€5m fund will help increase equality in schools

A significant number of extra schools will get more supports from September under the first major changes to Government efforts, in over a decade, to tackle educational disadvantage.

€5m fund will help increase equality in schools

However, it remains unclear if schools whose social profile has improved might have their extra teachers and funding pared back to facilitate the extra investment.

No schools have been added to the School Support Programme (SSP) since 2009, three years after it was established as part of the Department of Education’s Deis (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) initiative.

It gives extra funding and other resources to 657 primary and almost 200 second-level schools which were identified in 2006 as having higher numbers of students whose disadvantaged backgrounds can impact their educational progress.

Education Minister Richard Bruton has promised an extra €5m this year for the first stages of rolling out a new educational inclusion action plan. It was to have been published before end of 2016 but the minister now expects to do so instead in the next few weeks.

He told Fianna Fáil education spokesman Thomas Byrne in the Dáil last week that work is continuing on how to identify schools to be included in a new SSP or replacement initiative. While they are not likely to be named until nearer the summer, the action plan is expected to set out how they are being selected.

The selection will involve a formula based on data collected by the Department of Education from schools and other sources such as the Central Statistics Office.

It may include a combination of geocoded pupil data, collected via primary and second-level schools, with a national deprivation index based on Census returns. The index can distinguish and compare levels of affluence or disadvantage between urban or rural areas with populations as small as 100 to 300 people.

While the process is expected to better identify schools catering for pupils most at risk from social circumstances of not reaching their full economic potential, a number of aspects have yet to be decided.

“We have not got the numbers at this stage,” Mr Bruton said. “That will depend on the application of the detailed model, which is based on CSO and departmental data. We are, however, making provision for a significant number of schools.”

A Department of Education spokesperson said the long-term funding for DEIS and questions around continued receipt of supports for those currently in the SSP have yet to be decided.

Former education minister Ruairi Quinn faced an outcry in 2012 when he announced plans to phase out extra teaching posts that some Deis schools had before being included in the programme.

Although the public and political backlash forced him into a U-turn on the measure, the intended savings had to come instead from imposing cuts to grants for primary schools a year earlier thany planned.

Mr Bruton has already shown sensitivity to possible repeats of such reactions by promising that no schools will lose special education teachers for the first two years of a new system, announced last week, of the allocation of such staff.

While extra staff are being promised nationally, it is likely two-thirds of schools could stand eventually to lose small numbers of teachers working with pupils with additional learning needs.

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