Measures to address educational disadvantage

Educational disadvantage

Educational disadvantage is when some people get less out of the education system than others.

Educational disadvantage is seen in many ways, often by poor levels of participation or achievement in the formal education system.

Children may be disadvantaged, for example, because of:

  • Disability
  • Ill health
  • Literacy difficulties
  • Poverty

Read about some of the different supports available in schools:

Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS)

The Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) programme aims to reduce educational disadvantage. It is a Department of Education policy.

Under the DEIS programme, schools with the highest number of students at risk of educational disadvantage get extra resources. A number of pre-existing programmes were brought together under the DEIS framework.

The DEIS Plan 2017 (pdf) sets out the Department of Education’s aims to improve opportunities for people in communities at risk of disadvantage and social exclusion.

See the list of current DEIS schools. Read more about the different supports available to DEIS schools on

Schemes and programmes to reduce educational disadvantage

Early Start Pre-School Scheme

Early Start is a one-year preventative intervention scheme for pre-school children (3 to 5 years old) who are at risk of not reaching their potential in school. It is available in selected schools in some disadvantaged areas.

School Completion Programme

The School Completion Programme is aimed at children in primary and post-primary school who are at risk of leaving school early, or who are out of school and haven’t transferred to another learning site (for example, Youthreach).

The programme aims to help children:

  • Complete the Leaving Certificate, or
  • Achieve a qualification at an equivalent level to the Leaving Certificate, or
  • Achieve a suitable level of education that lets them continue into further education, training or employment

The programme is funded by Tusla Education Support Services (TESS).

Home-School Community Liaison Scheme

The Home-School Community Liaison Scheme aims to improve co-operation between home, schools and communities to improve educational outcomes for disadvantaged children.

Learning support teachers

Learning support teachers give extra support to children with learning difficulties, particularly in the areas of literacy and numeracy. Generally, this support is provided through extra teaching in small groups or individually. You can find guidelines for learning support teachers on

School Meals Programme

The School Meals Programme funds schools to provide food to school children.

Since September 2023, the Hot School Meals Programme is available to all DEIS primary schools. In April 2024, it was expanded to many primary schools outside the DEIS programme. You can read the list of schools approved for the Hot School Meals Programme.

The programme has 2 schemes:

  • The Urban Scheme
  • The Local Projects Scheme

The Urban Scheme

The Urban Scheme supports school meals for primary schools in urban areas. Local authorities are responsible for procuring food suppliers for schools on this scheme. Meals under this scheme may include sandwiches, fruit and milk.

The Local Projects Scheme

The Local Projects Scheme gives funding directly to schools and groups that operate their own school meals programme (the meals may be hot or cold).

Funding is given directly to:

  • Primary schools
  • Secondary school
  • Special schools
  • Local groups
  • Voluntary organisations
  • Community based preschools

Funding is allocated based on a rate per meal, per child, per day. Funding must be used only for food that meets certain nutrition standards (pdf).

Equal Start

Equal Start is a new scheme which aims to support disadvantaged children in early learning and care and school-age childcare settings.

A Family Community Liaison role will be created, and funding will go towards tailored supports for children as well as meals and staff time.

The targeted supports will be available to children who are:

  • In disadvantaged areas
  • In the Traveller and Roma communities
  • On the National Childcare Scheme through a sponsor body
  • Experiencing homelessness
  • In the International Protection system

Equal Start will start rolling out from September 2024, and is expected to be fully operational by 2028.

Special projects for disadvantaged youth

The following projects are aimed at young people in the second-level education age group, but they are also relevant for some primary school students.

UBU – Your Place Your Space

UBU - Your Place Your Space is a funding scheme providing out-of-school supports to help young people aged 10-24 realise their potential. It is funded by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY).

The projects focus on the personal development and social education of young people who are at risk of:

  • Drug abuse
  • Juvenile crime
  • Early school leaving
  • Social exclusion
  • Unemployment
  • Welfare dependence
  • Homelessness
  • Marginalisation (for example, young carers; people from the LGBTI+ community; people with disabilities; and people from the Traveller or Roma communities)

Youth Information Centres

The DCEDIY funds a network of Youth Information Centres and services.

The centres give young people free and confidential information about careers, education, employment matters, rights and entitlements, leisure, sport, travel, and European opportunities.


Youthreach provides opportunities for basic education, personal development, vocational training and work experience to early school leavers without any formal qualifications.

More information

The meaning of educational disadvantage is set out in the Education Act 1998.

You can get more information on:

Social Inclusion Unit

The Department of Education

Tel: (090) 648 3600

School Meals Programme

Department of Social Protection

College Road

Tel: (071) 913 8625 or (071) 915 7100
Page edited: 9 July 2024