Seanad Éireann - Volume 196 - 17 June, 2009
School Day Extension.
Senator Cecilia Keaveney Senator Cecilia Keaveney
Senator Cecilia Keaveney: I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, for taking my adjournment motion at this late hour, which relates to extending the school day. I suppose it may seem strange to speak about extending the school day at a time when many schools are under starters orders to close for the summer and some have already closed. I draw to the attention of the Minister of State and the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, the initiative that has been in operation in some schools in the North so that we can explore the potential for a similar project in this jurisdiction. It could be argued that we have lot of it in Ireland already but perhaps it is not as co-ordinated as I would like to think and is not as far-reaching as it appears to be in the North.
Too often we bemoan the fact that the school day is over between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. and the facilities are, in the main, left idle until 9 a.m. the next day. Often those bemoaning this fact are local sports clubs that are stuck for an indoor or outdoor training space or local community activity groups which need room for drama, band practice and so forth.
The project of which I have been made aware involves schools opening their doors for longer and bringing in outside organisations. Such extended school opening aims to improve the chances of pupils and parents in deprived areas. We have just discussed deprived areas and, as an aside, I ask the Minister of State to examine the issue of rates. If we can exempt preschools from rates we might have more scope for people to make money from the capitation they receive.
The out-of-hours learning service gives support to pupils who are reaching out to rather than rejecting education. It was initiated in the North in 2006 and 500 schools across the region, including 125 in Belfast, are supported. The funding has come from a source separate to the main education budget to support breakfast clubs, computer classes, after-school study, sports, counselling and other activities supported by the school, and transport is organised to pick the children up when they have finished their activities. The scheme assists pupils and their parents to gain self esteem and, in so doing, encourages them to achieve more. It is a win-win cycle, even in the fact that congestion at a particular time is now averted because not everyone is finishing school at the same time.
Two examples I have read about are the girls’ and boys’ model schools in north Belfast. Anyone who knows the area knows the pupils come from a deprived background and the statistics do not show such children as having significant employment potential. A full service programme is provided to students, their families and local people on a year-round basis in school and after school. It has raised expectations for a community whose expectations, given recent census information, would not have been high.
The extended schools are experiencing increased attendance, a reduction in drop-out rates and improved achievement. For example, some of the students can deliver lessons in subjects they are strong in. Non-national children can teach their classmates or community a new language. This has implications in terms of confidence for the young teacher and scope for understanding other cultures.
For those whose attendance is not good, the home links teacher, which I assume is similar to our home-school-community liaison scheme, can help identify underlying problems the student may be having and a counselling need, which is what makes a difference. If counselling is integrated, children who have been identified as needing it can receive it.
Parents can take GCSEs, which are similar to the junior certificate, in mathematics and English or courses in formal areas such astronomy or ceramics. Such personal development is invaluable to their employability as they are encouraged in self-development and further study. It also enables parents to help their children with their studies because they understand the difficulties or have made themselves more proficient in a particular skill.
The transfer for students from primary to secondary school is focused upon and a transition teacher assists with the process, especially for vulnerable children with learning difficulties or physical disabilities who can be supported in coping with the change. Home link co-ordinators offer one-to-one parent advice to improve parenting skills. Parents also have their voice heard as they have an input into school decision making to a certain level.
This holistic approach is worthy of comparison. I understand we have many aspects of what I have outlined, but in my area it was recently announced that rural co-ordinators for schools, such as the one for five schools in Clonmany, have been withdrawn. I am aware the schools concerned had a person who was able to reach out into their community and was doing significant work with families and not just students. What is worse is that these schools are likely to re-qualify for full DEIS status when a review takes place soon.
I would like to see the year-round element of our school infrastructure being developed. I ask the Minister of State to promote the concept of national group insurance to overcome insurance difficulties that may be cited and work through all the issues that may be presented by unions and other people to ensure our opportunities are maximised and not minimised, whether we are discussing one part of the year or another.
Surely raising expectations, offering more variety, and keeping the students gainfully occupied while offering parents opportunities to develop themselves is more necessary now than ever. Have we started the process or are we well down the road? I listened to a recent radio programme about summer schools where there was an argument about whether children should be involved in them or free to do whatever they want to do. There was a strong argument for like-mined children, such as those who like football, chess or mathematics, to be given the opportunity during the summer to come together across all sorts of divides and barriers, be they economic or at any other level.
It has proven to be a very positive experience for children. We should not rule out the concept of having our schools and facilities open not only to the students but also to the communities, not just during the school time of winter, autumn and spring but also during the summer.
Deputy Barry Andrews Deputy Barry Andrews
 Deputy Barry Andrews: I am taking this Adjournment matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe. I thank Senator Keaveney for raising this matter. The requirements overall in schools are that children should be under the supervision of the school staff for the duration of the school day. While schools are encouraged to use visiting speakers and to promote integrated in-school and out-of-school links which enrich the curriculum, and while liaison between home school and community is encouraged, the policy is that the use of such inputs should be based on an educational continuum co-ordinated and planned by the class teacher.
The out-of-hours school learning initiative in Northern Ireland provides for additional funding of learning activities outside normal hours in which young people take part voluntarily. It includes activities such as homework and revision clubs, help with key skills, sport, games, creative activities, mathematics, information and communications technology, residential events, volunteering and community service, mentoring and specific hobby or special interest clubs. These are normally school-organised activities which take place before or after school, during lunch times, at weekends or during holidays.
In the South, many schools have traditionally provided extra curricular activities as a means of enriching pupils’ experience of the curriculum as well as providing a variety of means to extend learning during the school day beyond the classroom. Our schools have a long and proud tradition of developing sport outside of the school timetable.
In the arts, the Department of Education and Science and the Arts Council have jointly published artists in schools guidelines to promote arts in education practice. It provides for local artists or organisations from a wide range of art forms to collaborate with schools to enrich and extend children’s experience of the curriculum in school and out of school.
Under the DEIS programme the Department provides additional teaching supports and non-pay funding to schools designated as disadvantaged to support them in the implementation of a targeted action plan to promote the achievement of children at risk. Breakfast clubs, homework and after-school clubs, summer camps, literacy through the arts initiatives, youth work activities and collaboration with community organisations form an important part of the approach. Business in the community partnerships and mentoring schemes are also offered. These initiatives place a key emphasis on promoting confidence, self esteem and student engagement, and providing for active learning and success.
A student enterprise award scheme is run by the county and city enterprise boards in which 12,000 students participate annually. Some 5,000 students per year participate in the young social innovators programme which is designed to promote social awareness among students in schools providing transition year. In addition, the young scientist and technology exhibition is the largest and longest running science and technology exhibition for primary and second level students in Europe. It is visited by thousands of students each year and attracts wide-scale media attention.
Under the discover science and engineering initiative, schools are encouraged to take part in visits to discovery centres, field trips and science and engineering events designed to stimulate interest in career options in these areas. Our schools co-operate wholeheartedly in providing opportunities to extend the curriculum beyond the classroom. This involves extensive voluntary collaboration between schools and communities.
The Minister for Education and Science, Deputy O’Keeffe, is satisfied that our schools provide a range of stimulating and innovative opportunities for students which extend and enrich the curriculum, expand learning beyond the classroom and promote integrated community links. In view of this, there are no plans to replicate the out-of-hours school learning model in the South. I again thank Senator Keaveney for providing me with the opportunity to address the House on this matter.
Senator Cecilia Keaveney Senator Cecilia Keaveney
Senator Cecilia Keaveney: I thank the Minister of State for his reply. I accept the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, has outlined his knowledge of what is going on in the North. I ask the Minister of State to pass on to the Minister for Education and Science my belief that his answer refers to students and in particular high-flying students. I referred to families, communities and students in disadvantaged areas. We still have things to learn about what is happening in such areas and there are many things we could show them. I ask that the Minister talk more with his Northern counterpart about this matter. I accept the Minister of State is not responsible for this but perhaps he will pass on my comments.
Deputy Barry Andrews Deputy Barry Andrews
Deputy Barry Andrews: There is a very interesting article in The Economist this week on the three-month holiday our schools have which refers to the fact that children from disadvantaged backgrounds fare worst as a result of them. President Obama is arguing very strongly against such long holidays. It is something we should all consider.
The Seanad adjourned at 11 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 18 June 2009.
Seanad Éireann 196 School Day Extension.