I thank the Minister of State for taking this Topical Issue matter and know that she will relay my concerns to the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Foley. I have a deep concern that in our fight against Covid-19, we have worsened the education inequality curve. Schools play a very important role in children's lives. That social relationship between school teachers and families is very important and disadvantage was highlighted while schools were closed. The Department of Education and Skills made additional provision for special schools and special classes in the context of the reopening of schools, which I welcome, but I am concerned that in the process, pinch points were discovered and nothing was done to fix them.
According to the latest census data available, the County Carlow town of Tullow had a population of 4,673, of whom 1,360 were under the age of 17 and 885 were under the age of 19. It is a growing town with growing needs. The reason I mention the census figures is I am going to speak about two schools in Tullow that I have been working with. The first is Scoil Mhuire Lourdes, an all-girls school of approximately 260 students. It has been applying for DEIS status for years but has not been accepted. The other school in Tullow is Scoil Phádraig Naofa, an all-boys school of approximately 250 students. The two schools, which are located beside each another, have been applying for DEIS status for years but have not qualified, even though they really deserve it.
I went to school at Scoil Mhuire Gan Smál in Carlow town, which is an excellent school of approximately 410 students. What I find difficult to understand is that the girls' school I attended tried to get DEIS status but did not qualify for it, whereas the school beside it, which is a boys' school, did qualify. As a result, there are now families in which the girls attend a school without DEIS status while the boys attend one beside it that does have DEIS status. I cannot understand why. What are the criteria? The two schools are right beside each other, with boys going to one and the same families' girls going to the other. One school has qualified but the other has not. I understand that a review has been ongoing for quite a long time. I will be looking for the review to be finished urgently and for all three schools to be given DEIS status. I return to the issue of Tullow. The reason I mentioned the town and its statistics is there are three schools in Tullow but none of them has DEIS status. I just cannot understand that.
I have also been speaking to principals in Carlow and Kilkenny about how fit for purpose the education system is to respond to the needs of children with special needs to access special needs assistants, SNAs. Schools are finding it very difficult. They are buckling under the pressure of one of the largest average class sizes in the OECD. Our towns and villages are changing, a point that has been raised with me several times. The review process needs to be examined so that children will not fall through the cracks in their academic years, especially now when we must be bound by public health guidelines on spacing and learning supports for those who cannot attend a classroom.
I am disappointed that my time is so short but I know the Minister of State, Deputy Madigan, will revert to the Minister, Deputy Foley, and I thank her for her attending the debate. I ask that she comment on the criteria for DEIS status and on why some schools qualify for it and others do not, even though they are located beside each other. Most importantly, she might outline when the review will be complete so that I can respond to the schools that have contacted me.