Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 29 May 2018
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills
Barriers to Education Facing Vulnerable Groups: Discussion
I remind witnesses and members to turn off their mobile phones, please, or switch them to flight mode. Mobile phones interfere with the sound system, make it difficult for the parliamentary reporters to report the meeting and can also adversely affect the television coverage and web streaming.
We turn now to engagement with stakeholders on the barriers to education facing vulnerable groups. In advance of our discussion I wish to explain to witnesses that there are a number of other committee meetings and debates happening in the Houses that members will need to attend. I hope it will not interfere too much with the statements to be made. Everyone will also have the opportunity to watch this meeting on video afterwards if they need to catch up.
On behalf of the committee I welcome Mr. Wayne Dignam, chairman of the Care Leavers Network Ireland. I also acknowledge Mr. Shane Griffin, advocacy manager of the Care Leavers Network Ireland who is in the Public Gallery. I also welcome Ms Ann Heelan, executive director of the Association for Higher Education Access & Disability, AHEAD; Mr. Patrick Nevin, co-ordinator of the Tallaght Traveller Community Development Project; Ms Valerie Maher, policy manager with One Family; Mr. Andreas Mokake, integration co-ordinator with Spiritan Asylum Services Initiative, SPIRASI; Ms Niamh Randall, head of policy and communications with the Simon Communities Ireland; Professor Kathleen Lynch from the school of education in UCD; Mr. Shane Rooney, chairman of the Adult Educational Guidance Association of Ireland, AEGAI; and Mr. Richard Dolan, principal officer in the Department of Education and Skills.
I will invite each witness to make a brief opening statement of a maximum of three minutes. Their presentations will be followed by engagement with members of the committee.
I draw the witnesses' attention to the fact that, by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the Chair to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Any opening statement they make to the committee will be published on our 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 call Mr. Dignam to make his opening statement,
Mr. Wayne Dignam:
I thank the committee for the opportunity to attend. I speak as a care leaver, that is, someone with direct experience of growing up in foster and residential care. I am the founder of the Care Leavers Network Ireland, representing approximately 15,000 care leavers in Ireland. With the support of ERASMUS+ funding, we are also developing a European network of care leavers network in England, Italy, Croatia and Romania.
Our paper highlighted the many difficulties faced by children in care within the educational system. We propose some measures to improve their outcomes. Children and young people in care have particular educational vulnerabilities. They are more likely to be suspended, to be placed in a special educational setting, to leave school early, to have mental health problems as adolescents and adults, to become unemployed and homeless, and to enter the criminal justice system.
In preparing our submission, we liaised with key stakeholders in the care system, including the Irish Foster Care Association and the Children's Rights Alliance. I am also a member of the children in care and the education system national working group, led by Dr. Paul Downes, director of the Educational Disadvantage Centre in DCU. This group is developing a policy paper on improving outcomes for children in the care system. The group consists of members of the National Parents Council, various universities, homeless and children's charities, and teacher trade unions. I thank this group of dedicated people, who took an interest in the care system. I also thank my colleague, Mr. Shane Griffin, an advocacy manager in the Care Leavers Network Ireland, for his role in developing the submission. Between foster homes and residential units, Shane had 19 placements within the care system, and I am delighted that he has joined me today.
To give some context, there are approximately 6,240 children in State care, of whom the State is the legal guardian. This incorporates foster care, relative care and residential care. Fewer than 10% of placements are in residential care, which are now small units, designed as close as possible to family homes. On top of the disruption and uncertainty that comes with being taken into care, many children have had harmful life experiences beforehand. Children taken into care typically suffer trauma, tragedy and loss. Like Shane and me, they have had to be removed from their family homes by the State because of their family circumstances, for example, mental health issues, neglect, abuse, and drug and alcohol addiction. Children in care and care leavers experience trauma, loss and attachment difficulties. When trying to describe how it feels to be traumatised in this way, I say that it is similar to how Dorothy felt in the film "The Wizard of Oz", in that it is like being removed from a home and an unhealthy situation and put into another unhealthy situation.
The education system is making matters worse for some children in care and fails to understand the challenges facing such children. Within national strategies on educational disadvantage and access, such as the National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education 2015-2019, developed by the Department of Education and Skills, there is no specific mention of children in care in spite of their being in the care of the State and being identified internationally as having poorer educational outcomes than the majority of their population peers. We suggest, therefore, that this committee recommend a high-level national working group or task force to address specifically the cross-departmental responsibilities of the State to children in care and to develop a report, within approximately one year, on actions required to improve their educational outcomes. This group would have the support of many stakeholders within the care system.
A report commissioned by the Office of the Ombudsman for Children in 2013 pointed out that policymaking in respect of children in care needed to be based on evidence gathered systematically from the educational experiences of such children. The creation of a category for children in care on the primary and post-primary online databases of the Department of Education and Skills would allow for the tracking and recording of the objective facts surrounding the education of children in care. As the Ombudsman for Children noted in 2013:
The specific deficit highlighted by this current study presents a serious impediment to evidence-informed policy-making and practice and needs to be addressed if effective policies, procedures and practices are to be put in place to mitigate the barriers to and in education that the literature indicates children in care can face.
We recommend a budget allocation to capture the outcomes of children in care within the educational system that can inform a strategy and policy development for the improvement of educational outcomes.
We also recommend that a designated teacher within a primary or secondary school should be a point of contact with the multidisciplinary team associated with the child in care. This teacher should be trained in areas such as the legalities of the care system, attachment, trauma and admissions and enrolment policies, and should have an understanding of the challenges faced by foster parents and children in care.
Mr. Wayne Dignam:
I will wrap up quickly. The key to supporting the child in care in the education system is shared knowledge and understanding, good communication, and consistent, positive relationships. Teachers are seeking training and support in this area, but the Department of Education and Skills has yet to acknowledge its responsibility in respect of this very vulnerable group formally. Listening to children, care leavers and their teachers and carers would then help to develop policies and practices that would support children and young people in care to realise their potential in education. The knock-on positive effects would change many lives.
Ms Ann Heelan:
I thank the committee for the opportunity to address it. I will not go into barriers which have been well documented elsewhere. Instead, I will offer three solutions to the difficulties that we see.
I do not know whether members are aware of it, but one in ten students in a lecture hall, faculty or classroom in higher education has a disability, with one in 20 receiving additional supports. The numbers are increasing year on year as students enter from second level, but there is a problem in that these supports are given on an add-on basis to disability support services. Given the increasing numbers and the fact that these resources are fixed, the system is at breaking point. Something has to change.
Objective 4 of the national access plan, that is, to mainstream equity of access to higher education, needs to be fully implemented. AHEAD promotes a model of universal design for learning, UDL, for the inclusion of a diversity of students, for example, those with disabilities, mature students and international students. Essentially, any student who learns differently. This model is based on an architectural one that stands back and examines the needs of the user before designing a process. We are asking curriculum designers and teachers to think of the variety of students who are sitting in their classrooms and to design their curricula and teaching processes to meet those students' learning needs in a mainstream environment. It is about trying at classroom and faculty levels to include as many students as possible without adding on extra supports.
We believe about 40% of those students could be accommodated correctly with flexible teaching.
The teaching and learning forum is a body that operates under the auspices of the Higher Education Authority, HEA. We would like the forum to be tasked with developing and promoting universal design for teachers.
Second, I would like to mention further education and training, FET and, in particular, the fact that 11% of school leavers with special educational needs go into further education and 4% of them go into higher education. Yet, in further education, those students have lower points. They are probably only within the 200 to 300 framed points. They have much more complex needs while mental health problems are on the increase. These students are going into an FET system, which is a good educational system but which has no systematic supports for students with disabilities. The only programme out of 26 that has additional funding is the post-leaving certificate, PLC, programme and that exists within the further education system. It is not an ideal situation and many students with disabilities do not get the supports they need in further education. We recommend that strategic funding be allocated to the further education sector in order that colleges can set up a systematic support and recognise what the reasonable accommodations of students are, and upskill teachers. Otherwise, those students will not be reasonably supported and the colleges will not meet their legal obligations under the UN Convention on Human Rights. Without that funding, those students will not be correctly supported.
Third, we would like State funding allocated to programmes for students with an intellectual disability in higher education. The world has greatly changed for students with an intellectual disability. It is recognised that they have the capacity to learn and join programmes at further and higher education levels. All levels of education must reflect the full diversity of the community. Students with an intellectual disability have the same rights as other students to have a choice of education provision. Currently, 11 higher education institutions provide programmes for students with an intellectual disability. However, the programmes are all funded by philanthropic sources. Basically, they are funded by rich people. We depend on such goodwill but that could change from day to day and is unsustainable. The students involved are reaching their potential and due to the learning that has taken place the change that they experience is huge. They are going on fully paid work placements with companies such EY, which is changing public perception about such students. We want the State to fund these programmes in order that these students can learn just like anyone else and reach their potential.
I thank Ms Heelan. This morning a joint meeting of the Joint Committee on Education and Skills, Joint Committee on Health and Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection took place. We discussed the barriers to education and employment opportunities for people with disabilities. That was the second of three or four meetings that we intend to hold on the subject.
We hope to start a 10-month internship programme for people with intellectual disabilities in Leinster House next September. The programme will be similar the programme in Tallaght University Hospital and Naas Hospital and our scheme will be called Project Search. We are trying to stand up and be counted in this regard.
I welcome Mr. Nevin who is a co-ordinator with Tallaght Travellers Community Development Project. I call on him to make his opening statement.
Mr. Patrick Nevin:
I thank the Chairman and committee members for inviting us. Likewise, I will not go into our submission per sebut I will put it in context in respect of barriers faced by Travellers.
To understand the barriers of education for Travellers we must look to the State's engagement with them from the foundation of the State, particularly from 1963 onwards. From the beginning, Travellers were denied ownership of their position. This is obvious in the Irish Folklore Commission's survey of 1952. In this document, the sedentary members of society were given the opportunity to speak, to name and place them, and to deny them the ownership of their position in the broader sphere of Irish society. The document to this day is used by academics both at home and abroad as a starting point in their academic discourse on Travellers, yet at no time have Travellers been given an opportunity to respond to the ready-made representation of the commission's respondents. From this we see how Travellers were to become idealised and denigrated, and made into an object of representation and investigation. At no time do we hear the voice of the Traveller in this document.
From this point onwards there was a deepening interest in the Traveller community and the State taking a more active role in "the problem of Travellers". I use this phrase openly, as this was how the State viewed my community. This culminated in the Government Report of the Commission on Itinerancy in 1963. The voice of the Traveller is again not represented in this report. The opening statement in the document in which the Chairman of the commission addresses the members of the commission is more disturbing . The statement makes it clear that the solution to the Traveller problem is the complete absorption of my community: "The fact that there can be no final solution of the problems created by itinerants until they are absorbed into the general community". We must see this as the starting point when we consider the barriers that are faced by Travellers when accessing education. This open and transparent assault on my community's way of life and identify must be acknowledged as a major contribution factor to the exclusion of Travellers from the educational institutions. For us to respond to the serious issues that Travellers face in their everyday lives, we must accept that the State needs to look at the issue of reparations. We must acknowledge this injustice, as we have acknowledged the injustices that was perpetrated on the women who were institutionalised in such places as the Magdalen laundries. Fifty years of State-sponsored denial of Traveller identity and culture has not only impacted on educational attainment but also has created an internalised oppression, barriers and lack of self-worth in my community.
Traveller ethnicity has been recognised since March 2017. Such recognition on its own does not acknowledge or repair the damage that has been inflicted on the Traveller community by the State with its policies of absorption and assimilation. The State, and its institutions, need to accept its direct role in the catastrophic damage inflicted on the Traveller community. We must have an open, transparent and honest discourse on this matter like we have had in recent years about other State and institutional wrongs. Our submission has, to some extent, outlined a number of recommendations and ways that we can move forward in partnership to achieve more equal and improved outcomes for my community in terms of education.
Finally, while addressing education, we must remember that the State's policies have also had a negative impact and created inequalities and poor outcomes for my community in other areas such as health, employment, accommodation, culture and language.
It is good that we have moved on significantly from that time, particularly in terms of the recognition of the Traveller community as an ethnic group last year. I thank Mr. Nevin for his practical suggestions, particularly his call for resource teachers to be reinstated. I was a primary schoolteacher and, therefore, I know that resource teaching worked. It was wrong to remove resource teachers and I support his call to reinstate them. I also agree with his recommendations to support male Travellers, in particular, to stay in education. A meeting will take place tomorrow in which Senator Kelleher is heavily involved. She is trying to create an Oireachtas joint committee that can deal with the issue of Traveller culture and come up with ways to provide assistance and support to the Traveller community.
I call Ms Valerie Maher, representing One Family
Ms Valerie Maher:
I will stick to my script as it will prevent me from speaking in tangents or going over time.
One Family was founded in 1972 as Cherish. We provide support, information and a range of services to people who parent alone, those who share parenting, those going through separation, as well as to people experiencing an unplanned or crisis pregnancy. Lone parents experience multiple disadvantages in Irish society. Barriers to education are a central part of this systemic disadvantage.
We welcome the opportunity to submit to the joint committee and the time to focus on one-parent families who comprise a quarter of all families in Ireland. One in five children lives in a one-parent family. Social and economic isolation and exclusion affect lone parents in a disproportionate way. Both national and international research repeatedly identifies lone parent families as a group with the highest risks of consistent poverty.
One Family recognises that family forms are changing internationally, with an increase in divorce rates, more separated families sharing parenting, as well as people parenting alone. The traditional breadwinner family model has always carried economically hidden carer work. One-parent families simply make visible what was previously invisible. We see the everyday impact of this in our work and can see the pressures on lone parents who are always both carers and breadwinners.
National policies aimed at reducing poverty identify "active inclusion" and "activation" as key ways to bring marginalised people towards education, the labour market and employment. One-parent families clearly demonstrate the central stumbling blocks to these policies. The caring work involved in raising children takes time, resources and energy. The idea of a lone parent in isolation as a fully available worker is a myth and the necessity for a whole-of-government web of supports and services is by now fully acknowledged. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the case of access to education. Lone parents are caught in a system which seems to subvert their every attempt to access and complete the education they want and need to progress in life and improve outcomes for themselves and their children. This is concerning, as education rates for lone parents decrease in recent years. Taking an education-first approach will improve employment rates for one-parent families in the longer term.
The specific needs of lone parents to succeed in their educational goals are well known by most. They are secure and affordable housing, flexible and affordable quality childcare, student grants and scholarships provided at realistic levels for parents, high-quality support by Intreo case officers and on-campus supports, which again acknowledge the specific needs of lone parents as students and carers. These are detailed not just in One Family’s written submission but also in Maynooth university’s review. There are many opportunities to increase lone parents' participation in education but a few obvious issues need to be urgently resolved. The Departments of Education and Skills and Employment Affairs and Social Protection need to collaborate and resolve issues relating to housing tenure and access to various grants, and cross-departmental integration on this is crucial. The inequity for lone parents who have transferred to the back to education allowance, BTEA, must be addressed.
There is an urgent need to train Intreo front-line staff and case workers on the complex requirements of services required and supports available to lone parents. There is also a need to recognise the need for and fund specialist bridging programmes such as those provided by One Family and others as part of the education-first pathway for lone parents. Finally, we must improve access to education for those lone parents highlighted in the recent Indecon report who have been forced into low-paid precarious work as a result of the one-parent family payment reforms, many of whom are in receipt of the working family payment and cannot access the BTEA.
Mr. Andreas Mokake:
I thank the committee for this invitation to speak about a unique group of people. The Spiritan Asylum Services Initiative, SPIRASI, is a national rehabilitation centre for asylum seekers and refugees with a special emphasis on victims and survivors of torture. SPIRASI has been involved with this group since 1999 and has since then been supported by the City of Dublin Education and Training Board, the Health Service Executive, the United Nations and the Spiritans or Holy Ghost Fathers who founded this project.
We focus on the rehabilitation of the whole person with psychotherapy, education and integration being our specific focus. Due to the nature of the rehabilitation process, we require teaching skills that exceed the expectations of teachers from mainstream schools. We require teachers who are comfortable teaching a mixed level group where learners have varying degrees of language and literacy needs. Key to this is an ability to create a lesson plan that suits the language and literacy needs of the learner with a special focus on living in Ireland.
Between September and June of every academic year, our four accredited Quality and Qualifications Ireland, QQI, English classes and one volunteer-run class mean 120 learners attend SPIRASI. We also run an accredited QQI computer class and a non-accredited knitting and art class. We work mainly with a traumatised and vulnerable group of people who have gone through the difficult process of leaving their countries of origin and who now have to start learning a new language. Many of our learners have never had the opportunity to go to school or come from a background where their education was cut short because of war or persecution. We also work with educated professionals who are hoping to improve their English language ability and gain the essential skills that will help them to get their lives back on track.
It has been a unique opportunity for us to be invited to send a submission and speak about barriers to work. We mentioned financial, motivational, information, cultural and accommodation matters and in doing our work, we face many challenges. For example, there are approximately eight hours of teaching classes per week, which is not enough for this group of people. The mixed levels can lead to difficulties, as there may be people with only a little English, or there may be a class with a doctor and somebody who has never been to school. That poses a difficulty. Teachers must also deal with issues such as trauma-related problems, as our profile includes survivors of torture. We need to get teachers like Mr. Glennon in the Gallery, who has spent ten years teaching in SPIRASI and can understand the vulnerability of these people and how to support them.
We truly appreciate this opportunity and we hope we will continue to get the funding we have been getting in order to continue the work. Training should be extended to other teachers. We work with people but they must go out to the settled communities.
The Eyre Powell direct provision centre is located beside my constituency office in Newbridge and, therefore, I regularly have the opportunity to chat to those living there. I know how strongly education is valued and needed. Apart from the difficulties in accessing third level education, in one meeting I had with them last year a group of young men mentioned that they had undertaken a coaching training course with the local sports partnership. They were excellent but because of the vetting process, they could not volunteer, showcase their skills and help the community, which was frustrating for them. I thank Mr. Mokake for his statement.
Ms Niamh Randall:
I thank the committee for the invitation. Some members may be familiar with the Simon Community but for anybody who is not, we are a network of communities providing local responses to local needs and issues of homelessness all around the country. We are based in Cork, Dublin, Dundalk, Galway, the midlands, the mid-west, the north west and the south east. I will focus on some issues, pulling out some of the main points from our submission. I am conscious of the similarity with some of what others have said and I will try not to overlap.
People who are homelessness and at risk are among the most vulnerable and marginalised groups in society. It is important to highlight that we are speaking of a diverse group of people. People might speak about the "homeless" but we are talking about women, men, young people, families, those with complex needs, both mental and physical, and people with problematic drug and alcohol use. It is important to look at those diverse needs in trying to respond effectively. According to the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, approximately 10,000 people were trapped in emergency accommodation in March 2018. There is controversy about those figures and I will not get into that. However, those figures include those in section 10-funded accommodation. It is a particular funding stream and it does not include the hidden homeless, including those who are doubling or tripling up, staying with friends and relatives, those who are sleeping rough and a range of other people.
Every day in the Simon Community we can see that educational issues contribute to the causes of homelessness and they can also be a consequence of homelessness.
Clearly, education is a protective factor which can offer a pathway out, along with other supports, including stable and secure housing. Research shows clear links between educational attainment and homelessness. According to the 2016 census, 38% of those enumerated as homeless had ceased full-time education and did not have an educational qualification beyond lower second level, with 26% of this cohort educated to primary level only. The impact of such low levels of educational attainment is captured by the 2016 CSO Survey on Income and Living Conditions, SILC, data which show that individuals with lower levels of educational attainment had progressively lower incomes across the eight income categories analysed and ranked highest in terms of the three primary poverty indices. There are strong links between poverty, homelessness and low educational attainment. A study by the Partnership for Health Equity, entitled Homelessness: An Unhealthy State, illustrates the lack of educational supports for people experiencing homelessness, with only 1% of 570 study participants in receipt of a BTEA payment. A 2012 study by Cork Simon Community entitled, Working it Out – Barriers to Education and Employment, involved 91 Cork Simon Community residents found that 65% of respondents had left school before completing the leaving certificate, with 13% attaining only primary education or below. The study also found that 35% of respondents had low literacy levels with 85% of this cohort being early school leavers. The strong links are again clear.
What we see across Government strategies is fragmentation. Departments are not all working together and the strategies are not interconnected. The FET strategy does not explicitly include people who are experiencing homelessness as a named target group, for example. The strategy considers homelessness as a dispositional or individual barrier rather than a structural one. However, homelessness is about structural poverty and disadvantage. Rebuilding Ireland, the action plan for housing and homelessness, contains a number of actions relating to the educational needs of children trapped in emergency accommodation, including access to early years services and school completion programmes as well as access to public transport. While these are important, are they enough? Given the 55% increase in childhood homelessness since the launch of Rebuilding Ireland, questions must be asked about the availability and staffing of these vital support services.
The national policy framework for children and young people, Better Outcomes Brighter Futures, broadly recognises the challenges facing early school leavers, a cohort that is over-represented among the homeless population. This recognition is matched with appropriate commitments but does not name young people experiencing homelessness as a target group. The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government made homelessness its cross sectoral priority for 2016, following discussion with the Better Outcomes Brighter Futures advisory council but additional education-focused commitments have not been named in the context of Rebuilding Ireland.
People experiencing homelessness face multiple barriers to educational attainment. These structural barriers serve to compound the experience of homelessness and prevent access to a vital pathway and transition out of homelessness. These barriers include, but are not limited to learning difficulties and limited basic literacy and numeracy skills; high rates of early school-leaving and low levels of qualifications; a lack of active mentoring for FET participants; having to abandon educational goals to receive better financial and welfare supports, which leads to poverty and unemployment traps; and a lack of affordable childcare services for parents. Participants in the Living in Limbo study, which examined youth homelessness, also cited having no fixed address or stable accommodation at various times, including unstable returns to the family home, diminished their ability to engage or re-engage with education and training programmes. A further barrier is the chaotic, unsettling and transient nature of hostel environments.
Simon Communities in Ireland have a number of clear priority recommendations for this committee. Access to education provides multifaceted protection. It prevents housing instability and homelessness while also being an important element in supporting people to leave homelessness and housing instability behind. Educational attainment is a necessary pathway to transition to employment, financial independence and housing security. In our work we find that housing security is critical and in this regard, we make a number of specific recommendations, the first of which is an expansion of the Housing First targets. The Housing First model involves the provision of a stable, secure home for the homeless person as quickly as possible, followed by the provision of other appropriate supports for the person within that home. It is an effective model with an 85% success rate. It must be ensured that person-centred education and employment supports are part of the supports provided to those in housing.
There needs to be a reassessment of Rebuilding Ireland's educational and school supports and targets aimed at children and families in emergency accommodation. Educational supports must be provided to young people between the ages of 18 to 26 who are experiencing homelessness, given the impact of early school leaving on this cohort. Consideration must be given to ways to make access to the BTEA scheme as easy as possible for adults experiencing homelessness in order that they can return to education and training. We must increase childcare supports for all parents seeking to return to education and training. There must be active inclusion of people experiencing homelessness in existing back to work and education and training programmes. Increased access to secure, quality employment on completion of study or training programmes is needed. What underpins all of this is access to affordable and secure housing. It is almost impossible for people to access training and education or to take up employment if they do not have a secure place to call home.
That is fine. On that note, I had asked that someone would substitute for me today when a vote is called in the Dáil but that is not allowed, apparently. I will have to slip out to vote. Will Senator Ruane take the Chair in my absence?
Professor Kathleen Lynch:
I am conscious of the fact that I have only three minutes. I practised my presentation with that in mind, which I have never done before in my life. I will try to be precise. I thank the committee for the invitation to contribute. I wrote a background paper, with the help of Dr. Margaret Crean, which identifies three levels which must be addressed in terms of policies for vulnerable groups. These are the macro level of the State policy; the meso or medium level of institutions like the ETBs, schools as organisations, the Teaching Council and teacher education; and the micro level of the family. My opening statement focuses on the macro level.
Ireland, whether we like it and despite our recent advancement, remains am economically unequal society at its extremes - the top 10% and the bottom 10%. We have a large low wage economy, at 21%, which is higher than in many other European countries. This means that we have huge numbers of people on low wages who often cannot access education on equal terms with others. With regard to vulnerable groups, I will refer briefly to those with disabilities, because Ms Heelan did. A study of people with disabilities by Ms Bernie Grummell and her colleagues at NUI Maynooth found that it is more middle class people who gain access to the university. I am not surprised because they have had to overcome the barrier of disability. Economic inequality has an impact on everyone, particularly vulnerable groups, including lone parents, although not everyone who is a single parent is poor. It is important to remember that. Likewise, not every refugee is poor. However, poverty and economic inequality are the common denominators among those who are disadvantaged.
In terms of making recommendations, we must have a concept of equality education proofing in terms of fiscal, housing, health, transport and other policies that impact on education. That concept is not beyond the bounds of possibility. We must also consider the intersectionality of inequality. No group is singular in its identity. For example, someone who has been in care has a care identity which often creates an effective inequality in the deprivation of care. This is described in page 17 of my submission. This is often also associated with multiple other deprivations because those who have been in care are often poorer and had no power or control over their own lives when they were children. Such people are not singular in their identity. They are not only boys or girls, or only young or old. When we talk about policymaking, therefore, we must not treat groups, including vulnerable groups, as if they are singular in their identity.
As a result of that, education is a competition for advantage in an unequal society. That is how it works, whether we like it or not. Those who are most resourced culturally, not just economically, in terms of social networks and social capital are most advantaged. We must recognise that and try to address it.
The point I am making is a theoretical one about the relational nature of inequality. In this competition for advantage, we have employed, as has Europe, a liberal equal opportunities framework. That is welcome and important. It gives everybody an equal formal right. However, giving everybody such a right often only gives us a right to it; it does not enable us to access it. I have argued in the paper for the importance of equality of condition as a concept. It is not that we would not have equality of opportunity, but in an unequal society, the compelling evidence is that we do not have it. The most recent research published by Dr. Delma Byrne and Dr. Selina McCoy inAmerican Behavioural Scientist shows that over the generations in Ireland the relative class privilege has been maintained, which is hugely significant. We have done great things in education in Ireland but that is a problem.
The big issue that is emerging in the international literature is not that we do things that badly in school and college - we do much that is good - but the role private money is playing in creating economic inequality in educational attainment. If people have a salary of €100,000 after tax and somebody else has a salary of €15,000, they will use their private resources to advantage their own children in an unequal society. There is a sociological law, just as there is an economic law, which we often forget. People will do that. The more inequality we have, the more people will buy services on the private market. I refer to Irish and music, two concrete examples from the leaving certificate. If one is not in an Irish speaking family it costs nearly €1,000 to send one's child to the Gaeltacht for three weeks a year to become proficient in Irish. It costs almost the same to get a class of an hour a week for 30 weeks for one's child to become proficient in the performance of music. Those public examinations depend, for 50% in each case, either on oral proficiency or on musical performance. Those who do not have money are severely disadvantaged. That is very important. It is why I talk about the importance of equality of condition and the link between taxation, fiscal and other policies.
I wish to make a few points about the meso level. We need to support equality of condition and new thinking in education. I gather the Education (Disadvantage Committee) Bill 2017 is before the House. Under that legislation, as with the Education Act 1998, the only people who have to be considered in setting up the committee are the patrons, parent bodies, national bodies, management bodies and trade unions. Civil society organisations that represent the vulnerable at grassroots level, like the people appearing at this meeting, should have a place in framing that legislation. Equally, the same should arise with the Education Act and perhaps that might be amended at some time.
In addition, we need national statistical data. Between 2003 and 2011, many of us wrote about having national statistics that are disaggregated not just by gender. For the leaving certificate and the junior certificate, at the very least, we should have all groups such as children who are deaf, who have various different disabilities because they are not all the same, Travellers, children who have been in care and all that information-----
Professor Lynch made the case well about the need for national data. Competition for advantage is what it is about. We talk about the idea of equal opportunity to access education but it is questionable after listening to her statement.
I invite Mr. Shane Rooney to make his statement.
Mr. Shane Rooney:
I thank the committee for the opportunity to contribute. I am an adult education guidance counsellor and I am chairman of AEGAI to advocate on behalf of clients of our service and the members who deliver that service.
I work as a guidance co-ordinator for the adult educational guidance and information, AEGI, service in Carlow town and I am an employee of Kilkenny and Carlow Education and Training Board, KCETB. KCETB supports the needs of vulnerable adult learners on a daily basis though its course and programme provision. As an adult guidance service, the AEGI service is free to those who are unemployed and underemployed and to all those out of work from the age of 16 years to post-retirement age in the community. The service is professional, impartial, confidential and person-centred. We facilitate service users to achieve their career and learning goals as well as facilitating lifelong career management and resilience techniques. We develop people's awareness of possibilities and match them with appropriate progression routes which enable them to construct their own career journeys and achieve their desired career outcomes. Funded through SOLAS and located within the 16 ETBs, there are 39 AEGI services nationally employing approximately 100 staff. We work with 52,000 beneficiaries annually. The adult guidance counsellors in the AEGI are all professionally qualified to postgraduate level.
Many of our service beneficiaries find themselves in a vulnerable position for myriad reasons, as has been mentioned. Primarily, we assist people to upskill by identifying suitable options and by sourcing the relevant up-to-date impartial information to help them overcome barriers. These barriers could include underlying learning difficulties, gaps in previous educational experience, financial constraints, family responsibilities, disability, mental health issues such as anxiety or depression, homelessness, drug or alcohol dependency and lack of self-confidence or self-belief. Service users may have been referred to AEGI by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection Intreo case officers, ETB centre programme co-ordinators, managers and tutors, HSE occupational therapists, clinical psychologists, National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, educational psychologists, homeless hostel key workers, direct provision centres, psychotherapists or through word of mouth by a friend or self-referral.
Our clients may be long-term unemployed and have multifaceted needs. No individual is singular in their identity and that should be taken on board in policymaking. They may have dropped out of education between 16 and 18 years of age or they may be adults who lost their job and find that their current zero-hour contract roles do not fulfil their needs. Men and women who may have cared for young children or those who looked after elderly relatives and are seeking to upskill and reintegrate into the world of work may also use our service. We assist people to be actively involved in developing a career, to reacquaint themselves with the recent changes in the world of work and to develop career resilience and career management skills that last. We provide guidance counselling and support and facilitate applications for education, training, apprenticeship and traineeship opportunities. We help people to find appropriate work experience and internship placements and provide psychometric testing, curriculum vitae, CV, preparation and information on rights and entitlements.
The 39 AEGI services are run on a budget of just €6.55 million annually, which is good value for money. Recently, AEGI service workloads have increased due to Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection Intreo service referral protocols, and AEGI operational guidelines necessitate increased levels of service provision. The amalgamation of the ETBs also resulted in expansion of guidance roles. Anecdotal evidence from AEGAI membership nationally highlights enormous strain being experienced by AEGI services and indicates that any increase in workload would necessitate increased resources. In the ongoing career guidance review, we sincerely hope that an interdepartmental approach will be taken and that our service can be appropriately resourced. The reality of the impact we make where we assist progression up the National Framework of Qualifications, NFQ, can be seen not just in economic terms but in the ripple effect for communities, where one person going to college can influence their family and the wider community to pursue education and personal development as a means of exiting poverty and making an effective contribution to society.
We appreciate the opportunity to showcase the valuable contribution we make to vulnerable communities in helping them to take their place in society.
I thank Mr. Rooney. I know from my experience of dealing with his counterparts in Newbridge, County Kildare, that he provides an excellent and valuable service when people can access it. Unfortunately, not many people are aware that it is available. Part of our job is to let people know it is there. Deputy Naughton will take the Chair while I go to cast my vote, but I will be back presently. Mr. Richard Dolan, principal officer, from the Department of Education and Skills is next with his statement.
Mr. Richard Dolan:
I thank the committee for the invitation to attend for this discussion on the barriers to education for vulnerable groups. The purpose of my presentation is to provide the committee with an overview of a range of interventions across the education continuum to meet individual identified educational need that is supported by the Department of Education and Skills. A key priority for the 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 from early years to primary, post-primary and further and higher education.
Inclusive education is a fundamental principle of our education and training system. It is vital that all learners have the opportunity to benefit from education to help them fulfil their potential in life. The Department early years education policy unit plays a support role in the ongoing development of the better start access and inclusion model, which was launched in June 2016 by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. This model of supports is designed to ensure that children with disabilities can access the early childhood care and education, ECCE, programme. The model was developed and agreed by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, our Department and the Department of Health.
Implementation of the access and inclusion model is ongoing. A total of 2,486 children received targeted supports in the 2016-17 ECCE programme year and 4,038 children are receiving targeted supports in the 2017-2018 ECCE programme year to date. Through the work of the early years education policy unit, the Department continues to provide support to the access and inclusion model through participation in the project team on developments such as access and inclusion model inclusive play resources and the training working group convened to develop further training programmes in 2018.
At primary and post-primary school level a range of additional supports are available in mainstream settings to support the identified additional learning needs of pupils. These are supplemented by further supports available under targeted support programmes such as the delivering equality of opportunity in schools, DEIS, strategy. DEIS is the Department's main policy initiative to tackle educational disadvantage at primary and post-primary level. Following the recent review of the DEIS programme, a new DEIS plan was introduced last year that seeks to build on what has already been achieved by schools that have benefitted from the additional supports available under the initial DEIS programme introduced in 2005. The two key elements of the 2017 plan are the development of a new identification process for the assessment of schools in terms of the socioeconomic background of the pupil cohort using centrally held data and the updating of the DEIS school support programme, which represents the overall suite of supports available to schools participating in the programme.
The ambition set out in the DEIS plan 2017 is for Ireland to become the best in Europe at harnessing education to break down barriers and stem the cycle of inter-generational disadvantage by equipping learners to participate, succeed and contribute effectively to society. There are now 902 schools in the DEIS programme, including 704 at primary level and 198 at post-primary level. The Department is investing over €125 million in 2018 in the range of additional supports provided to DEIS schools. These supports are detailed in the DEIS plan. The latest retention report issued by the Department statistics unit shows an increase in leaving certificate retention rate for DEIS schools from 82.7% for the 2009 student cohort up to 84.41% for the 2010 cohort. Since 2005, the non-DEIS schools leaving certificate retention rate has been between 91.7% and 92.9% while the retention rate increased from 78.4% to 84.4% for DEIS schools in the same period.
While this represents a strong increase and a narrowing of the gap between DEIS and non-DEIS schools, it is evident that a gap still remains. Equity of access to further and higher education is a fundamental principle of Irish education policy and one that has been endorsed by successive Governments in policy statements and commitments over the past 30 years as a national priority. The Further Education and Training Strategy 2014-2019 and the National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education 2015-2019 work on breaking down barriers for target groups to enrol in and complete their chosen areas of study. The Department provides funds for the demand-led student grant scheme. This scheme will support approximately 78,000 post leaving certificate, undergraduate and postgraduate students in the academic year 2017-2018 at a cost of approximately €370 million. In addition to the scheme, students in third-level institutions can access the student assistance fund and the fund for students with disabilities. We have recently established the programme for access to higher education as well. The student assistance fund provides financial assistance to students experiencing financial difficulties while attending third level. Students can be assisted toward the cost of rent, child care costs, transport costs and the costs of books and class materials. The fund for students with disabilities supports participation by students with a disability in full-time programmes of further and higher education. In the 2016-17 academic year the student assistance fund benefitted 16,019 students at a cost of €7.99 million and the fund for students with disabilities benefitted 11,881 students at a cost of € 10.4 million.
The programme for access to higher education fund comprises dedicated funding to support access to higher education. The fund is allocated on a competitive basis to higher education institutions to support particular priority areas as determined by the Department. The €16.2 million secured through the budgetary process has enabled three strands of the fund to be rolled out.
In 2017, a budget allocation of almost €638 million was provided for SOLAS-funded further education provision. A total number of 324,503 opportunities were made available to learners from SOLAS-funded further education and training programmes and services in 2017. Of the 324,503 total places made available, 54,189 were specifically for the provision of community education.
Significant progress has been made in increasing participation in education by most socioeconomic groups. However, some groups continue to be under-represented.
I thank the committee for the opportunity to present. I look forward to any questions.
I thank Mr. Dolan very much. We will start with questions from our committee members. Members of the deputations who wish to come in should indicate to me and I will arrange to let them in. I will start with Senator Ruane and then hand over to Senator Kelleher.
The Bill I have is being taken in the Seanad at the moment. I am going to have to leave after I pose my questions. Obviously, I will look back on the transcripts when we are writing the report. I apologise for the coming and going. I put forward this session but it is unfortunate that the legislation was put in today as well, and that will take me out for a few minutes. I apologise for that, but I have read all the transcripts. This is an area close to my heart.
One of my questions is for Mr. Nevin. The Chairman that said we have come a long way since 1963. My first inclination is to disagree with that. Many years of oppression were placed on a community who were basically deskilled and disempowered. The deficit is so big that it takes more than ethnicity and recognition to roll back the layers of oppression and that to which the latter has given rise for this particular group. Can Mr. Nevin talk a little more about what acknowledgement of that oppression would mean? Traveller children were in institutions that rejected them for so long. Consequently, a great deal of healing is required in terms of recognition of identity and the years of oppression that existed. Perhaps Mr. Nevin could talk a little more about that.
Mr. Dignam referred to a cross-departmental working group. That is a positive idea. Professor Lynch referred to the intersection of it all and how poverty is a common denominator.
Would Mr. Dignam see that working group representing all those groups across which poverty and disadvantage are common denominators rather than only considering care leavers? Would he also see it examining the commonality across all the groups in terms of barriers to education? He might address the way in which the working group might engage with the stakeholders?
I do not believe Professor Lynch has ever said anything with which I have disagreed. A sentence in her submission reads, "There is a need for a systematic review and regulation of the private for-profit education market in Ireland at all levels of education." If there was reform in that area, I would be eager to know what it would look like. How do we tackle the issue of advantage? When I was elected to the Seanad, my wages increased and straight away I paid for advantage for my daughter in that I paid for her to have grinds, which I would not have been able to afford a few years ago. I went from being a lone parent in poverty to using the advantage and cultural capital I had gained. I was very aware that her classmates in school would not have that advantage. My 11 year old daughter, who is much younger, will never face the barriers her older sister had to face. How do we tackle that issue? Is the private not-for-profit education market an area in which we might begin to tackle that issue? I have to leave briefly as I have to second a measure in the Seanad but I will read all the contributions, and I will be back later.
I ask the witnesses to bank those questions. I call Senator Kelleher to put her questions and I will then come back to the witnesses. If anyone else wants to indicate at that point, he or she can do so.
I thank the witnesses for their presentations. We could spend a week dealing to each of the presentations to explore the detail of them. We have had to cover a good deal of ground. My territory would be similar that traversed by Senator Ruane. I am interested to know if Mr. Dignam, Ms Heelan and Mr. Mokake currently have direct liaison with the Department of Education and Skills? Would they have a contact they would telephone and who would telephone them on issues related to care leavers, refugees or asylum seekers? Would Ms Heelan have such a contact regarding issues concerning people with disabilities?
It would be no harm if Mr. Nevin could describe the statistics in terms of the levels of educational disadvantage. I know he is weary doing so but they are shocking. There should be shocking in terms of the gap in education between the Traveller community and the general population in education and the impact that has. He might also outline the recommendations he particularly wants us to take note of today?
I would interested if Ms Maher could describe the poverty traps and the way in which the return to education grant is not working particularly well with working family allowance and the impact that has. What liaison does she have with the Department?
Is Ms Randall aware of a forum where the crossover between housing and education is discussed and explored at policy level? Does she have a direct line to the Department of Education and Skills and does it have a direct line to her? Could she give some examples of what is working? I know that in Cork Simon Community there are some examples of where things do happen. Also, can they be used as models? Mr. Shane Rooney is in the land of dealing with interdependencies as well. Professor Lynch particularly highlighted that it is impossible to examine educational disadvantage without examining wider society.
I was interested in Mr. Dolan's description of the number of the DEIS schools. The fact that we have so many is surely an example of our failure. We should not have any. We should not need to have schools where we take special care of the pupils in them in that way. There is the issue of the intersectionality and the interdependencies. Is there an interdepartmental group in the Department of Education and Skills that works on policy development in this area? Is Mr. Dolan open to some of the specific proposals Ms Heelan put forward such as, for example, in respect of access to higher education for young people with disabilities? Who makes the policy on disadvantage? Who is involved in that? On what is it based because a common theme seems to be that there are huge DEIS deficits on which to base a solid policy. Those are some common-sense questions.
I apologise. I had leave for part of the meeting and did not hear some of the presentations. I appreciate that there has been much toing and froing, which has been a little unfair on the witnesses. I will not ask any specific questions. I just want to say that I agree with many of the sentiments expressed. One can see the difference in children at primary level who have access to programmes such as the school completion programme and those who do not have such access. The witnesses are probably aware of the school completion programme and the work it does. I cannot understand the reason it is not available in all schools, particularly the element of counselling and play therapy around mental health issues. I will not ask specific questions because it would be rude to arrive in with a bunch of queries having not been here for part of the meeting. I would just add that there is good support from this committee in terms of the suggestions that were put forward. It is always good to get concrete suggestions on how we might possibly change things. As Ms Heelan said, we all know what the barriers are. The issue is to get agreement on the best way to fix the system for the future.
I also had to step in and out of the meeting. I apologise to all the witnesses who took time out to attend. Unfortunately, today seems to be particularly difficult with respect to members having to step in and out. Like other members, I also apologise for that.
I had an opportunity to read the submissions prior to the meeting. I thank the witnesses for the time and effort they put into preparing them. I have one question. In the context of the ongoing discussions with the Department, how receptive do the witnesses consider it to be to the proposals they put forward? How would they classify their relationship with the Department in actioning proposals they might have put to it?
I have a few questions and then I will go back to the witnesses. Following the thread Senator Kelleher spoke of regarding disadvantage and how it is defined, I have had many arguments with the Department of Education and Skills, even in respect of the DEIS scheme. I do not understand why some schools were excluded from that scheme. The idea of inclusive education also possibly needs to be redefined. Is it appropriate that a review around that would be requested? I am also interested in knowing if any of the civil society groups that are working with the disadvantaged are involved in consultation on education policy and the gaps they would identity?
I remind all the stakeholders that if they have any further thoughts or comments on foot of issues that were raised at the meeting, we would be delighted to receive details of them in writing. We will ensure that all members, including non-members of the committee such as Senator Kelleher, get those.
If there was one intervention the Government could undertake to remove barriers to education for the vulnerable, what would it be? Will Mr. Dolan indicate the socioeconomic groups which, in his estimation, continue to be under-represented in participation in education. How might the Department address that under-representation?
Some of the submissions recommend that the exclusion of vulnerable groups and indirect discriminations should be assessed in a whole-school evaluation and in schools' appraisals in terms of a new equality and social inclusion index and that this could be a key recommendation for overcoming disadvantage. I would certainly agree with that. I would be interested to hear the witnesses' comments on that matter and on the way in which such an index would improve educational outcomes for vulnerable groups.
I will call the stakeholders in the order in which they indicate, beginning with Professor Lynch.
Professor Kathleen Lynch:
I will address the Chairman's final point regarding a whole-school evaluation.
It is actually very important to have an index. At the moment, for example, we know that immigrant children are concentrated in a relatively small number of schools and in large urban areas. The same happens with a lot of Travellers. Some schools have no measures to take on children who are different, or outside the typical white Irish student body. They do not have to supply them and are not necessarily sanctioned for not taking them on. That would be a mechanism and it is certainly deployed.
Another point I mentioned in my submission is that to have a holistic approach, the Teaching Council should have a role to play as the body responsible for teacher professionalism and development. It should have a role in educating people and requiring that they are reflective learners through in-service training. Europe had a big project 25 years ago, in which I was involved. It recommended that all teachers would be evaluated on their classroom practice of equality and social inclusion as part of their evaluation as a teacher. I think that is highly salient. It is not about just one approach. I do not want to take more time, although of course I have a lot of comments to make.
Ms Ann Heelan:
Looking at all of the systems, not so much at primary level but certainly at second level, further education and higher education, we have good policies around inclusion. We have targets, and certainly in higher education they are being met, albeit less so in further education. Students are getting in, there are no two ways about it. They are moving through the system and getting into the colleges. However, one of the problems, certainly in regard to students with disabilities, mature students and international students, is that the central system has not really changed. The mechanism for teaching, as somebody mentioned earlier, is that if we throw knowledge at them, most of them will learn anyway. Fair enough. However, we must consider vulnerable groups such as students from foster care and Travellers. There is a lot of students who need to be taught in a different way. In fact, that number is up to 40% in higher education. I do not know the figures in second level, but they are high. We need to move away from the more rigid teaching models. Dare I say it, even the leaving certificate needs to be reviewed. However, unless we-----
Ms Ann Heelan:
------tackle these sacred cows, we are not really going to move. We are bringing people in and adding things on, including special education assistants, and special needs assistants, SNAs. We are putting in all these supports which may or may not be appropriate but we have never implemented the provisions of the Disability Act 2005 for an individual training plan. I know for a fact that many students in second level are getting inappropriate supports and lots of money is being spent which could have been used differently. We need to look at the centre and change what we regard as mainstream teaching and learning. We need to make the way people can move through the system much more flexible and not have such rigid assessment systems. Every learner is different but some of them have considerable baggage with which they must deal when coming into the system as people who are not the mainstream learners. We have to look at it deeply.
Mr. Shane Rooney:
On Senator Kelleher's question as to whether there is an interdepartmental area within the Department of Education and Skills, as part of the ongoing career guidance review, we have been asked about the remits of the Departments of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Employment Affairs and Social Protection and Education and Skills. One suggested action is more co-operation between those Departments for an interdepartmental approach to guidance and adult guidance provision. That needs to happens in order that resources are not being doubled and are being used as effectively as possible.
Ms Niamh Randall:
We all will leave here today quoting Professor Lynch on the intersectionality of disadvantage. It rings true for the people experiencing homelessness with whom we work. I will come back to the point Senator Kelleher raised about intersectionality at a departmental level. There is a national homelessness consultative committee. The idea of that is to acknowledge the cross-cutting nature of homelessness and to ensure there are interdepartmental responses. The challenge is that this committee has not been meeting. That means that the opportunity to identify shared barriers and quick solutions is not being allowed. I think some pressure to encourage this committee to meet would be really beneficial.
As Senator Kelleher identified, there are excellent examples across Simon Communities Ireland of supporting people back into education, training and employment. They really work. They really make a difference, and one can really clearly see that education, training and employment is a pathway out of homelessness. It is a way to support people to access secure accommodation, which is really difficult at this point in time with the housing market as it is. It is a way to ensure that people do not return to homelessness in the future. A lot of it is based on excellent links on the ground at a local level, including education and training boards and community employment. Local employers are fantastic at engaging with people and being willing to take what they feel is a big risk in taking people on. It really does make a difference.
It is really difficult at present for organisations like my own and for all the organisations working on responding to the housing and homelessness crisis. We are working in the eye of the storm. We have increasing numbers turning to us every single day. There is a huge amount of pressure. We are working really hard to deliver housing solutions, to identify ways to ensure that there is more emergency capacity and to try to support people. We are also trying to ensure that we are looking at the bigger picture by supporting people out of homelessness into secure housing, training, education and employment. It is important to note that because it is a massive challenge at this point in time with the numbers we are talking about. It is critical to mention how important secure and stable housing is to ensuring people can access education, training and employment. It is very clear that unless someone has a place to call home, he or she does not have stability, security or certainty. There are a lot of people who are stuck in the private rental sector or who are staying with friends or relatives. They are dealing with such uncertainty that they could not even think of taking on an education or training programme until they have much more stability in their lives. One of the key focuses has to be on ensuring that people have access to affordable and secure housing.
Mr. Patrick Nevin:
I want to respond to Senator Ruane, as well as to the point that 1963 is a long time ago. It may be, but Travellers are living with the consequences of that document. It was the blueprint for what was to follow, namely, 50 years of assimilation and absorption, 50 years of denial of one's identity, denial of who we were as a people. Travellers were informed at a State level, an institutional level, a local level and a community level, that they were failed settled people. All the statistics relating to Travellers show this in terms of health, mental health, suicide and education. Some 92% of Traveller women have left second-level education, primarily before gaining a leaving certificate. The figure for Traveller men is 95%. That is clear indication of the consequences of people being denied their entire way of life and who they are. While 1963 may be a long time ago, I use that particular date because that is the date when the State officially set about its course of absorption and assimilation of Travellers.
On ethnicity, 1 March 2017 was a wonderful, fantastic day, with the then Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, standing up in the Dáil and acknowledging Traveller ethnicity. However, it has to go further. We have to discuss the issue of reparations to repair the damage suffered by Travellers at an individual level and a community level. Senator Kelleher asked me for some recommendations. I have a few. Most of them are quite basic. We need a culturally appropriate primary school programme and the reinstatement of resource teachers for Travellers. In 2011, the entire Traveller education budget was cut. If there is one thing I am really keen on, it is something aimed at Traveller men, something that supports them to take pride in who they are and their culture.
It has to be specific training projects for young Traveller men. Traveller organisations should be resourced to develop a national network committed to supporting Traveller men in engaging in culturally appropriate education initiatives. The State must acknowledge its part, and the institutions' roles, in the denigration of a people and their way of life. I do not want to harp on about this too much but it is key. My father, who passed away quite recently, said to me that, prior to 1973, the majority of Travellers did not depend on social welfare. They were independent, self-reliant and self-resourced. Albeit hard and arduous, they were a self-sufficient people. Within a space of ten years, from 1963 onwards, we became the very parasites that in some cases we have had politicians accusing us of being. The State must acknowledge its role in that. We must address it and reparations must be a key element of that.
Ms Valerie Maher:
I want to comment on something Senator Ruane said around cultural capital. I want to reiterate and reflect what she said, that we also see where a person is able to improve his or her education advantage because of having cultural or social capital. We see that a lot around a lone parent who may or may not have family supports, whether financial, emotional or psychological. Where such supports from the people around them are absent, lone parents are much less likely to engage in education or, indeed, may begin their educational journey and then end up dropping out of their course.
Senator Kelleher asked about the poverty traps, specifically around the working family payment and access to the back to education allowance. We included that as one of our recommendations because the Indecon report, which reviewed the impact of the one parent family payment reforms, indicated a number of alarming statistics. Of course, there was an increase in employment and a decrease in welfare dependency but there was also an increase in poverty. Specifically, there was a statistic in the report showing that lone parents in full-time work since the reforms had come into place were experiencing deprivation and in-work poverty. We would like to see those parents having a clear and direct pathway into education if they wanted to improve their earning capacity. Many of them are in low-paid and precarious work and at present, for example, if they wanted to access the back to education allowance, the working family payment - formerly family income supplement - is not one of the qualifying payments for that support.
What representatives from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection have said to us is that such persons have the option to leave their job and move on to jobseeker's transition or jobseeker's allowance and then they can apply for the back to education allowance, if that is what is relevant. We would say that is counterintuitive. It also creates a lot of fear and uncertainty for lone parents because we are asking them to leave their job, wait until they qualify for a payment, and nobody will tell them if they will or not until they get that decision. Then they must also think about how can they afford their housing, their childcare, their travel to and from their place of education, and the books and materials that are needed. Quite frankly, lone parents do not want to jump off that cliff. When we are giving them information on their rights and entitlements, we cannot give them certainty. We can say that they might get access to this childcare place, this VTOS place or this education allowance, but in many instances there are no guarantees of that. They are literally waiting until September or October and they have already had to jump off that cliff. One can understand that many parents do not want to do that when they are the sole breadwinners and the sole carers. We could make it a little easier for them.
Senator Kelleher asked about involvement in the consultation on educational policy, and the Chair asked a similar question. A number of cuts were brought in since budget 2012 around educational supports for lone parents. One Family, as the national organisation for one-parent families, certainly was never consulted on any of those cuts before they happened. I will admit we do not have as strong a contact with the Department of Education and Skills as we do with other Departments. I would not suggest that is the fault of the Department of Education and Skills. What I will say is that the benefit of having those contacts in Departments has certainly helped us in being able to advocate on behalf of the families that we represent and we would welcome having better contacts with the Department of Education and Skills.
When the Chair asked whether we had one key recommendation, it is really around the back to education allowance and access to the SUSI maintenance grant. It has been identified specifically in the research that the most economically vulnerable group is lone parents in receipt of the back to education allowance. They need that additional financial support to engage in education.
Mr. Andreas Mokake:
In response to Senator Kelleher's question about a liaison person in the Department. We do not have direct quality assurance in SPIRASI and we depend on Coláiste Éanna in Cabra. Our teachers would do all the assessment and send them out to Cabra for external verification.
The Department is focused on the provision of English language and IT classes to our refugees and asylum seekers and survivors of torture. We work on a budget of €100,000 for management, tuition hours and overheads and we do not have the capability of having such quality assurance where we can do everything by ourselves. That is why we are lucky to have Coláiste Éanna and we depend on it.
The question of why these guys cannot just go into mainstream schools can always come up. Sometimes they finish level 5 and we say that there is a possibility for a progression route and they can move on to other colleges. They go to those colleges and they come back to us because it is a place where they feel comfortable. They feel it is not all about English. It is about the therapeutic intervention that is involved in supporting them. We have to depend on others. That is why in our new strategic plan for 2018 to 2020 we are trying to see a situation where we can spread our holistic approach around, not only in Dublin. There are asylum seekers, refugees and survivors of torture in other parts of Ireland who are in centres and all they do is eat, sleep and think. We need to do everything possible to empower them and make them part of the society.
Mr. Wayne Dignam:
I will respond to Senator Ruane's question on our recommendation of a cross-departmental task force to link in with what Professor Kathleen Lynch stated about the intersectionality of disadvantage, with which I certainly agree. Children in care, in themselves, are a particular sector because the State has direct responsibility for these children. The State is their legal guardian.
The State, through the Child and Family Agency, does not know the educational outcomes of children in care. There is no cross-departmental strategy for those children. We come across it daily with foster parents, social workers and teachers. Schools do not know what to do about a child in care. What do they do about consent forms for school trips? What do they do about a child who is misbehaving very badly because of post-traumatic stress disorder? What can they do? What type of support can they get? How can they deal with that? Similar to what the previous speaker mentioned, there are programmes that can be specific for children in care but could be broadened out for homeless children or immigrant children as well.
If there is a cross-departmental task force, it also needs to look specifically at children in care because we have been forgotten in a lot of strategies. As I said in my opening statement, the National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education did not mention children of the State. Even though it was a State strategy, it did not mention its own children. From what we know from international research, the outcomes of children in education are bad. Some of the programmes that we can look at can help more vulnerable children who are close to becoming children in State care through many different societal issues. If we can help support teachers at primary level and secondary level, we can help those vulnerable children as well.
We do not have direct contact, to answer Senator Kelleher's question on direct contact, with the Department of Education and Skills on children in care. That is also an issue in terms of the care system and representation of foster parents, care leavers and social workers. It is varied.
That also needs to be joined up so there can be a correlation in terms of feedback going both ways as to what the problems are within the education system for children in care and for care leavers. I would certainly welcome that. In terms of the task force, we recommend that there would be a Department of Education and Skills liaison that could look at the cross-recommendations from the stakeholder group. As I said in my opening statement, we are involved in a national strategy through the centre for disadvantage in DCU and we are getting great ideas from stakeholders, but we need to get that message across to Tusla and to the Department of Education and Skills in terms of what needs to be done to improve outcomes.
Mr. Richard Dolan:
I thank the Chairman for the opportunity to hear all the groups. It is very useful to us. What is coming through is that access to education is a complicated issue. There are a range of challenges and a range of stakeholders and, therefore, a range of solutions. It is not an area of life where one size fits all. As regards the contacts the Department of Education and Skills has in this area, this Department touches every area of Irish life, so we have contacts with all our colleague-Departments and with a whole range of groups which work with us in partnership to develop the education system.
There are solutions from the Department. We go through early years, first level, second level and on to further and higher education. There may not be time to go through all the activities we are engaged in today. We have made a submission and if the committee requires any further information, it should contact us.
I refer to some of the specific touch-points. The national access plan has been mentioned and there is an implementation steering group overseeing it, which encompasses a wide range of disability groups, access officers from higher education and a number of other groups. For instance, a report on lone parents was published in August 2017 and there is a group overseeing the implementation of that report. The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and a range of Departments, with which we work, are represented on it. We do not work in isolation. I missed the second point the Chair made. I did not get the opportunity to write it down.
The data plan was mentioned. As part of the national access plan one of the issues was that we needed better data on access. A data plan was published. It was developed by Trutz Haase, a consultant, who unfortunately passed away recently. It was a very useful piece of work. The next step is to put in place a group to implement that data plan.
I asked about the possibility of looking at the exclusion of vulnerable groups and indirect discrimination and how that would be assessed in a whole school evaluation. This was a direct question for Mr. Dolan. What socio-economic groups continue to be under-represented, in the opinion of the Department, and how might this be addressed?
Mr. Richard Dolan:
In the national access plan, we have six groups, including students from socio-economic disadvantaged backgrounds, members of the Traveller community, part-time flexible learners and students with disabilities. We have strategies in place in each of the different areas, including the DEIS strategy, the further education strategy and the national access plan for higher education. Those strategies set out the ways in which we are meeting the challenges. Those strategies need to deliver the targets within them and then lead on to further strategies in the years to come.
As regards the other question on whole school evaluations, I am not sure about them, so I will get back to the committee.
Professor Kathleen Lynch:
I want to reply on this idea. I appreciate what Mr. Dolan said about the Department and having committees but under the legislation the only people who have a right of consultation are those who run the education system under the 1998 Act. What concerns me is that the education disadvantage Bill will have representation from civil society but it will not have in its formation. That is not the way it is set up. What these groups are saying is that there are many civil society groups for whom the current procedure, which is not a statutory one because it is clearly informal, is not effective. I know from research that the motto for people with disabilities in Europe is, "Nothing about us without us". That is a very useful mechanism to deploy when one is planning and designing policies. No matter how annoyed one might be by the civil society groups which appear before the committee, they usually have a message. That is a very important issue for me and it is in my presentation.
An important question about DEIS was raised. DEIS is a massive achievement; I do not doubt that. I am so old I was involved in designing it in the early stages before many here were around. It raises a big question, however. Have we institutionalised inequality in the education system? Let us say we had colour as the basis of determination of DEIS schools. What would we say? Would we say that was not segregation? That is the question I am asking. I am not blaming the Department of Education and Skills as this is a big policy consideration. We have to look at whether we have institutionalised economic inequality in such a way that we say that those schools are grand for those poor kids and we will give them an extra bit of money. However, we know - I will come back to the private market question - that we can buy education service in the private market and give advantage to our own children. There is a question there. It is not that the system itself does not function well - it does very good work - but have we institutionalised the inevitability of class and other inequalities in education such assistance?
I am greatly exercised as an academic over many years and as someone with an interest in policy about the lack of disaggregated data on the junior certificate and the leaving certificate. Every year the results come out and we have no social class analysis. The reason is that we have no data by social class. Yet we have everybody's PPS number. In many universities in the United States one is not allowed to register unless one gives one's full designations, including race, ethnic status, whether one is in the care of or in the leave of the state. There is absolutely no reason we could not institutionalise that. We can anonymise that because we have a very digitalised society. I believe it would make a difference.
On the question about the private education market, it is a huge issue in this country. There is a massive private education market. I do not know the solution to it. It operates as private business and, as we know, all the private education colleges are perfectly entitled not to disclose data to the HEA because they are private businesses and for profit. There is a need for a review but I do not know whose responsibility it is. I was asked to address a meeting of trade unions recently and I was told that in some schools, teachers leave the classroom but come back a few hours later to give private grinds at €30 to €40 an hour to children. This would not be allowed in many other countries. As I said earlier, music is almost an entirely private business. If one wants to do well in performance in music in the leaving certificate, unless one happens to have someone in the family who is musically proficient - there are some schools which do it differently - one has to resort to private business. That is what worries me - I made this point in my paper - about this proposal for continuous assessment. It is a different concern from that of other people but once one takes assessment and provision for preparation for it out of school, one automatically advantages people who are more advantaged. It has happened in other countries and it will happen here. When it comes to competition for advantage, it is like the law of self-interest, as I have already said.
I have lived in a number other European countries, including Denmark, and one does not have the level of anxiety one has about public examinations here because there are alternatives. Also, there is not that fear people in Ireland have that their children will end up with no job or no home, or with nothing.
If we allow our society to become more unequal, then we create a society of fear and fear drives parents, parents drive children and that drives the private market. There are other issues about the private market that need to be looked at. It is not my job to do that but it is a very big issue in Irish education. To my knowledge, no studies have been done on it, no information is available and it is very hard to find any data on it.
I thank the witnesses for their presentations. I take the point about an interdepartmental approach to this issue. All the evidence, however, suggests that if children are from a lower socio-economic group, their career prospects depending on where they are born are automatically lower than those of children from a middle-class or upper middle-class background who have the resources of private education and can get grinds. Is it a question too of encouraging schools to admit a mixed socio-economic group so that everyone rises on the one tide, not to mention giving the other supports needed for vulnerable children and students, to avoid the institutionalised approach of, for example, students from one socio-economic background going to DEIS schools? Having a mix of students from different cultural backgrounds makes for a better society. That is another issue we need to consider. There are some very good examples of schools trying to have that integration in Galway. We need to eliminate the class idea that children from a certain area whose parents have means will succeed and their ability will be irrelevant because they have funding. If we have a mix in schools and other institutions, we can ensure that everyone rises.
That concludes our discussion but if anybody wants to send in further written statements, we will be happy to circulate them.
I thank all the witnesses for coming today, making very valuable contributions and sharing their thoughts on this important issue. We will be compiling recommendations and making a report which we will forward to the Minister for Education and Skills. We will take on board the views that were firmly expressed about having an interdepartmental approach to the issues identified. We agree with that.
I ask the members to stay on as we have to return to No. 2 on the agenda, namely, dealing with correspondence and other issues.