Plan to tackle disadvantage in schools described as short on resources

Education Minister Richard Bruton’s planned expansion of a scheme to tackle disadvantage in schools has been described as short on the resources needed to address the issues.

Mr Bruton has secured an extra €15m a year to widen supports to 79 more schools from next September.

However, some schools might lose the extra resources they have had under his department’s Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (Deis) for the past decade, after a new system is finalised next year to identify which ones cater for the highest numbers of disadvantaged pupils.

The Deis school support programme currently provides a range of initiatives in 641 primary and 185 second-level schools. As well as increasing annual funding for Deis to €112m, there will be closer monitoring of how effectively the extra grants and improved access to supports are used.

However, the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) said the plan is heavy on evaluating outcomes, which means additional paperwork, reporting, documenting, and gathering data.

“Yet there is no provision for additional administrative support for schools to get this done. The union will insist that scarce resources must not be diverted into the monitoring and administration of the plan,” said INTO general secretary Sheila Nunan.

She said the 15% funding increase is an improvement but goes nowhere near restoring cuts imposed on disadvantaged schools in recent years.

The union described the department’s assurances that no school will be immediately affected by cuts arising from re-evaluation of disadvantaged levels as unacceptable. Ms Nunan said it translated to “we’ll cut back down the line, when no one is looking”.

Mr Bruton said yesterday that he would have to question the continuation of funding if it emerges that schools which have been in the scheme no longer have high levels of disadvantage.

“We’d have to look at can you have transition schemes to see new supports, but we’re also trying to make sure that the supports the put in are tailor made to be of best advantage in each individual school,” he said.

His department yesterday listed 15 urban primary schools which will receive the highest levels of support, including extra teachers to allow smaller infant classes. A further 51 rural primary schools and 13 second-level schools will get assistance, with 30 urban primary schools already in Deis having their level of resources increased.

More differentiated levels of support under Deis may be introduced from 2018 to reflect varying degrees of disadvantage among students in different areas. These will be based on analysis of information held by the department itself and CSO data on social deprivation.

But Fianna Fáil education spokesman Thomas Byrne said the plan overlooked recommendations from past studies that some extra funding be given to schools outside Deis which still cater for significant proportions of disadvantaged students.

“There is a case for a degree of tapering of funding for schools, rather than a sharp withdrawal below the specified cut-off,” said Mr Byrne.

Deis targets

Literacy: Reduce the proportion of pupils in the most disadvantaged urban primary schools who have the lowest reading scores to 40% by 2020.

Currently, almost half of sixth-class pupils and 44% in second class in those schools are at these reading levels.

Numeracy: Increase the percentage of 15-year-olds in Deis schools at or above Level 4 (of 5) in maths from 23% to more than 29% by 2020.

Dropout rates: Increase the numbers of pupils who complete second-level in Deisschools from 83% to the national average of 90% by 2025.

Third-level participation: Increase the percentage of people from families in the “non-manual worker” category attending higher education to 30% by 2019, and those from ‘semi/unskilled manual worker’ group to 35%. Increase the number of Irish Travellers in higher education to 80 by 2019.

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