Hundreds of disadvantaged schools ‘excluded’ from Deis support scheme

Records indicate up to 257 additional schools identified as meeting threshold

Louise Tobin, principal of St Joseph’s primary school, leads children from five schools in Tipperary town who gathered at the Department of Education earlier this year to protest at their ‘exclusion’ from the Deis scheme for disadvantaged schools. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Louise Tobin, principal of St Joseph’s primary school, leads children from five schools in Tipperary town who gathered at the Department of Education earlier this year to protest at their ‘exclusion’ from the Deis scheme for disadvantaged schools. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

Hundreds of deprived schools identified as qualifying for extra teachers and supports were not included in the State’s official scheme to tackle educational disadvantage.

More than 800 schools currently qualify for the Deis (Delivering Equality in Schools) scheme and benefit from vital additional resources such as extra teachers and grant-aid.

However, records released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act indicate that up to 257 additional schools were also identified earlier this year as qualifying for the scheme but were not included.

A document prepared for Minister for Education Richard Bruton ahead of October’s budget makes the case for additional funding over the next three years to include these schools in the Deis scheme.

The schools were identified using a new deprivation index which allows policy-makers to objectively identify the level of disadvantage among school pupils based on home addresses and census data. It replaced a survey completed by school principals which was widely regarded as vulnerable to “gaming”.

Out of date

Mr Bruton announced last February that a total of 79 schools were to be added into the Deis system for the first time using the new index. However, he declined to say at the time whether other schools had also been identified has having met the threshold for support.

When asked if the 257 schools referenced in the records qualified for Deis but were not included for budgetary reasons, a spokeswoman said this number was used “at a very early stage of the estimates process to illustrate what additional supports could be given to schools based on a particular financial allocation being made available. The information used to arrive at that number is now out of date and will not be used to inform policy decisions in this area”.

She said the new index had since been updated and a further exercise was being conducted using the updated data.

“If this exercise reveals that any school which did not qualify for Deis in the February 2017 round actually meets the criteria applicable to schools with the highest concentration of disadvantage based on the fully up-to-date information, then it will be included, subject to resources.”

Fairness

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) said there had been a “ distinct lack of transparency in the system” behind the inclusion of additional schools in the Deis scheme.

“Many schools with legitimate and realistic expectations of inclusion in Deis remain unconvinced about the fairness of the process,” a spokesman said.

The INTO also said favourable staffing ratios to disadvantaged schools had been diluted by cutbacks over the years of austerity and by improvements in non-Deis schools.

Trutz Hasse, a social and economic consultant who helped develop the affluence and deprivation index, said having a simple “in or out” scheme for access to Deis support was unfair and that a new system should be introduced.

“We should have a system which is much more graduated, so you’re not in or out. Supports should be made available based on the level of disadvantage, so you don’t have to work with thresholds,” he said.

Fianna Fáil’s education spokesman Thomas Byrne said it appeared many schools have been “excluded” from the Deis scheme and called on Mr Bruton to disclose the outcomes for individual schools.

Mr Bruton has previously argued against releasing a list of individual outcomes for schools on the basis that it could create league tables which might stigmatise individual schools.