Seanad debates

Thursday, 12 May 2022

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Education Welfare Service

10:30 am

Photo of Peter BurkePeter Burke (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I thank Senator O'Loughlin for raising her Commencement matter and I apologise for the absence of the Minister for Education. Senator O'Loughlin sets out quite well and very clearly the merit and importance of the educational welfare officer and the repercussions if such an officer is not in situat a very important time in the development of children.

DEIS is the main policy initiative of the Department to address educational disadvantage at school level. Currently, 884 schools and more than 180,000 students benefit from the DEIS programme. The Minister, Deputy Foley, recently announced the expansion of the DEIS programme to an additional 310 schools, with 37 existing DEIS schools upgraded. This means that in the 2022-23 school year, there will be 1,194 schools in the DEIS programme serving over 240,000 students or nearly one in four students. This will also mean a €32 million increase in the Department's expenditure on the DEIS programme for 2023. This is the largest-ever single increase in the investment in the programme and will extend DEIS status to schools serving the highest proportions of pupils at risk of educational disadvantage.

The school completion programme was established in 2002 by the Department to support the retention of young people in education. It was integrated into the school support programme provided under DEIS in 2005 and is now one of the key DEIS supports. The school completion programme is a key component of Tusla education support service, TESS. The programme is targeted to support primary and post-primary children and young people who have been identified as potentially at risk of early school leaving, or who are out of school and have not successfully transferred to education outside of the school system or into employment.

The Curragh, County Kildare, school completion programme comprises two local primary schools and two post-primary schools. The total funding provided to the Curragh school completion programme by TESS is in the region of €170,000 per annum. The project provides targeted supports to young people identified as requiring support. In addition, universal supports are given to some 500 students. More than 700 young people receive interventions, ranging from intensive supports multiple times weekly to after-school supports and school holiday programmes. The project also delivers a significant number of programmes such as mentoring for achievement, mind out and decider skills.

The educational welfare service is also part of TESS and operates under the Education (Welfare) Act 2000, which emphasises the promotion of school attendance, participation and retention. The educational welfare service deals with children and families who have difficulties with regard to school attendance, participation and retention. This is a statutory service and its primary role is to ensure that every child either attends school regularly or otherwise receives a certain minimum education to ensure and secure every child's entitlement to education.

A recruitment process with the already-established educational welfare officer national panel is currently under way to fill this vacant educational welfare officer post. In the interim, TESS management at local level have been working collaboratively to bring together the home school community liaison, the school completion programme and the educational welfare service capacity in TESS to prioritise TESS interventions for children and young people to ensure school attendance. I will bring the Senator's specific issues to the Minister for Education as well.


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