Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills

Education Inequality and Disadvantage: Discussion

4:00 pm

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.