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Educational disadvantage: DEIS and literacy initiatives

The Minister of State at the Department of Education & Skills, Ciaran Cannon, outlined to Dara Calleary (FF, Mayo) the government’s approach in the area of educational disadvantage (Dail Eireann, Debates, 19th April 2011, 492-3).  The DEIS (Delivery Equality of Opportunity in Schools) programme had been launched on 30th May 2005 and a comprehensive evaluation by the Educational Research Centre was expected shortly, following an earlier report focussed on rural disadvantage.  The department’s inspectorate had also made a evaluation of implementation in primary and post primary schools and this was expected in the near future.  At present, there were 200 post-primary schools in the programme: 26 community and comprehensive, 48 voluntary schools and 126 VEC schools.  DEIS had been the outcome of the first full review of programmes tackling disadvantage for twenty years.  He went on to say, in summary, that:

Evidence so far was that disadvantage associated with rural poverty did not impact on educational achievement as much as in urban areas.  Children in DEIS rural schools were performing close to the national average.  There was no evidence that additional educational resources would make a meaningful difference, although in the event 331 rural DEIS schools benefitted from additional support.  There was no evidence, he said, to support the case that DEIS help should go to schools with only a few disadvantaged children, because their poverty did not necessarily translate into educational under-achievement.  There was evidence, though, that large proportions of students from a poor background exacerbated the other disadvantages of poverty, what is called the ‘social context effect’, so it was appropriate to concentrate resources on those areas where disadvantage was most evident.

The Minister of State at the Department of Education & Skills, Ciaran Cannon, outlined to Brendan Smith (FF, Cavan Monaghan) the funding for adult literacy initiatives, which had risen from €1m in 1997 to €30m presently, with participants rising from 5,000 to 50,000 (Dail Eireann, Debates, 19th April 2011, 486, 487-8).  The minister of state told him that the last major survey of adult literacy had been in 1997 and the department was now participating in a new one, the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), organized by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Central Statistics Office.  It would be conducted August 2011, with results in 2013.  This involved home surveys of adults 16 to 64 on skills, attitudes, information and the cognitive and workplace skills required for the economy and society of the 21st century.