Wednesday, 10 July 1996
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Reynolds: I wish to raise the matter of disadvantage status for St. Mary's primary school, Drumlea, County Leitrim. The board of management of the school contacted me to highlight the fact that due to the drop in the number of pupils attending the school, they will lose one teacher. The school will go from a three teacher to a two teacher one. At present there are 48 students and I understand 11 students will start in September, which will leave the school four pupils short to qualify for three teachers.
I have been informed by the Department of Education that if the school was granted disadvantaged status, it would be in a position to hold on to its third teacher. Drumlea is a rural area and over the past number of years parents, teachers and the community have dug deep to improve the facilities at St. Mary's Primary School. When Gemma Hussey was Minister for Education a new school was build. The board of management has worked extremely hard to maintain standards. The  teachers are anxious to retain their colleague, so too are the parents.
While this scheme was set up to help children in disadvantaged urban areas, there is disadvantage in rural areas. The area to which I refer has suffered from population and rural decline for many years. I hope the Minister will be in a position to grant disadvantage status to St. Mary's primary school.
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): I am responding to this Adjournment matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education, Deputy Bhreathnach. I thank Senator Reynolds for raising the issue of St. Mary's primary school at Drumlea, County Leitrim.
I am aware that the school in question applied for disadvantaged area status. The disadvantaged area scheme was last expanded in 1994 when the additional 54 primary schools were newly included in it. While the case put forward by the school in question was considered at that time, it was not successful.
In 1995 the Minister for Education commissioned the Combat Poverty Agency to conduct a detailed review of our current approaches to addressing the problem of educational disadvantage. The Minister's decision to commission that study arose from a concern to ensure that our supports were properly targeted and that children with real need were in a position to benefit from the scheme.
The criteria used in selecting schools for special support and the nature of the supports provided were among the issues addressed in the study. The report presented by the Combat Poverty Agency was one of the most comprehensive studies of educational disadvantage ever undertaken in the State. It examined the concept of educational disadvantage as it impacted on pupils in the education system and reviewed the procedures in place to identify and address educational disadvantage. The  report also evaluated the effectiveness of current approaches using a wide range of national and international research data.
While the report recognised the very considerable advances which have been made in alleviating the effects of educational disadvantage, it also made a series of comments and recommendations aimed at improving the current arrangements. Among the key issues raised in the report was a concern that under the current criteria the scheme did not have due regard to rural and dispersed disadvantage. It was recommended that the criteria be amended to better reflect educational disadvantage as manifested in rural as well as urban settings. It also recommended that a more targeted approach be adopted with resources being directed towards the most disadvantaged urban and rural areas. The report also considered that disadvantaged area supports should be confined to 16 per cent of the school going population. In that connection it was noted that the present scheme also extends to more than 17 per cent of the population.
In response to the Combat Poverty Agency report the Minister for Education recently launched a new initiative which aims to break the cycle of educational disadvantage in selected urban and rural areas. Schools are being selected for support under that initiative by reference to new selection criteria which have been developed by the Education Research Centre. The new criteria take on board the recommendations of the Combat Poverty Agency and address educational disadvantage in urban and rural settings.
The initiative has urban and rural dimensions. For rural schools the initiative will also focus on schools throughout the country with fewer than five teachers, particularly schools in rural areas which serve dispersed populations and have concentrations of disadvantaged children In this case supports will  be made available to 25 clusters of schools. Each cluster will be served by a newly appointed co-ordinator who will work with the families and teachers involved. Children attending schools in the selected clusters will attract a special capitation grant of £75 per pupil. The schools will also attract special grant assistance for the purchase of books and other materials. The Education Research Centre has been in touch recently with all the target schools and  invited applications for consideration in support of the new initiative. The centre is currently prioritising all applicants, including an application from the school in question, in terms of level of need as represented by the data submitted by the schools and will advise the Department of Education of the outcome shortly.
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