Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Education Thomas Byrne TD says the news that the cap on the expansion of the DEIS programme is to be finally lifted is a positive development. The announcement means new schools will be eligible for inclusion into the equality of opportunity programme from September next.

Deputy Byrne said Fine Gael’s about turn on the issue came about as a result of sustained pressure from Fianna Fáil.

Deputy Byrne said, “The previous Government enabled educational inequality between the most advantaged and disadvantaged students to widen. This occurred due to its short-sighted decision to cut a number of key education supports and programmes, including guidance counselling in schools, the DEIS programme and the School Completion Programme.

“It’s unfortunate that the DEIS programme has not been expanded significantly since its inception by Fianna Fáil in 2006. There has not been a single new school admitted to the DEIS programme since 2009.

“The Fianna Fáil party, as the original initiator of these programmes, sought restoration and enhanced support for these three vital educational disadvantage programmes in our agreement to facilitate a minority Government. It’s positive to see that the Government is moving to adhere to this commitment. It is essential that a number of new schools are added to the DEIS programme considering socio-economic changes in various communities over the years.

“Schools serving disadvantaged populations are allocated additional funding under DEIS but are less likely to receive ‘voluntary contributions’ from parents, and families have substantially fewer economic, cultural and social resources than those in non-DEIS schools.

“However the ERSI report on DEIS also indicates that a significant proportion of disadvantaged students attend non-DEIS schools, recommending that there should be tapering of funding to address education disadvantage for schools as well as targeted supports for disadvantaged children in non-DEIS schools.

“I believe there is a case for a degree of tapering of funding for schools rather than a sharp withdrawal below the specified cut-off.

“Existing research points to a number of ways of closing the gap in DEIS schools, including a move away from rigid forms of ability grouping (streaming) and improving the school climate and enhanced career guidance.

“Persistent challenges exist in the area of numeracy for DEIS schools, suggesting the need to put renewed focus on this domain in future provision.”