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 Header Item Special Educational Needs Service Provision (Continued)
 Header Item School Completion Programme

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 944 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone] Some of those issues are being looked at by my officials but I will ask them to look at them again. It is important that we be confident that the approach in choosing is as fair as possible. I think a lottery system is suitable, at least for now. As I have indicated, this will go on for a number of years; hopefully that gives everyone an opportunity.

Deputy Kathleen Funchion: Information on Kathleen Funchion Zoom on Kathleen Funchion I thank the Minister and would welcome if she would look at that approach. I understand it is difficult to pick an approach that works but a lot of people felt they were left out.

Finally, I have a concern about those under three years of age. While I know AIM pertains specifically to the ECCE, scheme, when it comes to providing supports for the under threes with additional needs, early intervention is critical in identifying issues. Are there any schemes or proposals to roll this out further to the under threes, maybe in conjunction with the affordable child care scheme in the future?

Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone What a great idea. I will come back to the Deputy. I and my officials are certainly aware that it is a case of the earlier the better, particularly in respect of special needs or forms of disability. There have been many discussions in that regard and I would further discussion, with the Deputy or even in the context of the committee. The AIM model and programmes started in September 2016, so 2017 is the first full year of the roll-out and we are looking at reviewing it. As the roll-out moves on, I think it is something that should be considered.

School Completion Programme

 27. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin Information on Fiona O'Loughlin Zoom on Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone her views on the success of the school completion programme; her plans to expand it; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14939/17]

Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin: Information on Fiona O'Loughlin Zoom on Fiona O'Loughlin I am conscious the Minister has spoken on this matter in response to my earlier question. More often than not, I do not have one question in the lotto. Today, I am having a lucky streak and I hope it continues. From what the Minister has said previously, it is clear that she thinks the school completion programme is a success. She mentioned plans to expand it in 2018. She might let us know a little more about those plans in her reply.

Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone The school completion programme is a core element of the educational welfare service provided by Tusla. I believe it is a crucial service for parents, children and schools. The service is highly regarded as a key response in securing improved educational outcomes for children and young people at risk of early school leaving. In this regard, the programme enables local communities to develop tailored strategies to maximise participation levels of those at risk of early school leaving. Tusla's education welfare service has a responsibility to ensure that every child attends school regularly or otherwise receives a certain minimum education. It supports regular school attendance, tackles problems of absenteeism and provides a general educational welfare service. The service receives referrals from school authorities, parents and others relating to concerns for the educational welfare of individual children.

  As the Deputy knows, a review of the operation of the school completion programme by the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, states that there has been an improvement in attendance levels and in the proportion of young people staying in school until leaving certificate. It also concludes that the school completion programme, along with DEIS, has played an important role. Tusla has taken a number of actions to strengthen the operation of the programme, such as improving annual retention plans and having discussions with relevant stakeholders on the review findings and on how to strengthen the core functions of the programme.

  Additional information not given on the floor of the House

I have met the director of educational welfare services in Tusla to discuss the ongoing reform of the school completion programme.

  The Department of Education and Skills recently published the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools, DEIS, plan for 2017. I believe the goals outlined in the plan will improve educational opportunity for those who come to education at a disadvantage and will strengthen the capacity of our education and training system to support children and young people in communities with high concentrations of disadvantage. The educational welfare service of Tusla, officials from my Department and the Department of Education and Skills will be meeting in the coming weeks to discuss the inclusion in the school completion programme of schools that have been included in the DEIS programme for the first time in 2017. The group will also examine schools that are currently in the school completion programme but do not currently have DEIS status. Following these meetings, proposals will be developed and given to me for consideration. In the interim, my officials will continue to work with Tusla to implement the recommendations of the ESRI report on the school completion programme.

Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin: Information on Fiona O'Loughlin Zoom on Fiona O'Loughlin I thank the Minister. She has outlined clearly, comprehensively and positively the very many beneficial outcomes of the school completion programme. There is absolutely no doubt that, no matter what political party we are in or what side of the House we are on, reducing school failure and improving educational outcomes for disadvantaged students has to be a key priority for every one of us. It is a bit of an anomaly that this scheme lies within the Minister's Department as it is very closely related to education issues. We need to do better to ensure that all sections of our communities can more fully reap the benefits of our education plans. I certainly think that the school completion plan should be available to non-DEIS schools as well as DEIS schools.

On the funding cuts which I mentioned earlier, while I accept they were before the Minister's time, there has been a substantial cut in funding. In 2010, funding was €30 million and it was down to €24.7 million last year. There has been €5 million cut. Will the Minister fight to get that funding back in to the school completion programme?

Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone I thank the Deputy. Yes I will; it is something to which I am deeply committed. As an educator myself, I have even taught students about the issue, as well as working with many teachers and schools. I take the point that it is, perhaps, an anomaly that the programme is located within the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. My understanding is that the thinking at the time was that the people working on school completion programme might be able to work closely with those in Tusla, which offers family supports. School completion projects obviously also need to involve family supports because, as we know, families must be supported as part of the process of keeping children in school.

There are a number of things they are doing right now to reform the programme and to improve their annual school retention figures. They have a new governance structure that will be put in place at a national level to support the local projects and new school attendance guidelines have been issued to advise schools on the practical supports that are needed. That is the kind of reform programme that is going on now, which could easily lead in to a good rationale for increased investment.

Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin: Information on Fiona O'Loughlin Zoom on Fiona O'Loughlin I thank the Minister. While there has not been a cut in funding this year, thankfully, I do understand that some of the interventions such as the summer programmes are not now available for children because of a shortage in the budget. These are children who absolutely need this and I do think that it is regrettable. I applaud the Minister's support for the school completion programme and welcome her vision of what can be done. I acknowledge that it is a very targeted intervention aimed at those school communities that are identified. At this point, it involves 124 projects and related initiatives in 470 primary and 224 post-primary schools, and about 36,000 children are supported. These are identified by local management committees as being at risk of educational disadvantage. This brings me back to my earlier question about the community school in County Kildare that is now at risk. Of its 880 students, some 250 need these extra supports. I do appreciate that the Minister will raise this with the Minister for Education and Skills and with the officials.

Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone I will. I have actually been raising some of these issues with Tusla and, of course, they have been raised to me too in the context of schools within my constituency of Dublin South-West. That is why I requested a meeting with the director of educational welfare services, during which we discussed a number of these issues. In the context of the reform programme that I am identifying, the independent ESRI review of the programme takes into account the ways in which different schools have had the flexibility to choose particular projects. While I do understand that some monies may not be there for some programmes that were there in the past, it is still the same amount of money. I would be delighted to hear more about Deputies' concerns on precisely these kinds of things as we consider how to move forward.

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