I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Madigan, for coming here this morning to deal with this matter. No schools have been assessed to be included for extra supports under the DEIS scheme since 2015 and only a small number were added in 2017. Schools are not currently being assessed. I would like an update on the DEIS resource allocation system and the timeline for its completion, publication and implementation.
DEIS encompasses a number of different types of supports, including: reduced class size; additional funding to provide access to literacy and numeracy programmes, which is important; the home school community liaison, HSCL, co-ordinator; school completion programmes, SCPs, which mean that students will stay in school longer and achieve results in final year exams; and access to the school meals programme. To clarify, the HSCL and the SCP both fall under Túsla educational and welfare services so there is a link there and a partnership with the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. There is also a link with the Department of Social Protection on the school meals programme. However, neither of those Departments can allocate schools access to the programmes unless designation has been given by the Department of Education. The Minister for Education has noted that this is dependent on an Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, in 2015 to bring forward a new methodology of assessment. That is great but, unfortunately, we do not have a methodology for assessing any of these schools now. A Department of Education publication, DEIS Identification Process, noted, "The model also identified a number of schools in disadvantaged areas, no currently within DEIS, whose level of disadvantage is significantly higher than many schools already in DEIS."
A Social Justice Ireland report published last week and based on a 2019 survey pointed to a decrease in people living below the poverty line. However, 20% of children still live in poverty. All across this country, especially in the past year, more families than were dealt with in that survey are dealing with disadvantage and loss of income, all of which impacts on child poverty. If children are going to school hungry, we need to act. If children are falling behind in reading and maths, we need to act. We need to ensure that every child has the same opportunity in the classroom, the ability to focus attention, the reserves to sit in school for the full day and the supports to avoid dropping out at secondary school level.
The Minister for Education has already noted that this review has to be completed before any supports are made available. I do not accept that. There must be a possibility of having a tiered level of support available for the schools most in need, particularly when this crisis affects those most vulnerable, namely, women, single parents and children.
In the 2016 Pobal deprivation index, Ballinasloe was listed as having areas that are extremely and very disadvantaged, the highest levels on the scale. The area also has a DEIS band 1 primary school. However, there is no support for any post-primary DEIS facility in our area. How is this possible in a large urban area? I will quote a school principal on the matter:
We struggle to support our most vulnerable families in the absence of an allocation for a Home School Community Liaison teacher. We try our best but it is an impossible task to ask full time teachers/assistant principals and senior leadership personnel to provide the level of family support that is necessary to these families. We have a large number (20-25%) of enrolment coming from [the DEIS band 1 primary school]. We meet students on a daily basis with no lunch. As a result, the school frequently has to buy food and distribute it without any support ...
I also spoke to a home school community liaison officer, a co-ordinator, in our area. She stated the retention of pupils following transfer to secondary school in Ballinasloe is really low, particularly among children who have had to leave school after having had considerable support at primary school level through DEIS at band level 1.
I want to put a programme in place that supports children from different backgrounds to have a fighting chance. The State has a role in providing hope and supports to children and students so they will have a fighting chance of an education. I call on the Minister of State, in the absence of the review, which has been happening since 2015, to set up immediately tiered supports for schools in crisis, partnering with the Department of Social Protection regarding access to the hot school meals programme and the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth regarding access to the home school community liaison scheme and school completion programme. I also call on the Minister to address the matter of the school completion co-ordinator in the Ballinasloe area. I acknowledge the wonderful supports in place at primary school level in our urban town area but how does disadvantage disappear at age 11?