I raise the matter of reduced hours timetables imposed by schools on Traveller children and young people. This approach is not new, but national Traveller organisations such as the Irish Traveller Movement report that managing behavioural problems is being used as a reason for the practice and that it is becoming more prevalent. The extent to which the practice occurs is unrecorded and undocumented and that is the nub of this Commencement matter. Anecdotally, it is common in both primary and secondary schools across Ireland. It has been indicated to me that it is evident in almost every school in Clondalkin and Tallaght. In my city of Cork two schools are reported to have reduced hours timetables for Traveller students. I guess that what has been reported is only the tip of the iceberg, with many more cases unreported and unheard of. The Minister of State's Department stated it should only be used in exceptional circumstances, never as a behavioural management tool and only with parents' consent. Traveller pupils are being removed owing to behavioural and mental health issues, sometimes without parental consent.
While the level and extent of reduced hours for Traveller children and young people in both primary and secondary schools is not officially documented, we have some evidence from County Donegal in a study conducted by Ann Irwin. She documented that Traveller pupils in first year in secondary school who presented with defined and specific needs were, based on their Traveller identity, encouraged to accept a part-time school week. They often miss specific subjects in which they have a strong aptitude, thus increasing the cycle of exclusion and deepening the impact of reduced learning. These data are not recorded. Instead, the onus is placed on the parents who encounter the problem to make a complaint under section 29 of the Act. Tusla's report, Developing the Statement of Strategy for School Attendance: Guidelines for Schools, asks if the school attempts to minimise reduced timetables, suspensions and expulsions. In 2006 the Traveller education strategy recommended that data were needed to monitor transfer, attendance, attainment and retention, stating they should be monitored by parents; schools; the Visiting Teacher Service for Traveller Education; the National Educational Welfare Board; the Department of Education and Skills and others. Traveller parents report to Traveller organisations which, in turn, bring the information to the attention of various Ministers and officials, most recently the Minister for Justice and Equality.
There has to be urgency to address and root out this practice, but there is no official documentation or remedy in sight. When many Traveller pupils leave secondary school unable to read or write, something is very wrong with the system. If Tusla or the Minister's Department do not have a duty towards Traveller pupils in that regard, who does? I am aware of the commitments in the action plan for education 2016 to 2019 to increase the number of Travellers in higher education, proposing a target of 80 full-time and part-time undergraduate new entrants in 2019. This is linked with the national Traveller and Roma inclusion strategy and I welcome this focus. However, when Travellers experience these hidden barriers which impede their progress in education, surely the practice of reduced hours timetables contradicts the aim of the Minister of State's Department.
The Department's Traveller education strategy states that during a five-year period "the proportion of Traveller children transferring to post-primary education should increase from 85 to 100 per cent". A social portrait of Travellers indicates that they were more than 50 times more likely to leave before their leaving certificate examinations. Another commitment in the strategy is that all Traveller pupils should remain in school to complete the junior cycle programme. In 2017 only 9% of Travellers aged between 25 and 34 years had completed second level education, compared with a figure of 86% nationally. That is very poor. Reduced hours timetables that are not documented contribute to these low levels of school completion. Some 50% of those who complete the junior cycle programme should complete the senior cycle, in the words of the Minister of State's Department. Full parity with the settled community should be the target in the next phase. Only 8% of working age Travellers, compared with a figure of 73% for non-Travellers, had reached the leaving certificate examinations.
How do the Minister of State and her Department propose to address this very serious problem of reduced hours timetables for Travellers? Will she set up a system of monitoring and reporting? Will she ensure such practices are only used, in the words of her Department, in "exceptional circumstances" and never as a behavioural management tool? Reduced hours timetables have a serious impact on a child's educational attainment and development which lasts for a person's lifetime, affecting his or her ability to participate in third level education.
As the Minister of State will be aware, Central Statistics Office data from 2016 show only 167 Travellers, or 0.5%, have a third level qualification. There is a knock-on from reduced-hours timetables, low school completion rates and the off-the-scale unemployment rates among Travellers - the figure is 80.2%. We are at almost full employment and yet rates for Travellers are at 80%. I am keen to hear from the Minister of State on how she proposes to tackle this matter.