Seanad debates

Monday, 26 April 2021

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

DEIS Scheme

10:30 am

Photo of Aisling DolanAisling Dolan (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Madigan, for coming here this morning to deal with this matter. No schools have been assessed to be included for extra supports under the DEIS scheme since 2015 and only a small number were added in 2017. Schools are not currently being assessed. I would like an update on the DEIS resource allocation system and the timeline for its completion, publication and implementation.

DEIS encompasses a number of different types of supports, including: reduced class size; additional funding to provide access to literacy and numeracy programmes, which is important; the home school community liaison, HSCL, co-ordinator; school completion programmes, SCPs, which mean that students will stay in school longer and achieve results in final year exams; and access to the school meals programme. To clarify, the HSCL and the SCP both fall under Túsla educational and welfare services so there is a link there and a partnership with the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. There is also a link with the Department of Social Protection on the school meals programme. However, neither of those Departments can allocate schools access to the programmes unless designation has been given by the Department of Education.The Minister for Education has noted that this is dependent on an Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, in 2015 to bring forward a new methodology of assessment. That is great but, unfortunately, we do not have a methodology for assessing any of these schools now. A Department of Education publication, DEIS Identification Process, noted, "The model also identified a number of schools in disadvantaged areas, no currently within DEIS, whose level of disadvantage is significantly higher than many schools already in DEIS."

A Social Justice Ireland report published last week and based on a 2019 survey pointed to a decrease in people living below the poverty line. However, 20% of children still live in poverty. All across this country, especially in the past year, more families than were dealt with in that survey are dealing with disadvantage and loss of income, all of which impacts on child poverty. If children are going to school hungry, we need to act. If children are falling behind in reading and maths, we need to act. We need to ensure that every child has the same opportunity in the classroom, the ability to focus attention, the reserves to sit in school for the full day and the supports to avoid dropping out at secondary school level.

The Minister for Education has already noted that this review has to be completed before any supports are made available. I do not accept that. There must be a possibility of having a tiered level of support available for the schools most in need, particularly when this crisis affects those most vulnerable, namely, women, single parents and children.

In the 2016 Pobal deprivation index, Ballinasloe was listed as having areas that are extremely and very disadvantaged, the highest levels on the scale. The area also has a DEIS band 1 primary school. However, there is no support for any post-primary DEIS facility in our area. How is this possible in a large urban area? I will quote a school principal on the matter:

We struggle to support our most vulnerable families in the absence of an allocation for a Home School Community Liaison teacher. We try our best but it is an impossible task to ask full time teachers/assistant principals and senior leadership personnel to provide the level of family support that is necessary to these families. We have a large number (20-25%) of enrolment coming from [the DEIS band 1 primary school]. We meet students on a daily basis with no lunch. As a result, the school frequently has to buy food and distribute it without any support ...

I also spoke to a home school community liaison officer, a co-ordinator, in our area. She stated the retention of pupils following transfer to secondary school in Ballinasloe is really low, particularly among children who have had to leave school after having had considerable support at primary school level through DEIS at band level 1.

I want to put a programme in place that supports children from different backgrounds to have a fighting chance. The State has a role in providing hope and supports to children and students so they will have a fighting chance of an education. I call on the Minister of State, in the absence of the review, which has been happening since 2015, to set up immediately tiered supports for schools in crisis, partnering with the Department of Social Protection regarding access to the hot school meals programme and the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth regarding access to the home school community liaison scheme and school completion programme. I also call on the Minister to address the matter of the school completion co-ordinator in the Ballinasloe area. I acknowledge the wonderful supports in place at primary school level in our urban town area but how does disadvantage disappear at age 11?

Photo of Josepha MadiganJosepha Madigan (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Senator for raising this issue. DEIS is the main policy initiative of my Department to tackle educational disadvantage at any level. The DEIS plan sets out the vision for interventions in the critical area of educational disadvantage policy and is based on the findings of an extensive review of the programme, which involved consultation with all relevant stakeholders.

The programme for Government commits to completing the new DEIS identification model and ensuring the extension of status to schools identified as suitable. A key part of the DEIS plan was the introduction of a new DEIS identification process based on an objective statistic-based model to determine which schools merit inclusion in the programme. As the Senator may be aware, following the application of this model in 2017, a further 79 schools were included in the programme and 30 were upgraded from band 2 to band 1 status.

On the further extension of the DEIS programme to more schools, an extensive body of work has been undertaken to refine the model based on the latest school enrolment data and data available from census 2016 under the HP deprivation index. A detailed quality analysis of the data has been carried out by members of the DEIS technical group, which includes representatives of the Department's statistics and social inclusion units, the inspectorate and the Educational Research Centre. My Department has commenced a consultation process with education stakeholder representatives on the technical aspects and the implementation of this model. Work is now ongoing on the final elements of the model. It is envisaged that this will provide the basis for the development and application of a refined DEIS resource-allocation model ultimately to match resources to identified need. Until this work is complete, it is not intended to extend the DEIS programme to any further schools.

I note the Senator’s concerns, however, and reassure her that the Department is working to ensure those most in need of support can be provided with the necessary resources to ensure they have every opportunity to benefit from education to help them fulfil their potential in life. For example, the Department will spend approximately €2 billion on making additional provision for children with special educational needs, which is an area of particular interest to her. The investment means the numbers of special classes, special education teachers and special needs assistants are now at unprecedented levels. Budget 2021 allowed for a further reduction in the primary staffing schedule, bringing the pupil-teacher ratio to an historic low of 25:1. Overall, 1,065 new teaching posts will be created this year.

My Department spends approximately €215 million on general capitation for schools, which represented an increase of 5% in 2019 and a further 2.5% increase for the 2020-21 school term. A further €18 million is allocated to schools under the free education scheme to provide assistance regarding books, including book rental schemes. All these supports should ensure that every student receives every opportunity to fulfil his or her potential in the education system. There are schools in Ballinasloe, including Scoil Uí Cheithearnaigh, Ardscoil Mhuire and Garbally College, that are non-DEIS schools. There is obviously a rationale for including a school based on concentrated disadvantage.It is based on the existence of a multiplier effect whereby pupils attending a school with a high concentration of students from disadvantaged backgrounds have poorer academic outcomes, even taking account of people's social backgrounds. The social mix of a school matters and provides a rationale for prioritising supports for schools which cater for those with a lower socioeconomic background. International evidence supports that also.

Photo of Aisling DolanAisling Dolan (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for the update and the acknowledgement of funding in the area. The DEIS identification process and the inclusion of schools with children who are at risk is urgently required to ensure that all schools are appropriately equipped to tackle educational disadvantage. We need that at primary and post-primary level across the country. Is there a possibility for tiered supports? I understand that the review still has to be completed. I am not clear on the timeline associated with that but is it possible that we could look at the hot school meals programme under the Department of Social Protection or the allocation of a HSCL co-ordinator where principals are struggling, particularly this year, with Covid-19? That would come from the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth under Tusla. Could we consider looking at tiered supports in advance of the review programme coming out for schools in crisis?

Photo of Josepha MadiganJosepha Madigan (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Senator. I understand her concerns in the context of supports. It is important to stress that there is a range of resources available from the Department to support schools in dealing with their needs. Those are schools outside of DEIS and they can still avail of supports including special education resource teachers, special needs assistants, SNAs, and supports from the National Educational Psychological Service also.

With regard to hot school meals, I will bring that to the attention of the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, to see if there is scope around that. There may well be resources available of which I am unaware but I will certainly speak to the Minister about the matter.

I do not yet have a timeline for the end of the consultation from the DEIS technical group. I do not see any expansion in respect of any other school being eligible for DEIS until that is refined and completed. The Department has commenced the consultation with educational stakeholder representatives on the technical aspects and the implementation of this model. Work is ongoing on the final elements of the model.