More schools to get disadvantage supports

More schools will be resourced in Education Minister Richard Bruton’s plan to tackle educational disadvantage, but supports should be much better focused than in the past.

His department’s new Deis plan means the way the €112m a year is used will be better monitored.

The funding will be provided to more than 900 of the country’s 4,000 schools, up from the 641 primary and 185 second-level schools currently in the School Support Programme (SSP).

The ways in which the extra money, staffing, and other supports are used will be monitored by the setting of targets against which schools will be measured in areas such as pupils’ literacy and numeracy scores.

Although such standards have improved in Deis- supported schools in recent years, studies show that these happened in parallel to improvements in all other schools, but the gap between their pupils remains too wide. Literacy scores for pupils in rural Deis schools now exceed those in some other rural primary schools, however, according to national test results.

Some of the initiatives to be supported by a school excellence fund will focus on areas such as developing school leadership, different teaching methods, and greater use of services linking schools and homes.

Where the most effective activities from piloting of these programmes are identified, they may be expanded to all schools or those with similar profiles.

Schools will not have to apply for inclusion in the SSP like they did when it was first launched more than a decade ago. They will instead be identified using a range of data held by the Department of Education itself, and by information on each school’s area compiled by the Central Statistics Office (CSO).

The CSO information will be largely based on a national deprivation index compiled using Census data gathered every five years, but collective information supplied by schools about their own students will be updated every year.

Mr Bruton said: “We are moving away from the quite rigid and inflexible system for identification of schools and resource allocation that has operated to date.

“In future, schools supported under the Deis School Support Programme will see greater movement in the range and level of supports they receive as these are matched to identified need within their pupil cohorts.”

Mr Bruton added that the plan aims to identify schools for extra support in a fair and objective manner.

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