Tuesday, 11 April 2017
The DEIS plan for 2017 sets out the Department's vision for education for better opportunities for those communities at risk of disadvantage and social inclusion. The plan, based on a review of the DEIS programme, is to implement a robust framework identification for schools for effective resource allocation to improve the learning experience and outcomes of pupils in DEIS schools and to support and foster best practice in schools through interagency collaborations. DEIS is about delivering equality of opportunity in schools and prioritising educational needs of children and young people in disadvantaged communities from preschool through to second level education between the ages of three and 18. There are two primary schools in my area, Scoil Mhuire gan Smál, a girls' school and Bishop Foley memorial school, a boys' school.Sons and daughters from the same families attend these schools. I could give many examples from Carlow, Tullow and Bagenalstown where that is happening. One has two schools side by side where the same families are sending their children and one is a DEIS school, while the other is not. There is no need for this to happen and I cannot understand why it is allowed.
The proposal to use postcodes will not work either as the lack of a local authority building in recent years means that many social welfare dependent families are living in private estates under the rent assistance scheme. Postcodes will not reflect the true extent of social welfare dependent families using schools. I suggest a combination of postcodes and social welfare data would provide a truer reflection of the reality. Tullow and Bagenalstown definitely include disadvantaged areas, for example, but no work has been done in the past few years to zone areas as disadvantaged. This really needs to be looked at.
The review in 2017 extended the programme, but this extension was only the same addition. In my area of Carlow-Kilkenny which includes Bagenalstown only one school was accepted into the DEIS programme. The manner in which schools are identified needs to change and the DEIS programme needs to be extended to include more schools to support vulnerable pupils in areas of disadvantage to give them the best chance in life. The new identification model has identified that there are disadvantaged schools which were not previously included in the DEIS programme and that their level of disadvantage was significantly higher than that of many schools already included in the programme. What the new programme indicates is that there are schools that are more disadvantaged that are not getting into the programme and that there is no help for them. That is unacceptable. We now live in a multicultural society with language barriers, but this issue is not being addressed by the Minister. However, I notice that new schools are automatically classed as DEIS schools. I ask the Minister to ensure all schools which have applied for DEIS status, particularly in disadvantaged areas, will be looked at in a new programme. I represent my area across Carlow, Tullow and Bagenalstown, as some from Kilkenny have. This has done nothing for schools which are in disadvantaged areas and which are in urgent need but which have been forgotten.
I thank the Senator for giving me the opportunity to discuss this matter as there are a number of things about which she is simply wrong and which I need to correct. I must ensure people understand what is happening. If there are two schools side by side and one has DEIS status, that relates back to the old scheme. There are 836 schools included in the old scheme and the problem is that it was quite random about how schools were included. Sometimes it was left entirely to the principal to submit material. The scheme was drawn up in a haphazard way. Some schools did not bother to apply, while others were very diligent. The designation that resulted was arbitrary. What we are now doing is adopting a scientific approach. It is not based on postcodes as the Senator suggested but on a small area analysis conducted by the CSO. It takes the children enrolled in a school and looks at the small area in which they are located. It is related to the disadvantage associated with the area from which the pupils come. It is not the area where the school is located but the area from which the pupils are drawn. Typically, one will have a high concentration of pupils from the area relatively close to the school and it may be a designated disadvantaged area as demonstrated by an examination of lone parents, population trends, parental education status, unemployment levels and occupations. It is an established, statistical method of assessing disadvantage and we are using the statistical source from the CSO. It is based on the census. We also marry the information with the actual pupil enrolment figures. The advantage is that we can update the information on a continuous basis and look at new census information and changing enrolments in the school. It is entirely objective and goes right back to the areas from which pupils are drawn.
The Senator is right that I would love to be able to extend the scheme, but I was able to include 79 schools. In rough terms, we might say that is two per constituency.
The schools were selected on the basis of greatest disadvantage. It represents less than 2% of all schools. As such, I could paper the wall with the submissions received from people who say there is another school here and another school there which should have been considered. However, that is the reality. I would love to have more money to extend the scheme.
The Senator asked if there were schools outside the disadvantaged areas included in the old scheme which had a higher level of disadvantage.That is absolutely true. On this occasion I could only bring in at the very highest concentration of disadvantage in what was called the urban band 1. That was the cut-off point at which I introduced the 79 schools.
The issue raised by the Senator, which was raised by others in the media, on whether we should be dropping schools out of the scheme, I decided it would be unfair to pull the rug from under schools which had disadvantage status over time in a sudden move of this nature. We will look at all elements. For schools which felt they should have been in the scheme, we have a verification process. Around July we will be looking at the new census data, which will become available on a small area basis. We will be re-examining all schools, not just those which complained but every school in the country on an equal basis, and their current enrolment, the actual children and the new 2016 data. If there are schools which are shown to be at the highest levels of concentration, we will move to bring them in at the earliest point.
I have also indicated this is a model which I am trying to refine over time. I do not like the cliff edge, in or out approach which is a feature of this. I want to look at the instruments within the policy, as well as the needs of the school, to develop a more flexible model over time which will ensure a school's needs are responded to in the way that is most appropriate. That will take time to develop. I am also open to refining it if people want to see new criteria examined from the Central Statistics Office range of data. The ones it has selected, such as unemployment, occupation and education of parent, are the best predictors of educational disadvantage.
This is a journey. This has not been touched since 2009 and not one single school was brought into the scheme. Now we are bringing in some schools. I know there are plenty more which we could bring in but I hope over time we can. Over time, we will also have to transition out, as well as transition in, schools because that is the nature of this process.
I am delighted the Minister will not use the postal codes for determining DEIS status because it would not be suitable. When the children in a family go to two different schools but where one is designated DEIS and the other is not, it is a significant issue. The Minister needs to put a programme in place for disadvantaged areas which have been forgotten. Since 2009, no programme has been put together for areas designated as disadvantaged. It is actually getting worse. This is why many schools which did not qualify to go on the scheme urgently need to do so.
To put this in context, many schools which are unhappy they did not get a DEIS designation point out all the children they have with special needs or with language difficulties. The DEIS programme costs €100 million and is just one instrument we use in education policy to help children who otherwise might struggle. We have language support for children who do not have English as their first language. We have special needs interventions which cost €1.5 billion and we have increased resource teachers by 41% over the past five years. Even in the difficult times, we kept investing.
There is a range of supports and DEIS is one of them. It is an area-based disadvantage scheme which has the potential to grow in the future. Apart from the €100 million I put in, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs puts in about €25 million in school completion and school liaison programmes. The Minister for Social Protection puts in €25 million, a figure which will increase this year, in the school meals programme. We are expanding and reviewing both the home school liaison and the completion programmes to make them more effective. This is a work in progress.
It is great to see a Minister who has two full handles on the brief and can talk ad libon the topic without having to read a script prepared by somebody else. It is refreshing for this House and I thank the Minister.