Since my appointment as Minister for Education and Science, I have made it clear at every opportunity that addressing educational disadvantage is my top priority. It is my intention to ensure that available educational resources are targeted at the most disadvantaged people in the education system at all levels.
My overall approach to tackling educational disadvantage is set in the context of the Government's national action plan against poverty and social exclusion 2003-05 and the latest social partnership agreement, Sustaining Progress, which contains a special initiative focused on tackling educational disadvantage: literacy, numeracy and early school leavers.
I provided €460 million in 2003 for measures designed to counter educational disadvantage by targeting resources at pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. This included provision for the following initiatives: pre-school programmes such as the early start pilot project which caters for pupils aged three to four years who are most at risk in areas of social disadvantage; disadvantaged programmes at primary level such as the disadvantaged areas scheme, the home-school liaison scheme and the giving children an even break programme; post-primary level disadvantaged schemes such as the disadvantaged areas scheme and the home school community liaison scheme; the school completion programme which operates at primary and post-primary level and is a key component of my Department's strategy to discriminate positively in favour of children and young people who are at risk of early school leaving; disadvantaged youth schemes; further education measures such as the back to education initiative, the youthreach programme and the adult literacy programme; measures specifically designed to broaden access to third level education for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
In addition, in May 2003 I announced a new package of measures costing €42 million in a full year to further address and ameliorate the problems facing students from low to moderate income households in accessing third level education. This package combines substantial improvements in the level and coverage of the maintenance grants for those on low to moderate incomes, with increases in the level of "top-up" grant for those who are most disadvantaged.
In all this work I am advised by the statutory Educational Disadvantage Committee set up under the Education Act 1998, to advise on the policies and strategies to be adopted to identify and correct educational disadvantage. This committee, chaired by Professor Áine Hyland, brings together experts from across the community of education interests and is an important resource for me in ensuring that real progress is made in this area. One of my key concerns is to improve the level of integration between the various educational disadvantage programmes operated by my Department. In this regard, I have requested the committee to undertake a "root and branch" review of all of the programmes to ensure optimum synergy and integration between them. The committee is currently engaged in this review.