Wednesday, 29 September 2021
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Josepha Madigan, for coming to the House today. As we all know Fianna Fáil has a very proud tradition in education. Famously, and radically, in September 1966 Donogh O'Malley announced plans to introduce free second level education, something we take for granted now but at the time was very radical. In 1996 our former colleague, Niamh Bhreathnach, introduced free third level fees, which was a game changer in regard to upskilling our workforce and attracting foreign investment.
In 2005, our colleague on Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and former Minister, Mary Hanafin, introduced the DEIS programme, which is the subject of this Commencement matter and which was a life raft for many communities in parts of the city and country encountering social and economic deprivation. The DEIS model, as we know it, was a game changer for our children. Attainment rates to second and third level education soared but we cannot leave it there, we must still do more.
Spending on education, as the Minister of State, Deputy Madigan, will be aware, is money well spent, no matter how it is spent in our education system. However, since the introduction of the DEIS programme, the application process and the selection criteria for DEIS is unfit. Much of the criteria are performance based and just one of the indicators is socioeconomic thus the selection process is penalising some schools for performing well. The DEIS identification process relies on data collected by the primary online database, POD, the post-primary online database, PPOD, and the Central Statistics Office, CSO, when measuring the level of disadvantage in an area. The lack of transparency in the DEIS programme is something that I have previously highlighted. Despite an anomaly as a result of the ongoing housing crisis, this data is still being used as a yardstick for allocating DEIS status to schools.
In a survey I carried out in 2019, together with schools and principals in Dublin 8 and 12, it was clear that the proportion of pupils who were living in what has become known as hidden homelessness was rampant. These are children who are sleeping on their grandparents' or aunts' sofas and not in emergency accommodation for the purposes of attending school. Rather than leave the child in a vulnerable situation, their parents will disclose the address of the grandparent or aunt when asked by the school to provide a home address. This information is then fed into the POD system and ultimately provides a distorted picture of the level of disadvantage in a particular area. I know of three schools in Dublin South Central that were denied DEIS status. Powerstown Education Together in Tyrrelstown is another such school. These schools, including Our Lady of Good Counsel Girls' National School, the Assumption Girls' National School in Walkinstown, Drimnagh Castle Boys' National School and the Powerstown school are an island among DEIS schools in an area. It is unfair that one might have a sister going to one national school and a brother going to another school which is a DEIS school. Being included in the DEIS programme would have provided these schools with additional resources to support children, as it is shown to reduce drop out rates, increase attendance and improve results.
In 2018 the Minister of State, Deputy Robert Troy, asked the then Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, about the status of the review and at that time he said the review was still under way and not yet complete.
We all agree the DEIS model is a superb one. The Department agrees the selection criteria is not ideal, which is why it is conducting a review. When will the review be complete? It was promised in 2005 and in 2018 the then Minister said it was under way. We are three years on from 2018 so at what stage is it?
It is a super programme and I want to acknowledge the Department's promised additional supports for DEIS schools in budget 2021. This makes me more determined to fight for those schools that have been unfairly excluded from the DEIS programme. We all agree DEIS is magnificent but could the Minister of State, Deputy Madigan, let us know where we are with this review process which was promised?
I am delighted to see the new Seanad. This is my first time here, either as a senior Minister or as Minister of State. Hats off to the people who refurbished it. It is wonderful to see the work, particularly the ceiling and the beautiful lights. I have been looking around at the surroundings.
DEIS is under the remit of the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, but I am happy to take this matter today.It is wonderful to see the work, especially the ceiling, the beautiful lights and everything else. It is lovely. I have been looking around a little bit at the surroundings.
I will respond to the Senator's questions on DEIS, which is under the remit of the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, but I am happy to take this matter today.
DEIS is the main policy initiative of the Department of Education to tackle educational disadvantage at school 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 DEIS programme, which involved consultations with all relevant stakeholders.
As the Senator will be aware, the programme for Government commits to completing "the new DEIS identification model, ensuring the extension of DEIS status to schools that are identified as being suitable". A key part of the DEIS plan was the introduction of a new DEIS identification process based on an objective, statistics-based model to determine which schools merit inclusion in the programme. The DEIS plan acknowledged that further work was required to refine the model. For this reason, as part of the further extension of the DEIS programme to more schools, an extensive body of work has been undertaken to refine this model, based on the latest school enrolment data and data available from census 2016 under the HP deprivation index. Senator Ardagh noted the key data sources - the primary online database and the post-primary online database and also the CSO data for the national census of population - taken into account when considering DEIS status.
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. As Senator Ardagh correctly indicated, the Department has commenced a consultation process with education partners on the refinement of the model. I understand work is now ongoing on 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 to ultimately match resources to identified need.
All schools will be considered for inclusion under the refined DEIS model. I note the Senator mentioned some schools in her area that have not been included. Until this work is complete, it is my understanding that it is not intended to extend the DEIS programme to any further schools. I reassure the Senator that the Department is working to ensure that those most in need of support can be provided with the necessary resources to help them fulfil their potential in education.
Senator Ardagh will be aware that additional resources have been made available to DEIS schools in order to address educational disadvantage, such as an increase in the budget of the school completion programme, the expanded summer programme, which increased from €20 million to €40 million this year, and the reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio for DEIS band 1 schools. This year, the Department will spend in the region of €150 million on the DEIS programme and we will seek to increase investment in this area and continue exploration of new approaches to support students at risk of educational disadvantage. I thank Senator Ardagh for raising this matter.
The Minister of State indicated that this work is under way. Can she give me a timeline for its completion in months or years? I would appreciate if she could be a little more specific for the benefit of the schools that would like to be included. I seek a timeline.
I do not have a timeline for Senator Ardagh today. I understand the work is ongoing on the final elements. There are 184 schools at present in the DEIS programme, encompassing approximately 185,000 pupils, which is about 20% of all schools. It is a considerable number, but that is not to say that other schools should not be included. We must support children from disadvantaged areas. Senator Ardagh will also be aware of the multiplier effect in that even if a child is from a different socioeconomic background and attends a school where the majority of children are from a disadvantaged background, that will affect his or her academic outcome. It is a matter the Department takes very seriously. The Minister, Deputy Foley, is very aware of it and she wants to expedite the process. When we undertake a consultative process, we must make sure we get all the views of the education partners.
I appreciate that. The Department is aware that I am in the Seanad representing the Minister today and of the urgency of the matter. A number of different schools wish to be included in the DEIS programme. We will consider all the applications once the consultation process has been completed.