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Written Answers. - Early School Leavers.

Wednesday, 18 December 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 559 No. 6

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 54. Mr. O'Dowd Information on Fergus O'Dowd Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd  asked the Minister for Education and Science Information on Noel Dempsey Zoom on Noel Dempsey  the progress which has been made to counteract early school leaving in areas with high levels of drug misuse; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24541/02]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey): Information on Noel Dempsey Zoom on Noel Dempsey Early school leaving is the most significant cause of keeping people caught in cycles of disadvantage and is a key indicator for subsequent difficulties including long-term unemployment, homelessness, substance abuse and criminal activity. Tackling the problem of school leaving is a key priority of this Government and requires movement on a number of fronts, including legislative and curricular reforms and preventative interventions. The Education Welfare Act and the establishment of the National Educational Welfare Board are important planks in the campaign to keep students at school. The Educational Welfare Service, although seen as a new service, is in many respects the modernisation and development of the long existing school attendance service, operated up to now by a small number of local authorities and by the Garda. The focus is on a welfare approach, with a clearly set out recording and reporting system, rather than the old style prosecutorial system.

My Department's strategies to tackle the problem of early school leaving have included widening the educational experience available to students. The aim is to achieve a greater level of inclusiveness in curricular provision and meet the needs of the diversity of pupils in our second level schools, by expanding funding for programmes such as the junior certificate schools program, JCSP, the leaving certificate vocational programme, LCVP, vocational preparation training, LPT and the leaving certificate applied, LCA. My Department has also implemented schemes directly targeting those in danger of dropping out of the education system, namely the school completion programme, which builds on two earlier schemes, the early school leaver initiative and the stay in school retention initiative. The school completion programme recognises that a wide variety of home, community and school-based factors can contribute to low school attainment and early school leaving. Consequently, strategies designed to address the needs of young people at risk of early school leaving must include a range of actions that impinge on these aspects of young people's lives. These strategies must therefore be holistic and child-centred. The programme is based on the development of local strategies to ensure maximum participation levels in the education process. It 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.

Evidence generated from the pilot phases of the school completion programme shows that the most effective way of addressing educational disadvantage is through an integrated services approach and necessitates the establishment of a local committee consisting of representatives from statutory and voluntary agencies, the local [1499]drugs task force and city or county development boards. The local drugs task forces were set up in 1997 to facilitate a more effective response to the drug problem in the areas experiencing the highest levels of drug misuse. The task forces comprise a partnership between statutory, voluntary and community sectors. They were mandated to prepare and oversee the implementation of action plans which co-ordinate all-relevant drug programmes in their areas and address gaps in service provision. Initiatives were funded to complement and add value to existing programmes and services under the themes of education, prevention, treatment, aftercare, rehabilitation and reducing supply. Forty-three of the 82 school completion programme projects are established in areas identified by the local drug task force to be experiencing the highest levels of drug misuse and representatives of the local drugs task forces have been invited onto the local school completion programme management group. In 2000 there were 264 primary schools and 113 post primary schools with disadvantaged status within the 14 local drug task force zones and 36 measures under the education and prevention themes of the national drugs strategy receive funding directly from the social inclusion unit of my Department. These measures aim to educate and alert children to the dangers of drug use.

Such concentrated and focused deployment of funds should lead to more and more young people staying on and completing second level education. That is the most effective way to assist in redressing early school leaving, together with the integrated services approach which will help to support young people at risk in their school, home and community.

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