Dáil debates

Thursday, 25 May 2006

Other Questions.

Educational Disadvantage.

2:00 pm

Paddy McHugh (Galway East, Independent)
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Question 7: To ask the Minister for Education and Science if her Department will re-evaluate the new DEIS programme in view of the fact that a large number of County Mayo schools in disadvantaged areas will lose out owing to this new programme; her views on whether the children affected cannot afford this educational loss; when the results of the review mechanism, as previously mentioned by her, will be available; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19821/06]

Photo of Mary HanafinMary Hanafin (Minister, Department of Education and Science; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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No school has been informed it will lose the resources it has received under existing schemes for tackling disadvantage as a result of the introduction of the new delivering equality of opportunity in schools, DEIS, initiative. The new school support programme is aimed at providing even more resources for the most disadvantaged schools. Schools that did not qualify for the new programme will keep the additional resources they are getting under existing schemes for the 2006-07 school year and, after that, they will continue to get support in line with the level of disadvantage among their pupils.

The new DEIS programme will be of huge benefit to schools in County Mayo. Four urban-town primary schools, 59 rural primary schools and six second level schools in Mayo have been invited to benefit from all the resources available from the new programme. Almost 20% of all the rural schools invited to benefit from the new programme nationally are in Mayo. It is important to ensure that schools serving the most disadvantaged communities get all the additional support possible and will welcome the extra resources DEIS will provide for Mayo schools.

DEIS was designed with this goal in mind. For example, over the years, no fewer than eight separate schemes for disadvantaged primary schools have been put in place. Some schools were benefiting from just one or two of these and others were benefiting from more. The DEIS initiative is designed to ensure the most disadvantaged schools benefit from a comprehensive package of supports, while ensuring others continue to get support in line with the level of disadvantage among their pupils.

I assure the Deputy there is no reason for schools that have not been identified for the new programme to be concerned as they will continue to get support in line with the level of disadvantage among their pupils. No school in Mayo or any other county has been informed it will lose any resources as a result of DEIS. A review mechanism has been put in place to address the concerns of schools that did not qualify for inclusion in the school support programme but regard themselves as having a level of disadvantage to warrant their inclusion in the programme. This mechanism will operate under the direction of an independent person charged with ensuring all relevant identification processes and procedures were properly followed in the case of schools applying for a review. It is intended that the review process will be completed by the end of the current school year.

Jerry Cowley (Mayo, Independent)
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I thank the Minister for her reply. IDA Ireland announced earlier that job creation in County Mayo fell again last year and, therefore, the county is in a bad way. Crossmolina national school has not been included under the school support programme. This school opened in 2002 and the teachers have done wonderful work under the various programmes. However, since then, the catchment area has been affected by job losses at Bellacorick power station, Bord na Móna, the ESB, Hennigans and Oasis in Ballina and Volex in Castlebar. The Bank of Ireland recently closed its branch in the town and four shops have closed as a result of the job losses. No new jobs have been created in the area since the school opened.

The school authorities cannot understand why the school has not been included in the programme. I acknowledge that no school has been informed it will lose resources but no commitment has been given that the school will not lose resources. The home-school-community liaison co-ordinator has been of great benefit to the school and I ask the Minister to consider this post, in particular. No funding is guaranteed after 2007 and the pupils could be left hanging. However, there is a concern about the assessment process, although a questionnaire was filled out.

In a place like Crossmolina, employment is temporary, such as the McAlpine operation for the ESB. There are no local authority houses in the area, although there should be, but just people in poor private rented accommodation, so the assessment process is questionable. When will this review process take place again and a school that has lost out be catered for? The reason Mayo accounts for 20% of rural national schools invited to benefit from the programme, is that Mayo is so badly off taking into account the BMW under spending of €4.65 billion and the transport under spending of €500 million. Therefore, it is not surprising that Mayo has more schools in the new programme. However, schools in Crossmolina, Lahardane, Currane, Tonragee are in an area where there has not been any job creation and where the situation has got worse rather than better. When the temporary employment in Crossmolina goes, what is the future for the area, when the assessment process depends on the pupil rather than the school?

Photo of Mary HanafinMary Hanafin (Minister, Department of Education and Science; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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Not only were schools not told that they would not lose, they were specifically told in a letter written to every school that participated that there would be no loss in 2006-07. I am surprised to hear that a school is questioning the survey because it was the schools that provided the information. The survey was independently based and assessed and spot-checked to ensure that the information was accurate. The schools provided the information and it was judged on very significant variables, namely, the percentage of unemployed, local authority accommodation, lone parents, Travellers, large families of five or more children, as well as the percentage of pupils eligible for free books. Each of these variables has an impact on educational outcome.

Mayo has a thriving economy and has received much investment from the Government over the years. It has the second highest participation rate in third level education in Ireland. It is not educationally disadvantaged and the schools that deserve it most in Mayo are getting it. The schools that have applied to be reviewed are currently being reviewed and they will be notified before the end of the school year.

Jerry Cowley (Mayo, Independent)
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Half of our graduates must go to Dublin to get their first job. These are transient jobs, so the unemployment rate is skewed. There is not enough local authority accommodation there, so basing the statistics on that is not correct either. I am questioning the process rather than the facts as presented.

Photo of Mary HanafinMary Hanafin (Minister, Department of Education and Science; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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I deal with the facts.

Jerry Cowley (Mayo, Independent)
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The fact is that the process is flawed.

Photo of Mary HanafinMary Hanafin (Minister, Department of Education and Science; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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It is not flawed.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick East, Labour)
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The Minister listed the criteria involved, but she did not mention the retention rate, although that is one of the criteria for disadvantaged status. It seems unfair that the school works hard to keep the children in the school yet that will be held as an indicator that the school is not as disadvantaged as other primary indicators would suggest. Is the retention rate one of the criteria for disadvantaged status?

Photo of Mary HanafinMary Hanafin (Minister, Department of Education and Science; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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The variables listed are those for the primary school. The variables for second level schools are as follows: medical card data for junior certificate candidates; junior certificate retention rates by schools; junior certificate examination results aggregated by school level, based on the student's performance in the seven subjects in which he or she performed best; as well as leaving certificate retention rates by schools. These are the best indicators of the disadvantaged level in a school. There are fewer schools at second level that are looking for a review than at primary level. Some schools are managing to hold on to pupils and feel that they should not be penalised, but there are also schools that are not doing so and that are seriously disadvantaged. We must target these schools first. Schools will continue to receive a level of support in line with the level of socio-economic disadvantage that exists in the schools.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick East, Labour)
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If schools meet all the other criteria, then that one issue should not prevent them from obtaining disadvantaged status. It discourages schools from retaining their pupils.

Photo of Mary HanafinMary Hanafin (Minister, Department of Education and Science; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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One of the problems with disadvantaged schools is the drop-out rate. Retention would indicate that there is a low drop-out rate.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick East, Labour)
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If they are succeeding, they should not be punished.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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Is the Minister stating categorically that disadvantaged schools will not lose resources?

Is rural disadvantage widespread? How does it compare to urban disadvantage? Do the rural schools miss out on disadvantaged status because they are not disadvantaged compared with urban areas? Will the Minister ensure that all projects dealing with education and particularly primary education are prioritised? Any society should prioritise education as of major importance and funding should always be available for education as it is a way out of poverty for the most disadvantaged people.

Photo of Mary HanafinMary Hanafin (Minister, Department of Education and Science; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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Every school that participated in the survey was informed in writing that no school would lose any current resources for 2006-07. The schools were also informed that beyond that they would receive resources in line with the level of socio-economic disadvantage in each school.

Rural schools are not compared with urban schools as there is separate category for the rural schools. There is a big difference between rural and urban disadvantage. Where there is a greater concentration of poverty and educational disadvantage in urban areas, then there is a greater level of disadvantage in the schools. That will be targeted in this project.