Thursday, 23 September 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
88. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the status of the consultation process with education partners regarding the technical aspects and implementation of the new DEIS model; when she expects the work on the new model to be completed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45659/21]
My question relates to the DEIS model. This is a specific question to the Minister regarding an update on the status of the review that has been going on, where it is at, when it will be completed and when the DEIS scheme will be open to new applicants.
A key part of the DEIS plan was the introduction of a new DEIS identification process based on an objective and statistics-based model to determine which schools merit inclusion in the DEIS programme. An extensive body of work has been undertaken in terms of the refinement of this model based on the latest school enrolment data and data available from the 2016 census under the HP deprivation index. A detailed quality analysis of the data has been carried out by members of the DEIS technical group, which contains representatives of the Department’s statistics and social inclusion units, the inspectorate and the educational research centre. My Department has commenced a consultation process with education partners on the technical aspects of this model and work is ongoing on its final elements. It is envisaged that it will provide the basis for the development and application of a refined DEIS resource allocation model to ultimately match resources to identified need.
All schools will be considered for inclusion under the refined DEIS model. Until this work is complete, it is not intended to extend the DEIS programme to any further schools. Nonetheless, additional resources have been made available to DEIS schools in order to address educational disadvantage, such as an increase in the budget for the school completion programme, the expanded summer programme which ran this year and which, incidentally, was open to all schools at primary and post-primary levels for the first time, and the reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio for DEIS band 1 schools, as well as for all other schools. As noted earlier, it is at a historic low of 25:1. While this work continues, there have been significant other resources put in place for schools that do not currently have DEIS status. That said, the work will be expedited as quickly as possible. Stakeholders are currently being consulted on it.
Several years ago, the former Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, along with all of the Deputies representing Galway West, had a meeting in a school that is really suffering as a result of its failure to be recognised as a DEIS school That is what spurred me on to keep asking questions, as other Deputies have done in the Dáil. The DEIS programme is a very good scheme but, as it stands, it excludes schools that we all think should be in it. Clearly there have to be objective criteria but in the case of the particular school to which I refer, the former Minister was aghast at what had happened in that context. I note the Minister's statement that extra resources were made available for non-DEIS schools. I appreciate that and I will go back to the school to check how it benefits but more than one school has been affected as a result of the very strict criteria being applied in the manner they are. I welcome that the review has taken place but when will it be completed? Can we have some specifics, please?
I absolutely appreciate the conviction with which the Deputy poses these questions. She has recognised that it is very important that there is a body of work that can be used as an appropriate framework for DEIS. It is at a very advanced stage - it is at consultation stage with stakeholders, which is important. We are in the final stages of it but it is an enormous body of work. There is an enormous number of schools within the remit of the Department. Conscious of that and recognising the needs of all schools, there have been significant other offerings for schools within DEIS and those outside it, some of which I have referenced, such as the reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio and the enhanced summer provision programme.
The increased investment in the school completion programme is another most important aspect. Equally important, as I previously stated, are the additional resources that are now going directly into schools via the class programme, meaning that an 800-pupil school will have 51 additional weeks of teaching, which amounts to 1.5 additional teaching posts for a school year. Therefore, significant resources are being employed in advance of the completion of the DEIS programme.
I appreciate the Minister outlining the extra supports for schools, but the question is not about that. The question is about the DEIS programme. For as long as the DEIS programme has been in place, schools have been excluded from it by very strict criteria that are difficult to understand by principals, teachers and politicians. I accept there have to be objective criteria, but it is those criteria that we drew to the attention of the former Minister some years ago. By any stretch of the imagination, it was very difficult to see how the school in question was excluded. I am not just speaking for one school; other schools are in the same position. There has to be fairness in the scheme.
The Minister spoke about the enormous body of work to be done; I appreciate that. When did the process start and when will it be finished? We must appreciate the enormous work facing principals, teachers and schools that are not given DEIS recognition. They face enormous challenges.
I know the Minister is passionate about this issue and that there is a cross-party desire to resolve these matters. The criteria are dated. I can think of numerous examples of schools affected. Two that occur to me immediately are Togher boys and girls schools. They are in a RAPID area. Around 200 additional units of additional social housing have been built there in the last three years. There is a significant number of children with additional language needs and with English spoken as a second language in the home. I invite the Minister to examine that issue because I was surprised these schools were not included in the previous DEIS cohort.
I will make two points. The first is an ask and the second is something for the Minister to bear in mind. The Minister has spoken about engaging with stakeholders. I am not sure who those stakeholders are. I believe that Deputies, and communities as a whole, have something to offer here. There should be an open opportunity for submissions. I would certainly participate in that and many community organisations in my constituency would do likewise. I ask the Minister to let us feed in what we think would be useful criteria around the housing assistance payment, HAP, and other elements. It was a huge missed opportunity that no new DEIS band 2 schools were added when a new cohort of additional DEIS schools was last announced. That was a big mistake because it is much less expensive and such schools get access to home school liaison and school completion. Many schools would have benefited from that. It needs to happen this time.
In the first instance, I acknowledge, as Deputy Ó Laoghaire stated, that there is enormous cross-party support for, and recognition of, this area. I appreciate the points that Deputy Connolly made. I must say that for all the reasons outlined by the Deputy, a new DEIS identification process and mechanism based on statistical information will be found going forward. The important point here is that we get this right. The Deputy has spoken of fairness, access and inclusion. It is for all of those reasons that I am very conscious of our obligation to get this right.
The consultation is with the education partners. I have absolutely no difficulty with anybody bringing forward ideas in relation to it. A very wide consultation, which predates my term in office, was completed. Following the 2017 inclusion of additional DEIS schools, a line was drawn under it so as to allow this process to continue and be completed. I appreciate the urgency around it. It will be expedited as much as possible to ensure that is done. However, the priority is to get it absolutely right - as right as we can, at the very least.