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For Written Answer on : 29/11/2023
Question Number(s): 72 Question Reference(s): 52825/23
Department: Education
Asked by: David Stanton T.D.
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QUESTION


To ask the Minister for Education her views on the supports given by the provision of homework clubs for Traveller children; the homework clubs, if any, that her Department funds either partially or fully; the number of children benefitting from such support; her future plans in this regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

REPLY


My Department provides a number of policies and programmes that are supportive of homework clubs for students at risk of educational disadvantage, including Traveller children.


The Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) Programme is a key policy initiative of the Department to address concentrated educational disadvantage at school level in a targeted and equitable way. Following the single largest expansion of the DEIS programme last year, at least 60% of all Traveller students are in a school supported by the DEIS programme.

The DEIS grant is used by schools to attain the targets set in the school’s three year improvement plan across the DEIS themes. It is a matter for the Board of Management of each school to allocate DEIS grant funding so that it targets those students deemed most in need. This may include allocating a proportion of the DEIS grant funding towards the cost of setting up and running homework clubs. Many schools in the DEIS scheme use their DEIS grant to assist in the operation of homework clubs after school, and other afterschool activities aimed at groups of children deemed to be at most risk of educational disadvantage, including Traveller children.

The School Completion Programme (SCP) is a key support under the DEIS programme. Tusla Education Support Service (TESS) is responsible for the operational management and delivery of SCP. SCP Local Management Committees plan a suite of service provision to ensure that all of the available SCP resource is maximised to support children and young people in relation to school attendance, participation and retention across all schools in the SCP cluster. These interventions and supports may include afterschool clubs, which are allowable under the SCP funding.

Homework clubs are among the initiatives currently underway as part of the Supporting Traveller and Roma (STAR) in education pilot project. STAR was established in 2019 under the National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy with the aims of improving attendance, participation and retention in specific Traveller and Roma communities regionally. There are four pilot areas: Galway, Wexford, Dublin and Cork. Additional resources provided include an additional Educational Welfare Officer (EWO), an additional Home School Community Liaison coordinator (HSCL) and two Traveller/Roma community education workers from the local communities employed by local Traveller/Roma support groups. Based on identified local needs, STAR teams run a wide range of initiatives.


14 non-DEIS post-primary schools with high numbers of Traveller and Roma children and young people have 10 new Home School Community Liaison (HSCL) coordinator posts funded by Dormant Accounts. The HSCLs receive funding to implement and run initiatives to encourage improvements in school attendance, retention and progression for Traveller and Roma students. As part of their role, a new coordinator for the STAR pilot project, also funded under Dormant Accounts, facilitates effective information-sharing between the STAR teams and the 10 new HSCL coordinators, including in relation to good practice and initiatives that work well such as homework clubs.

I recognise the need to target resources to those schools that need them most. To this end, my Department is undertaking a programme of work to explore the allocation of resources to all schools to address educational disadvantage. The OECD Strength Through Diversity: Education for Inclusive Societies project has been invited to review the current approach, to provide an independent expert opinion on the current resource allocation model for the DEIS programme, and to inform a policy approach for an equitable distribution of supplementary resources to support students at risk of educational disadvantage attending all schools.

More generally, my Department encourages schools to facilitate the opening of after-school facilities, wherever possible, for activities such as homework clubs. Decisions on the use of school facilities lies with the relevant school authority in consultation with the property owner. Under the provisions of the Education Act, 1998 the Board of Management is the body charged with the direct governance of a school on behalf of the patron.