Adjournment Debate. - Home-School-Community Liaison Scheme.

Tuesday, 14 June 1994

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 443 No. 7

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Miss Quill: Information on Máirín Quill  Zoom on Máirín Quill  This matter relates to the famous North Mon, the North Monastery, in Cork city. This school, which has made its mark for more than three-quarters of a century, numbers among its past pupils people as eminent as the former Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, and leading civil servants, businessmen, actors and writers.

In 1991 the school applied for a concessionary post and had met all the requirements that would render it eligible for the granting of such a post, but unfortunately the appointment was not made. Following repeated applications this year the school applied for a home-school liaison teacher in accordance with the new scheme working very well in schools in the area. Again, the school met all the criteria and requirements. While posts were allocated to schools in the immediate locality whose pupils have identical home conditions and educational requirements, no post was sanctioned for the North Monastery School.

How can the Minister possibly justify the granting of such a post to one school with identical home and school conditions and the withholding of a post to another school where the conditions are identical? How can that be justified? I can see no argument to justify that. Will the Minister state on what basis the decision was taken to grant a concessionary post of a home/school liaison teacher to St. Vincent's School across the road, a school where I taught for a number of years, while withholding a similar post from the North Monastery [1697] School which boys from the same families attend? There is no justification for that.

A gross mistake has been made and a miscarriage of justice has occurred. I appeal to the Minister of State to ask his Department to reconsider its decision and sanction the appointment of a home/school liaison teacher to the North Monastery primary school. The issue is as simple as that. I will not spend any more time putting it forward because my case is self-evident.

Mr. Aylward: Information on Liam Aylward  Zoom on Liam Aylward  I thank Deputy Quill for having raised this matter and giving me the opportunity to explain the position of my Department in this case.

The home/school/community liaison scheme is one of a number of initiatives aimed at addressing the problems of underachievement and marginalisation of young people, as well as poor participation in education, in areas of socio-economic disadvantage.

The focus of the home-school-community liaison programme is to support schools in establishing contact with parents, encouraging parents to become involved in their childrens' education, organising locally-based activities which contribute to closer contact between parents and teachers and establishing links with voluntary and statutory groups in the area. Many previous strategies have been school-based, did not include parents and communities and, as a result, addressed symptoms rather than root causes.

The liaison scheme is a preventative approach to the challenge of eliminating educational disadvantage and is focused on bringing about changes in attitudes and behaviour of those adults, parents and teachers, who impinge on the lives of children. The scheme was established in 1990 as a three-year pilot project. There are now 106 primary schools in the scheme, with a total enrolment of some 34,000 pupils. The total cost of the scheme in 1993 was in excess of £1 million.

The scheme operates through co-ordinators [1698] working on a full-time basis with schools. A national and an assistant national co-ordinator have been appointed to support the schools. There is a national steering committee, representative of the interested bodies, which advises the overall direction of the scheme. The scheme is being evaluated on an ongoing basis by the Educational Research Centre in St. Patrick's College, Drumcondra. Final evaluation is due shortly.

Certain schools, which were already designated as disadvantaged, were selected for inclusion in the scheme on the basis of their forming clusters of schools in a locality that would facilitate local meetings and support for individual co-ordinators.

An essential part of the scheme has been the provision of in-service programmes for local co-ordinators and principals of schools involved. I am satisfied that this scheme has proven its value in enhancing educational participation by disadvantaged young people. It was for this reason that the Minister placed the scheme on a formal footing within the educational system for the current school year.

I believe that home-school-community liaison has implications and positive benefits for all schools. In further expanding the scheme it will continue to be based on the principle of partnership and the collaboration of the complementary skills of parents and teachers.

As stated in the Minister's recent announcement on the 1994 education provision, I have allocated an additional 15 posts, effective from September 1994, to facilitate an extension of this programme to other disadvantaged areas. This will bring the total number of schools in the scheme to 132, embracing 38,000 pupils with the services of 75 local co-ordinators.

Schools were selected from among those in the disadvantaged areas scheme. The principal factor taken into account in this selection process is the comparative degree of deprivation among schools. [1699] Other considerations relate to liaison initiatives already undertaken in the areas concerned and, in order to minimise the possible isolation of individual co-ordinators, extensions to the scheme are on the basis of enlargement of existing clusters and by the formation of new clusters.

One of the main aims of this scheme is to promote active co-operation between home, school and relevant community agencies in promoting the educational interests of the children. To date each liaison co-ordinator has served some 500 to 700 pupils. Frequently, this comprises two large schools, in many cases a junior and a senior school on the one campus. In other areas one co-ordinator has served several small schools.

It is important for the success of the scheme that schools' management and staff be aware of the preventative aspects of the scheme and the issues around partnership. The whole school approach, which presupposes changes in schools as well as in parents' readiness to become involved in their childrens' education, and the use of existing resources are [1700] vital factors in considering a school for inclusion in the scheme.

The schools referred to by Deputy Quill are both included in the disadvantaged areas scheme and, as such, have already been allocated a shared concessionary teaching post. I understand, however, that the schools in question have not found it possible to share this post. Both schools receive additional capitation funding at the rate of £17 per pupil. An amount of £2 per pupil of this grant is specifically intended to fund school-based initiatives in the area of home-school-community liaison where schools do not have the services of a local co-ordinator.

I regret that it was not possible to include these schools in the home-school-community liaison scheme in this latest extension of the scheme. I can assure the Deputy that the needs of these schools will be taken fully into account in the context of any further supports becoming available under the disadvantaged areas scheme.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.10 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 15 June 1994.

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