Thursday, 3 June 2010
Dáil Éireann Debate
Deputy Mary Upton: I thank the Office of the Ceann Comhairle for giving me the opportunity to raise this matter on the Adjournment. The demonstration library project is one of the most important and innovative initiatives of the Department of Education and Skills and is designed to encourage and develop literacy skills of students in schools in designated disadvantaged areas. The announcement earlier this week that the project is at risk is of huge concern. The decision to abolish the project will, if it happens, affect 22 schools. It will have a negative impact not just on the schools affected, but on the students most in need of the project who will lose out on vital opportunities.
I am familiar with a number of schools in my constituency where this library support is available. It was and continues to be a real bonus to the students who might be at risk of leaving school without any formal qualifications. I have seen for myself the difference it has made, not just in terms of the literacy skills that it has helped to promote, but also by way of the social development it has engendered. It has created an environment where books of all sizes and shapes and difficulty are no longer seen as a threat to students and something that should be avoided at all costs. Instead, the availability of books in an attractive environment with ease of access has stimulated an interest in reading in students that would never have expressed any interest in literature. This is the report from their teachers and from the librarians. It is also my own experience, having seen these libraries in three schools in my constituency and observed the interest of the students in spending time in the library. The project has also generated an air of confidence in the students in tackling literacy issues that previously held no interest for them. The library project has also formed a new type of social interaction between the students themselves, their teachers and the librarians who have been so supportive of the students’ needs.
In a press release in July 2008, the former Minister, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, stated: “The project puts in place high quality, fully stocked and equipped modern libraries and provides each with a professional librarian.” He went on to say: “These are not ordinary school libraries, they are creative active learning centres” and “are designed to entice and engage the most reluctant teenager”. It would be truly regressive if this facility was now withdrawn. Last week, in reply to a parliamentary question raised by my colleague Deputy Róisín Shortall, Deputy Haughey stated that the demonstration library projects formed an integral part of the Government’s strategy on tackling illiteracy. However, on the same day, the Minister, Deputy Coughlan, confirmed in a separate reply that the library staff were subject to the public sector moratorium on recruitment. We need clarification on this issue so that the schools can plan for the coming academic year confident that this vital support will be retained.
I am asking this evening that this project be retained, by whatever mechanism is required. If the project is lost, it will send out a singular message that literacy does not matter and that it is a right only for those who can access it with academic ease and with the financial wherewithal to do so.
Deputy Seán Haughey: I welcome the opportunity, on behalf of the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Coughlan, to outline the up-to-date position regarding the demonstration library project that forms part of the junior certificate school programme, JCSP, literacy strategy.
The JCSP has operated in schools nationally since 1996, as an intervention at junior cycle for students who, for a variety of reasons, have experienced difficulties in school and hence are considered to be at risk of leaving school early. The programme is founded on the premise that all young people can be successful at school. It provides a curriculum framework which assists schools and individual teachers in adopting a student-centred approach to education. Students are given enhanced opportunities to engage with the curriculum and to achieve success at school through a system of profiling of achievement. The programme covers a broad range of personal and social skills, as well as academic achievements.
Since poor levels of literacy and numeracy have been widely acknowledged as factors which hinder student progress, under the programme the implementation of literacy and numeracy strategies is fundamental. The JCSP support service works with schools to employ classroom strategies to develop students’ literacy and numeracy skills and to encourage them to adopt a whole-school approach to literacy and numeracy. This is facilitated by providing teachers with ongoing professional development on cross-curricular approaches to literacy and numeracy, as well as by the provision of resources annually to support the implementation of specific initiatives in both areas. At present, the JCSP is offered in 240 schools, 184 of which are DEIS schools, and provides support for 9,000 students. Over €3.07 million was spent on this programme in the past three years and €1 million has been allocated for 2010.
The demonstration library pilot project, which forms part of the JCSP literacy initiative, provides professionally staffed libraries for JCSP schools. The project was announced as a pilot in 2001, with libraries being set up in 11 JCSP schools in 2002. The Department, through the JCSP support service, provides the support necessary for schools to: establish and equip high quality school libraries; develop structured library based strategies with ICT support for JCSP students with literacy difficulties; employ professionally qualified school librarians who work with the teaching staff to develop and implement the JCSP literacy strategy and who are supported by the project librarian and the JCSP support service; and participate in an ongoing monitoring and evaluation process, which is a major part of the project.
To date, 30 schools have been included in the project. Some 25 of these are DEIS schools. The librarians in many of these schools are currently employed on fixed-term contracts and one further school has a vacancy. The remaining schools are either staffed by librarians who have been redeployed from the library service or those with contracts not falling for renewal.
The Deputy will be aware of the Government decision to implement a recruitment and promotion moratorium in the public sector so as to facilitate a permanent, structural reduction in the numbers of staff serving in the public sector in order to contribute significant and ongoing savings to the Exchequer. The terms of this moratorium require that no public service post, however arising, may be filled by recruitment, promotion nor payment of an allowance for the performance of duties at a higher grade. As the Tánaiste has previously set out, this decision also applies to temporary appointments on a fixed-term basis and to the renewal of such contracts. Exemptions from the moratorium are, in the context of the public finances, a matter for serious deliberation. The Tánaiste is, however, working together with her colleague, the Minister for Finance, in respect of those aspects of the moratorium which are having a particular impact in the education sector. The employment of librarians in the demonstration library pilot project is one such issue.
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