Seanad debates

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Adjournment Matters

Transition Year Programme

6:30 pm

Photo of Imelda HenryImelda Henry (Fine Gael)
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As Fine Gael spokesperson for children in the Seanad, I was contacted by the parents of a child in a school in north Dublin. The school, which is a community college, has 60 places in transition year, 84 pupils applied and their son was turned down for a place. In junior certificate year, the pupils are asked to complete an application form for transition year and, I understand, the headmaster and teachers decide who wins out in the selection process.

Transition year is very important and too advantageous to pupils to allow a local headmaster and teachers to decide who is selected for it and who is left out. Such a system is open to abuse, favouritism, discrimination and prejudice and should have no place in the world we live in today. I understand the pupils were marked by their ten teachers on a scale of zero to ten. The issue is one of equality, transparency, favouritism, discrimination, prejudice and the rights of children.

The parents who spoke to me are disappointed and their son is also disappointed that of the 18 in his class who applied 16 got places, he being one of the two who did not. No child should have to be made feel that way at school and we must do all we can to safeguard the well-being and welfare of all our children.

If there is insufficient funding for the school to offer all its pupils transition year it should not be offered to any. However, if the Minister for Education and Skills wants his schools to offer a limited number of transition year places, they should be offered on a fully transparent and random basis. Some schools, for example, have a lottery system where parents are invited to attend.

Who gives these people the right to say which child is suitable and which child is not? That decision is much too important to give to people who are close to the issue. There is a clear conflict of interest when teachers are asked to decide between a colleague's child and nobody's child. A lottery is clearly a good solution.

Children doing the junior certificate examination are at a vulnerable age and undermining their self-esteem and confidence in this manner is extremely dangerous. I highlight the current suicide problem in the country. We owe children a much higher duty of care. If a child were to self-harm as a result of being depressed or let down by such an unfair system we would regret it.

Schools should have a policy on transition year. Some schools make that policy public but they are not required to do so. I am speaking about a specific school in north Dublin, but I believe this happens in several schools throughout the country.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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I am taking this Adjournment matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn. I thank Senator Henry for raising this issue. It affords me the opportunity to outline to the House the situation with regard to the funding for the transition year programme.

Transition year is a one year programme, available to all second level schools. It is designed to act as a bridge between the junior certificate and leaving certificate programmes. The Department of Education and Skills provides teaching resources and additional grant aid to schools that offer the transition year programme. A teacher allocation is given to each school offering the programme, based on a pupil teacher ratio of 18.25:1 for DEIS schools, 19:1 for schools in the free education scheme and 21:1 for fee-charging schools. Approximately 1,700 whole-time equivalent teaching posts were allocated to schools in the 2012-13 school year in respect of transition year at an estimated cost of ¤109 million. Schools in the free education scheme also qualify for payment of a transition year grant of ¤95 for each pupil participating in the programme. The cost of transition year grants in 2012 was ¤2.7 million.

Schools are free to devise a flexible modular programme within an overall framework set out by the Department. Each school designs its own programme within set guidelines to suit the needs and interests of its students. In establishing its own distinctive programme content, the school takes into account the possibilities offered by the local community interests. The cost, therefore, of the programme is dependent upon the particular circumstances in each individual school. Schools are conscious of any additional costs being imposed on parents in the current economic circumstances and seek to minimise these. Schools may seek voluntary contributions from parents, provided it is made clear to parents that there is no compulsion to pay and that a child's place in the programme is not dependant on a willingness to make a contribution. This is, of course, a key requirement for all recognised schools in the free education scheme. Such schools must not operate a charge, in whatever form, that is in effect a mandatory fee and that is contrary to the principles of the free education scheme.

While the transition year grant has not been reduced in the lifetime of this Government - it was reduced from ¤100 to ¤95 per pupil in January 2011 - overall resources to second level schools have. I fully acknowledge that this reduction is challenging for schools. In respect of transition year, schools have autonomy on how best to prioritise their available resources. The management authority of each school also carries responsibility for making decisions regarding participation in the transition year programme in that school. Approximately 75% of schools participate in the programme. In some schools, the programme is compulsory for all students. In those that offer it as an option, circumstances may arise where it is necessary to limit the number of students who can avail of it. In cases where restrictions apply, schools should have clear procedures regarding how places are allocated to students.

Transition year offers students an opportunity to mature and develop without the pressure of an examination. It also provides an opportunity for students to reflect on, and develop an appreciation of, the value of education and training in preparing them for the ever-changing demands of the adult world of work and relationships. Given the scale of our economic crisis, there is no scope to introduce new or additional funding measures to assist schools in providing the transition year programme. I thank the Senator for the opportunity to respond to the House and to clarify matters regarding the programme.

6:40 pm

Photo of Imelda HenryImelda Henry (Fine Gael)
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The Minister stated schools should have clear procedures regarding how places are allocated to students. I understand what he is saying but the difficulty is some schools have unfair systems, particularly the school to which I referred. It is unfair how students are chosen. I am not too concerned about the funding issue but I am concerned about the procedure to decide who is selected. I will take this issue up and contact the Minister for Education and Skills directly. I thank the Minister.