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School Completion Programme

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 28 November 2017

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Ceisteanna (39)

Seán Sherlock

Ceist:

39. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she has considered the proposed changes in the administration of the school completion programme; if she has engaged in formal consultations with the parties involved; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50382/17]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Children)

There are 124 school completion programmes throughout the State, which cover 470 primary schools and 224 post-primary schools. The Minister announced an expansion in budget 2018 for the school completion programme. I want to interrogate further what is the exact figure behind that expansion? I would also ask her why I am receiving correspondence from trade union officials, IMPACT in particular, whom I have been lobbied by and who have expressed concern about their jobs and future employment prospects.

I believe the school completion programme is critical to ensuring that children who are most at risk of early school leaving are supported to stay in education. However, I believe that it needs to be reformed to ensure that it delivers the best possible outcomes for children. To this end, I am examining carefully how best to strengthen it. Any reforms will be informed by the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, review of the programme, which acknowledged its great contribution to vulnerable children, but which pointed to the need for an improved governance structure and revised model of employment.

In particular, I want to ensure that services under the programme are compliant with financial and governance rules and that we have a good model of service delivery throughout the country. I also want to ensure that those employed under the programme have clear contracts of employment and that their work is properly co-ordinated.

I am deeply committed to an effective reform of this programme, not only in relation to the governance and employment issues, but also the programmes, supports and processes that are in place to ensure that young people complete school. I am reviewing the extensive consultation process that has been carried out. I am considering recommendations from the expert panel that Tusla has established to consider possible options for reform. I also plan to consult with experts across the educational welfare sector before making any decisions.

In my view the reform will incorporate universal supports as well as targeted supports to ensure that those most in need are reached by the programme. It is critical that we have a whole school approach to this, as well as ensuring that other child and family supports, delivered by statutory or voluntary agencies, are integrated so that the child or young person has the best chance of staying in school. I am also committed to incorporating recognition of the strengths and capabilities of the child or young person into these reforms. I believe the emotional stability of the young person is critical in enabling his or her engagement in learning and contributes to his or her desire to finish school.

What extra resources have been applied to the school completion programme in budget 2018? That was not clear from the document we received on budget day.

In terms of strengthening the structures and governance, and the Minister spoke about reform, apart from the experts, with whom else is she consulting? Is she formally consulting those people who represent workers, namely, trade unions? She has stated publicly previously that she has encouraged people who work within this sector to join trade unions. People represented by trade unions are coming to us expressing concern about their specific programmes and that they are not being consulted. I need a reassurance from the Minister that she will reach out to, or at least engage with, the stakeholder groupings, including the trade unions.

There are two aspects to the Deputy's question. The first relates specifically to the resources allocated under budget 2018 for the programme I have identified, that reform of the programme is a priority for me in the context of the recent letter I wrote to Tusla in terms of a performance statement and I look forward to receiving its formal response laying out a business plan and identifying more clearly the specific resources that will go into that programme. As the Deputy is aware, I received a significant increase in investment for the overall programme with respect to Tusla. I have identified the school completion programme as a priority and I await the response in that regard.

The trade unions have been in touch with my officials and they will be meeting them. We are engaged in a process where there have been reviews and reports. Those have been submitted to me and I am examining them, but I understand my officials will meet the trade union officials as part of that process.

I appreciate the Minister's answer and she has been frank, to be fair. As soon as a budget line emerges around that expansion of the school completion programme, I ask that she would inform the House of it. I do not want to use the word "suspicious" but how long is a piece of string with respect to the engagement with Tusla? We are waiting for it to come back with some ideas or principles in terms of how it will manage the school completion programme and no figure in terms of a budget has been put behind that. What is the timeframe? Will it be the end of 2017, the end or 2018 or the first or second quarter of 2018? It would help if we had accurate information.

I am absolutely committed to making decisions on the reform as soon as possible. I am deeply committed to its reform. I have considerable understanding and experience of dealing with people who work in the context of school completion and have a deep understanding of the issues involved in terms of the programmes and processes that I wish to encourage as we move forward in terms of the reform. I want to do that as soon as possible. It will not be done by the end of this year. I hope that will be possible within the first quarter of next year because of the decision that I have taken to spend a little bit more time particularly focused on examining the programme, what will happen our young people in the context of the school completion programme as well as considering the governance and employment reports that have come in to me. That is why we are taking a little more time to get that whole package as right as possible.

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