Written answers

Thursday, 19 May 2022

Department of Education and Skills

Further and Higher Education

Photo of Mark WardMark Ward (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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138. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills his plans to increase the number of students from DEIS areas entering further and or higher education. [24870/22]

Photo of Michael MoynihanMichael Moynihan (Cork North West, Fianna Fail)
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177. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if he will provide an update on supports for students of DEIS schools to access further and higher education; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25277/22]

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 138 and 177 together.

Inclusion is one of the core strategic goals for my Department. My ambition is to ensure that we provide supports and opportunities for learning to all. This means recognising the needs of vulnerable learners, the most marginalised and those with special and additional needs.

DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) Initiative is the most significant national (and centrally funded) initiative that targets support at disadvantaged communities, particularly those located in urban areas, the Departments work collaboratively to support successful educational transitions to further and higher education. Early intervention and early educational experiences are crucial – Access to further and higher education starts early, and earlier inclusive experiences of students in education is crucial influencing factor.

The vision of the third National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education 2015-2021 (NAP) is that the student body entering, participating in, and completing higher education at all levels reflects the diversity and social mix of Ireland’s population. Work on the development of the new National Access Plan (NAP) 2022 - 2028 is at an advanced stage and I will be bringing the new Plan to Government shortly.

The current plan set out five goals and more than thirty actions, developed following widespread consultation with stakeholders, with the aim of supporting increased access and participation in higher education by six main target groups. Those groups include entrants from socio-economic groups that have low participation in higher education; first-time mature students, students with disabilities, part-time/flexible learners, further education and training award holders; and Irish Travellers. The plan also indicated subgroups that require support, including lone parents, teen parents and ethnic minorities. Improving equity of access to higher education is an ongoing objective. The NAP identified a number of indicators that help to inform progress on NAP implementation and the delivery of increased equity of access. These indicators included entry to higher education from students who have attended DEIS schools.

At the commencement of the NAP there were 3,959 new entrants to higher education from DEIS schools. This data is recorded through the HEA Student Record System (SRS). As we develop the new National Access Plan 2022-2028, which is currently underway, and continue to gather data on this particular group, a notable increase is evident in 2020/21, with 5,320 new entrants from DEIS schools attending higher education. This finding is in line with a Department of Education & Skills (2021) report which noted an increase in the transition rates of those attending DEIS schools to higher education in 2020. We will continue to measure entry to higher education for those attending DEIS schools over the lifetime of the new Plan.

Engagement with DEIS schools features in Strand 3 of the Programme for Access to Higher Education (PATH). PATH 3 with an investment envelope of €15m since its establishment supports HEI capacity in developing regional and community partnership strategies (including with DEIS schools) for increasing access to higher education by specified groups. A number of projects approved under PATH 3, including under the recent extension of a funding for another three years, include engagement with local DEIS schools.

Similarly, a number of projects supported under Strand 1 of PATH, which is committed to increasing the diversity of initial teacher education for new entrants, involve engagement with DEIS schools. For example, several Centres collaborate with DEIS schools in mentoring programmes to improve the reach of access to higher education and in particular, access to initial teacher education.

In addition, the PATH 2 bursaries now with three tiers of support take a wider range of indicators into consideration and students from DEIS schools can feature among the recipients.

An impact evaluation of the PATH programme is planned to commence in 2022 and this will inform future decisions on the PATH programme.

The Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI) Supporting DEIS Learners Transition to FET Steering Group was established in 2018 under ETBI structures to support collaboration amongst ETBs, continually improve practice and, develop draft proposals, policies, procedures, information and resources in areas of supporting DEIS learners transition to FET. Since 2018, the Group has supported the establishment of local networks providing information and clear pathways for DEIS learners transition to FET, mapped existing local initiatives to support the Transition of DEIS Learners to FET and shared best practice, developed a community of shared practice, facilitating learning and development and enhancing capacity within the membership and has established a communication channel facilitating the exchange of information between ETBI, ETBs, JMB and ACCS.

My Department also provides funding to seven Special Disadvantage Initiatives located in areas of socio-economic disadvantage in Dublin and Limerick cities. These projects specifically target children and young people in primary and post primary DEIS schools who are generally at risk of not reaching their full academic potential. They also seek to direct further targeted activities at children and young people who demonstrate high academic potential but may be at risk of not progressing to further or higher education for a variety of reasons.

The types of activities that students are supported through include, study skills workshops / supervised study / summer schools / homework club / financial support / learning support / grinds / bursaries / technology/ Gaeltacht trips. In 2020/21 academic year over 1,000 socio-economic disadvantaged students were supported by these initiatives. In the same year a total of 142 students transitioned into Higher Education and 132 students transitioned into Further Education.

Photo of Aindrias MoynihanAindrias Moynihan (Cork North West, Fianna Fail)
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139. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the reforms that are being considered for the current CAO system given the recent announcement of changes to be implemented on the current leaving certificate programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24954/22]

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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As the Deputy will be aware, the Minister for Education recently announced a programme of work for a reimagined Senior Cycle of education which will, in time, include changes in the final assessment procedure. These changes will be worked through with all stakeholders over a sustained period of time.

Officials in the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, along with stakeholders in the higher and further education sector will engage closely with officials in the Department of Education as this work progresses. Until the nature of these changes becomes clearer, it is difficult to determine what impact this may have on the CAO system.

The CAO is a not-for-profit company created by the Irish Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to process applications on their behalf. Next week, I will meet with all HEIs to discuss these matters. My officials will continue to engage on a regular basis with the sector around the issue of transitions and the potential impact of Senior Cycle reform.


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