The Department does not fund out-of-school activities, as it would divert scarce resources from the classroom. Therefore, there are no incentives universally available to schools to organise breakfast meetings. Some schools have been able to establish breakfast clubs for pupils with funding made available to them through the new opportunities fund from the Belfast Regeneration Office.
Is the Minister aware that there have been welcome and remarkable improvements in standards of literacy and numeracy in some of the most socially deprived areas? In Belfast especially, schools have sought support from this type of back-up. Will the Minister leave a note on his ministerial desk instructing the Department to give that top priority, so that the awful scourge of illiteracy and innumeracy can be alleviated?
As well as helping to promote the regular, prompt attendance of some children, breakfast clubs can provide a healthy breakfast for some pupils who might not otherwise have the chance. Indeed, if I had the resources, I would expand breakfast clubs, especially in schools serving areas of severe social disadvantage.
I know that John Dallat has a keen interest in literacy and numeracy, and I have tremendous sympathy with the arguments that he has made. There is no doubt that we must consistently challenge ourselves to see what more can be done to ensure that literacy standards are raised.
The Minister has stated that no moneys will be made available for participation by parents, teachers, pupils and classroom assistants in out-of-school activities. Can the Minister or his Department confirm that any assistance — it may not take the form of money — will be equitable and given in parity to all state schools as opposed to only Irish-language schools and those schools represented by the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools? In the past, those schools have been given priority over state schools.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Cuirim fáilte roimh cheist an Uasail Dallat. I welcome my Colleague’s question, and particularly his emphasis on harnessing all the energies around schools to create a school and community partnership. However, I am not sure that breakfast meetings are the best mechanism for doing that. What does the Minister consider to be the best mechanism for achieving real participation among parents, teachers and pupils in a school and community partnership?
My Department accepts that parents have an important role to play in their children’s education and has made limited funding available to each education and library board for a range of targeted parenting initiatives. In addition, under existing and proposed legislation, a school must consult parents about its discipline and anti-bullying policies. The Education and Training Inspectorate also seeks parents’ views when undertaking a general inspection of a school.