Dáil Éireann - Volume 653 - 08 May, 2008

Written Answers. - Early School Leavers.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for Education and Science the steps taken to identify and support the 28,000 children at risk of early school leaving, which is a task charged to school completion as set out in the Annual Output Statement 2008; the methodology to be employed; the agency or agencies with responsibility for the task; the resources available to induce or secure continued school attendance by the group at risk; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17922/08]

  Deputy Batt O’Keeffe: In the region of €730 million will be spent by my Department this year on tackling educational disadvantage at all levels from pre-school to further and higher education. This represents an increase of over 60% and is testament to the Government’s determination to prioritise social inclusion and ensure that all our children and young people get the supports they need to do well at school. Social inclusion measures across all Government departments have also been prioritised under the Towards 2016 agreement, the National Action Plan for Social Inclusion 2007-16 and the National Development Plan.

My Department has adopted a broad-based approach to tackling early school leaving. We established the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) to monitor attendance and help to get young people back to school. The general functions of the Board are to ensure that each child attends a recognised school or otherwise receives a certain minimum education.

[1254] The service provided by the NEWB is just one aspect of the comprehensive framework that this Government has put in place to support schools, families and young people themselves. In this regard, extra supports targeted at young people in disadvantaged areas include both educational initiatives such as intensive literacy programmes, after school and holiday time supports.

In addition to the NEWB, there are currently in excess of 620 staff within the education sector in education disadvantage programmes of which over 130 are additional posts allocated under DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) the Action Plan for Educational Inclusion. Enhancing attendance, progression, retention and attainment are central to DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) the action plan for educational inclusion, which is being implemented at present. The action plan represents a shift in emphasis away from individual initiatives, each addressing a particular aspect of the problem, with the new plan adopting a multi-faceted and more integrated approach. This is the first time that an integrated educational inclusion strategy has been developed for 3-18 year olds in this country.

We have widened the range of curricula available to students by promoting the Junior Certificate Schools Programme, the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme, and the Leaving Certificate Applied Programme in addition to the traditional Junior and Leaving Certificate curricula.

In the current school year, grants totalling almost €19 million were paid to schools to meet the needs of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds under DEIS (the Action plan for Educational Inclusion). These financial supports allocated to each of the schools selected under DEIS provides for the inclusion of after school and holiday time support for literacy and numeracy development as well as homework support, social and personal development and arts activities.

Preventative measures are also in place such as the School Completion Programme and the Home School Community Liaison Scheme (HSCL), with €31.160 million allocated to the School Completion Programme and in the region of €30 million allocated to HSCL for 2008. Under the School Completion Programme children at risk of early school leaving are targeted for a variety of extra supports, educational and non-educational, during and outside of school time- all aimed at encouraging them to stay in school. The Home School Community Liaison Scheme helps to get parents involved in their children’s education, which as we all know is a crucial component of convincing young people of the value of education. Work is ongoing to develop appropriate protocols for all agencies and services to work together in collaboration and to ensure that optimum use is made of the resources deployed.

The objective of the School Completion Programme is to provide a range of interventions in areas of disadvantage that support the retention of young people in education and aims to develop local strategies to ensure maximum participation levels in the education process, entails targeting individual young people of school-going age, both in and out of school, and arranging supports to address inequalities in education access, participation and outcomes. It is based on the project model with an integrated approach involving primary and post primary schools, parents and relevant statutory, voluntary and community agencies. The programme is funded on a multi-annual basis under the National Development Plan (NDP) and up to 2007 with assistance from the European Social Fund (ESF).

82 projects were selected to participate in the School Completion Programme in 2002. This number has increased, under DEIS, to 124 projects spanning 26 counties, comprising 224 post-primary schools and 468 primary schools.

[1255] A local management committee, comprising of representatives of schools and other relevant agencies, manage each project. Projects are required to engage in a consultative and planning process with the school staff, with parents and with local representatives of relevant statutory, voluntary and community agencies in the development of annual retention plans. What makes the School Completion Programme unique is its ‘bottom up’ approach, which allows the local management committees to put together plans and supports that target the needs of local young people at risk of early school leaving. Each project employs a local Co-ordinator to run the project at local level.

The School Completion Programme identifies young people at risk of early school leaving and aims to provide a range of supports for them in-school and in the community, through linkages with relevant community, youth and statutory agencies. The factors contributing to why young people leave school prior to completing senior cycle are multi- faceted, such as poor school attendance, poor literacy/numeracy, behavioural problems, family history of early school leaving, socio-economic to mention a few.

Local Management Committees establish criteria for targeting students at risk of leaving school early. Each local project develops its own set of criteria based on local circumstances and local need. As SCP targets, in the main, young people most at risk of early school leaving but still in the formal education system, projects have developed criteria identified in research and practice that cause young people to be at risk of early school leaving. This approach allows local flexibility and local knowledge to inform the process of identifying young people at risk of early school leaving.

SCP projects target and focus programme resources in the first instance on the individual young people who are most at risk of early school leaving. Additionally, some strategies may include a wider group (e.g. in the case of sporting and leisure activities) or the entire school population (e.g. where tracking attendance is involved).

The National Co-ordination Team have also published Guidelines on Identifying Young People at Risk of Early School Leaving in order to assist SCP projects identify good practices for targeting young people at risk of early school leaving. Projects have adopted consultative processes to review criteria lists, notably through projects’ review days and also through formal and informal meetings with relevant stakeholders throughout the academic year. Local management committee meetings provide an opportunity for criteria to be reviewed and also provide space to projects that need to look at prioritising students on the target list.

I would like to assure the Deputy that we have greatly intensified our efforts in recent years to keep more young people in school and I will continue to prioritise further progress in this area.