Seanad debates

Thursday, 12 May 2022

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Education Welfare Service

10:30 am

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

On 30 March, a conference took place down the road from here that celebrated 20 years of the school completion programme, SCP. The conference gave people the opportunity to hear about the transformative work that happened in schools and communities as a result of the programme. The Taoiseach, who established the programme as he was the Minister for Education at the time, acknowledged all of the terrific work as did the current Minister for Education, Deputy Norma Foley. I wish to acknowledge the SCP work that has been carried throughout the country.

I appreciate that the Cathaoirleach accepted my Commencement matter that seeks an update on the Curragh-Kildare school completion programme and calls for necessary supports to be provided to enable the programme to carry out its work. Recently, I was contacted by the acting chair of the Curragh-Kildare school completion programme cluster, which consists of Kildare Town Community School, which has more than 1,000 pupils, St. Brigid's primary school, which has more than 1,000 pupils, as well as the Curragh post-primary school and the Curragh amalgamated primary school. The cluster has been supported since 2006 by the school completion programme. It has done a lot of really good work. The cluster works with children at primary and post-primary levels who are at risk of not completing their schooling, which is hugely important within any community and town. One school home-school liaison teacher has been assigned to one of these primary schools, so a huge amount of work needs to be carried out.

During Christmas 2021, local schools received an email informing them that the current educational welfare officer would leave in the next two weeks, which had the result that many priority cases had to be closed. A suggestion was made that the school completion programme and the one home-school liaison person could continue to support the remaining families as best they could. Since then the local schools have sought an update on the appointment of a new educational welfare officer but to no avail. They have been left with no contact and no support for six months. These schools do their very best to support their pupils and their families but they cannot do that on their own without proper enforcement and follow-up at a formal level by an educational welfare officer. The deterioration in attendance has been frightening and, quite frankly, unforgivable. These schools need external supports and without that schools are powerless, and defenceless, against investigation by the Ombudsman for Children.It is insulting that this situation has been allowed to continue. It is a slap in the face for the teams within the schools and shows a complete disregard for the years of work that they have put into supporting the programme and the target families. They have been left high and dry. It is absolutely time that action was taken here. It is time that the calls from these schools were heard at the highest levels. That is why I am raising it today.

It should not be this difficult and school completion programmes should be able to access something as basic as an educational welfare officer. It is unacceptable that the adequate support is not being given. This cluster of schools caters for almost 2,400 students in the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools, DEIS, initiative who are in schools in bands 1 and 2, and many of whom have substantial care needs. That there is no forethought or preparations for continued provision for the continuity of support is simply not acceptable.


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