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Adjournment Debate. - Educational Projects.

Wednesday, 27 March 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 551 No. 3

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Dr. Upton: I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to raise this matter on the Adjournment of the Dáil. The Crumlin educational support project was founded in 1995 to provide support for children who were not succeeding within the education system. The two schools involved are the Marist national school and Scoil Íosagáin. Children were selected for the project on a teacher and parent recommendation on the basis of the failure of the child to succeed within the classroom environment. The intervention involves social skills training, language development, decision-making training and work with artistic materials to develop students' skills. The project has been a resounding success. This is the view of the teachers, the parents and most importantly of the children themselves. Today, I met two nine year olds who are participating in the programme and they described it as “deadly”. When one is nine years old, that means only one thing. This is the highest praise one could get for any programme from this cohort. The Minister can see how important this project is to everyone involved in it.

On 23 July 2001, a delegation from the two schools met with the Minister to seek funding for the continued employment of a child care worker who works with a support teacher in the shared school project. They received a verbal commitment from him at that meeting that the Department of Education and Science would fund half of the cost of the child care worker on an ongoing basis. Written confirmation of that agreement was to follow. It is now eight months later and the Department of Education and Science has not yet confirmed that the money will be provided. A number of pieces of correspondence have been exchanged seeking a simple answer to the question: when will the funding become available? Unless the project receives immediate funding, there is no money to pay the child care worker's salary. At present there are 43 pupils on the project. Without the child care worker, the project can cater for only 15 pupils. This means that 28 pupils will have to be removed from the project. Which 28 would the Minister like to see removed? Will the Minister inform the parents, teachers, child care worker and the 28 pupils that are losing out?

It is nothing short of a disgrace that the school has not received confirmation of the promised funding before now. There is enough money to fund the project for only two more weeks. A child care worker will lose her job and vulnerable children will be put at risk. The amount of money that was promised was of the order of €12,800 per annum. There is now a crisis in the schools. The schools already have disadvantaged status.

The Clancy report on participation levels in Ireland's third level colleges was published yesterday. It included Dublin 12 where these schools are located. The participation in third level education from this area was less than half the national average. Against this background, surely [754] it is time to review the distribution of resource in our education system. What do these schools need to do in order to ensure that their pupils get an even break? Will the Minister give an assurance that the child care worker can be retained, that the money will be made available and that the children will not be put at risk by his failure to commit the funding that he promised for this project?

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Dr. Moffatt): Information on Tom Moffatt Zoom on Tom Moffatt I am pleased that the Deputy has given me the opportunity to outline to the House the issue of the resources available to Scoil Íosagáin and the Marist primary school under the Department of Education and Science schemes to tackle educational disadvantage at primary level. The Minister for Education and Science is aware of the circumstances of the schools referred to by the Deputy. The schools are already benefiting under a number of schemes aimed at addressing educational disadvantage. However, there is no scheme providing child care workers in schools generally. Accordingly it is not possible to give any commitment in that regard. The Deputy is aware of the major new disadvantage programme, “Giving Children An Even Break”, which the Minister launched in January 2001, to deal with educational disadvantage in primary schools. The programme will be run over a three year period and will cost some €33 million with the allocation of over 200 teaching posts.

The schools targeted under the programme were identified through a comprehensive and objective survey of all primary schools carried out in March-April 2000 by the Educational Research Centre, Drumcondra, on behalf of the Department. Schools participating in the programme are eligible to receive a range of additional supports including teacher posts and financial supports to be targeted at disadvantaged pupils. The additional supports to be provided reflect the level of concentration of pupils from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds in each school invited to participate in the programme. Schools already in receipt of additional resources under the disadvantaged areas scheme, including the schools referred to by the Deputy, may retain their entitlements under that scheme while receiving additional funding. Under the disadvantaged areas scheme, Scoil Íosagáin and the Marist primary school are each benefiting from the services of a disadvantaged concessionary teacher. They also have a home-school community liaison co-ordinator on a shared basis.

The schools referred to have been included in the support teacher project since 1999. They share the services of a support teacher who works with pupils with disruptive, disturbed or withdrawn behaviour. The Marist primary school is also included in the early start pre-school programme and has the services of two early start teachers and two child care workers. Under the disadvantaged areas scheme, the schools also qualify for special supplementary capitation funding at the rate of €38.09 per pupil and a refund of the television licence fee.

[755]There are separate urban and rural dimensions to “Giving Children An Even Break”. The schools have been included in the urban dimension and are eligible to receive supplementary capitation funding in respect of the current school year towards providing additional educational supports for the children concerned. Scoil Íosagáin is eligible to receive €1,658 and Marist primary school is eligible to receive €4,039. This funding is in addition to grants of €3,885 allocated to Scoil Íosagáin and €10,323 allocated to Marist primary school under the disadvantaged areas scheme.

Schools categorised as urban under “Giving Children An Even Break” with the highest concentrations of at risk pupils, including the schools in question, are being supported where necessary through staff allocations to implement a pupil teacher ratio of 20:1 in the junior classes – infants through second class. In senior classes – third through sixth classes – the pupil teacher ratio has been reduced from 29:1 in the current school year to 27:1 for the 2002-03 school year. On the basis of the approach outlined and taking into account enrolments in the school, Scoil Íosagáin does not require the allocation of any additional teaching posts under the programme. On the same basis, Marist primary school currently has one teaching post under the programme and will be allocated a further post for the 2002-03 school year.

In late 2001, the schools applied for funding for their project under the fund for the development of targeted educational supports for certain children at risk which is responsibility of Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy Hanafin. However their application was refused in December 2001. The Minister for Education and Science has instructed a senior official of his Department to make contact with the person concerned to resolve the outstanding issue of funding for the joint educational support project.

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