Education and schooling are critical in the context of the lives and life chances of children and young people. A range of responses are in place to support children in completing school, and the school completion programme is key among them. The programme provides learner-centred and holistic supports for young people who are at risk of leaving school early.
I believe the programme has played an important part in the achievement of our high rates of school retention.
The programme for Government includes a commitment to prepare a school completion strategy, as noted by Deputy Mitchell. I am working to examine how best to bring about improvements and reforms of the system.
I am conscious that the school completion programme delivers a valuable service for some of our most vulnerable young people. It is, however, in need of significant reform in terms of governance and organisation to ensure that we optimise the outcomes for our young people.
With this in mind, the board of Tusla convened an expert panel to identify and examine a potential revised model of good practice and governance of the school completion programme. The panel examined how industrial relations and human resources issues relating to school completion staff could be resolved to the satisfaction of all stakeholders.
The expert panel concluded its work. When I examined the findings, I decided to carry out some further discussions with a number of other stakeholders. To that end, I hosted an informative school completion consultation event in Farmleigh on 29 January last. The event was attended by a representative group, including school completion programme co-ordinators, school principals, academics with expertise in educational welfare, representatives from the voluntary sector and officials from several State bodies. The matters discussed included best practice and governance within the school completion programme. A range of views were expressed.
Following the Farmleigh event, I asked the facilitator for the day to do some additional work. I hope to bring proposals for reform of the programme to Government in the coming months. I have deliberated carefully over this process. These issues are complex.
The Department of Education and Skills is collaborating with my Department on a scoping exercise and data analysis which will inform the development of our strategy for the future.
Above all, we are moving toward significant reforms of the school completion programme with this strategy.