Project cuts ‘increase risk of students dropping out of school’

Recent improvements to the rate of students staying in school to Leaving Certificate level risk being reversed by more cuts to a project directly targeting children in danger of dropping out, programme leaders warned.

Project cuts ‘increase risk of students dropping out of school’

Another 6.5% cut is faced in the autumn by 124 local school completion programme (SCP) projects, working with students in disadvantaged schools deemed at highest risk of early school-leaving. This is on top of what one project claims has been a cut of one third to the SCP budget since 2008.

Through a range of in-school, after-school, and holiday programmes, the Scóp SCP project helps more than 100 children on Cork’s southside improve their relationship with school, linking in with the work of educational welfare officers and home-school-community staff. Over 90% of the €222,000 budget funds a co-ordinator, three project workers, and an administrator to help pupils at two second-level and seven primary schools.

Staff costs mostly fund one-to-one interventions such as literacy or behavioural support during school hours. However, Scóp management says the €12,000 it has for after-school and holiday activities is inadequate, so programmes increasingly rely on donations.

Local TDs Ciarán Lynch of Labour and Jerry Buttimer Fine Gael were told yesterday how limitations to this non-staff budget have forced them to drop a range of programmes in recent years. These include in-school classes in drama, art therapy, music, kick-boxing, and cookery, and after-school interventions working on social skills and personal development, gym programmes, and fishing clubs.

“The national figures for school attendance and retention have risen to 90% in recent years, proving the work of the SCP in conjunction with the National Educational Welfare Board has had a very significant impact,” said SCÓP co-ordinator Katie Burns. “But the absence of these interventions affects every child, their families and the wider community.”

As the project management committee met to decide a plan for the next school year, the TDs promised to bring their concerns to the Child and Family Agency Túsla, which took over SCP management in January. Under a 2011 government spending review, the last €1.7m of a €5.5m cut over three years takes effect this year, bringing SCP funding in 2014 to €24.8m.

Michael Daly, principal of Glasheen Boys’ primary, said the number of children that schools would like to target is higher, and the issues they face more diverse than five years ago, but funding restrictions mean the SCP project can only work with a set number.

Kevin Barry, principal of Deerpark CBS secondary, said SCP supports are impossible to quantify to Government agencies. “It’s about the sense of belonging to a community the project workers provide, so the kids can see a future that might otherwise be bleak and dark,” he said. “They’re made to feel they have a connection to school and an advocate on their side.”

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