Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 18 November 2021

Joint Oireachtas Committee On Key Issues Affecting The Traveller Community

Review of Traveller Inclusion Policy, Education and Health: Discussion

Dr. Brendan Doody:

Both Deputies have referred to the importance of homework clubs, which are key and integral elements of a young person's experience and should be as widely available as possible, as we know. I have a personal preference. We have significant experience of schools providing after-school clubs, rather than just the homework club, where the homework is attended to. Some of the best examples of provision I have seen in schools, especially in the DEIS context, are where the provision is categorised as after school. Yes, there is a homework element to it and it is critically important the young person gets that advanced leg-up in completing the homework. However, there are also great opportunities for other elements of a broader learning experience to be provided. We have seen schools where computer programming was provided in the context of an after-school club. Sport and recreation elements, arts activities and a whole range of things like that are critically important for all learners and especially for Traveller and Roma students.

One of the best examples I came across had an unintended consequence, which is important to reference. The school delivered an after-school club that ran until 5.15 p.m., and the unintended consequence of that among the parent body was that for the first time some of the parents, and the mothers in particular, felt empowered and enabled to go out and seek employment. When I met a group of parents from that school, they said that this after-school provision that was made available to their children had enabled them to go out and get jobs. In that community, they might be the first in several generations to get employment. That was a very important element of provision in that school which was working well. The homework club is important in and of itself, but it is part of a much broader package of supports for young people and there are possibilities that can be expanded in that set-up.

I have been involved with Youthreach since our very first involvement in 2005. The learner in Youthreach has changed considerably in many respects in that intervening period. In 2005, which was the very first time the inspectorate visited Youthreach settings for inspection purposes, we came across young people who had been excluded from school. There is no other way of dressing it up. In crude terms, they had been kicked out of school. Youthreach was a very good safety net for them and remains so for many young people today. However, what we have now is a lot of young people who are opting in to Youthreach. In other words, they seek it out. They face challenges in navigating their way through the post-primary system and, as Ms Cregg said, the challenge facing schools and the Department is to ensure that the capacity of all teachers and schools at post-primary level is maximised such that all learners experience an inclusive education experience.

On training for teachers, there are 350 teachers seconded to the Professional Development Service for Teachers, PDST. The latter is the body that is charged with delivering supports and training for teachers and it does it on a range of fronts and areas, at primary and post-primary levels. As new programmes and training are developed, the teachers can avail of a range of supports in that regard. It is not limited just to the PDST. One of the most significant education reforms in many years, as we are probably all aware, is the junior cycle. The junior cycle reforms, which have taken place and which are now being embedded in schools, are supported by the junior cycle for teachers support service. That is separate to the PDST but it is very specific to supporting post-primary teachers who operate at junior cycle level to embed the key skills of the junior cycle programme.

As the committee is probably also aware, senior cycle reform is a live issue in the Department of Education and for the Minister. It will seek to build on the revised approaches to learning in the first instance that arise in the junior cycle. The junior cycle places the student at the centre of learning and therefore removes the extent of the emphasis that has been heretofore placed on the terminal exam. It is about new ways of working and facilitating the development of those keys skills around managing yourself, managing communications and being literate, numerate and so on. Nobody knows at this point when exactly the senior cycle reform will be a live issue in our school system. There is a lot of work being undertaken at the moment to support senior cycle reform internally in the Department. My sense is that it will seek to build on the junior cycle reforms that are in place.