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For Oral Answer on : 30/11/2023
Question Number(s): 93 Question Reference(s): 52839/23
Department: Education
Asked by: David Stanton T.D.
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QUESTION


To ask the Minister for Education to report on her Department’s initiatives to support Traveller children to remain in school and in education; the current situation with respect to so called “reduced timetables” for Traveller children; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

REPLY


The Department of Education provides a wide range of universal and targeted supports to schools to support the inclusion of all students and address barriers to students achieving their potential, including special education teachers (SETs), special needs assistants (SNAs), and supports from the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS). Supplementing the universal supports, the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) programme is a key policy initiative to address concentrated educational disadvantage; the DEIS Plan includes reference to Travellers as a named group, and includes specific actions in relation to Traveller and Roma education to promote improvements in school attendance and completion. 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.

Other actions to advance Traveller education outcomes form part of the National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy (2017-2021), which set out education actions aimed at improving inclusiveness and education outcomes. My Department is supporting the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, which is leading on the next iteration of this strategy.

Work is also progressing in my Department to develop a Traveller and Roma Education Strategy in close consultation with relevant stakeholders in the education, and Traveller and Roma communities. It will set out our strategic direction in relation to Traveller and Roma education policy. Consultation is a central part of this, and the first phase of public consultation opened in July through an online survey, which was designed with input from an Advisory Group made up of key education and Traveller and Roma stakeholders. This survey closed on 30 October and we have now started targeted consultations.

A range of other work underway in the area of Traveller education will inform the development of the new strategy, including:

  • The independent evaluation of the pilot project – Supporting Traveller and Roma (STAR), which is underway in four areas (Galway, Wexford, Dublin and Cork) with the aim of addressing the barriers impacting on Traveller and Roma attendance, participation and retention in education. A Research Advisory Group with Traveller and Roma representation has been established to support this. Around €1.1million has been spent per year on the additional supports provided through the project since it was established.
  • 10 new Home School Community Liaison (HSCL) coordinator posts serving 14 non-DEIS post-primary schools with high numbers of Traveller and Roma students were created using Dormant Accounts Funding to tackle education disadvantage for Traveller and Roma communities; funding is also provided for initiatives to improve attendance, retention and progression.
  • The work of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) in the area of Traveller culture and history in the curriculum, including the 2019 audit of Traveller culture and history in the curriculum, and the Traveller Culture and History Research Report published in February 2023, which provides a basis for the development of resources and materials, and will inform thinking around intercultural approaches to education.
  • A new post in Oide (formerly the Professional Development Service for Teachers (PDST)) was created to oversee, develop and support CPD for schools in the DEIS programme, and to lead on the development of bespoke CPD on anti-racism and embracing diversity for school leaders and teachers to enable them to support the learning needs of all students from all cultural backgrounds and provide support for pedagogical practices that promote inclusion.


The Department has also provided guidelines to schools on the use of Reduced School Days in September 2021 and these came into effect from 1st January 2022. It is recognised that, in certain situations, the use of reduced school days is a positive intervention with a view to assisting a student to return to full time attendance and that in some instances parents may request a RSD to support their child to return to full time attendance. Where schools apply a reduced school day, such arrangements should only be put in place with the consent of the parent or guardian.

The Guidelines include the requirement for schools to notify Tusla Education Support Service (TESS) of the use of all reduced school day arrangements, and the notification form provides the option to include the student’s ethnic background; the question is optional and written consent from the parent/guardian is required. The first two reports on these data were published in September. This is the first time a report on reduced school days notifications has being published and it is a key step in ensuring reduced school days are used only as intended, as an  exceptional measure, in exceptional circumstances, and that the focus is always on return to full-time schooling as quickly as possible.

With regards to the use of a reduced school day for children from Traveller families, out of the total student enrolment of 964,590 for the 22/23 school year, 15,197 indicated Traveller or Roma ethnicity, 97 of whom were on RSDs for part the school year. 90 of those students were not re-notified to TESS by the end of the school year. The data gathered in these reports will inform the current work on the development of the Traveller and Roma Education Strategy. The use of RSDs for Traveller and Roma students will continue to be monitored by the Department of Education.