Minister launches new Educational Disadvantage Centre report

Katherine Zappone, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, joined Dublin City University last night to launch a DCU-led report published by the European Commission on the development of a new tool to analyse the inclusiveness of education systems.

International research indicates that school systems need to change in order to tackle early school leaving and improve social inclusion in education and society. However, policy-makers and school actors require practical tools to assist them in this process.

Led by Dr. Paul Downes, Director of the Educational Disadvantage Centre at Dublin City University, this report develops such practical tools by translating international research findings, as well as EU policy and legal documents, into user-friendly proposals to guide strategic reform of policy and practice. It offers a reconceptualization of systemic approaches to supports setting out key fundamental principles for inclusive systems.

Key speakers, Petra Goran, European Commission, Irene Psifidou, Cedefop and Professor Erna Nairz-Wirth spoke about how promoting inclusive systems can help address major issues of societal importance in the education system, including early school leaving prevention, mental health supports for vulnerable students, school bullying and violence prevention, and a positive learning environment to foster student learning and leadership. Irene Psifidou also presented on another structural indicators tool focusing specifically on early leaving from vocational education and training, a tool developed by Paul Downes and published by Cedefop.

Minister Zappone welcomed the report and commended the team involved in putting it together, adding that it reinforced the idea that schools can’t achieve this by themselves and that we all have such a key role to play. She committed to exploring ways to disseminate and implement aspects of the report, in Irish and wider contexts.

Dr. Paul Downes, Associate Professor of Education (Psychology) and Director of the Educational Disadvantage Centre, DCU, put this report in context for Ireland:

“Child poverty in Ireland increased at the fastest rate in the EU between 2008 and 2011, with Latvia, Bulgaria and Hungary our nearest rivals for this unwanted title. In Ireland it has continued to increase every year until 2015. In other words, children and young people have borne the brunt of the economic crisis. We now need an overarching and not piecemeal response to child poverty at a national level, centrally including improved provision of services.
Two key services emphasised in the report Structural Indicators for Inclusive Systems in and around School are multidisciplinary teams in and around schools and community based lifelong learning centres.

“We need to combine these services into community based one-stop-shops to end service fragmentation and to provide young people and their parents with continuity and flexibility of tailored supports, including drop-in services rather than merely a few pre-packaged programmes.

We need a national strategy for community based integrated centres, combining lifelong learning and multidisciplinary team supports, and linked with schools. Multidisciplinary teams linked with schools are a hallmark of good practice in a European context and taken for granted as a service provision in many EU countries – but not Ireland.”