Educational Supports: Discussion.

I welcome the following: Mr. David Campbell, principal, Scoil Gráinne; Ms Treasa Lowe, principal, Scoil Choilm, Porterstown, Dublin 15; Mr. Brendan Forde, principal, and Ms Annie Asgard, teacher, St. Nicholas's national school, Claddagh, County Galway; Mr. Tony McGinley, principal, St. John the Evangelist national school, Adamstown; and Ms Colette Kavanagh, principal, Lucan Educate Together national school. Mr. Tom Moriarty, principal, Adamstown Castle Educate Together, is in the Gallery. Esker Educate Together and Adamstown Castle Educate Together share premises at the moment and share some common issues. However, we cannot have everyone from my constituency appearing before the committee.

Members were interested in arranging a meeting to examine the support for children in a multi-ethnic and multicultural society. The visiting delegations have experience of having more than 50% of the children from multi-ethnic backgrounds. This presents challenges to the education system. The witnesses also have skills they have built up and can teach the committee and the Minister. Additional resources are also required. I hope the presentations will deal with those areas.

I am required to remind witnesses of the long-standing parliamentary practice that members of the committee have privilege but this same privilege does not extend to visiting delegations who may not comment on or criticise anyone in such a way that might be defamatory. Members are reminded that they may not bring the House into disrepute nor make charges against an official or make him or her identifiable. I have to say this every week so it becomes a bit of a drag after a while.

I will invite Mr. Campbell to begin with his presentation. Each delegate will have five minutes but there will be time to respond after members have asked questions.

Mr. David Campbell

I thank the committee for the invitation to address it. I am principal of Scoil Gráinne community national school located in Dublin 15 with a student population of 83% international newcomers and 17% Irish. It is a new school which opened in September 2008 and has junior and senior infant classes totalling 157 pupils. The school is expected to grow to more than 700 pupils and our new permanent building is being completed. We will share a campus with a vocational education committee post-primary school, Coláiste Pobail Setanta. I have included other background information in the submission to the committee.

The context of the school presents considerable benefits and opportunities. It is both a wonderful place to work and a wonderful community to work with. The core of the ethos of the community national school is a belief that difference, when respected and valued, gives strength and vibrancy to the total school community and the wider community in which we live. However, the situation presents some challenges in our efforts at both education and integration, which are both facets of our work. While the former is recognised and supported, the latter is not so. The supports available to schools and school communities with a high proportion of international newcomer children are predominantly focused on supporting the child to acquire the English language. While this is a necessary survival tool for the children, there is much more to the inclusion and integration of international newcomers than mere language acquisition alone. There needs to be a broader understanding of the role of the education sector in the integration of international newcomers and the creation of a modern Ireland.

A school can often be the centre of a community in new and developing areas or areas where there are new and developing populations. Schools can also be the genesis of those new communities. Scoil Gráinne recognises the need to develop a sense of community for the benefit of the school but also as a common good of itself. The communities in the area are so heterogeneous and based on linguistic or religious groupings that families often do not know their neighbours and can be isolated from the mainstream community. It is not sufficient merely to be available to newcomers or to welcome them. These families and individuals are in a strange land with an unfamiliar language and customs. We must be active in our invitation to participate in society, beginning with the local school community. Schools are well placed to lead these efforts in integration in areas such as ours and what is needed is support for and recognition of that role.

With regard to the supports and services provided by the home-school-community liaison teachers to DEIS schools and the needs they address, it would not be unreasonable to equate the level of need of a community of international newcomers to that of a disadvantaged community. The provision of home-school-community liaison, HSCL, teachers to schools with a significant proportion of international newcomers would significantly increase the potential of schools to play a transformative role in the integration of newcomers into society and the creation of a new society. While schools alone cannot be expected to create a fully integrated modern Ireland that derives its strengths from the differences of its individual parts, with the appropriate supports they certainly can play an important role in that effort. I have looked at the supports provided to other schools with different but equally significant needs, such as disadvantaged schools, and have seen how they could be of immense value to the education and integration efforts of schools such as Scoil Gráinne. One very simple way of ensuring this would be to allow schools with significant percentages of international newcomers to access the same level of supports as those afforded to DEIS schools, as outlined in the presentation.

Our efforts to integrate international newcomers will have the greatest impact in this first generation. However, if we do not seize this opportunity and allow a generation of newcomers to fail to identify with mainstream academic life and society, we may regret not doing all we could have done at this early stage. Schools such as ours are in a very small minority. Fewer than 10% of primary schools in the country have greater than 20% of their student population coming from international newcomer backgrounds. Schools with more than 50% must be an even smaller proportion. It is right that these schools are seen as different with different needs and therefore requiring different resourcing. A focus on language acquisition alone is insufficient. Owing to the small number of schools involved, the provision of DEIS-style resources would not be a major strain on the Exchequer and would be a cost-effective measure in our integration efforts.

I will conclude with a quote from Uachtarán na hÉireann, Mary McAleese: "The more people are on the margins, the weaker is the centre ... we all have a stake in building a future which respects and celebrates diversity — a generous, sharing Ireland that encompasses many traditions and cultures and creates space for all its people." Gabhaim buíochas leis an gcoiste.

Ms Treasa Lowe

Gabhaim buíochas leis an gcoiste as ucht an cuireadh anseo inniu. Scoil Choilm was established in a temporary building, at short notice and under emergency conditions in September 2007, under the temporary patronage of the Roman Catholic archbishop of Dublin. To put the school in context, approximately 90 children of schoolgoing age in the Porterstown parish could not be accommodated in the two Roman Catholic schools in the parish. Most of these children were of international newcomer background and the majority were non-Roman Catholics. When the school opened in September 2007, a total of 81 junior infants were enrolled. The school has grown incrementally since then and we are now catering for children in junior infants, senior infants and first class. It is hoped that when the school is fully developed, it will be a three-stream, co-educational school catering for children from junior infants to sixth class.

In September 2008, the school moved to its permanent school building on the Porterstown Road. We have a 16-classroom school building of which we are very proud. The school is now located back in its own catchment area which largely comprises Porterstown parish and some outlying estates. There are two Roman Catholic schools in the parish and, ultimately, Scoil Choilm will share a campus with Luttrellstown community college.

Scoil Choilm is currently under the patronage of the Minister for Education and Science who has appointed a single manager to manage the school on his behalf until a board of management is formed. Patronage of the school will transfer to County Dublin Vocational Education Committee following enactment of the necessary primary legislation and a board of management will then be formed.

The school community is very diverse which is reflected in our admissions policy. Scoil Choilm aims to promote the full and harmonious development of all aspects of the child: intellectual, physical, cultural, moral and spiritual. The school seeks to provide a high standard of education where each child is encouraged to reach his or her personal potential. The school is committed to a spirit of inclusion, equality and harmony where each child and member of the school community is valued and treated with respect. As one of the two community national schools currently being piloted, the school caters for children of all faiths and none. It is the policy of Scoil Choilm to respect, celebrate and recognise diversity in all areas of human life.

Scoil Choilm community national school follows the revised primary school curriculum as set out by the Department of Education and Science and the teaching of all subjects is in line with the recommendations as set out by the Department. We are proud to state that the teaching of Irish is the same as in any other school.

Most of the children attending our school live in apartments. This presents us with a major difficulty in trying to adhere to all areas of the curriculum, as most of them get few opportunities to play outdoors. Physical education, PE, at school is an important part of their development. Unfortunately, while our school is a state-of-the-art building, it was built without a hall, which is a major disadvantage for the children and us in trying to implement the PE curriculum.

Our school strives to ensure a high standard of education and is developing school plans and policies. We have received considerable help and support from various agencies within the Department of Education and Science and the Primary Professional Development Service, PPDF. We have also received much support from the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS. Our education psychologist has worked closely with us in trying to develop behavioural management strategies in an effort to address the acute behavioural challenges the school faces on an ongoing basis. The provision of support from DEIS has also been significantly beneficial to our school.

Some 92% of our pupils are of international newcomer background. The challenges this poses for staff are considerable. For most of these children, English is an additional language. Given these factors, most have not attended any form of pre-schooling and appear in school with little readiness. They do not have the language to attain the curriculum and have no understanding of the expectations of the Irish schooling system. This problem is compounded by the fact that their parents also have little understanding of what schooling means or is in Ireland.

Our allocation of five additional language support teachers has been of considerable help in trying to address the linguistic and cultural challenges faced by the school. The allocation not only helps with trying to ensure children have some level of understanding and can converse in English, but also helps to address the behavioural management strategies required in the school. Most children will gain conversational language within a two-year period, which often gives a false sense of how they are getting on in school. To attain academic language, however, all research shows that children need seven or eight years. That EAL support can be cut short can pose a problem as children move up through the school. This matter desperately needs to be addressed if the children are to access the primary school curriculum. I would like to see a sufficient level of EAL support extended throughout the primary school cycle at a reasonable rate instead of a diminished one.

Where increasing familiarity with the needs of pupils for whom English is an additional language is concerned, most of our staff have participated in beneficial courses either on-line or through the Dublin West Education Centre. The emphasis at infant level is on developing conversational language.

In Scoil Choilm, there is an array of cultures, all of which have their own unique styles of parenting. This has posed significant difficulties for our staff. Many of the families of pupils came to these shores as refugees. Often, their children bear the associated social and emotional scars. Some children have been separated from their parents for prolonged periods or are being reared by members of their extended families. The social and behavioural difficulties manifested by a portion of the pupils in our school cause major challenges. These factors, along with the linguistic difficulties, compound the difficulties we face in trying to address the curriculum.

In meeting these needs, the school has used its EAL allocation to break down its pupil-teacher ratio. This process has worked well. In junior and senior infants, the ratio is 16:1. In first class, it is 22:1. This process was facilitated by our beautiful new school building and the fact that we currently have a few classrooms available, but space is fast running out. To maintain good teaching, we need more space.

Many of the school's children have special educational needs. Often, these stem from the children's difficult backgrounds and the challenges faced by their families. Each year, we run two educational psychological assessments, but this level does not meet our needs. Our school was built with two special education teaching rooms, but this allocation does not meet its needs.

Scoil Choilm has been given DEIS status, which has been a fantastic and significant benefit to the school. It has afforded us after-school clubs, which are great because many of the parents in question cannot read or write in English. That children can attend homework clubs has been very beneficial to them.

I thank Ms Lowe, but I must cut her off there because of the numbers present. However, she can revert to the committee later regarding specific questions. People have Ms Lowe's presentation in front of them.

Ms Treasa Lowe

I thank the Chairman.

Mr. Brendan Forde

Go raibh maith agaibh a Chathaoirligh, Teachtaí Dála agus Seanadóirí deis a bheith agam teacht anseo. I am principal of the Claddagh school in Galway. When we attended the committee previously, we discussed the Saturday education for which we hoped to get support. Unfortunately, we got none. Nevertheless, Ms Asgard and I ran the programme for eight consecutive Saturdays. It involved the parents of newcomer children coming to school on Saturdays to learn English and their children coming to learn their native languages. The family school project is the best concept to introduce into the education system for this type of situation.

I have broadened my presentation a little because I firmly believe the project's scope is even wider. We do not work in isolation. Rather, we mirror what occurs in society outside our school. Everything that transpires outside is reflected in the school. If parents and children do not know the English language, they will revert to their own languages when they are at home, thus minimising the effect of a day at school. We must concentrate and innovate in a different direction. We must move towards a concept of family schooling if we are to bring serious meaning and worthwhile effort to creating a cohesive and integrated society.

The survey I have submitted at the back of my presentation shows a hardening of attitudes towards immigrants. If so, it is a sad reflection on us as a people because it could give rise to racism, racist language, ghettoisation and other aspects that have bedevilled societies in France, England and elsewhere. We either grow in the richness of cultural diversity or fail in the impoverishment of segregation and ghettoisation. We need a philosophical framework within which to work. Every school has the same types of problem. The issue is how to deal with it in a comprehensive way. The issue is when the Department of Education and Science moves forward to see the value of the concept of family education for immigrants. They are Irish and they could learn all about their social rights, the curriculum of the country they will live in, everything about our nation and we can learn something about theirs. They must be given the opportunity to express their views and for us to get to know them in a family setting.

It is possible to do this. We ran a Polish school for families in Galway. Ms Annie Asgard is very proficient and is recognised for this in education and the development of intercultural education in the west of Ireland. The school ran for eight Saturdays but we could not keep going any further. Politicians on the other side of the city got involved and took up the idea. The idea has promise but needs development and work.

Ireland is not unfamiliar with emigration. Our people are leaving again but hopefully that will not be for long. We should grow accustomed to people coming here and we should afford them the welcome they deserve, just as our people went all over the world. We must try to integrate and create a cohesive society or we will suffer in the long term. I gave the example of two functions I attended. One was on the west side of the city and we were the only school represented. It was encouraging to hear the Nigerian ambassador say to the Nigerians that her people are all ambassadors for their country. Her statement was emphatic and showed what she expected from her people in this country. I started to think about Nigerians at that time. Members may recall Mr. Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was executed in 1995 alongside seven or eight others for standing up against a terrible regime. There is a certain resonance with great men of our country. They are not just people who come here, they have nobility and greatness. When we see these people with nobility, deserving of respect that should be afforded, then we will be working towards a unified society.

Regarding the English language programme these teachers referred to, one cannot cut back language. Language is the greatest facility. It is open-ended, infinite, one names and nominates, one conceptualises and does everything through the power of language. We create our everyday social reality through the power of language. That is what good language means and does. To cut back language is to deny people the right to develop in a learning situation. Being able to say hello and to greet someone in primary terms is not the same as negotiating curricular language. Imagine being in sixth class and not knowing a word of English. It must be a huge buzzing confusion. One must then negotiate the curriculum and be prepared for secondary schools. I have found parents complaining that children are not being given their due rights in secondary school. The enrolment policies of secondary schools must be taken on and carefully monitored. At the last three days of parent teacher meetings we had three or four parents — who were African although I do not like to draw distinctions because there are no distinctions for me — say their children could not get into secondary schools. Imagine living in a long-stay place and having to produce €140 to do an entrance exam. Even if one cannot get in, the fee is held for so long and one must raise the money again to get admission to another school. It is all wrong. The system is not being keenly examined by the bureaucracy, the Department or the people.

To put people in a long-stay facility for five or six years is incarceration, not integration. There may be two women with two sets of children and they may not get on. Imagine that scene. We do not have any idea but teachers who have parents coming into schools meet them and know this. Most people do not know what is happening. I am not being disrespectful to politicians but they do not know. It is time people listened more to teachers within the schools to learn what is needed to develop language and cohesion. Our education is about nothing if it cannot produce a unified society after all the effort.

Consider the situation in France, where second generation immigrants are rioting still. It happened in the past few years. I worked as a student in Brixton in 1968 and we were the only white lads on the road. Ghettoisation will occur and that is what is happening on the east side of Galway. It is all one minority African group. I am not hostile to African people; I am talking about the terrible idea of one ethnic minority in one area. What does one expect to happen? An explosion will happen sometime. Planning authorities are not enlightened enough to know how to create a social mix in their cities. They must be educated by whoever will do it.

The most important factor in all learning is the under the roof culture of the home. If one cannot speak English at home, how can one expect to have an equal educational opportunity? It is farcical. Ministers with responsibility for education and bureaucrats go so far on the basis that one size fits all. They do not really know. They must talk to people who have served time in this area. It is no use legislating from above if people are not familiar with the problems. Special needs children also belong to this group. Consider, for example, two African autistic children who have difficulty getting assessments to get into school. Speech therapy is another factor. The Government has failed miserably to roll out the EPSEN Act, which is the right of children. One cannot say that the programme cannot be done this year. To someone who needs it this year but cannot get it, it is no good if it is available in five or ten years' time. There is money for absolutely everything, including many things that are not favourable. The people who fought and wanted a just society would not have encountered this. Ken Saro-Wiwa said:

My Lord, we all stand before history. I am a man of peace, of ideas. Appalled by the denigrating poverty of my people who live on a richly endowed land, distressed by their political marginalisation and economic strangulation, angered by the devastation of their land, their ultimate heritage, anxious to preserve their right to life and to a decent living, and determined to usher to this country as a whole a fair and just democratic system which protects everyone and every ethnic group and gives us all a valid claim to human civilization, I have devoted my intellectual and material resources, my very life, to a cause in which I have total belief and from which I cannot be blackmailed or intimidated. I have no doubt at all about the ultimate success of my cause, no matter the trials and tribulations which I and those who believe with me may encounter on our journey. Nor imprisonment nor death can stop our ultimate victory.

What he was fighting for was justice and this is the type of person coming to this country. They are not ignorant African people; they are proud people who deserve their rights.

I will cut Mr. Forde off now but he will have a chance to speak again later.

Mr. Brendan Forde

Before I finish I will make a final point. Pádraig Pearse stated the same thing:

O wise men, riddle me this: what if the dream come true?

What if the dream come true? and if millions unborn shall dwell

In the house that I shaped in my heart, the noble house of my thought?

Lord, I have staked my soul, I have staked the lives of my kin

On the truth of Thy dreadful word.

They have the same ideas and principles of justice and we should be trying to raise our game and bring justice, language and education to those families in this country.

Mr. Tony McGinley will also speak on behalf of the Educate Together Adamstown schools. We tried to limit it to three schools from various geographic backgrounds but I am conscious that Educate Together has built up considerable expertise in mulit-ethnic education and in that context the first person to be called after the questioning will be Ms Colette Kavanagh. I also wish to inform committee members that a phone call from Mr. McGinley gave me the idea of having a meeting on this issue. Members raised it as part of our work programme but urgent matters have arisen and I thank Mr. McGinley for spurring us on to prioritise it in our work agenda.

Mr. Tony McGinley

So I am to blame for all of this. Go raibh maith agaibh as an cuireadh seo a thabhairt dúinn. Although we are discussing educational issues this is really a matter for Irish society and it is a question of what direction we want our society to go. St. John the Evangelist national school, Adamstown Castle national school and Esker Educate Together national school all opened in September 2007. The two schools in Adamstown were opened as part of the Adamstown strategic development zone while Esker was opened as an emergency school to cater for an overflow of children in the Lucan area.

Initially, we all shared one school building. The first morning was very interesting as we stood in the schoolyard waiting to see who would come to us. Gradually the schools evolved and we are very proud of what we have achieved so far. Adamstown Castle and Esker schools still share the same building while Esker waits for a site for a new school. Esker caters for the wider Lucan area; St. John the Evangelist prioritises children from the Adamstown development but also caters for children from the wider Lucan area; and Adamstown Castle specifically caters for the Adamstown area. Adamstown Castle has an enrolment of 140 pupils, Esker has 230 pupils and we at St. John the Evangelist have 270 pupils.

There is no doubt that we are the focal point of the local communities. The issue that brought this to light for me was a headline in a local newspaper which stated that the new schools in the area were ghetto schools. We found that offensive and objectionable; it was beyond belief. We have worked hard and put much time and commitment into our schools. We are very proud of them. The parents are passionate about education and the welfare of their children. There are no words to describe seeing something like that written about us.

From the outset it was apparent that our schools did not meet the profile of a traditional Irish school. We all opened with more than 90% of children whose parents were from a non-Irish background and this profile has been maintained since. At present, 95% of Adamstown Castle's pupils are such children; in Esker it is 94%; and 87% of the pupils of St. John the Evangelist of children who have parents born outside Ireland and 5% are from the Traveller community. We all deal with exceptionally high levels of ethnic minority.

Teaching in such an environment is very rewarding. This is the sixth school in which I have taught. I love my job and what we do but we are here to examine the issues that are arising. We all have been very fortunate with our teaching staff. They have all bought into the concept and ethos of the schools. Their commitment to the schools has been magnificent. However, we regularly find ourselves over-stretched and fire-fighting on a daily basis. The challenges we face are not those faced in a traditional school. Systematic reforms, improved supports and in-service training are all required if the children are to make the progress of which they are so clearly capable.

The two main challenges facing the schools which we must tackle are language and culture. It is true to say that at present there is a language and cultural disadvantage in our schools. The current model for English as an additional language, EAL, does not meet the needs of our schools; it does not even come close. It is a model of immersion but we do not have children in our school on which to model the language. We are dependent on the teachers. The schools have lost children from various countries and their parents have told us that it was because there were not enough Irish children at the school.

It is a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Mr. Tony McGinley

Yes, it is.

The difficulty with being the final speaker is that some of the ground has been covered but, as other speakers stated, social language takes two years to acquire, and it can take up to ten years to acquire the language required for learning. The most recent changes to EAL support are based on a model which does not meet our needs. In my school, 100% of the children who were entitled to language support when they started two and a half years ago on day one still meet the criteria for language support. Even though in standardised tests they are very high achievers in subjects such as mathematics, they still have a difficulty and deficit in language.

We have a crazy situation whereby a language programme is available to DEIS schools but we cannot access it because we are not designated DEIS. However, our difficulties are as great, and possibly greater, than any difficulties experienced in DEIS schools. Will somebody explain the logic of this to me because I cannot understand it? It does not make sense. We are further disadvantaged because the majority of children attending our schools do not attend pre-school. As was mentioned earlier, they come straight into school without the skills required. Even with the new initiative in early childhood education, most of our parent body is unable to access preschool for their children. This is why these issues and how best to tackle them in our schools must be examined.

We also deal with cultural differences which we do not fully understand. On many occasions we are not even aware of them.

How many of the parents are asylum seekers?

Mr. Tony McGinley

To be honest, I do not know. We have never sought that breakdown of information. Children from more than 40 countries have come to our school. We deal with different countries as well as inter-tribal differences. I give members the example of a boy from Nigeria who enrolled recently. To show he had been baptised, he produced a sacramental card which stated that anyone converting to Catholicism before he or she dies must renounce Juju and agree to taking only one wife. Whatever I may know about polygamy, I definitely missed the lecture on Juju when I was in college.

To address these issues, I propose a pilot scheme which could take the working title of DEIS band 3. It would run for a limited period of perhaps five years among possibly no more than ten schools so that it can be closely monitored. It would incorporate an early start programme, a home-school liaison officer and a review of English as an additional language with a view to implementing a more appropriate system for schools with our profile. Alternative models to current staffing levels are needed and more discretionary resources should be allocated to principals and boards of management. Allocations should be proportionate to schools' complexity and diversity. Accountability would of course have to be built into the system. When I started teaching in 1986, disadvantage schemes were only beginning and were very ad hoc. People were knocking on doors and changes were made regularly. We are starting from a similar point on this very different issue and we have to develop the necessary structures.

Two of the schools in Adamstown do not have home-school liaison officers and one has a part-time position. We suggest that the work of home-school liaison officers should be complemented by someone from the local community from whom we can get a better understanding of cultural differences. We should not seek to reinvent the wheel when we can learn from the mistakes and good practices developed by our experienced colleagues in Britain, France, Sweden and the Netherlands. We need an opportunity to link in with professionals from other countries to find out which structures work and which have failed.

I apologise but I must cut Mr. McGinley short because members and the media have received copies of his presentation and I am conscious of the limited time available to us. Deputy Quinn indicated earlier that he will have to leave the meeting for an urgent appointment but he wants to put some questions before doing so.

Mr. Tony McGinley

I will conclude with a brief remark. If we are serious about creating an inclusive society, these issues have to be addressed. If we do not address them now, ten years down the road we will be wondering why we have these problems.

I understand that the Department of Education and Science has taken an interest in this morning's debate and I propose that we invite a delegation from the Department to respond to the recommendations made by the witnesses. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I must attend a family funeral, so I ask that my early departure not be regarded as rudeness. I will read the response to my questions, however. I intended to ask about model patronage by VECs and multi-faith teaching but these are issues for another day and a much wider audience.

We are probably dealing with 120 schools countrywide if 10% have the numbers described by the witnesses. This is a very distinct cohort among our 3,200 primary schools. If the local population drops below a certain critical level, foreigners who want their children to become fluent in English will move to another school. The telltale sign is fluency in mathematics but non-fluency in English.

This issue should be set against a background whereby 20% of children are already being failed by the primary school system. The drop-out rate in literacy is particularly severe among working class males who leave school at age 15 unable to read and write. They either go straight onto drugs and jail or become permanently unemployed. The president of the Party of European Socialists, of which I am treasurer, and former Prime Minister of Denmark, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, has stated that Denmark was previously very liberal and open but, unfortunately, it invited people to work in the economy without taking them into society. The problem that country now faces is that the children and grandchildren of those guest workers are Danish citizens who do not speak Danish. They are viewed as welfare cheats who refuse to work when in reality they cannot work because the Danish economy is like ours in that one cannot find employment without skills. We will begin to harvest a similar legacy fairly soon.

The witnesses as a group have good support organisations, including unions and the Irish Primary Principals Network. Will they be able to mobilise the resources of these organisations to quantify the issues they have outlined? We all know there is no money in the education budget, so let us not play games about it. However, there is a fortune in our overseas development assistance budget because this issue partly involves the Third World coming to this country and not being allowed to integrate. With lateral thinking we can use some of that money to help people who have made the journey. I refer in particular to those who are incarcerated, in which respect the circumstances of the people in the hostel outside Clifden, is the saddest sight one can see. They are not allowed to do anything but they would love to do something. Why can we not mobilise some of that money? This is a matter which the Department of Education and Science could consider. Likewise, can we not dip into future funding? Many of these people will end up in jail or on social welfare unless we can draw down money from the future to invest in schools now.

The proposal on a DEIS band 3 programme for language support is critical and, as Mr. Campbell noted, the quantifiable numbers are relatively small. However, as I do not have to remind the witnesses, they will not get innovative ideas from the Department and will have to take the initiative themselves. The vast majority of people, citizens of Galway as well as politicians, are unaware of the kind of conditions described today. People need to hear the compelling narrative about being saddled with a group of Irish citizens who are incapable of integrating into our society if we do not intervene now.

We should be learning from the experiences of smaller countries such as the Netherlands and Denmark rather than Spain, France or England. The resources are available to organise and quantify the problem and this committee should offer whatever assistance it can.

I welcome the delegates. I am horrified by the stories they shared with us. I was struck by the presentations that there is a lack of departmental recognition of the problem. It is not as if it has arisen overnight; it has been with us since the beginning of the Celtic tiger. I am sure Mr. Forde is familiar with the situation in Gort, County Galway, which experienced the first influx of newcomers into a small urban area. The process of ghettoisation which appears to be occurring has to be stopped or we will face huge social problems further down the line. Are there people within the Department who can deal with the problems arising and which have obviously been there since day one? The Department has failed to recognise disadvantage in schools when it has been obvious. The average portion of newcomers is approximately 90% in the school populations which have been mentioned. There should be some recognition within the Department of what is happening and the needs that exist. That is compounded by difficulties described related to special needs provision.

We know the standard access to special needs provision in schools at primary level is totally inadequate. The people in the system involved in the delivery of education for newcomers in all schools mentioned today are much more than educators. Apart from the Department of Education and Science, has any other Department and the services provided in any way supported the establishment of the schools? There is obvious need to embrace other Departments and the services they provide rather than leaving it to the Department of Education and Science alone. It has let many people down in certain areas in the past.

I foresee significant problems developing further down the line. It was mentioned that it takes seven to eight years to establish any meaningful curriculum development. We are now facing into the second level, and we are all familiar with the headlines given to schools at second level which have denied access for special needs children. If this is extended to the difficulties experienced by newcomers, we will have a serious problem.

There have only been particular initiatives in certain schools management at second level. We must commend the VEC sector more than any other. One of the presentations highlighted the development of one school with the VEC, with a shared campus, which might be an advantage to others.

The concept of a pilot scheme involving eight to ten schools has been suggested. The schools would be financed and resourced with personnel who have the skills to support the ordinary teacher, if there is such a thing in this context. A teacher in this position must be much more than a standard teacher. The pilot scheme should be established and a relevant section from the Department should respond to it and deliver what is necessary.

This relates to school funding. We know of the inadequacy of funding for national schools around the country and they must have cake sales and other fund-raising exercises. Is that experience shared by these institutions? There must be a significant difficulty because a minority group within society is involved.

Much could be said but, to add to Deputy Quinn's comments, it is embarrassing that this committee has shown such a lack of response today. I do not say this because I am present but there should have been a greater response across the parties and from the Government. That reflects the response of the Department but perhaps that discussion is for another day. I am compelled to say that.

The Deputy has made a valid point and pre-empted my comments. Every member of a committee may sometimes have to miss a meeting and for different reasons I have missed virtually every meeting of another committee of which I am a member. People can have valid reasons for being absent but it beggars belief that of the seven members from Fianna Fáil on this committee, one has apologised for being absent, one turned up briefly and five others could not bother their backside to turn up. That is an indictment of our political system. If any of those members are watching the meeting on the monitor, they should join us because this is a very important issue. The Minister for Education and Science sometimes takes notice of what this committee expresses and if the Fianna Fáil members were here to support our efforts, it might help us a little.

I ask the Chairman to give an undertaking to call in Department representatives as a matter of urgency and we will impose a whip for members to attend.

We have agreed to invite members of the Department before us. Several officials from the Department are in the Visitors' Gallery as we speak so they are taking a very active interest. I will push on for reasons of time, although the Deputy may have a chance to contribute again.

Perhaps the same thoughts were going through all our minds. I concur with Deputy Burke. I thank the delegation for its input. I visited the St. Nicholas national school in Galway a couple of years ago and Mr. Forde and Ms Asgard were before us two years ago. They made a brilliant presentation then and again this morning.

I feel almost a sense of helplessness at the moment. We have spoken about value for money and when I visited the school, there was a sense of what could be done with few resources. The people had to battle for these resources and got them on their own rather than having the politicians get them. We all have other places we could be this morning — I had to leave for a few minutes — and I am glad the Chairman alluded to the issue. I do not want to be political because what we ultimately want are better resources and a solution to the problem rather than political points scoring. We need those in the Government to be present; we can knock on the door but only those in the Government can act. I will support the Chairman and Deputy Burke in acting on this issue.

People attending committee meetings must understand that we cannot change the world, although we can give our opinions and hope to bring about change. In a way, what has happened might be good because it has brought to the fore issues of support which are required, and the lack of a genuine effort from the people who can make a difference in bringing that about.

I wish to make a proposal. We agreed in private session to invite officials from the Department of Education and Science before this committee on 11 March to deal with a separate matter. To get some continuity from this debate, I propose that we invite departmental officials before us on this subject on 11 March.

I second the proposal.

I do not want to say too much but I am thankful for being allowed to contribute. I listened to some of the comments on the monitors upstairs and I hope others are doing likewise. Having listened to the various contributors, we know integration is a fact of life. I visited the St. Nicholas school only a few days ago in Claddagh and it is a great model for integration of people from different countries, as well as integration of people with special needs. We are considering new models. The Educate Together model is a fantastic one because it does things from a secular point of view and because it provides for education in all the different faiths. It caters for people's needs. It is a good way forward.

The EPSEN Act was raised. We called for a debate on this in the Seanad today. I hope we can push this forward in the context of integration generally, encompassing those with special needs at both lower and higher level — I am also talking about very bright children; it is important they are not forgotten about — and those from different faiths and different countries. This is the reality of modern Ireland. There are two Government representatives here so I do not know if we are considering future coalitions, if Fine Gael is interested in this matter——

The Senator should look to his right.

It is a different party but it just happens to be one of the two Government parties.

It just happens to be, in that case.

We must recognise that modern Ireland is different from the Ireland of the past. The people here today are pioneers and should be recognised as such. We need to give them as much help as we can.

There are two areas on which I would like to focus: one is discipline and the other is parenting style. These are both connected with the role of parents. I have heard from talking to principals and teachers from several schools that this can be a major issue and everybody is touched by it to some degree. I would like some more input on that. Has the Department ever given a response on this issue? It is almost separate to the curriculum and to the issue of resources but it is crucial. Do any of the delegates believe the Department could or should provide any kind of parental support, perhaps as part of a new DEIS 3 model? I will ask Ms Kavanagh to reply first because she has not yet spoken, and then Ms Asgard may reply.

I will reiterate some of the questions asked by other members. Deputy Quinn asked whether people could get together as a group, given the small number of schools in which the proportion of non-national students is more than 50%, to form an ad hoc umbrella group to exert more pressure and, as he said, mobilise the strength of the unions. The INTO has a great deal of clout.

The other questions about dipping into future funding were, I think, rhetorical, but there is the question of whether ODA should go towards this area or the Department of Foreign Affairs. As members of this committee have mentioned before, we are throwing money down the drain by not investing in these children now because it will cost us much more down the line. The Stand Up For Education group is seeking to have 7% of GDP spent on education, which is something to which all members of this committee would subscribe. I am interested in the views of the delegates on additional funding streams in a time of economic recession.

Deputy Ulick Burke asked whether there was a particular section in the Department to which one could go to deal with the problems the delegates face, and whether there has been support from other Departments. Deputy O'Mahony mentioned the effective use of small resources and called for more resources. Senator Ó Brolcháin made comments rather than asked questions, but these were considered by the delegation.

I will start with Ms Kavanagh and give everyone a chance to reply. I know everyone is very passionate about his or her own area and could probably take up the entire time. I ask people to combine their passion with brevity.

Ms Colette Kavanagh

We would be delighted to work together as a cluster of schools. I was also pleased to hear there may be funding from the overseas development fund, because much of the time when we seek funding we are told it is not available. The INTO has supported us and we have received support from the integration and social inclusion units of the Department. Thus, we are receiving support, but we need much more. We need the kind of support that Mr. McGinley and my other colleagues have been talking about.

There is one issue that has not yet been mentioned — the reason that all of the schools that opened in Dublin in 2007 have more than 90% newcomer families. In Lucan, the area we are from, there are 14 schools, and the four that have opened most recently have the same profile. As educationalists and politicians and as a society, we need to consider the causes of this. Is it just a blip in time, or are we sleep-walking towards a system of segregation?

It is to do with the planning and board of management rules under the Education Act.

Ms Colette Kavanagh

That is exactly what it is. It is a matter of planning. Schools are over-subscribed; all the schools in Lucan and other areas take in all children, but as soon as they become over-subscribed enrolment policies come into play, and when this happens it is newcomer families who are disproportionately at the bottom of the list under every patronage system — denominational systems, if a family is not of that denomination, or Educate Together or VEC schools. If it is a first-come-first-served system, newcomer children will be at the bottom of that list also: either their families are new to the country and have not had their children's names put on the list, or they do not have the social or educational capital to get their names down for schools. When my school opened as an emergency school in 2007, there were 170 children on the waiting list who could not get into any school in Lucan — Educate Together schools, denominational schools or gaelscoileanna — and the reason was that they were at the bottom of the lists.

This is something we must consider as a society. However, we have not yet decided, as a society, whether we are looking for plurality within schools — the Educate Together or VEC model — or plurality of schools, which results in choice for parents. It is a difficult decision for society to make, but it is of crucial importance now. The problem began two years ago in a serious way. All of the schools that opened in 2007 in the greater Dublin area and the few that opened in 2008 have 90% or more newcomer families. It is a different issue from that of schools that were 100% Irish and then took in many newcomer children, ending up with 40% or 50% newcomer children. Schools that open initially with more than 90% newcomer children are a special case. We do not have any Irish children or Irish parents to help build a sense of community in the school.

Maybe the schools with 40% or 50% newcomer children would be a ideal model from which to learn.

Ms Colette Kavanagh

They would, but the problem is that it is difficult to talk about integration in our schools when there are no children or families for pupils to integrate with.

Except Travellers.

Ms Colette Kavanagh

Yes. It is more of a difficulty than in the other case, where children can be integrated into an Irish school community. The new schools do not have Irish school communities. Our parents are not meeting Irish families. The only thing the parents of children in my school have in common is that they are not Irish. That is the only reason they are in our school.

Many negative messages have come out about the schools. Our schools are fantastic places to work and for the families. The families with children there are very happy, apart from the fact that they are worried about their children's English language acquisition. They are worried about their children not having friends who speak English.

This is a major issue for us. Is this the way things will be in the future? If it is only a blip, then there will be only a certain number of schools at which resources must be targeted. If it is a longer term issue, we must worry about it.

Ms Annie Asgard

I have comments to make on all the questions. I visited this committee two years ago and we discussed the very same issues we are discussing now. We have established that there is an issue that needs to be resolved and we need practical solutions. Believe it or not, I will now give some.

First, there is the issue of allocation of English language support teachers. When I came here originally the allocation was 14 children for one English as an additional language, EAL, teacher, with a maximum possibility of six teachers, although in some schools the figure might be higher. That allocation was cut in this school year with the result that in a school like ours we now have six EAL teachers which will be reduced to four. The allocation model was changed and now there are to be more children per teacher.

I propose to the committee, as I did to the Department of Education and Science, where it seemed to have gone in one ear and out the other, that this should be done in the same way we assess special needs children. Children who have a specific speech and language disorder are allocated a certain number of hours. Children with Down's syndrome or another disability might get another set of hours. A child with autism would get five hours a week.

There must be an assessment of children in terms of their language and cultural needs. There has to be some type of points system because in some schools one will see 14 Nigerian children who do not speak Ibo or Yoruba. Those 14 children will be deemed equivalent to, let us say, children from Polish or Ukrainian families who have no English whatsoever in their homes. They are judged to be equally weighted and we are judged to have the same responsibility to teach them English but that is not the case. I realise this might mean that in some schools the allocation would be reduced but it would meet the needs of schools such as those of my colleagues here in Dublin.

I can go into great detail on the allocation of hours, if members wish. However, I will give some general information. If a child arrives in junior infants with a first language that is not English or Irish, he or she might be allocated one point. For a child in fifth or sixth class who comes with no English or Irish, obviously the content needs and the content demands on them will be so high that we will add another few points. If the child has never had any formal education and is not literate in his or her native language, he or she may not even have the concept of fractions in that language. Not only must such children scaffold the native language to the English language, but must now learn the concept of fractions through a language they do not understand. That might be another thing to consider, another method. If a child's language is very far away from the English language on the Indo-European language tree, it will be harder for that child to learn English. We will all agree it is harder for a student from Thailand and I have had the example of such a student. It is a lot harder for him to learn English than it would be for a French or German student, because he is further away on the language tree.

Factors of that kind might be taken into consideration. Unfortunately, the Department is treating the process like a stamp. That works in some cases for some schools which might get more allocation than they need. In other schools like mine or those of my fellow delegates we end up having the same number of teachers as another school whose pupils are predominantly African and may not have serious language needs. That is one point I wanted to make.

I was asked who is supporting us. There has been support from the Department of Education and from the office of the Minister with responsibility for integration. However, it should be stated for the record that there is no EAL training for teachers this year. We can no longer say to a teacher to go off in the summer and do summer courses such as those run by Marino College or the INTO. They are excellent courses and I have no problem with them. I facilitated them. However, there must be a serious undertaking from the Department. I was part of a training programme run by the Primary Professional Development Service, PPDS, to train a group of trainers from the regions. They were to go back to their own areas and train mainstream teachers in EAL strategies to use in the classroom as opposed to using a withdrawal method. That scheme had almost no uptake because the classes were run in the evenings. This must be mandatory. All teachers, not only EAL teachers, must have second language acquisition theory and training in language support teaching.

My last point concerns the comment made about a cultural liaison officer. This is best practice abroad. Coming as I do from an ethnic minority, I know the teachers in my school had no idea what my life outside school was like and there was no way they could know this. It is really important to look to our ethnic minority communities. Everywhere one goes there are qualified teachers walking around our schools. If we are to pose the question, in all fairness we expect diversity among our student population and we expect to encourage it but the teaching profession in Ireland is sadly lacking in diversity. I commented on this — perhaps some of the members read this in the recent INTO newsletter — saying that we need to show respect for those professionals who are walking around our schools. Even if it is on a voluntary basis we should allow them come in and share their expertise. That is all I have to say.

I have a related question and do not mean to be smart. Does Ms Asgard believe the Irish language requirement is a psychological bar, if not anything else, to incoming teachers?

Ms Annie Asgard

Certainly it is an issue. The Department model is based on the fact that in a country school where there are only two teachers everybody has to teach everything. There is no specialisation. Times have changed and we are now in large urban schools. There is no reason that such and such a person should not teach music in my place if he is better at music than I am. I can do his PE classes, or whatever. It is the same situation with Irish. I do not have Irish. I certainly believe it is something teachers should encourage. However, I am bilingual in another language. I understand the differences. The fact is, ethnic minority parents come to this country but their qualifications are not recognised. That is them done for. Then they are cleaning floors. Is that really the message we want to send to our children? The only people who have any importance in the school are the white Irish parents or our teachers who are walking around. We let the Polish people do the cleaning. The Nigerians can be the bus drivers but we will not let them into the classroom. Modelling integration is what we need to do rather than merely talk about it.

The point is well made. I call Mr. Campbell.

Mr. David Campbell

I return to what Ms Kavanagh said about plurality and whether we want it within schools. The community national school was established to cater for this within schools. It seems that rather than establishing a multiplicity of schools with each catering for its own belief and the unnecessary ghettoisation of children created in that way, it is much more sensible to have them all under one roof. As a function of that, our enrolment policy is not on a first-come first-served basis nor is it based on religious belief. It is based on the year of admission in order to give the greatest advantage to the entire community.

Deputy Burke asked whether any other Department has been supportive. As members will know, our patron in waiting is the County Dublin VEC. We have been very fortunate to access resources in adult education from that body and we provide English language classes for parents within the school. We are very thankful for that. As the Deputy said, the VEC has developed an expertise in integration which should be linked into and we are lucky to have it.

Funding for all primary schools is certainly insufficient and ours is no exception. We have to engage in fundraising and obviously that is a perennial issue which can always be improved. However, I think that if one were looking to find additional streams of funding, wishing to get the greatest bang for a buck, a primary school principal is the person to ask. We are so used to working on a shoestring.

I believe that answers most of the questions.

Ms Treasa Lowe

The integration issue was a huge concern to the staff and parents and the management of the schools in all cases because of the very small minority of indigenous nursery schools. We found it was something we really needed to strive very hard to address. County Dublin VEC helped us out a great deal in that respect. In addition, we try to invite groups from the community and using outside agencies and groups in this way helps in some degree to address communication with the parents. We had groups from the ICA and some GAA football groups who explained their activities to the parents and explained how they could join. That was of some help. Certainly, the integration issue is a major concern.

I will come back to Mr. Forde but in the interests of balance I call Mr. McGinley.

Mr. Tony McGinley

It is apparent this is not an issue of patronage. Three patron bodies are represented here today. For obvious reasons it is not an issue for gaelscoileanna but it is something with which the rest of us must deal. Deputy O'Mahony referred to a sense of helplessness. I am not arrogant enough to speak for my colleagues but it is something I feel on a regular basis and I believe they go through similar phases; one wonders what will come next.

I referred to the issue of fundraising in my presentation. One cannot go out and organise a table quiz or whatever else. It would be very difficult to pitch the questions anyway.

The Chairman raised the matter of discipline. We had a very positive experience before Christmas where we launched a code of discipline in the school. Prior to that we held a meeting at which all parents were invited to make a contribution towards our code of discipline and to listen to the background of discipline in Irish schools. More than 80% of parents turned up, which anyone involved in education will testify is fantastic feedback from a parent body. We had to explain the origins of our current discipline system in schools, the abolishment of corporal punishment, why we are in the situation in which we find ourselves now and to get the parents to buy in to what we are trying to create. It has been a very positive experience and since we started implementing the code of behaviour we have found parents have taken a positive interest in it and they contribute on a daily basis.

The idea of an umbrella group goes back to the suggestion I made earlier. We cannot do this on our own. It is not just an issue for the INTO, the Department or a group of politicians. This is an issue for society. The Chairman has been out to our school. We will certainly issue an invite to all other members of the committee to visit our schools to see what it is like on the ground and to see the issues with which we deal on a daily basis. The simple fact of the matter is that we are dealing with a one size fits all model at the moment but we do not fit into that model. We are marginalised and schools must form a suitable model themselves. It is something we must examine and which must be tackled. If we do not tackle it we will look back and regret this missed opportunity.

I hope when the Department responds it will do so with suggestions for improving the system rather than spelling out what is taking place already. As Mr. McGinley has stated, there is welcome support and there are some enlightened people within the Department, but the pressure must be applied. It might not be a bad idea to informally swap numbers with each other afterwards. I am aware from past experience that Mr. Brendan Forde is a very articulate and cognitive individual and now I find Mr. Forde is also a very patient individual.

Mr. Brendan Forde

It is unusual to hear that because it is not one of my best assets, but I thank the Chairman all the same. I refer to the programme Ms Asgard and I put forward the last time, that is, the family school model. There are hundreds of teachers walking around this country and there will be more next year. There are many halls and empty classrooms throughout the country. There are many mothers at home, dying for something to do all day. The idea is that such people would bring their infants with them and we could create the concept of family schooling and get everyone involved. We could link it to the system of payment of dole or anything else. In other words, it might be possible to link attendance at school with getting paid while one is out of work. One might come to school with one's children and be a part of a system that would co-opt people into our system through language. If one wishes to create a society, this is the way to do it. I am passionate and I believe in this sincerely.

Mr. Forde may wish to note that now that Oireachtas Members must sign on as well, there will be a good deal more support for the idea.

Mr. Brendan Forde

We were very pleased to propose that model before and it should be considered again. Cognisance has been taken of the fact that so many teachers are out of work. We could offer them an opportunity to work with families. Provision could be made for a prefab in every yard to get such people into the system.

I call Senator Keaveney who was here earlier but had to go to the Seanad.

I am sorry to be ducking and diving. There are several meetings going on at the same time. Deputy Michael D. Higgins is next door and he said to say "Hello"; he would be here otherwise. I am interested in the concept of the parents coming in to schools and non-national issues. The exchange of culture is a two-way process and everyone is enriched by access to other people's culture.

The discussion reminds me of a situation in Derry some years ago. I was brought into a housing estate in which there was a house with crèche facilities for young children on the ground floor and adult education on the other two floors was available for 16, 17 and 18 year olds and any age group. These were single parents who had dropped out of education to have a child but who later on took a notion to get a GCSE or an A level but did not believe they had the assent of the community or the ability to do it. It may sound different but it is not so different in my view. The fact that their children were safe downstairs meant they could return to education. The idea of bringing old and young together is similar. People learn from one another. If mammy and daddy are interested in learning English and maths, then there is role-modeling for the children and they should be interested as well and vice versa.

I refer to the St. Agnes programme on RTE recently which told the story of compulsory violin teaching in the school. Everyone was obliged to learn. That idea is now spilling into the community and old age pensioners, the grannies and grandads, are now involved in the same project. I do not know how this could manifest itself because there are difficulties with carrying out after school activities in some schools. One finds the doors are locked and the attitude is that it is their school, their premises and no one else is welcome. I know of primary schools in my area where people have tried to go to help to teach computer skills. The principal's view was that no one other than the teachers should come in. I am not saying that is par for the course generally, but it was the reality in one instance in which we tried to do something. It would take a good deal of organising to achieve what the delegation aspires to. Any programme should be piloted in several places and moved on from there.

To broaden the scope of the discussion, it should not necessarily be only for the non-national situation but also for people trying to get back into education. It is an advantage if their children are at school while they are at school as well. There is a strong case to be made that this is not simply for a particular group of people. There are many groups of people that could benefit from a broader consideration of how we educate our children.

Ms Annie Asgard

I refer to the cultural exchange. Our objective is inter-cultural education and, as a country, we have decided this is what we seek. Multiculturalism is probably more about celebrating everyone's diversity and we are all diverse. However, inter-culturalism is about going both ways and there is a communication and an understanding in this regard. We operated a pilot scheme after the academic lessons took place. Each week, we brought in someone from the outside, including two hurling experts who taught the parents how to play hurling. They explained the rules and they played a basic hurling match. Another group came in and made brown bread with the mothers. There were fathers there as well but they laughed their way through it, more or less. Irish musicians came in to explain the various types of music. That exchange was there and included me and one other person, so there was not a great deal of exchange going in the other direction. However, I think we can agree that happens in schools anyway.

In terms of the model one uses, we use the school on a Saturday with the permission and encouragement of the board of management and Mr. Forde. The schools are a national resource to be used. We cannot close them at 2.30 p.m. and say, "This is ours". One has to set up a system so that things are treated with respect, and so on, but it is a way forward, in particular because we took the preschool children for early intervention English. They had one year of teaching in an immersion setting by the time they went to school. It was only for three hours one day a week but it was something.

Was it voluntary?

Ms Annie Asgard

It was partially voluntary.

Mr. Brendan Forde

Not a great deal of money changed hands. I got nothing.

Ms Annie Asgard

The cost was minimal. We need to think outside the box, otherwise I will be sitting here in another two years having the same conversation. I do not want that to happen.


Is there a definite pattern regarding attendance across the school which may differ from a traditional school? Is it a blip or is it a long-term pattern? When the Department of Education and Science establishes a new school or agrees to build a new primary school it researches the statistics for three, four, five, six or seven years as far as it can. Is there any evidence that in five or ten years' time there will be fewer pupils for these schools? Are there any definite statistics available to show that we have a long-term and current need?

Ms Colette Kavanagh

There are huge attendance difficulties with our schools. We do not have attendance difficulties in terms of children attending one day a week or missing Monday or Friday. Such a pattern does not exist in my school. Many children miss more than the 20 days which the NEWB requires to report. Many of the children concerned come from families who are from Pakistan or India and they return there for holidays, family weddings and family funerals. If they go, they go for six weeks, not a week and a half. We have serious problems with this. It is very difficult, as a principal, when a parent comes to me, says his or her mother is dying and the family has to go back. I cannot say he or she cannot do that; I do not have the right to say that. People also say they are going on holidays. We try to discourage leaving for large stretches with our parent body because it is very difficult for the children, who are struggling with English anyway, to miss six weeks. They are immersed in their own language, which is fantastic, but when they come back to us much of the progress which was made has been lost.

Another issue which does not arise in other schools is that there is a major influx and outflow. We have children who get a place in a more established school and leave our schools because the schools to which they move have more Irish children in them, something which happens quite a lot. Children may go missing; we do not know where they have gone and have to search and find out the school to which they have gone. They may have returned over their summer holidays to another country. Every year there is uncertainty for us about who is coming in and who is leaving, so we do not feel static. This month eight new children came into the school, none of whom had English as a first language. Most of them had no English. Pupils coming in, going and non-attendance makes the job of a class teacher very difficult.

On the parenting classes and bringing parents in, the Clondalkin Partnership has been very helpful to us in terms of providing parenting classes. It also provided English language classes. On the ground, the principal organises. During the school day I might receive four or five phone calls asking what classroom a person is in and who is there. The embargo on posts of responsibility is a problem because if we lose such a person he or she cannot be replaced. Everything falls back on the principal and we need extra secretarial and administrative help. We cannot afford to lose our posts of responsibility. I agree with what was said and it is something towards which we work very hard. However, it cannot be left to a principal. I find it very difficult to concentrate on teaching and learning in our schools. I am concentrating on many other things which I prioritise because they are important.

Ms Lowe agrees with one of the questions.

Ms Treasa Lowe

We also experience the same difficulties regarding absenteeism when people travel overseas. Visiting their home country and maintaining their culture is important for the parents and children. It is also vitally important that the school community respect that. The knock-on effect when the children return is that they find it very difficult to integrate into the formal school setting, which causes challenges. On the question of whether it is a blip or is something which will go away, none of us know the answer. I cannot see any decrease in the numbers coming in. This is something which is here to stay and of which we are very proud. We all feel proud of our schools, the children and the communities in which we are privileged to work. This is something which is part of our new Ireland.

Mr. McGinley indicated and I will ask him to respond in a moment.

The question which struck me concerned the point made by Ms Annie Asgard, namely, that she came here two years ago and things have not progressed. She asked what we would do to ensure she does not return in two years' time and say the same thing and have nice chats in a lovely committee room in Leinster House. What we need to decide today is how we will progress this. I am not sure if it is a question for the Chairman, but it needs to be answered. Whether it is answered now or in consultation with the Minister, it needs to be answered, and is something which has come from today's meeting.

I thank the Senator for raising the issue. I have been a member of the Committee on Education and Science since 2002 and we have seen some of the usual suspects come before it on several occasions. Sometimes it seems as if the pace of change is pedestrian. The Minister will come before the committee. He will be primarily charged with the issue of funding for higher level institutions. There may be an opportunity to ask him about the issue directly, but I understand the departmental officials, having scrutinised the debate intently, will be in a position to liaise with the Minister and return with some answers.

Mr. Tony McGinley

If we are back here in two years' time the damage will have been done. This is an issue for next September. If something is not done by then we will be another year down the road. The problems are constant. We are facing new issues and if we do not have something in place for next September we are failing the children in our care. I use the term "we" to refer to a collective group.

On the issue of attendance, one point which comes up regularly is that our children have no consistency. There are children who have been in four, five, six, seven or eight different schools. Every time one tries to immerse them in the ethos of the school and what the school is trying to achieve, in terms of expectations for behaviour and home work, it is very difficult.

Deputy O'Mahoney will be interested to hear that we fielded our first football team in Cumann na mBunscol. We created history, not a single child on that team had an Irish-born parent. That gives as good an example as anything of what we are dealing with. It is not the norm.

Mr. Brendan Forde

There will be many teachers out of work this year and next year. Mr. McGinley spoke about something being done in September. While he is looking for DEIS band 3 and more input, it should be delivered his way. We could attempt to pilot the family school programme and put some teachers to work on it.

I want the Department to look closely at secondary school enrolment policies to eliminate cherry picking. It is not acceptable that picking and choosing is going on. I have written about this on numerous occasions, asking questions only to be told the boards of management have that right. The boards of management have that right if they exercise it in a moral fashion. No one has that right if they refuse to do that. It is odd that African people are telling us that they cannot get their children into secondary schools. This must be taken up by the Department so that every secondary school is examined as to how and why such children are not getting in.

What excuses are being given?

Mr. Brendan Forde

They were not in time or they were not in the country in time. They could live next door to a secondary school but be unable to secure a place in it, meaning they would have to travel four miles to the next school.

Is that not a function of the assessment of teacher numbers on 30 September? The Department has a role as much as the schools.

Mr. Brendan Forde

The Department should have a role. There was an inspector who used to do to this. The NEWB should be brought into this to ensure schools have fair and just enrolment policies and that people within a catchment area do not have to go outside that catchment area if there are places for them within the area. Imagine a person who lives next door to a school and his child cannot get into that school. It is ridiculous.

It is outrageous. In my constituency the opposite problem exists, there are not enough places at second level within the catchment area. A new school will open in Adamstown shortly. For want of a better word, the dregs will end up there.

Mr. Tony McGinley

I must step in there——

I am saying that in inverted commas because the ghettoisation comment appalled me. The people who are last on the list will enter a cycle that will recur because the overspill is normally made up of those who came here last. It is those who were last into primary who go into second level last.

The Department has a role in the way numbers are allocated and counted. It also has a role in the Education Act and could suggest changes to it. Does everyone believe changes to the Act are long overdue and there should be a more centralised input into enrolment policy?

Mr. Brendan Forde

There must be, to be fair to these people.

Is it manifesting itself as a problem in Galway?

Mr. Brendan Forde

In our school, yes. I am not talking about other schools. We do not have a school we feed directly into, if we did it might not be so much of a problem. When there is no secondary school to feed into, children get sent around anywhere they can get a place but they will not get a place in the school nearest them. The school will give them some reason they cannot. The people in the long stay residence in the Eglinton Hotel have a hard time getting their children into secondary school. It is a trial for them.

Are we talking about large numbers?

Ms Annie Asgard

There are roughly 50 children in direct provision centres whose parents are living on €19 per week. To collect €140 for a deposit to hold a place when they will not even get a place is disheartening for them.

Obviously in Galway there is only a handful of secondary schools and if they are operating such a policy they can be identified.

Mr. Brendan Forde

It is not a policy.

I know but what has happened in Dublin with regard to special needs is manifesting itself in Galway in a different way.

Ms Annie Asgard

It is worse this year because of the cuts to English language support teachers. The Monageesha secondary school had a well organised and well trained team of six English language support teachers, which is unusual for a secondary school, and they often had a disproportionate number of children for whom English is a second language. Because of the cuts, there are now fewer EAL teachers with the knock on effect that the children still go there but there is no provision for them.

Mr. Forde mentioned feeder schools. In my constituency, in the Lucan-Clondalkin area there are Catholic schools that feed into Catholic second level schools and the community college, which are all close to each other. There is then a parish in south Lucan where there are junior and senior Catholic schools. Outside Adamstown there is an Educate Together school that caters for the whole area, while there is a further Educate Together school and a Catholic school in Adamstown. There are sixth class students but it still has not grown to the stage where the Adamstown second level school will be filled by students from that area. The kids in the largest, fastest growing parish area that does not have a second level school will not be able to get into a secondary school because they will not be going to the primary school in the right area. It is a huge problem.

To the credit of some of the Catholic schools, and I met the Catholic Primary Managers Association, they are doing their best to accommodate children but who will jump first? The whole system must be changed. What are Ms Kavanagh's views about parental resistance to changing the system? The schools are influenced by the parents so there may be an element of snobbery and racism. We may as well call a spade a spade. Would parents resist changes to the system?

Ms Colette Kavanagh

They would. Four of the Educate Together schools in Lucan have come together to look at a common policy for the schools to allow us to minimise the sense of segregation for those schools that have 90% newcomer population. It is difficult for Educate Together because we have always supported school choice, that parents would have the choice to send their children where they wanted. The parents who came to my school, however, had no choice. They could not get into any school so they are all bunched together and become a new school. It is a huge issue.

We talked about second level enrolment policy. It is well recognised that private schools and some other second level schools have ways to cherry pick. That has filtered down now to primary schools as well. The use of denominational enrolment policies and first come, first served policies have lead and will increasingly lead to the creation of such schools. Parents will have a difficulty with that. The patron bodies are looking at that. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has said that perhaps the church should not have as many schools and there may be a willingness on its part to hand over the patronage of some schools. Parents may not take up the offer. There was a reference to Denmark. The research from abroad shows that the host parent will not choose schools with a large number of immigrants. That is understandable because they worry about language and other issues.

I was told the story about Travellers who were not welcome in another school being sent to a high ethnic school and being treated as equals.

Ms Colette Kavanagh

That happens in my school, Esker Educate Together, as well, where we have a Traveller population. Mr. Tony McGinley's school, St. John the Evangelist national school, Adamstown, also has a Traveller population.

Does Mr. David Campbell wish to contribute?

Mr. David Campbell

In regard to centralising enrolment policies, perhaps there is an issue there for housing and planning as well. If a school has an open enrolment policy, and the entire community is a ghetto, there may be other broader issues to be considered. We are not talking about teaching reading, writing, arithmetic and so on, but integration and there is much good will and eagerness on our part and on the part of all primary teachers in schools. We need that support.

Mr. Brendan Forde

Two autistic children have attended our school, St. Nicholas national school, Claddagh, County Galway. They were in the main classes with their SNAs. They had to attend our school because we had provided the services for autistic children. They lived close by a secondary school but could not get in because they were not in the feeder school. That is totally wrong. They had to attend our school because of the facilities we are providing, yet they were not accepted in the secondary school because they had not been in the junior school. All these types of manipulations are going on and they must be dealt with. They can only be dealt with by a moral Department of Education and Science that will act fearlessly and undo all the handiwork that is going on to prevent a just society developing.

I am conscious I have used strong language and inverted commas do not always appear in the newspapers. There is a good media presence here today and I hope it reports on the substance of what was debated because some less responsible individuals in my constituency, as Mr. McGinley pointed out, have used the headlines "Ghetto schools" and it does not do the community any good. I will allow the last word to——

I ask the Chairman to withdraw the "dregs" comment he made earlier because I find it offensive.

I am not going to withdraw it because I did point out that it was in inverted commas.

Okay. Leave it then.

I did point out that it has nothing to do with my own opinion but what others may treat it as. That is why I clarified it.

It was an unfortunate brand label to use.

I appreciate that because nuance does not always come through.

Ms Colette Kavanagh


I appreciate the understanding that I was not giving any personal prejudice vent as such.

Mr. Tony McGinley

We are not ghetto schools. We do not deal with the dregs of society. I regard our schools as centres of excellence. We are the way forward. We are at the cutting edge of Irish education and we are appearing before the committee looking for help so we can drive this forward and achieve the maximum potential of all the children in our care.

I call Ms Annie Asgard for a brief comment.

Ms Annie Asgard

I refer to the Primary Professional Development Service which has obviously had its staffing levels cuts. I shall speak about teacher education in general, both pre-service and in-service. It is extremely inadequate to hand someone an intercultural education guidelines book in 2005 and say, "off you go, you know everything you need to know". It is impossible for the Primary Professional Development Service to get to every school. I get at least one telephone call per week from another school expressing an interest in running an international day and asking me what he or she should do. These questions should not be fielded to me but to the PPDS. However, not everyone in the PPDS is an expert in intercultural education. We need to go out and find people, like ourselves, and ask if they can help us develop a programme, rather than assume everyone is an expert at everything and is well trained, having got the book.

I thank Ms Asgard. I thank all five principals who presented before the committee. I thank also Mr. Tom Moriarty, principal, Adamstown Castle Educate Together national school who would have liked to speak to the committee, but that was not possible in terms of numbers and time and geographically. However, he did facilitate an Educate Together voice by suggesting Ms Colette Kavanagh appear. That is testament to his interest in the issue rather than being seen to speak up for something.

As members of the committee we have learned a good deal. Members will agree that a number of practical suggestions were put forward. I am encouraged by the very strong departmental presence. When the Department officials come before the committee in four weeks' time to respond, I hope it will have some proactive new approaches, rather than I, or someone else, in two years' time bemoaning the timebomb that is ticking. I cannot promise, as chair of a committee and neither can any member of the committee nor any ordinary member of a Government party, but it is our sincere hope that what we have learned today, and the passion with which the contributions were made, will be taken on board to some extent.

The joint committee adjourned at 12.30 p.m. until 10 a.m. on Thursday, 25 February 2010.