Written Answers. - School Attendance.

John McGuinness

Question:

1028 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Education and Science the structures at county level responsible for ensuring that young children attend primary and second level education; if figures are available for County Kilkenny to indicate the drop-out rate at primary level; the steps being taken to deal with this problem; and the funds or grants available to local organisations or schools to combat the problem. [19924/00]

The enforcement of school attendance under the existing legislation, the School Attendance Act, 1926, is not arranged on a county basis. Under this Act responsibility for the enforcement of school attendance rests with the school attendance committees in Dublin City, Cork City, Waterford City and the County Borough of Dun Laoghaire/Blackrock, and the Garda for the remainder of the country.

My Department gathers a range of data annually in its primary school census, including the destination of those who have left the school since the previous year. All census data is presented at a school, rather than an individual pupil, level. Based on 1999/2000 returns submitted by school authorities, some nine pupils in County Kilkenny left education. School principals were unable to give the destination of a further eight pupils.

I can assure the Deputy that I share his concern about non-school attendance and early school leaving. It is for this reason that my Department has initiated a programme comprising both legislative measures and special targeted initiatives to combat the problem of non-school attendance and early school leaving.

The recently enacted Education Welfare Act, 2000, will replace and reform current school attendance legislation. The Act provides for the introduction of a comprehensive school attendance service with responsibility for school attendance being given to a newly established body – the National Educational Welfare Board. Every school will maintain a school register and will enter details of every child enrolled in the school and their attendance at that school. An educational welfare officer will be assigned to every school for the purposes of the Act. The Act requires schools to draw up school attendance strategies in order to promote regular attendance and to foster an appreciation of learning amongst the students. The strategy will focus on arrangements for the identification of children who are at risk of dropping out of school at an early stage so that appropriate interventions may be put in place. The board will also assist schools in discharging their responsibilities under the Act.

One of the key objectives of the 8-15 year old early school leavers initiative, which was introduced in September 1998, is to test models of response to the problem of early school leaving, with a view to the integration of such models, after structured evaluation, into mainstream policy and practice. The projects strand of this initiative involves 17 specific projects in 14 areas. The initiative was originally introduced for the school years 1998/'99 and 1999-2000. I have decided to extend the existing 17 projects for a further phase, for the period 1 July 2000 until 31 August 2002. Funding of £2.82 million has been allocated to this initiative for the year 2000.
In June 1999 the stay in school retention initiative at second level was launched. This marks a significant departure from traditional policy in that funding of up to £40,000 per annum is being granted to targeted schools, on the basis of plans which they were helped to design themselves. The purpose of this initiative is to prevent early school leaving and raise senior cycle completion rates. At the end of May 2000 an additional 59 schools were invited to participate in the initiative, including three in County Kilkenny.
I am currently working on proposals for a major new scheme aimed at addressing educational disadvantage at primary level. This scheme will target those areas with the greatest needs in order to maximise participation and the potential for achievement in education. The supports will involve a mixture of additional teachers and resources.