Written Answers. - Early School Leavers.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

170 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of pupils who leave the education system before completing the junior certificate and the leaving certificate; the steps being taken to address the drop-out rate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15731/03]

The latest information, published in the NESF report of 2002 on early school leavers indicated that approximately 1,000 young people do not transfer annually from primary to second level. Of those who entered second level in September 1993, 2,400 – 3.2% – left school before completing the junior certificate three years later in 1996. Almost 10,600 of those who sat the junior certificate in 1996 did not sit the leaving certificate. In all, at the end of the 1990s, about 13,000 – 18.4% – young people leave school annually without the leaving certificate according to the NESF report No 24, March 2002.

My Department's policy with regard to the retention of young people who are at risk of early school leaving is to support young people in school and to help schools to adapt to the needs of the young people experiencing difficulties. The problem of early school leaving is a complex issue to resolve and requires movement on a number of fronts which includes legislative and curricular reforms and preventative interventions. This is the approach my Department is taking. The Education Welfare Act 2000 and the establishment of the National Educational Welfare Board provide a comprehensive framework for promoting regular school attendance and tackling the problems of absenteeism and early school leaving. The Act requires schools to draw up school attendance strategies to promote regular attendance and tackle the problems of absenteeism and early school leaving. The strategies 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.

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. Educational welfare officers, 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.

With regard to curriculum, my Department's strategies have included widening the educational experience available to students. The aim is to achieve a greater level of inclusiveness in curricular provision and meet the needs of the diversity of pupils in our second level schools, by expanding funding for programmes such as the junior certificate schools program, JCSP, the leaving certificate vocational programme, LCVP, vocational preparation training, VPT, and the leaving certificate applied, LCA.

The school completion programme has been implemented to directly target those in danger of dropping out of the education system and is a key component of my Department's strategy to discriminate positively in favour of children and young people who are at risk of early school leaving. The focus of the school completion programme is on young people between the ages of four and 18 years and aims to develop local strategies to ensure maximum participation levels in the education process. It entails targeting individual young people of school-going age, both in and out of school, and arranging supports to address inequalities in education access, participation and outcomes. Such concentrated and focused deployment of funds should lead to increased numbers of young people completing second level education and in that way, most effectively assist in redressing the problem of early school leaving.