Pupils protest over exclusion from support scheme for disadvantaged schools
Teachers say vulnerable students from deprived areas are losing out on vital supports
Children from five schools in Tipperary gather at the Department of Education to hand a letter in to Minister for Education Richard Bruton. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
Almost 150 pupils from five Tipperary schools gathered outside the Department of Education headquarters on Wednesday in protest over their exclusion from a support scheme for disadvantaged schools.
The Deis (delivering equality for schools) scheme provides additional resources and teaching supports for more than 800 schools in disadvantaged areas.
None of Tipperary town’s five primary schools were added to an expansion of Deis (delivering equality for schools) earlier this year, despite being told by officials that they met the criteria for additional support.
Following a demonstration at the department’s Marlborough Street headquarters, pupils handed over letters of protest to Minister for Education Richard Bruton’s private secretary.
Louise Tobin, a principal at St Joseph’s, said teachers and parents were frustrated at the lack of an appeals mechanism for schools that had been “unfairly” excluded from the scheme.
She said Tipperary was one of the more deprived towns in the country, based on indicators such as unemployment, education levels and family structure.
“We investigated and proved the levels of disadvantage among the pupils. Despite repeated requests for representation from the local TDs and a meeting with department officials, we have received nothing except comments that the school meets Deis criteria and there is no timeframe for additional schools to be added.”
Ms Tobin said Deis status would mean getting two additional teachers and a home-school liaison to engage with parents.
“We’d also get money – about €30,000 – to fund the school, which is run on a shoestring. There would be training for literacy and numeracy, as well as lunches for all pupils,” she added.
Until recently, Deis schools were identified using surveys filled in by the schools themselves.
However, the status of schools in the scheme is now based on an independent and evidence-based new affluence and deprivation index.
This examines pupils’ addresses to identify schools with the highest proportions of children from deprived backgrounds.
A total of 79 schools were added to the Deis scheme earlier this year, while a further 30 had their status uplifted from band two to band one, which involves greater levels of support.
Controversy centres on a political decision to protect the status of the 800 or so schools currently in the Deis scheme, regardless of whether they were found to be deprived or not.
It means there are likely to be significant numbers of other schools that meet the criteria for support, but which have not been added due to limited resources.
A spokesman for Mr Bruton said the process would be “refined” in future years and this would include measures to transition schools out of Deis.
“The Minister will continue to make the case for additional resources in future budgets . . . This will include seeking additional resources to tackle educational disadvantage.”
He said the entry of any future schools into Deis would be based on updated data based on the most recent census, but it was not possible to estimate how many “in the event of additional resources being made available”.