Tuesday, 12 July 2022
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
I thank the Cathaoirleach. The Minister of State, Deputy English, is very welcome. I wish to raise today the issue of the lack of home school community liaison co-ordinators in County Longford, and in particular, in the various towns in that county. The scheme was set up to improve the educational outcomes of children through supporting both their parents and their guardians.
I will give a brief outline here of the number of schools and of the number of co-ordinators in County Longford, namely, St. Joseph's National School, Longford town, St. Michael's National School, Templemichael College, a post-primary school, Scoil Eimear, a primary school, Gaelscoil an Longfoirt, Ballymahon Vocational School, Lanesboro Community College, The Sacred Heart Primary School, Granard and Ardscoil Phádraig, Granard. In total, our allocation for the 2022-23 year is six positions. Some of those are actually shared positions with other schools and in the case of two schools, one is shared with a school in Cavan and the other with a school in Roscommon. There is a total of 2,600 pupils in those schools at present. On foot of the recent announcements on and review of the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools, DEIS, programme earlier this year, a number of other schools have come in under this scheme, namely, St. Mel's College Longford, Meán Scoil Mhuire, Longford, St. Mary's National School, Edgeworthstown and St. John's National School, Longford town. This is an addition of another nearly 1,600 pupils into the system.
Based on the existing figures and those numbers in the secondary and primary schools on the old list, Longford should have a total of ten full-time positions to be able to cater for those schools. One of the schools has 534 pupils and just one such position. Moreover, 60% of the school population is non-Irish and it has 30 different nationalities. Among the schools in the county which are covered under DEIS, there is an absenteeism rate of between 18% and 20%. The six home school liaison co-ordinators in place are working extremely hard. I know them all personally. I know the individual schools and I have met these co-ordinators but they are at a crisis point and need support. The reality is that we need to increase the numbers we have. We have 407 pupils in Ballymahon Vocational School, which is sharing a position with Roscommon Community College.If we do not get the necessary intervention that is needed in education and get our kids to school, what will we pay in the long run? Education is key. I gave the figures of 18% to 20%, which, if the Department looks at them, are probably the highest in the country. The only way we are going to address them is by increasing the staff we have in place.
I ask the Minister of State to please consider increasing the numbers for September 2022 and giving support to the home school liaison co-ordinators who are working extremely hard in the schools in County Longford to make sure we increase the number of children we have in our schools.
I thank the Acting Chairperson. As ever, it is great to be here.
I thank Senator Carrigy for tabling this important matter for discussion today. I apologise on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Foley, who is not here because she is at a Cabinet meeting. She asked me to take this matter on her behalf. I will certainly make sure she gets the message and also the figures and statistics the Senator presented.
As Senator Carrigy will be aware, DEIS is the main policy instrument of the Department of Education to tackle educational disadvantage at school level, which is done through the DEIS programme. On March 9 last, the Minister for Education announced a major expansion of the DEIS programme. This will add an additional €32 million to the Department’s expenditure on the programme from 2023, bringing the total 2023 allocation to approximately €180 million.
One of the supports available under DEIS is access to the home school community liaison, HSCL, scheme. The HSCL scheme seeks to establish partnership and collaboration between parents, teachers and the community in the interests of education. The HSCL scheme aims to help parents to engage in their children’s education and build parents' capacity so that they are enabled to support and contribute to their children’s successful experience in the education system.
Currently, all DEIS urban primary and DEIS post-primary schools are included in the HSCL scheme. Under the DEIS programme, the HSCL scheme is delivered by 528 full-time HSCL co-ordinators who are teachers in these schools and assigned to HSCL duties either in individual schools or clusters of schools. The HSCL co-ordinator posts are full-time posts. Some of the posts are allocated on a shared basis between a number of DEIS schools in cluster groups and these posts can be shared across the two sectors both at primary and post-primary level. This is an arrangement that happens nationally with all HSCLs and takes into account the relative disadvantage across schools.
The Department of Education has received representations from the schools in County Longford mentioned by Senator Carrigy today and has responded accordingly. The Department is open to making modifications to the current clusters in place if it is proven to be in the best interests of the schools involved and if all the parties are in agreement. This could be done within the existing current cohort of HSCLs already allocated in County Longford. As it stands, there are no further resources at present to extend the HSCL allocations such that each school would receive a full post.
The Department is committed to supporting schools to deliver high-quality inclusive teaching and learning to students and young learners and has already indicated that it is open to engagement on the matter outlined with regard to the arrangements between individual schools. Any further expansion of the HSCL scheme to allocate additional posts could only be considered in the context of further budgetary allocations. The Senator made the point that they need to be allocated for September. That is probably part of the budget negotiations that will bring us into the end of September, however. I will certainly make that case to the Minister and the Department. In the meantime, they could work with that cohort and come up with some arrangements in that regard. The Senator made a strong case that Longford would need extra resources. I will certainly make sure that message is brought back.
I thank the Minister of State for his remarks at the end. I do not think it can be a case of reconfiguring the existing cohort of staff that we have. The reality of that would mean a reduction in the staff or the number of hours for a particular school. Those schools were allocated those positions for a reason, which is the high absenteeism rate. I ask the Minister of State to bring back to the Minister the request for a review of all counties to see where the absenteeism rate is at a high level and aim the resources there. That is what needs to happen. As I said, we have a particular difficulty with regard to getting kids into school. In the long run, it will cost us an awful lot more money. The Minister of State made a point about future budgetary allocations. If we do not deal with this now, we will be spending money in other areas, be it justice or wherever, in the future. As I said, the staff we have in place are working well and working within the resources they have to keep the figure to 18% or 20%. That can be decreased if we get in more staff. As I said, it will cost the State less in the long run.
I again thank Senator Carrigy for raising this issue. He is absolutely right to identify that it is important that we try to tackle absenteeism and focus our resources as much as we possibly can on those who are missing school days or in difficult situations. That said, it is fair to say that some areas of the whole programme need extra resource levels. The Senator made that point extremely well. I will certainly bring it back to the Minister and ask that she takes a county-by-county review of where this needs to be targeted individually. I thank the Senator for raising this Commencement matter. I will certainly make sure the Minister gets the massage. She apologises that she could not be here as she is tied up at the Cabinet meeting. The Department of Education and Tusla education support services will work with the schools involved on how the shared posts are allocated across the schools. To be very clear to the Senator, the Department is open to engagement in this regard. I will make sure it follows up on the matter. The point has been well made that those extra resources are needed.
I thank the Minister of State. For what it is worth, I completely agree with Senator Carrigy. Every single school should have a home school liaison teacher assigned. It is one of the best schemes that has ever been brought into Irish education at both primary and post-primary level. It really benefits the whole school community.