Dáil Éireann - Volume 448 - 07 February, 1995

Written Answers. - Education System for the Disadvantaged.

[1459] 159. Mr. Molloy asked the Minister for Education the proposals, if any, she has for increasing access to remedial psychological and home school links services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2748/95]

161. Mr. Molloy asked the Minister for Education the action, if any, she has taken in view of the appeal by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul to take measures to assist with the improvement of the education system for the disadvantaged such as the provision of additional financial resources to be directed towards education for the disadvantaged, the extension and improvement of the school liaison system, the introduction of State funded pre-school and nursery facilities for all school children; the provision of additional teachers to improve pupil/teacher ratios and an increase in the number of remedial teachers in disadvantaged areas; the introduction of a package of special grants discriminating in favour of schools in disadvantaged areas, examination fees to be remitted for children of parents receiving social welfare benefits, more comprehensive access to adult illiteracy classes, a package of incentives to increase the number of students from lower socio-economic areas attending third level education, a review of the education system as it applies to the travelling community and all the provisions of the Child Care Act, 1991 to be brought into effect immediately; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2753/95]

Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach): I propose to take Questions Nos. 159 and 161 together.

Since my appointment as Minister for Education I have undertaken a particular commitment to address the educational needs of pupils in disadvantaged areas. This commitment is reflected in the substantially increased [1460] level of resources which have been targeted at disadvantaged areas over the past two years.

In the current year I intend to maintain this momentum and significantly increased resources are again being made available for this purpose.

In the pre-school area, I propose to establish a further 25 pre-school programmes in areas of particular disadvantage.

At primary level I propose to retain 340 teaching posts in the system which would otherwise have been lost due to falling enrolments. These posts will enable me to: reduce the pupil teacher ratio in primary schools from 23.4 to 1 in September, 1994 to 22.9 to 1 in September, 1995; reduce the general guidelines on maximum class sizes and address the issue of disadvantage through the provision, for example, of further remedial posts, teachers for travellers and for home school links.

I have also secured a substantial increase in the disadvantaged areas fund which has risen by almost £1.3 million to £3.4 million in 1995. This will enable me to target significant additional funding at schools in disadvantaged areas in the current year.

I have approved the appointment of an additional 10 psychologists to the school psychological service. I am increasing the capitation fund at primary level by 9 per cent. The book scheme provision at primary level is being increased by 26 per cent. At second level, additional posts will be allocated for disadvantaged, special needs, guidance and remedial purposes. Caretaking and clerical services will be further expanded. The school books scheme at second level is being increased by 31 per cent.

With regard to examination fees, in the case of necessitous pupils the ordinary fee payable may be reduced at the discretion of the school principal, subject to a maximum notified to each school or vocational education committee by my Department. My Department has made £400,000 available to schools and vocational education committees [1461] for this purpose in connection with the 1995 examinations. Further concessions are made in the case of certain necessitous pupils repeating the leaving certificate examination.

With regard to adult and continuing education, the provision for adult literacy and community-based education for disadvantaged adults has been substantially increased in recent years. There is a significant literacy content in the community-based education provided. In keeping with the Government's commitment in this area, further development is planned in adult literacy and adult education schemes.

An additional £1 million is being provided for the Youthreach programme.

Provision for special initiatives for adult education in disadvantaged areas has been increased by 21 per cent.

Provision has been made for 5,000 places on the vocational training opportunities scheme.

The Government has also committed itself to new support mechanisms to increase participation by third level students from low-income backgrounds, including the abolition of third-level fees, a comprehensive reform of the higher education grants scheme, the introduction of support for students on post leaving cert courses and an increase in the number of third level places.

With regard to the particular educational needs of the travelling community, the Deputy will be aware that a special task force on the travelling community has been established by my colleague, the Minister for Equality and Law Reform. The task force is looking at all aspects of traveller welfare, including the question of educational provision for travellers. The report of the task force is curently awaited and I will consider its findings when they become available.