011. Reboot the School Completion Programme

Recently, DEIS schools around Ireland woke up to a new dawn. The School Completion Programme, which aims to target children at risk of early school leaving, has been renamed thanks to a big rebrand from Tusla, who are now in charge of the programme.

School Completion Programme will now be known as the Form Completion Programme.

Schools in the programme used to be trusted to be able to identify children most at risk and then work with project workers to design interventions, which generally could be put in place almost immediately.

Tusla, obviously unhappy with this efficiency, designed a form to ensure that any child at risk would have to wait up to 3 months before any intervention could be put in place. The form, which goes on for almost 10 pages, asks schools to fill in all sorts of information about a child, their family, their personal circumstances, and so on. The form takes at least an hour to complete (up to 2 hours depending on the circumstances) If a school requires a project worker to work with 5 children, that’s around 5-10 hours of paperwork before anything happens.

However, it gets worse! Filling in the form doesn’t guarantee intervention. The forms go off to a local committee who process the forms and give them points based on a standardised (read arbitrary) scoresheet. These meetings only take place “every so often” and after that a school will learn if they’ve scored enough points to get intervention. By the way, there are no teachers or principals on this committee.

And yet there’s more, the findings of this committee go to another committee to be given approval for School Completion Programme intervention to begin.

By this stage, these vulnerable children may already have been referred to Tusla for Child Protection reasons or will have fallen even further behind where they could have been if it weren’t for the box-ticking.

Naturally, when Tusla were organising this Form Completion Programme, they didn’t bother checking with school principals who were going to be taking on all this extra pointless paperwork. So far, 3 Dublin SCP clusters have refused to engage with it but, as a result, they won’t receive any support from the programme.

Tusla appear to hate trees. It seems that any intervention now requires lengthy pointless forms to access anything. A couple of years ago, schools learned that they would now have to fill in 2 forms to have the NEWB intervene in cases where a child had poor attendance. Tusla head up the NEWB.

Representative bodies, as usual, are silent on the matter. The INTO appear to be “listening” to groups of principals but they have yet to tell Tusla where to go with their forms.

Every school wants to help their most vulnerable pupils, whether that’s due to poor attendance or high risk of not completing school, but no school needs to fill in form after form so somebody in an office has something to do with their fingers. If a school believes a child is at risk, that should be enough. I’m sure we’d be willing to fill in a one-page thing to cover GDPR but the excessive paperwork required by Tusla in order for anything to be done reeks of caring more about bureaucracy than children.

The Form Completion Programme needs to be stopped and the focus needs to get back to children with immediate needs.

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