Funding for expansion of school initiative aimed at tackling disadvantage

Richard Bruton

Some schools will begin to get extra teachers or other resources next autumn in the first proper expansion, in a decade, of a programme to tackle disadvantage.

Education Minister Richard Bruton told the Dáil that extra money had been provided in the 2017 budget as his department envisages new schools coming into the school support programme (SSP) of the DEIS initiative.

More than 800 of the country’s 4,000 primary and second-level schools have benefited since it was set up in 2006, but none have been added since 2009.

The Fianna Fáil education spokesman, Thomas Byrne, said about 30 schools opened between 2011 and 2013 alone, but have been unable to access or apply for inclusion in the SSP.

Other schools, he said, have seen their profile of students change significantly in the last decade, meaning they now need extra supports to help cater for students requiring extra help.

Mr Bruton said data held by the Department of Education and information from the CSO would inform the selection of schools.

“A new assessment framework is being developed for the identification of schools for inclusion. The inclusion of new schools under the school support programme will be considered in this context and it will not be necessary for schools to make an application,” he said.

The minister did not outline how much extra funding is being made available, or what number of schools could be supported under the revised qualification criteria. Mr Byrne had asked if consideration was being given to an Economic and Social Research Institute recommendation that more schools are assisted by offering different levels of support, depending on disadvantage rates among pupils and local communities.

Meanwhile, ahead of last night’s second stage debate on his bill to regulate school admissions, Mr Bruton has said separate legislation will be used to address concerns about the ability of schools to refuse enrolment applications based on religious affiliation. Although it could be next summer before that Labour Party bill comes back to the Dáil, the minister said he wants to progress the School Admissions Bill to ensure some of its provisions can be in effect for the next school year.

He is expected to propose a 25% upper limit on number of places that schools can reserve for children of past pupils, despite a previous Oireachtas committee recommendation that schools not be allowed hold any places.

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