Wednesday, 17 April 2019
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
Táim buíoch don Aire as a bheith anseo. Tá áthas orm go bhfuil sé anseo chun é seo a chloisteáil agus chun na díospóireachta seo a bheith againn. Tá súil agam go mbeidh sé in ann smaoineamh air i ndiaidh na díospóireachta.
I expect that the Minister will provide a lengthier version of a reply to a parliamentary question, or something along the lines of what I received from him a week or two ago. Among other things, the reply stated:
[...] my Department has introduced an objective, statistics based model for assessing which schools merit inclusion in the DEIS Programme, so that all stakeholders can have confidence that we are targeting extra resources at those schools with the highest levels of concentrated disadvantage [...] Following an initial application of this new methodology, 79 new schools, including 66 primary schools, were brought into the DEIS programme in 2017 with a further 30 primary schools being upgraded from Band 2 to Band 1 status. These schools were assessed as having the highest levels of concentrated disadvantage.
It further stated that until there is further analysis, for which there is a proposal, it is not intended to expand the DEIS programme to further schools.
The specific matter I raise relates to DEIS urban band 2, which is a category that contains a substantial number of schools. No new schools were added to the category during the previous DEIS announcement in 2017. Will the Minister consider that and whether it might be worth taking the initiative? Given the resources involved are not the same, it would be less expensive than designating schools from having no DEIS categorisation to band 1, or from band 2 to band 1. There would be a number of advantages to this. I expect that many schools could benefit from this but two examples are Togher boys' and girls' national schools in Cork city. The family centre in Togher carried out a study of the composition of families whose children attend Togher national schools. All the findings I will outline are relevant to the DEIS criteria because they are the kinds of data that are taken into account. A total of 17.9% of respondents were one-parent families, 18.7% were housed in local authority housing, 10.4% had five or more children, 54.9% had third level education, 25% were Travellers or Roma, 34.7% did not speak English as a first language, 46% received social welfare, while 53% were entitled to a medical card. While those statistics are approximately two years old, my understanding is the trends have not changed substantially and that between 25% and 40% of students in most of the classes do not have English as a first language. Several of the small areas under the Pobal small area population statistic maps qualify as disadvantaged or very disadvantaged. Put simply, the area is included in the revitalising areas by planning, investment and development, RAPID, programme. It is not a new development but rather was designated under various disadvantage schemes, dating back to the programmes of the former Minister of State, Chris Flood.
I have spoken to the principals. The schools should be designated as band 1 because it is justified by the level of disadvantage that many of the students experience, but the Department does not agree. So be it; perhaps we can have that debate another day. Had DEIS band 2 been opened, the schools would have qualified. I am quite certain of that and the Department must not have been short of band 1 schools. The schools and their families need additional help. I am sure many schools throughout the country are in a similar category but they are not receiving additional help based on that disadvantage. Under DEIS band 2, they could benefit from measures such as home-school liaison, access to the school completion programme and a school completion officer, and they do not receive the same level of support from an educational welfare officer. Will the Minister consider that and whether DEIS band 2 will be opened to schools such as the national schools in Togher and countless others which could benefit from it?
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta fá choinne an seans labhairt ar an ábhar iontach tábhachtach seo. Nuair a tugadh aitheantas do roinnt scoileanna sna blianta a chuaigh thart, bhí díospóireacht mhór timpeall na tíre fadúda na scoileanna a bheadh aitheanta. Bhí imní orthu ag an am sin ach anois tá na scoileanna uilig ag iarraidh stádas DEIS. Tá an bearna ag éirí níos lú. In 2001 bhí bearna de 17% idir na scoileanna a bhí stádas DEIS acu agus na scoileanna nach raibh an stádas sin acu. Anois tá bearna de 8% ann. Tá an bearna ag éirí níos lú. Níl muid ann faoi láthair ach táimid ar an bhealach ceart. Is é an rud is mó atá i gceist ná acmhainní. I mbliana bhí €124 milliún i gceist sa bhuiséad fá choinne DEIS. Tá comhrá agus díospóireacht anois ann faoi stádas na tíreolaíochta agus an stair. Táim ag amharc ar na míbhuntáistí, na bearnaí, agus na rudaí atá lag sna scoileanna nach bhfuil stádas DEIS acu. Sin an bealach ina mbeimid ag obair. Tá na sonraí ag an Teachta sa fhreagra ar an seancheist.
Is é sin an bealach a bheimid ann. Tá an freagra ag an Teachta ón tseancheist agus tá cúpla sonra aige.
The Deputy has the answer from the parliamentary question he asked but I will add to it with a few statistics. He referenced urban DEIS and band 1 and band 2. For the 2018-2019 school year, 896 schools that serve more than 183,000 pupils are included in the DEIS programme. Within this cohort there are 232 urban band 1 schools and 107 urban band 2 schools. Among the 359 rural schools and 198 post-primary schools are 79 schools that have the highest concentrated level of disadvantage. They were added to the DEIS programme for the first time from September 2017.
We know DEIS is working and that the gap is getting closer in terms of progression to leaving certificate. In 2001 the gap was 17% and it has decreased to approximately 8%. We still have a long way to go. The Deputy highlighted schools which have the advantage of having home school liaison officers. This makes a massive difference. The resources and pupil-teacher ratio make an incredible difference.
The Deputy referred to urban band 2 and how we could add to what we have already. I want to get accurate data on this, which is why we are doing a statistic analysis on socioeconomic indicators. We have compiled the data and we want to analyse it. The traditional methodology of measuring socioeconomic disadvantage was to do so on a geographical basis. The world is changing as is the country and this is no longer the method used. There is disadvantage in some areas which have been perceived as non-geographically disadvantaged. There are also challenges in urban and rural areas. I want to work with the Deputy. I am open to ideas as to what is the best way to do this. The change has to be on a gradual basis but also done in a very targeted way.
Aontaím leis an Aire go n-oibríonn DEIS. Bhí an meánscoil i bPáirc na bhFianna i cathair Chorcaí, mar shampla, i measc na scoileanna is fearr feabhais anuraidh ó thaobh torthaí na hardteistiméarachta de. Téann nach mór de leath de dhaltaí na scoile go dtí an ollscoil anois. Cúpla bliain ó shin, chuaigh níos lú ná 20% de dhaltaí na scoile go dtí an ollscoil. Léiríonn sé sin go n-oibríonn DEIS, agus aontaím leis an Aire sa mhéid sin. Tá go leor scoileanna eile a d'fhéadfadh buntáiste a bhaint as DEIS, ach nach bhfuil ag baint buntáiste as. Tá mé tar éis sampla a thabhairt don Aire. Tá mé den tuairim gur chóir go bhfaighfeadh siad na tacaíochtaí iomlána, más féidir. Aithním go bhfuil difríochtaí idir leibhéil éagsúla míbhuntáiste. Níl scoileanna áirithe le riachtanais mar an gcéanna le scoileanna le riachtanais níos mó.
There is a need for a graduated approach. Some areas and schools need more support than others but there are schools that need supports that do not receive additional supports. I accept what the Minister stated with regard to analysing issues. The nature of disadvantage is changing. There are a lot of pockets of hidden disadvantage in affluent areas. I agree 100% with the Minister on this. While analysis must be done we should not delay unnecessarily.
I have the permission of the principal to extend to the Minister, if he is in Cork in the coming months or year, an invitation to visit the school in Togher and understand the challenges there. There are many children who have additional needs, who come from a disadvantaged background and who do not have English as a first language. There is discussion on an overall package of support. Ratios are important and, overall, they need to be reduced. I am sure the Minister is aware of people raising the issue, but the school completion programme makes a huge difference to people and schools, such as that to which I refer, do not have access to it. Home school liaison officers do amazing work. Even if schools were to be part of a cluster that could access home school liaison officers, it would make a huge difference. Will the Minister take up the invitation and consider these points also?
Beidh díospóireacht chuimsitheach de dhíth sa Teach seo. Tá an ceangal, an caidreamh agus an comhoibriú idir na príomhoidí agus na múinteoirí uilig iontach tábhachtach fosta. Agus é sin ráite, tá na scoileanna ag athrú. Tá siad faoi bhrú i measc an pobail maidir le míbhuntáistí agus acmhainní. B'fhéidir go bhfuil bealach níos fearr ann chun cuidiú leanúnach a chur ar fáil idir an bhunscoil agus an mheánscoil, agus go háirithe idir an mheánscoil agus an ollscoil nó na printíseachtaí. Tá an bhearna ag éirí níos cóngaraí. Tá obair de dhíth ar son na scoileanna nach bhfuil aitheantas DEIS acu. Is é sin an fáth go bhfuilimid ag treabhadh ar aghaidh. Tá suas le €124 milliún i gceist. Tá mé cinnte go mbeidh cinnithe maidir le cúrsaí buiséide ag teastáil i gcomhthéacs an mhéid airgid atá de dhíth. Tá an ceart ag an Teachta maidir leis an scéim home-school liaison. Tá an caidreamh idir an scoil agus an pobal iontach tábhachtach.
I again thank the Deputy for raising this question. I completely agree that the issue needs to be analysed. My objective is to continue to look at a way that will be graduated but also targeted to ensure we get the right resources to those most in need. The feedback I get is that classes are becoming more complex. There are difficulties and pressure but we need to respond to this. The only political way we can do so is working together. I am grateful to the Deputy for the question.