Tuesday, 23 November 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
68. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the status of plans to include a school (details supplied) under the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools, DEIS, programme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57292/21]
I appreciate being given the time to raise this very important issue. I am hopeful of an update on plans to include schools in my constituency, namely, Scoil Mhuire gan Smál in Carlow and Scoil Mhuire Lourdes in Tullow in the DEIS programme. Schools that fall outside the DEIS support system are struggling. The sooner schools that qualify for DEIS are identified, the sooner these funding structures can be put in place.
I thank the Deputy. I appreciate her taking the time to raise the question. Budget 2022, as the Deputy is aware, has provided for an allocation of €18 million for 2022 and €32 million for 2023 to extend the DEIS programme to further schools with the highest levels of disadvantage. This represents an increase of over 20% in funding for the DEIS programme and will enable an expansion in 2022 of the programme to further schools.
This year the Department will spend in the region of €150 million on providing supports for schools in the DEIS programme. The programme supports 884 schools and more than 180,000 learners. The Department's investment includes providing for in excess of 400 home school community liaison co-ordinators, in the region of €16 million in DEIS grants, additional posts for DEIS band 1 primary schools, curriculum supports, enhanced book grants, and access to the school completion programme. This year's package follows an extensive body of work that has been undertaken by the DEIS technical group on the development of a model to identify the concentrated levels of disadvantage of schools.
This work involved an initial process of consultation between the Department and the education partners on the technical aspects of the model. The purpose of the consultation is to ensure that, as far as possible, the refined DEIS identification model can provide an objective and independent means of identifying schools serving high concentrations of pupils at risk of educational disadvantage and to ensure there is a full understanding of the refined model and its potential application.
Under DEIS plan 2017, the DEIS identification process is based on an objective statistics-based model to determine which schools merit inclusion in the programme. An extensive body of work has been undertaken by the DEIS technical group on developing the defined model. The key data sources used in the DEIS identification process are the Department of Education primary online database, the post-primary online databases and Central Statistics Office, CSO, data from the national census of population as represented in the Pobal HP deprivation index for small areas, which is a method of measuring the relative affluence or disadvantage of a particular geographical area.
I am aware of the DEIS review that is being undertaken, but I want Carlow and Tullow to be included in it. The problem is that families are moving from schools which do not have the programme, which includes hot meals, to schools that have it. That is a major issue. Scoil Mhuire Lourdes is in Tullow, but there are no DEIS schools there, while Scoil Mhuire gan Smál, the school I attended in my home town, has been looking for DEIS status for years. It is becoming a major issue because school completion programmes and hot meals are only allocated to DEIS schools. Schools on the cusp of being identified as DEIS must fight locally to access anything like that support. DEIS is delivering results. Data indicates that schools that are introduced into the DEIS programme continue to improve over time. The issue is the timescale for DEIS schools. I have contacted the Minister, and she has always come back to me, about these two particular schools that are struggling and urgently in need of DEIS status.
I acknowledge that the Deputy is particularly invested in this issue. I would venture to say that the vast majority of Deputies are also invested in it, but she has been a particularly strong advocate for the schools she referenced and for the roll-out, enhancement and extension of the DEIS programme. She does not need to tell me - I am well aware of the importance of the DEIS programme. It is for that reason I am particularly pleased that during budget discussion and engagement I secured an additional allocation for the programme of €18 million for 2022, rising to €32 million in 2023, which will allow an extension of the programme as we go forward.
It is important to note that schools are not required to apply for inclusion in the DEIS programme and that all schools will be considered under the refined model. It is also important to note that educational outcomes do not play any part in identification of schools for inclusion in the DEIS programme, either at primary or post-primary level.
I welcome the fact that the Minister secured the extra funding. From talking to different principals, especially in the two schools I mentioned, Scoil Mhuire gan Smál in Carlow and Scoil Mhuire Lourdes in Tullow, I am aware that our towns and villages are changing. The review process needs to be furnished urgently so that children do not fall through the cracks in their academic year, especially now, as the Minister knows, when we have public health guidelines and everybody is trying to social distance and mind themselves.
The Oireachtas children's committee discussed child poverty today. One of the issues that came out of that was the school meals programme and how important it is to schools and to the children that benefit from it. I know this is in the remit of the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, but I believe she and the Minister should work together on it. We need to look at school meals programmes in schools, especially for schools that keep applying for DEIS status and just have not got it. I welcome the review that is going on. I ask the Minister that Scoil Mhuire gan Smál in Carlow and Scoil Mhuire Lourdes in Tullow get DEIS status.
I appreciate the case the Deputy made. She is correct that the hot meals programme for schools does not fall within my remit but she will be aware that the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, made some very positive announcements about it this week. I also acknowledge the other additional supports available to schools outside of the DEIS programme, notwithstanding its importance and the supports it provides and, as I said, the expectation that we are now looking forward to rolling it out even further. For example, I referenced previously the Covid-19 learning and support scheme, CLASS, which is a provision of up to €52 million for extra teaching hours that is being made available to all schools. This is another significant resource that is going into schools, specifically this year, to meet the challenge of Covid, not just from an academic and learning perspective but a holistic perspective, where children and young people will have opportunities to experience socialisation and all that goes with it.