlin has left, but he talked about the benefits of the DEIS plan for other students. I know he is not here to respond but I hear this view sometimes when I deal with people in affluent situations. I do not know how to say it without offending. They ask about their own children and claim that it is unfair that the DEIS children get more. They want the same resources for their own children. My answer to that is that they already have it. I wish they would shove off and get away from my resources. Those parents probably have a great parents' council that will provide extra money if a letter is sent out. Those better-off schools can use the model, which should be made public and shared with them. I worry when that rhetoric is deployed, because I have heard it many times. If more places are given to the poor children, what will happen to the children who are doing really well? I echo Dr. Bissett's views. We want to get rid of the idea of meritocracy.
I will finish with this point. I do not want Dr. Bissett to think I am not on board with him, because I am. Paulo Freire said that in order to change the oppressive system, one must infiltrate it, become part of it and learn its rules. That is what I am trying to do; learn the rules and infiltrate the system. However, I am on board with Dr. Bissett. The whole system needs to change, and we need to remove the concept of meritocracy altogether. However, that is probably never going to happen.
Ms Deirdre Malone:
I was really struck by Dr. O'Sullivan's point about the importance of a role model who can be seen to succeed. Exactly the same thing applies in the prison system. The idea of peer-to-peer mentoring is so important. I was also struck by how often everyone in the room mentioned their memory of a programme or pilot that really worked, or a programme that was funded for six years. We need to look at data. We must find the evidence for what works and continue to fund it. Conversely, we must find the evidence for what does not work and stop funding it. We must stop reinventing the wheel every five or ten years. We must replicate the successful programmes.
My last point is in response to Deputy McLoughlin's question about how to deal with rehabilitated offenders. My answer would be that, in the same way we should stop calling schools "disadvantaged", we must stop calling them "rehabilitated offenders" and start calling them our students, our employees and our colleagues.
On that point, about three weeks ago, there was a very good article in The Irish Timesabout Ms Domini Kemp and the entrepreneurial education she has carried out in prisons. It was fascinating, and made for excellent reading.
We have asked Mr. Ian D'Arcy to check the invitation that was sent to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. In inviting the Department, we mentioned issues pertaining to Comhairle na nÓg, but the invitation referred to the same specific questions as the invitations that went to other witnesses. I would like to put that on the record. I thank Ms Olive McGovern for this clarification.
This has been a fascinating few hours. If witnesses would like to follow up with any more written submissions, they should feel free to do so. The members will obviously debate the issues further among themselves. We will issue a report and make recommendations to the Minister and we will invite the witnesses to the launch of that report. We will be continuing the discussion, albeit in a slightly different format, at the meeting following our next one. We will also meet with care leavers to discuss the extra types of educational support they need.
I would like to thank every one of our witnesses for their very valuable contributions and for the debate. We have all learned from one another and that is very important. I also thank the members.