Seanad debates

Tuesday, 28 November 2006

Adjournment Matters

Home-School Liaison Scheme.

7:00 pm

Photo of Ulick BurkeUlick Burke (Fine Gael)
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I apologise for my late arrival. I believed the previous business was to conclude at 8 o'clock.

My motion refers to the need for the Minister for Education and Science to rescind her decision to withdraw the home-school-community liaison scheme at St. Brigid's vocational school, Loughrea, County Galway, from September 2007. St. Brigid's vocational school is one of the largest rural vocational schools not just in the scheme in County Galway, but in rural Ireland. Over the years it has built up to become one of the best schools for all the positive reasons. It has a large annual intake across all academic ranges. It has some of the high flyers in leaving certificate results in addition to having many students with difficulties owing to special needs, or other social or family reasons. The students in the school have grown accustomed to a highly professional service by the liaison teacher. The idea of its withdrawal comes as a severe shock not only to the management of the school but also to the staff, parents and students.

With the pressures on so many students from both their academic studies and in some cases owing to difficulties at home and the community difficulties that may arise, we realise the importance of retaining this service in St. Brigid's vocational school. It is unfortunate that having been a tremendous school with very high achievers who have had fantastic results in the junior and leaving certificate examinations and with great support from within the community, it is now being punished and the service is being withdrawn. I ask the Minister of State to use her influence in the Department to prevent the service from being withdrawn from September 2007.

The home-school liaison co-ordinator works mainly with marginalised families where children are at risk and are not reaching their potential. At present the co-ordinator at St. Brigid's is supporting families with issues such as marital break-up, bereavement, suicide, family dysfunction, physical and psychiatric illnesses, and learning disability. The co-ordinator also works with the Traveller community and children from non-Irish national families. With all those in the one school community, we realise how great are the problems, added to which are the anti-social problems of bullying and other difficulties arising in education in modern society.

The tragedy is compounded by the fact that two adjoining schools, one in Woodford and one in Athenry are also losing the service. It appears as a complete withdrawal from those people. I ask the Minister of State to explain how the criteria for the provision of home-school liaison service are assessed. I understand considerations such as the numbers of parents with medical cards were included. The current situation is considerably more complex and the need should be assessed on an ongoing basis in order that the real problems can be addressed. This school has a liaison committee of the partners in education, the parents, teachers, gardaí and social workers. All these people involved in the community have combined to help in addressing the difficulties of students who find themselves falling back or ultimately dropping out. The endeavours of the school to retain students from first year to the leaving certificate have been a tremendous success. For all that success, the response it gets from the Department is negative with the withdrawal of the liaison teacher. It is unacceptable and I ask the Minister of State to use her influence to ensure this service will be continued beyond 2007.

Síle de Valera (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Clare, Fianna Fail)
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On behalf of the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Hanafin, I thank the Senator for raising this matter on the Adjournment. The home-school-community liaison, HSCL, scheme is a major mainstream preventative strategy targeted at pupils at risk of not reaching their potential in the educational system because of background characteristics which tend to affect adversely pupil attainment and school retention. The scheme is concerned with establishing partnership and collaboration between parents and teachers in the interests of children's learning. The guiding principles which underpin the HSCL scheme aim to target the causes of educational underachievement by focusing on the adults whose attitudes and behaviours affect the lives of the children.

Key to the ongoing success of the HSCL scheme is the dedication of HSCL personnel. Co-ordinators act not only as liaison between the schools, teachers, parents and communities but also as advocates of partnership and collaboration as well as drivers of the range of activities that the scheme supports.

Under DEIS, the new action plan for educational inclusion, which is being implemented by the Department of Education and Science, the Department recently announced the provision of 80 new posts to add to the 370 posts already in place to extend home-school-community liaison services to any of the DEIS schools that do not currently have the service. In addition, all schools, including the school to which the Senator has referred, which currently have HSCL service but which have not been included in DEIS, will continue to receive HSCL services after 2006-07.

HSCL services will continue to be provided to some 650 schools — 282 second level and 370 primary schools. However, following a full review of HSCL clustering arrangements by the Department in the coming year, levels of service may be varied in some schools to reflect their levels of disadvantage and size and to facilitate local HSCL co-ordinators working with families of disadvantaged children across both primary and second level. The total cost of the HSCL scheme in 2006 will be in the region of €22.5 million. In line with the Department's commitment to this scheme, the full year allocation will increase to almost €28 million in 2007. This represents an increase of almost 25%.

The entire rationale behind DEIS is to ensure the most disadvantaged schools benefit from all of the available supports. Targeting resources at the most disadvantaged schools that are working to counteract educational disadvantage will continue to be a priority for the Government.

Photo of Ulick BurkeUlick Burke (Fine Gael)
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Is the Minister of State indicating the home-school liaison service at the school in question will not be renewed after September 2007?

Síle de Valera (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Clare, Fianna Fail)
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As already stated, all schools, including that to which the Senator refers, which currently have HSCL services but which have not been included under DEIS, will continue to receive such services after the 2006-07 year. I also stated that services will continue in a number of schools and that, following a full review of HSCL clustering arrangements by the Department in the coming year, levels of service may be varied in some schools to reflect their levels of disadvantage and size and to facilitate local HSCL provision.