Dáil debates

Thursday, 25 May 2006

Priority Questions.

School Support Programme.

2:00 pm

Photo of Marian HarkinMarian Harkin (Sligo-Leitrim, Independent)
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Question 3: To ask the Minister for Education and Science if she has decided to alter the review process in any way in view of the appeals received under the DEIS process particularly in regard to small rural schools. [20171/06]

Photo of Mary HanafinMary Hanafin (Minister, Department of Education and Science; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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The Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools programme provides for a standardised system for identifying levels of disadvantage and for a new integrated school support programme. The school support programme will bring together and build on a number of existing interventions in schools with concentrated levels of disadvantage. The process of identifying primary and second level schools for participation in the school support programme was managed by the Educational Research Centre on behalf of the Department of Education and Science and supported by quality assurance work co-ordinated through the Department's regional offices and the inspectorate. As a result of the identification process, 840 schools were invited to participate in the school support programme. Some 640 primary schools — 320 urban schools and 320 rural schools — and 200 second level schools were invited to participate and I am delighted that 833 of them, or over 99% have accepted the invitation.

A review process has been put in place for primary and second level schools which did not qualify for participation in the school support programme, but regard themselves as having a level of disadvantage which is sufficient to warrant inclusion in it. The closing date for the receipt of review applications was Friday, 31 March last. The review process will operate under the direction of an independent person who will be charged with ensuring all relevant identification processes and procedures were properly followed in the cases of schools applying for a review. The reviewer will be supported by a nominated member of staff from the Educational Research Centre and an official from the Department of Education and Science. The group will be given all the information and support it needs to carry out its work by the Educational Research Centre and the Department. The review process is under way and it is anticipated that it will be completed by the end of the current school year.

The review process applies to primary schools which participated in the Educational Research Centre survey in May 2005 and eligible second level schools for which data were available from the relevant databases. The applications of primary schools which seek a review must relate to data on the relevant variables included in the centre's survey of May 2005 and to the reference date of 30 September 2004. The centre's analysis of its survey returns identified the socioeconomic variables which collectively best predict achievement. The variables were used to identify schools for participation in the school support programme. The applications of second level schools which seek a review must be based on the variables used to determine eligibility for inclusion in the school support programme. Review requests must be evidence-based and based on the variables and reference dates used in the identification process for the programme. Having completed the process for each school requesting a review, the review group will make a recommendation to the Department in the case of each such school. The review process is structured in such a way as to ensure fairness and balance and with the necessary expertise to process and review effectively the more than 300 applications received.

Photo of Marian HarkinMarian Harkin (Sligo-Leitrim, Independent)
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I thank the Minister for her answer. I have looked at the Question Paper and I assure her that my office did not refer to the Minister as "he". That typo happened elsewhere.

I have some supplementary questions. Many principals are concerned that, while some schools have lost disadvantaged status, others in the same feeder area have gained disadvantaged status. They cannot make sense of the process. The issue of greatest concern to principals pertains to schools which have disadvantaged status but which have not been invited to participate in DEIS. Will such schools lose their home-school-community liaison co-ordinator? Many principals are deeply concerned in that regard. What is the situation for new schools? Will they be left out? What mechanism is available to deal with them?

Many principals are concerned in respect of planning. The present school year has nearly finished and they want to know what their resources will be in order that they can plan for next year. There is talk of planning and monitoring within the school system and as the Minister is aware, schools need resources for this purpose. Will any additional resources be allocated to schools for that purpose?

Some schools which have been in receipt of funding to improve numeracy and literacy skills will have those funds withdrawn. What can be said to principals of such schools who will state they are being punished for their success and their efforts?

Photo of Mary HanafinMary Hanafin (Minister, Department of Education and Science; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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First, I will outline how some schools were included while others were not. The information was provided by the schools themselves. The list was drawn up entirely objectively based on that information. It is fair to state that while some schools and areas used to be disadvantaged, they are no longer so by virtue of changing economic, employment and demographic circumstances. Similarly, some areas which had never been disadvantaged in the past are so at present. Hence, this scheme was designed to ensure that such schools were included.

In the past, the Department operated eight different schemes and very few schools were included in all of them. It is unfair to state that schools which are not included in DEIS have now lost their status because they have not. Each participating school was informed that no one would lose anything for the coming year and that subsequently, it would depend on levels of socio-economic disadvantage. I am not in the business of penalising schools which have done well and which continue to have a considerable level of disadvantage. Obviously, I wish to ensure that children receive the supports they need and this matter will be closely examined in the next few years.

Schools need not feel they have lost status. No school has done so, although some may not have moved into this new co-ordinated programme. We have all the information provided by the schools and, depending on the level of socio-economic disadvantage in the future, we will ensure that supports are maintained for such schools.

Photo of Marian HarkinMarian Harkin (Sligo-Leitrim, Independent)
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On foot of the Minister's comments, may I take it that schools which have home-school-community liaison co-ordinators will not lose them, at least for the coming year, even if they are not in DEIS?

I have examined the indicators which were used for the primary schools. Does the Minister consider that some might discriminate against some small rural schools? In such schools, one is more likely to encounter under-employment, with small farmers, than unemployment and one will have smaller numbers of people in local authority housing. Moreover, given the location of rural schools in particular, children who want to engage in activities such as swimming must often travel for 20 km to 40 km, etc. This takes resource and so on and they will be disadvantaged as a result.

Photo of Mary HanafinMary Hanafin (Minister, Department of Education and Science; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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I did not answer one of the Deputy's questions regarding new schools. A mechanism exists whereby new schools can be included in the scheme. All schools have been told that they will lose nothing in the coming year. Thereafter, it will be decided in terms of their levels of socio-economic disadvantage.

The Department chose to operate distinct urban and rural schemes for the reasons outlined by the Deputy. Different circumstances exist in respect of rural areas. Hence, such schools have their own category and compete against one another and not against urban schools. The Department recognises their differences. Different elements of the scheme apply to rural schools, because one might have a number of small rural schools which did not merit extra staff in themselves, but which had a shared co-ordinator and shared facilities, etc. Another question was asked in respect of County Mayo and it is interesting to note that 20% the schools in the rural element of the scheme come from that county.