Could the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs support strongly the school completion programme in the Donaghmede, Ayrfield and Edenmore areas of north Dublin because it is excellent? Those concerned need our full support to deal with the issue of early school learning.
The Minister will be aware that the school completion programme is a targeted initiative that aims to retain in school those most at risk of early school leaving. The programme was introduced in 2002 as a follow-up to the SSRI programme at senior cycle level. Initially, the programme was partially funded by the European Social Fund and also the Department of Education and Science. Later, the programme was funded through the Department of Finance with the Department of Education and Skills.
The programme was introduced in the Donaghmede-Ayrfield-Edenmore area in November 2002 and is now an integral part of the work of the schools in the area. It is aimed at the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children in those schools. Nationwide, it caters for between 35,0000 and 53,000 children. As the Minister knows, the programme provides excellent services to children at risk. It provides funding for the breakfast clubs and school curriculum supports, including drama, music, yoga, trips, attendance awards and attendance tracking and monitoring. It also supports excellent after-school curricular supports, including homework clubs, study support and games and activities, including boxing, football and gymnastics. It also supports out-of-school supports and summer camps.
Since 2008, the national budget for the programme has been cut from €32.9 million to €24.7 million. This is a massive cut of 33%. There are eight schools in the cluster that I mentioned. They have had to tolerate a cut and survive on €47,000. In light of the amount of funding allocated nationally, this is a small sum. The schools, comprising two secondary schools and six primary schools, are doing an excellent job and have targeted 1,800 children. The good news from the assessment of the programme is that it has increased school attendance. In many cases, the attendance rate has increased to 95%. This is amazing among children who come from economically and socially disadvantaged families. Many of the families are homeless and some are living in temporary accommodation, including hotel bedrooms.
It is important that there be no further cuts. Since the project is so excellent, the Minister needs to protect the €24.7 million available nationally. In light of the review by Tusla and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, he needs to consider seriously increasing the funding for the project in question. It has been proven by bodies such as the ESRI that it works and is very positive. I ask the Minister again to reinstate the funding as the programme is seriously doing something about economic disadvantage, particularly on the north side of Dublin.