Funding for Deis schools in spotlight

The levels of support for schools with the most disadvantaged pupils may not be enough, new research suggests.

Funding for Deis schools in spotlight

Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan will begin consultations soon on a review that was supposed to have begun five years ago, of the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (Deis) programme.

It was to offer 657 primary and 193 second-level schools preferable staffing rates and extra grants because they have higher concentrations of disadvantage. But a review promised when the schools were selected in 2005 has not yet been carried out.

The Economic and Research Institute (ESRI) report today highlights returns on the investment, including significant improvements in pupil performance between 2007 and 2013, although more so in reading than in maths.

However, as other schools have also shown increased test scores, gaps have not really been narrowed to the extent that the original Deis plan envisaged.

There have been much improved attendance rates, as the proportion of pupils missing at least four weeks a year fell from one-in-four to just over one-in-five at the urban primary schools deemed most disadvantaged.

And numbers completing school have also increased significantly, according to the ESRI research.

The latest findings have prompted Ms O’Sullivan to undertake a review and, in particular, to decide how schools eligible for supports are selected.

“Over the next couple of weeks, I will seek submissions from all stakeholders on what our options for future interventions to tackle educational disadvantage should look like,” the minister said.

However, the report also points to high levels of disadvantage and greater complexity of need in urban primary schools that already get most supports.

“We need further debate on the levels of funding required to meet the needs of students in these schools,” said one of the ESRI authors, Selina McCoy.

She said the information being collected in the new primary online database could help give a better picture of the social status of children in each school. However, she said, the addition of questions that pupils might answer on social background, like family holidays taken each year or cars at home, could also give a deeper understanding of needs within schools.

The authors found Deis schools are more likely to use rigid forms of streaming classes by ability, a practice that contributes to students disengaging, lower grades and higher levels of early school-leaving among those in lower-ability classes.

Similar outcomes are associated with negative interaction with teachers, such as being ‘given out to’ or reprimanded, practices the ESRI found were more likely in Deis schools.

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