Dáil debates

Thursday, 12 May 2022

Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Ukraine War

10:20 am

Photo of Donnchadh Ó LaoghaireDonnchadh Ó Laoghaire (Cork South Central, Sinn Fein)
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73. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills her plans to ensure that all Ukrainian children and young people arriving in Ireland have access to adequate education and schooling; and the resources that she has provided to facilitate same. [23699/22]

Photo of Donnchadh Ó LaoghaireDonnchadh Ó Laoghaire (Cork South Central, Sinn Fein)
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Thousands of school-aged children and young people have arrived into Ireland from Ukraine over recent weeks. I am seeking an update on what is being done to ensure all Ukrainian schoolchildren receive a school place, and on the supports they will have.

Photo of Norma FoleyNorma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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I acknowledge first of all the great work that our schools, students, school leaders and staff have done in welcoming Ukrainian children and young people into their communities over the past two months, and the wider society also. I have visited many schools across the length and breadth of the country and I have seen at first hand the professionalism, the care, the welcome and the efforts that have been made to provide a happy and inclusive atmosphere for Ukrainian families. The Department is working to support education provision for arriving children with immediate education needs.  Utilisation of each school’s existing capacity is the most flexible way possible to do that. There is generally good capacity across the country, albeit there are capacity pressures in some areas greater than in others.

Many resources for teaching, learning and inclusion of Ukrainian pupils have been published to date, including a central repository of information and continuing professional development resources for school leaders and teachers to support cultural and linguistic diversity, which is available at www.scoilnet.ie. The supports include those designed by the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, to help children suffering from trauma. NEPS psychologists are available on the ground to consult schools and provide support as needed. A helpline for school principals is also in place. Schools that have enrolled students from Ukraine can apply, and have successfully applied, for additional English as an additional language support and hundreds of schools are already receiving this support.

As the Deputy may be aware, we have set up regional education and language teams, known as REALT, to help to ensure good co-ordination and alignment of supports for Ukrainian children arriving in Ireland.  REALT services are hosted by the 16 regional education and training boards and are staffed by existing regionally-based education support personnel. The primary role of REALT is to build on existing regional education support structures. The initial focus is on assisting families in securing school places when they are ready to engage with the school system. REALT will also support schools in the area to meet the needs of these children as they emerge, to advise and support my Department in developing new capacity where required, and to co-ordinate the provision of education services to schools and families across their defined area.

Overall, it is estimated that approximately 25,000 school places at primary level are available, along with some 20,000 places at secondary level. These teams will ensure that clear, accessible information flows are in place between schools, local education support services and national support structures.

Photo of Donnchadh Ó LaoghaireDonnchadh Ó Laoghaire (Cork South Central, Sinn Fein)
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With the limited time I have, I want to flag that children and young people arriving here from Ukraine have had their whole lives uprooted. I acknowledge the huge work that has been done by schools to try to facilitate them by going to significant lengths. Is there a specific funding stream in place for schools and Ukrainian families for the purchase of uniforms and schoolbooks for Ukrainian students? Concerns have been raised with me that some schools are strictly enforcing uniform rules and book requirements for Ukrainian children. For example, one family had to pay for school uniforms for three children in secondary school, at €200 per child. This is for a school that they may not be attending after the summer if they are moved to more permanent accommodation in another area. Will the Minister encourage schools to show flexibility in these instances? Finally, are there pressure points at this time in relation to school places? If the Minister does not have time to respond, perhaps she will do so in writing.

10:30 am

Photo of Norma FoleyNorma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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I appreciate the shortage of time but I will say there is no cap on the resources that are being made available to our schools. We have ensured that where schools requested additional teaching staff, which could have been teaching staff for additional hours or English as an additional language, or whether they requested furniture or whatever, that has all been put in place.

Specifically, in relation to the students-----

Photo of Donnchadh Ó LaoghaireDonnchadh Ó Laoghaire (Cork South Central, Sinn Fein)
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Sometimes there is a need for cash too.

Photo of Norma FoleyNorma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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We have put in place REALT teams, which are addressing any needs on the ground, either for schools with whatever issues they might have or indeed if there is an inability to access a place from a student's point of view. It has proven very successful, which I want to acknowledge. These locally-based regional teams are aware of the issues within schools. They are open to the principals but also to the families to address any of the needs that need to be met for the students. I acknowledge that schools have done tremendous work on their own but they are being very ably supported by the REALT teams.