I thank the Deputies and Senators for their comments and questions. I am grateful for the endorsement of teachers but I am not too precious as a leader of second level schools to pretend that issues will not arise from time to time. In any event, the endorsement of the teaching profession by the committee is good because, by and large, we do very good work in our schools.
Many of the members expressed surprise about the issue of reduced timetables. In my opening remarks I mentioned how, from what we could glean from our commentary with second level principals and deputy principals and their links, there seems to be good interaction with Traveller students at primary level until fifth class. At that stage it seems issues of attendance or discipline begin. These are mainly to do with puberty or growing. In any event, by the time the student comes to second level if he or she was in a situation involving a reduced timetable, the chances are it was because of emotional or behavioural difficulties or anger management issues within the school. In many instances, a reduced timetable would be agreed between the school and the educational welfare service or National Educational Psychological Service. What we do not want is for that to become the norm. It should only be for a reduced or short period. It should not be seen as nirvana to have the child on the school books but not to be benefitting from the system. It is important that most of the students on reduced timetables are working on particular individual plans to ensure they are getting back to the full timetable. Irish education is characterised in some schools by competition rather than collaboration when it comes to admission policies, soft barriers and so on.
Senator Ruane is absolutely right about supports that existed in 2011. How much has changed in Ireland since then? My view is that we need to consider whether something is named in the context of education and how things have not moved on in recent years if the needs of the Traveller community are to be seen as a priority within the system. If particular resources are allocated, they can be quantified and judged to see if they need to be adapted.
Deputy Funchion referred to nirvana earlier. I would like to see our society and schools being governed by inclusion. We should have a positive climate of respect for everyone within schools, but we need to look at it. I wore another hat as chairperson of the board for senior cycle in the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment.
In another context and wearing another hat, I worked as the chair of the board for senior cycle in the NCCA. The level of consultation that has taken place with the various education partners is designed to try to bring about a senior cycle that meets our needs for the students in our society in the current climate. The level of subjects we have, where success at leaving certificate level is seen as one's ability to get through a leaving certificate and move on to third level, will not meet the needs of the Traveller children in our system. We must look to put in place the necessary supports to encourage home-school links where education is valued.
I was very taken by what my colleagues on my right said about the influence and the educational attainment of mothers. Students feel discriminated in their schools because they cannot associate with their own culture. The Senator's Bill is welcome in that regard.
Deputy Byrne's point about putting it into law or making it compulsory is another issue. I hope I have explained to members that the reduced timetable is used as a mechanism to try to cope with a particular issue when it arises, largely due to emotional or behavioural difficulties within the schools, and should never be seen as long term. As an association we look to use the educational supports and the resources of Tusla and NEPS to make sure that an individual plan is put in place to meet the needs of every student, Traveller or non-Traveller. I assure members there are far more non-Traveller children operating on reduced timetables than there are Traveller children but it should never be seen as the norm.
I agree with the points made by Deputy O'Sullivan that the number of schools participating in the Yellow Flag project must be much greater. From our point of view, we have participated in the steering committee and we are very active in the Yellow Flag project but it is inherently difficult to get school leaders - principals or deputy principals - to be willing to become involved in the project because of a lack of recognition and resources from the Department of Education and Skills. If the Department was to recognise that as an important initiative to promote the Traveller culture within schools, as part of Senator Kelleher's proposals on Traveller culture, their lifestyle and circumstances, that would be very welcome.
The biggest issue is coping with the invisible discrimination and our own unconscious biases. Whether it is through continuing professional development, CPD, within the education and training boards, ETB, sector or within the Teaching Council through its Cosán framework, and its involvement in CPD in the coming years, it should be possible to raise the issue of bias and unconscious bias within our education system and tackled within that.
That type of bias against Travellers is becoming an issue for students of different races - the new Irish and so on - in other parts of the country. It is difficult for schools to cope with that issue. In many instances, integration issues within our schools are key challenges that school leaders are having to tackle. Much of the difficulty is that it is not named or spoken of and, as a result, we try to move things around because that is what we do in education in Ireland in many instances. Issues are because they have always been thus, but Ireland is a different society now. We have to have a vision for society that promotes the values we want from our young citizens leaving schools and entering society. If we are not in a position to help our indigenous Travellers cope better within our school structures, it will be very difficult for us to move within the changes that may come.
In doing research for this presentation, I found that there are more than 30,000 Travellers in Ireland, more than 10,000 of whom are in the labour market. There are high instances of unemployment and so on. In many instances, Travellers do not see the benefits of what they can get through education and training. We need to make that very clear within schools so that we can encourage people to buy into it.
There was a meeting last Friday about the ongoing review of the Traveller and Roma communities at which our organisation was represented. I hope that will quantify the issues that need to be tackled. Given that is a Department of Education and Skills initiative, I hope there will be progress within that.
Colleagues mentioned bursaries and other such areas. On the payment of an allowance for programmes, that is a good development but it is also a bad one because if Traveller children are not happy in school, there is almost an incentive for them to move into a programme where there is a payment of an allowance rather than stay on in formal education. They do not have experience of the concept of deferred gratification in that if they stay in the education sector they will be able to get a better job. One of the briefing documents from my colleagues outlined people's aspirations to work as farriers, with other animals or to get involved in sports such as boxing and so on. All those issues are setting the barrier very low. Even though the numbers are small, we know from the quality of Travellers who have moved on to further and higher education that when they are offered the opportunity, it is important that they are able to take it and act as role models. On the point Senator Kelleher made, if only 100 plus people from the Traveller community have got involved in higher education, it is difficult to see how we could incentivise people to become involved in the teaching profession.
I have gone on a good while. I am not sure if I answered all the questions or addressed the comments made but I am conscious of our colleagues who want to contribute.