I propose to take Questions Nos. 34, 54, 84 and 94 together.
The National Educational Welfare Board, NEWB, was established under the Education (Welfare) Act 2000 as the single national body with responsibility for school attendance. The Act provides a comprehensive framework to promote regular school attendance and tackle the problems of absenteeism and early school leaving. The general functions of the board are to ensure that every child attends a recognised school or otherwise receives a certain minimum education.
The board is developing, on a continuing basis, a nationwide service that is accessible to schools, parents, guardians and others concerned with the welfare of young people. For this purpose, educational welfare officers have been deployed throughout the country to provide a welfare focused service to support regular school attendance and discharge the board's functions locally. The authorised staffing complement of the board is 94, comprising 16 headquarter and support staff, five regional managers, 12 senior educational welfare officers and 61 officers. Five regional teams are in place with bases in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford.
In deploying its service staff, the NEWB has prioritised the provision of services to the most disadvantaged areas and the groups most at risk. This deployment includes areas designated under the Government's RAPID programme where an intensive full level of service is provided.
Since September 2005, every county in Ireland is served by an educational welfare service. I have been informed by the NEWB that the current average caseload is 138 per officer. This compares with an average caseload in July 2005 of 164 per officer. The decrease can be partially attributed to the appointment of ten more staff at the end of 2005. The budget allocated to the NEWB for 2006 is €8.15 million, with the allocation to the board having increased by more than 25% since 2004 to support it in delivering on its key objectives.
In addition to the NEWB personnel, 490 staff within the education sector are deployed in education disadvantage programmes whose work involves an element of school attendance, and significant scope exists for integrated working between these personnel and educational welfare officers. My Department is anxious to ensure that the maximum benefit is derived from these substantial personnel resources. Consequently, work is ongoing to develop appropriate protocols for all agencies and services to work together in collaboration and to ensure that optimum use is made of the resources deployed.
The Government is determined to do all that is possible to ensure that every child gets all the opportunities and support he or she needs to enable him or her to achieve his or her potential and participate fully in education. I will keep the issue of the NEWB's staffing and financial resources under review in light of the roll-out of services, the scope for integrated working and any proposals that the board may put to me regarding clearly identified priority needs. In that context, the draft partnership agreement, Towards 2016, includes provision for an additional 100 posts for the NEWB and the National Educational Psychological Service by 2009, which I hope will be adopted by the partners.