Written Answers. - Education (Welfare) Act.

Conor Lenihan

Question:

222 Mr. C. Lenihan asked the Minister for Education and Science if his attention has been drawn to the anomaly between the requirements of the Education (Welfare) Act 2000 and the training allowance available to students aged 15 years to participate in certain schemes such as the youthreach programme. [10975/03]

Conor Lenihan

Question:

223 Mr. C. Lenihan asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will consider making the training allowance payable only to students over the age of 16 years, given that the Education (Welfare) Act 2000 requires students to remain in school until that age. [10976/03]

Conor Lenihan

Question:

225 Mr. C. Lenihan asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will consider a policy of prosecution of parents, as is provided for under the Education (Welfare) Act 2000, to focus such prosecutions against parents where the parent concerned has persistently neglected the right of the child to attend school. [10979/03]

Conor Lenihan

Question:

226 Mr. C. Lenihan asked the Minister for Education and Science if he is prepared to provide resources for a law enforcement approach to school attendance to support the existing welfare model offered by the home school community liaison scheme, the school completion programmes and the visiting teachers for Travellers' scheme. [10980/03]

Conor Lenihan

Question:

227 Mr. C. Lenihan asked the Minister for Education and Science if his attention has been drawn to the fact that since the enactment of the Education (Welfare) Act 2000 there is no law enforcement aspect to school attendance. [10981/03]

Conor Lenihan

Question:

228 Mr. C. Lenihan asked the Minister for Education and Science if his attention has been drawn to the fact that despite specific provision in the Education (Welfare) Act 2000 for law enforcement in relation to school attendance, there are no procedures in place or adequate personnel to carry out the enforcement; and if he has any plans to put these resources in place. [10982/03]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 222, 223 and 225 to 228, inclusive, together.

The Education (Welfare) Act 2000 replaced the School Attendance Acts 1926 to 1967 and provides a new regulatory framework to protect the rights of all children to at least a minimum education. The Act provides a comprehensive new framework for promoting regular school attendance and tackling the problems of absenteeism and early school leaving. All sections of the Act are now commenced.

The Act provides for the establishment of the National Educational Welfare Board as the single national body with responsibility for encouraging and supporting regular school attendance. The board has responsibility for ensuring that every child aged six to 16 years attends a recognised school or otherwise receives an appropriate minimum education. The board is required to advise and assist parents who are experiencing difficulty in ensuring that their children attend school regularly and must also assist schools in meeting their obligations under the Act.

Where a child is not attending school or is not otherwise in receipt of an appropriate education, the board will investigate the case and establish reasons for non-attendance. It will then work collaboratively with the family, the school and others concerned with the child's welfare with a view to resolving the situation. The board also has the legal power to compel a parent to send his-her child to school. However, this power will only be used where all other measures have failed and where the board is of the view that the parent has not made all reasonable efforts in this regard.

The board also has responsibilities in relation to children who are educated outside of a recognised school and children aged 16 and 17 years who leave school to take up employment. The position in relation to out of school schemes such as youthreach, which are open to 15 year olds as mentioned by the Deputy, is being considered jointly by my Department and the NEWB at present. To discharge its responsibilities, the board will develop a nationwide service that is accessible to schools, parents-guardians and others who are concerned with the welfare of young people. For this purpose, educational welfare officers or EWOs will be appointed and deployed throughout the country to provide a welfare focused service to support regular school attendance and discharge the board's functions locally.

The board appointed an interim chief executive officer in August 2002 and directors of corporate services and educational services have recently taken up their posts. A total of 37 former school attendance officers who were employed by local authorities under the previous legislation were transferred to the board on 5 July 2002 in accordance with section 40 of the Act. These staff are currently providing a service in the cities of Dublin, Cork and Waterford. Twenty five of these have recently accepted the terms and conditions of employment of educational welfare officer or EWO and will henceforth carry out the full range of EWO duties and provide a year round service rather than the school term based service they were providing as former school attendance officers.
Proposals for the recruitment of an additional cohort of educational welfare officers have been received from the board and officials of my Department had discussions with the executive of the board recently in relation to these proposals. Arising from these discussions, the executive wrote to my Department on 4 April clarifying certain costs associated with their proposals. It is not possible to specify the number of new education welfare officers who will be put in place this year until my Department has had an opportunity to consider these proposals and costs in a multi-annual framework.
I have allocated a budget of €5.4 million to the board for the current year and it is my intention that the board's proposals will be taken forward in the context of these resources and the budgetary allocations in future years. Summary proceedings for an offence under the Education (Welfare) Act 2000 may be brought and prosecuted by the board.