Thursday, 9 May 1991
Dáil Éireann Debate
5. Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for Education if she has satisfied herself that the emphasis in the Programme for Economic and Social Progress on children suffering educational and social disadvantage and the need for positive intervention in the form of additional remedial teachers and guidance counsellors, will be adequately addressed by the measure contained in the programme; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
8. Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Education if her attention has been drawn to the fact that there is a severe educational disadvantage in the north inner city of Dublin; her plans to compensate for this disadvantage; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
30. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Education if, having regard to (1) the commitment given in the Programme for Economic and Social Progress to target resources to assist the disadvantaged and (2) the response from the Conference of Major Religious Superiors to the Primary Education Review Body report, she will outline the resources which will be targeted towards the disadvantaged.
37. Mr. T. O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Education if she will outline the efforts which have been made to investigate the nature and the extent of disadvantage in the education system both at a primary and secondary level; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
39. Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Education if she proposes to make any increased allocations for the provision of remedial teachers to schools in the 1991-92 academic year; if so, if she will give the breakdown between (1) primary schools, (2) vocational education committee schools and (3) community and comprehensive schools; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
49. Mr. Ryan asked the Minister for Education if she will give a detailed account of the allocation of the proposed 60 extra teaching posts for post-primary schools in disadvantaged areas for the 1991-92 school year as laid down in the Programme for Economic and Social Progress; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
Arising from commitments made in the context of the last programme for Government, and carried forward into the Programme for Economic and Social Progress, my Department entered into discussions with representatives of management, teachers and parents in order to establish agreed criteria on relative disadvantage in schools. The agreed criteria are based on socio-economic indicators of disadvantage and include such factors as unemployment levels, local authority housing, rural deprivation, medical card holders, children of lone parents and information on basic literarcy and numeracy.
All primary and post-primary schools were invited to supply details of the number of pupils to whom agreed criteria applied. The schools which responded have been placed in an order of priority. Some 60 additional posts were allocated to post-primary schools for the 1990-91  school-year on the basis of that information. In the case of primary schools, 30 home-school-community liaison teachers were allocated to groups of schools in selected disadvantaged areas. A further 60 posts will be allocated to post-primary schools in disadvantaged areas from September this year, arising from the agreed criteria. There are already 180 teachers in primary schools in disadvantaged areas and 30 additional teachers will be appointed. In addition, further home-school-community liaison teachers will be appointed. This will bring the number of schools served by this scheme to approximately 80 and the total number of schools deemed to be disadvantaged to over 200. In addition, 80 remedial teachers will be appointed for the school year commencing in September 1991.
At present all schools with an enrolment of 500 pupils or more qualify for a guidance teacher. Under the terms of the programme, schools in the 350-499 enrolment category will, in a graded way, qualify for a guidance teacher. The same will apply to VEC schools. I will not delay the House by reading out the entire reply. I will gladly answer any questions raised by Deputies on the matter.
Mr. J. Higgins: ——there are 602 classes which have 40-plus students, 4,884 classes with between 35 and 39 students and 5,600 classes with between 30 and 35 students? Does she accept, allowing for the merits of the PESP, that this will make a negligible impact in relation to reducing class sizes and overall disadvantage?
Mrs. O'Rourke: First, I do not shelter  under the PESP. I was asked a question and I gave the information. Secondly, I am very proud of the PESP. Thirdly, the unions and teachers to which the Deputy referred voted overwhelmingly in favour of the educational proposals put forward in the PESP.
Mrs. O'Rourke: That is a fact. Of course, there will never be enough resources for education. Even if we were to appoint an extra 1,000 teachers other problems would arise overnight. We have made an excellent start, building on the good foundations laid by previous Governments of every hue. For the first time we have an accelerated programme which will improve the pupil-teacher ratio.
Mr. Gregory: Does the Minister accept the findings of the most recent study commissioned by the Daughters of Charity which confirms the north inner city to be the most deprived community in the State with 44 per cent of schoolchildren leaving school before the age of 15? This is by far the worst percentage in the country and is three times the national average. At most only 1 per cent of children in these schools go on to third level education compared with a Dublin average of 15 per cent. Does the Minister accept that this represents a special case which can only be reversed by additional resources and teachers over and above the limited measures to which she has already referred?
Mrs. O'Rourke: I do not have the study to which the Deputy referred to hand but I know of it. He referred to schools in the north inner city area and the high levels of disadvantage which lead to educational deprivation. We have had regard to this not just in the schools which served disadvantaged areas but also in the initiation of the formal home-school-community liaison scheme introduced last year and which will be intensified this  year. Under that scheme the schools in the areas to which the Deputy referred will be given particular attention. My Department are doing this at present.
Mr. Gregory: Arising from her reply, may I ask the Minister if she accepts that the educational disadvantage of the north inner city, the area where her departmental offices are located, results from Government indifference and traditional neglect? Evidence of this can be seen in the grounds of her Department where 250 children are being taught in damp, leaking and shabby prefabs while across the road from that school——
Mr. Gregory: I would also refer the Minister to the derelict site in Seán McDermott Street where a second level community college has been promised for the past ten years and still remains to be sanctioned by the Department. Is it any wonder in that context that there is such extreme educational disadvantage in the north inner city?
Mrs. O'Rourke: I do not accept the premise in the Deputy's first supplementary question. With regard to the second, the Deputy submitted another question concerning the central model school. I have good news for the Deputy on that matter but I will reply separately to it.
Mr. J. Higgins: Would the Minister acknowledge that one of the big problems contributing to educational disadvantage in the city is the drop-out rate at about the age of 15 and that some inducement is needed to keep children in schools longer? There should be some sort of financial or social inducement from the point of view of getting maximum social benefit from the educational system.
Mrs. O'Rourke: All the studies show that the longer one stays at school the better one's chances in life. The PESP has made allowance for a special fund to target towards keeping people in school. This was primarily meant to go towards retaining people in second level and encouraging second level students to go to third level. I had an extensive meeting with the co-ordinator of the home school liaison scheme whose primary work relates to inducement to children to stay on at school. I agree that the longer people remain at school the better.
Proinsias De Rossa: In relation to Question No. 30 I am sure the Minister will acknowledge that apart from efforts being made to keep children in school there is need to deal with those who have already dropped out. There have been a number of research projects, one in Finglas, the St. Paul's project, which attempts to deal with young people who have dropped out of school. Is it intended to extend this kind of special schooling to these children? Has the Minister had an opportunity to look at a proposal from the Ballyrnun area for such a project?
Mrs. O'Rourke: I know of the projects to which the Deputy refers. Some of the components of those projects are worked into the home school liaison scheme already in operation. The Finglas project  is very interesting. The evaluation of that project will have an influence. It has already influenced schemes which have been initiated, though not in a formal sense. I am prepared to look at the Ballyrnun project in that context.
Mr. Gregory: Given that only 1 per cent of schoolchildren from the north inner city go on to third level, does the Minister accept the need for a special second level community school geared towards the needs of the children in that area and, if so, how many more years will we have to wait for sanction for the special community college in Sean McDermott Street?
Mrs. O'Rourke: Does the Deputy accept that the school serving the children at second level in Sean McDermott Street is doing a worthwhile job and that the principals and teachers there are strongly of the opinion that they serve the needs of their pupils very well?
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