Sirius study visit in Ireland: Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools program
St. Mary’s is a primary school situated in Dublin’s north inner city where the 88% of the students has English as an additional language, representing over 30 different nationalities. A place where many languages, cultures and religions meet and co-exist on daily basis.
It is one of 896 Irish schools that in the 2018/2019 school year are in the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) program, the Department of Education and Skills policy instrument to address educational disadvantage.
The action plan focuses on addressing and prioritising the educational needs of children and young people from disadvantaged communities, from pre-school through second-level education (3 to 18 years). The measure target the schools attended by a high concentration of students from disadvantaged areas, identified through the analysis of small-scale statistical and demo-graphic indicators. A Sirius network delegation had the chance to visit the school and met with DEIS program managers, within the framework of a peer learning activity that took place at the beginning of June.
The program has the ultimate goal of improving the learning experience and outcomes of students and several key targets: literacy and numeracy rates, retention rate, wellbeing, progression to further and higher education by under-represented groups, access by under-represented groups to initial teacher education and parental engagement.
The DEIS program represents a big help for St. Mary’s. «It is a huge advantage – explained Éadaoin Kelly, St. Mary’s School Principal -. It gives significant means of funding to support the children. The books and all materials are provided and we can benefit of a good team of support teachers. It conveys all possible measures to take the costs of schooling away from the families».
Besides extra funds that encompass the access to school meals programs, the possibility of opening “Home School Community Liaison” positions for teachers, enhanced guidance allocation, literacy and numeracy supports, the school can also assure a lower class size and get an administrative principal on a lower threshold.
The Home School Community Liaison (HSCL) is one of the distinctive features of DEIS. It is managed by Tusla agency, a state body responsible for improving well-being and outcomes for children. The primary concern of the work ok HSCL coordinators is to promote attendance, participation and retention of children, in consultation with school principals, the educational welfare services and social work services. The “liaison” is a schoolteacher who works as a link between the school, the parents and the community. The mandate last for five years and, after this period, the teacher return to their class. A HSC liason holds information sessions and open days, organises informal meetings (“morning coffees”) to provide general school information, to talk about the importance of attendance, to present available courses for parents and other local supports. If needed, the HSC liaison organises home visits. «The key feature of the scheme is the idea of bringing every type of support and service available to the table, instead of waiting that the parents go door to door», explained Anne-Marie McGovern, Educational Welfare Services manager at Tusla.
Currently, in Ireland, 416 HSCL are posted, serving 531 schools. One of them works at St. Mary’s. «You learn a lot from the parents and from the challenges that they face; it makes you more empathetic – the HSC liaison explained -. When I will go back to the classroom, I will not teach in the same way as before».
The delegation had also the chance to visit the Youth and Education Service (YES) for Refugees and Migrants, funded by the Department of Education and Skills and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, and managed through the City of Dublin Education and Training Board.
It started to operate in 2001 as a response to the unaccompanied minors’ crisis, but, later on, it extended the services also to the students who come with their families (the ratio is about 50:50). It provides support to the students that, for several reasons, cannot be right away enrolled in school. About 100 people aged from 13 to 18 years old get in touch with the YES services every year.
The teaching is organised around a competency based framework structured in four core strands: reading, writing, listening and speaking. «Besides the learning, the understanding of the post-migration environment is crucial – explained Jessica Farnan, manager of YES services. The centre offers support aimed at the overall wellbeing of the beneficiary. It is a friendly and safe environment, a place meant to convey an initial positive experience». That is the reason why the institution works also as a youth centre and its staff organises contextual activities as well, such as excursions, sports activities and creativity workshops.
When the beneficiary reach the proficiency language level of A2, it is usually time to move on. Until a couple of years ago, the students were enrolled to post-primary schools, but this was not an option for many of them, especially for the oldest ones, and therefore the centre started to work with alternative educational providers (usually, within the frame of adult education programs). Sometimes, they came back to the YES centre looking for extra help.
«Integration is a 20 years process no matter what policies you have in places and it is not linear – commented Edwina Steele, assistant principal officer at the Social Inclusion Unit of the Department of Education and Skills -. Issues often arise when (migrant) students leave school. We can learn a lot from what the schools do about integration».