Dáil Éireann - Volume 656 - 29 May, 2008

Written Answers. - Education Welfare Service.

Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of case conferences held annually between home-school community liaison officers, school completion programme officers; and educational welfare officers; the regularity with which they hold joint meetings; and if there is a joint strategy in place. [21512/08]

Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Education and Science the annual case load of school completion programme officers in County Clare. [21513/08]

Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Education and Science the annual case load of the education welfare officers in County Clare. [21514/08]

Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Education and Science the arrangements in place in County Clare to co-ordinate the activities of home-school community liaison officers, school completion programme officers and education welfare officers. [21515/08]

Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of students and families on the case loads of the home-school community liaison officers, school completion programme officers and education welfare officers. [21516/08]

Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Education and Science the annual case load of home-school community liaison officers in County Clare. [21519/08]

Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Education and Science the annual cost of the education welfare officers for County Clare. [21520/08]

Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Education and Science the annual cost of the school completion programme in County Clare. [21521/08]

Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Education and Science the annual cost of the home-school community liaison programme in County Clare. [21522/08]

Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of education welfare officers in County Clare. [21523/08]

Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of school completion programme officers in County Clare. [21524/08]

Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of home-school community liaison officers in County Clare. [21525/08]

  Deputy Seán Haughey: I propose to take Questions Nos. 100 to 104, inclusive, and 107 to 113, inclusive, together.

To achieve the maximum benefits from the resources available to my Department to combat educational disadvantage in schools, a High Level Group was established to secure the improved integration of the services delivered by programmes and agencies on behalf of my Department. The principal objective of the Working Group is to develop protocols to guide [134] the programmes and services and to foster collaboration and cooperation both at national and local levels.

To secure this objective the Working Group aims to:

Ensure maximum benefit is derived from the substantial personnel resources deployed in these programmes

Assist with the development and implementation of clearly articulated operational guidelines of best practice for collaboration in service delivery among the services and agencies

Establish co-operation, information sharing and acknowledged roles of responsibility.

The Home School Community Liaison scheme is a major mainstream preventative strategy targeted at the families of pupils at risk of not reaching their potential in the educational system because of background characteristics which tend to affect adversely pupil attainment and school retention. HSCL focuses directly on the salient adults in children’s educational lives, seeking indirect benefits for the children themselves and works to involve parents in their children’s education which is a crucial component in convincing young people of the value of education.

HSCL coordinators are assigned on a full time or shared basis between schools and are deployed to do full-time home school community liaison duties. For the first time, posts are shared across the two sectors — primary & post primary level, to facilitate local HSCL coordinators working with the families of disadvantaged children. A local committee structure at local level is established involving all relevant stakeholders and a National Coordination Team that comprises a National Co-ordinator and five Regional Coordinators support and manage the services of the HSCL scheme.

The School Completion Programme (SCP) is a preventative measure designed to combat issues of poor attendance and early school leaving. School attendance is a central objective of SCP with targeted interventions for children at risk of early school leaving through a variety of extra supports aimed at encouraging them to stay in school. The range of interventions is designed to support retention of young people in education through local strategies developed to ensure maximum participation levels in the education process. This entails targeting individual young people of school-going age, both in and out of school, and arranging supports to address inequalities in education access, participation and outcomes. It is based on the project model with an integrated approach involving primary and post primary schools, parents and relevant statutory, voluntary and community agencies. These supports cover both educational and non-educational interventions and are provided during and outside of school time. A local management committee, comprising of representatives of schools and other relevant agencies, manage each project.

School Completion projects are required to engage in a consultative and planning process with the school staff, with parents and with local representatives of relevant statutory, voluntary and community agencies in the development of annual retention plans. They must devise a collaborative programme of in-school and out-of-school actions that will prevent early school leaving and support young people with characteristics and behaviour that are indicative of real risk. A National Coordination Team that comprises a National Co-ordinator and four Regional Coordinators support the School Completion Programme. It is the task of the National Co-ordination Team to advise on and monitor the integrated area-based Retention Plans that support the young person at-risk at local level. A Programme Research and Development [135] Officer provides research and administrative support for the development, delivery and evaluation of the School Completion Programme.

Educational Welfare Officers (EWOs) are appointed and deployed throughout the country by the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) which is established under the Education (Welfare) Act, 2000 as the national body with responsibility for school attendance. The Act provides a comprehensive framework promoting regular school attendance and tackling the problems of absenteeism and early school leaving. The general functions of the Board are to ensure that each child attends a recognised school or otherwise receives a certain minimum education. I have been informed by the Board that it prioritises its resources to support the most disadvantaged areas and schools participating in DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) the action plan for educational inclusion. EWOs provide an intensive service in the designated areas. Outside of these areas, priority is given to children who are out of school or have significant difficulties with school attendance.

In addition to case work on referrals from schools EWOs also provide assistance and advice to parents whose children experience school attendance difficulties by arranging for continuation of education through alternative placement or assisting with application for home tuition. They also work closely with schools offering advice and assistance on developing policies to encourage children to attend school regularly. At both school and community level EWOs work in co-operation with other agencies to integrate delivery of services to schools, families and children. Furthermore EWOs also handle queries relating to the Educational (Welfare) Act, 2000, and school attendance issues in general. Where required the EWO has responsibility to initiate legal proceedings under the Act to safeguard the educational welfare of a child.

The Board operates through 5 regional teams and the service is provided from 26 locations nationwide. Resources to the EWB has grown incrementally since its establishment and future allocation to the Board will be considered in light of the rollout of services, the scope for integrated working and any proposals that the Board may submit to the department in relation to clearly identified priority needs. The allocation to the Board for 2008 is €10.119m. In relation to the Deputy’s specific questions concerning the deployment and costs of EWOs in Co. Clare I am informed by the Board that there is currently one Educational Welfare Officer based in Co. Clare and the caseload for this EWO, during the current school year from September 07 to the end of April 08, is 131 cases involving intensive work and 78 of these cases are ongoing. For the previous school year 2006/2007 there was 143 cases dealt with by the EWO. The annual cost involves pay which is determined in accordance with a standard scale ranging from €37,121 to €59,211 and overhead costs associated with service delivery, such as the cost of providing office accommodation.

There are a total of 450 local HSCL coordinators providing services to 691 schools (370 Primary and 281 Post primary), with an additional 80 posts made available in 2006 to extend Home School Community Liaison services to all schools selected to participate in DEIS. Commitment has also been given to schools not selected to participate in DEIS but already in the HSCL scheme, to continue to support these schools in their efforts to deal with educational disadvantage among their students in line with both their size and level of disadvantage. 2,680 pupils attending 9 schools in Co. Clare (4 post primary & 5 primary) currently have access to Home School Community Liaison, with approximately 600 of these pupils’ families being specifically targeted for the services of 6 local Home School Community Liaison Co-ordinators.

My Department is currently finalising a full review of Home School Community Liaison (HSCL) clustering arrangements in all schools participating in the scheme to ensure that all schools have a level of service which is commensurate with both the size of the school as well [136] as its relative level of disadvantage. Any changes made in the HSCL clustering arrangements, which will take effect from 1 September 2008, will be notified to schools shortly.

SCP is funded on a multi-annual basis under the National Development Plan (NDP) and up to 2007 with assistance from the European Social Fund (ESF). €31.160 million has been allocated to SCP for 2008. There are currently 124 projects participating in the School Completion Programme spanning 26 counties, comprising 224 post-primary schools and 468 primary schools. Each project employs a local Co-ordinator to run the project at local level. My Department currently supports 7 schools (2 post primary and 5 primary schools) in 2 School Completion Projects in Co. Clare, under DEIS. These 2 School Completion Projects receive over €460,000 in total annually which targets approximately 557 young people and 21 out-of-school young people.

The substantial resources deployed in programmes to combat education disadvantage is a clear indication of this Government’s commitment to prioritise investment in favour of those most at risk. Through improved co-operation and co-ordination of services we are determined to optimise access, participation and educational outcomes at every level of the system for disadvantaged children and young people.