As the Deputy will be aware, the Government is committed to ensuring that young people from disadvantaged communities can access third level education. In addition to extra investment in supports aimed at improving the achievement levels of students from disadvantaged areas at school, reserving places in the third level colleges is an important component of this strategy.
The commitment in the programme for Government to which the Deputy refers is, however, designed to recognise the particular advantages of attracting bright, committed young people from disadvantaged areas into the teaching profession. Teachers are important role models both in their schools and in their communities. While teachers as a whole are compassionate and understanding and those who choose to work in disadvantaged areas would be even more so, those who grew up in areas of significant social and economic disadvantage could be expected to have an enhanced understanding of the challenges their pupils face in their everyday lives. The fact that a teacher has managed to overcome these challenges, go to college and get a good job is living proof to his or her pupils that it is possible to succeed even against considerable obstacles.
The commitment to ensure that places are reserved in the teacher training colleges for students from disadvantaged areas therefore reflects a desire both to ensure that more young people from such areas can join this important and rewarding profession and also to provide strong role models for children in their schools.
Third level colleges have been offering a direct entry route for some time, whereby students from disadvantaged areas can usually qualify for a college place with less than the standard CAO points for the relevant year.
Back in April 2003, my Department informed each of the colleges of education of its support for the inclusion of the bachelor of education degree programme within the direct application scheme for third level places in order to facilitate socio-economically disadvantaged school leavers who wished to train as primary teachers.
Colleges participating may reserve up to 5% of their annual intake figure, exclusive of mature students. Colleges operating the scheme may also provide other specific support, including financial, to assist and enable students who do not have a tradition of progression to higher education to gain entry to the college and to participate fully in the various aspects of college life.
The manner in which the scheme is operated differs from college to college, as each college must take a range of factors into consideration when administering the programme, such as links with other third level institutions, links to local schools, overall enrolment numbers, numbers of applications under direct entry schemes, other local circumstances, etc.
In line with the commitment in the programme for Government, this scheme will continue to be implemented and its effectiveness will be kept under review.