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Written Answers. - Educational Disadvantage.

Wednesday, 18 December 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 559 No. 6

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 136. Mr. F. McGrath Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath  asked the Minister for Education and Science Information on Noel Dempsey Zoom on Noel Dempsey  if he will target educational resources to the 8% of children that are living in severe poverty. [26932/02]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey): Information on Noel Dempsey Zoom on Noel Dempsey Since my appointment as Minister for [1540]Education and Science, I have made it clear, at every opportunity, that addressing educational disadvantage is my top priority. It is my intention to ensure that available educational resources are targeted at the most disadvantaged people in the education system at all levels. This includes targeting resources towards those children most at risk of early school leaving in order to encourage long-term participation in education and better educational outcomes for all children. In framing the education spending Estimates for 2003 I decided, as I have already stated, that priority would be afforded to specific targeted programmes for tackling educational disadvantage and for primary and post-primary education.

My overall approach to tackling educational disadvantage is set in the context of An Agreed Programme for Government and the Government's national anti-poverty strategy. Education is a central element of the NAPS. This includes three headline targets for education focusing on reducing early school leaving and improving literacy levels in schools and in the adult population.

The NAPS approach for education is based on a continuum of provision, from early childhood through adulthood, with the focus on preventive strategies, targeting and integrated community responses. The strategies and programmes which we are implementing to achieve the NAPS targets build on the very comprehensive range of measures that have already been put in place to counter educational disadvantage. At school level these are giving children an even break programme at primary level which applies to over 2,300 schools. For the most disadvantaged of these schools the scheme provides for the appointment of over 200 additional teachers to ensure that the maximum class sizes in junior classes will be 20 and 27 in senior classes. The expenditure for this programme combined with the targeted resources dedicated to the breaking the cycle project, the support teacher project and the disadvantaged areas scheme will be over €37 million in 2003.

The school completion programme incorporates the elements of best practice established by the eight to 15 year old early school leaver initiative and the stay-in-school retention initiative at second level. It focuses on young people between the ages of four and 18 years who are educationally disadvantaged and at risk of leaving school early. The SCP involves in excess of 370 primary and post-primary schools in 82 clusters with a budget in 2003 of some €23 million – up from €15 million in 2002.

The home-school-community liaison service serves primary and second level schools with designated disadvantaged status. The scheme promotes active co-operation between home, school and community agencies and raises awareness among parents of their own capacities to enhance their children's educational progress and to assist them in developing relevant skills. Over 350 co-ordinator teachers are employed in this service.

In addition to these three schemes a wide range [1541]of other supports are in place including those for Traveller children, children of non-nationals and other vulnerable groups. Also, the establishment of the national education welfare board on a statutory basis from March to promote school attendance and combat problems of absenteeism puts in place a key structural mechanism for identifying and tackling problems of disadvantage at an early stage.

In all this work I am advised by the statutory educational disadvantage committee set up under the Education Act, 1998, to advise on the policies and strategies to be adopted to identify and correct educational disadvantage. This committee, chaired by Dr. Áine Hyland, brings together experts from across the community of education interests and is a very important resource to me in planning to ensure that real progress is made in this area.

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