Measures to address educational disadvantage

Educational disadvantage

Educational disadvantage is when some individuals get less benefit from the education system than their peers. The Education Act 1998 defines educational disadvantage as “the impediments to education arising from social or economic disadvantage which prevent students from deriving appropriate benefit from education in schools”. Educational disadvantage is demonstrated in many ways, most often in poor levels of participation and achievement in the formal education system.

There are other ways in which children may be disadvantaged, for example as a result of a disability, literacy difficulties, ill health or poverty. Read about the supports for children's education in special needs education, psychological services for schools and financial help with going to school.

Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS)

In 2005, the Department published DEIS - Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools: an action plan for educational inclusion (pdf). The plan brought a number of programmes together under the framework of Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS). DEIS is a more integrated approach to the issue of educational inclusion and provides for:

  • A standardised system for identifying and regularly reviewing levels of disadvantage and
  • A new integrated School Support Programme (SSP) to bring together and build upon the previous schemes and programmes.

In the DEIS Plan 2017(pdf), the Department sets out its aims and objectives to build on the existing DEIS action plan for educational inclusion. Areas for action include:

  • Develop best practice in the identification of schools needing support
  • Improve the learning experience and outcomes of pupils in DEIS schools
  • Pilot innovative and creative approaches to tackle educational disadvantage that can be mainstreamed over time
  • Improve services to schools through collaboration with other Departments and Agencies
  • Provide DEIS schools with the research, information, evaluation and feedback to track the progress being made towards achieving the goals of the Plan

You can read an FAQ on the DEIS Plan 2017(pdf).

You can review the list of current DEIS schools.

The School Support Programme supports Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) and involves the following programmes:

  • The Home School Community Liaison Scheme (HSCL)
  • The School Completion Programme (SCP)
  • The Visiting Teachers Service for Travellers (VTST)

Early Start Pre-School Scheme

Early Start is a one-year preventative intervention scheme offered to pre-school children (3 to 5 years old) in some schools in designated disadvantaged areas. More detailed information about Early Start is available.

School Completion Programme

The School Completion Programme aims to help students from disadvantaged areas stay in school to complete their Leaving Certificate. It forms part of the Department of Education's social inclusion strategy, Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS), to help children and young people who are at risk of or who are experiencing educational disadvantage.

Home-School Community Liaison Scheme

The Home-School Community Liaison Scheme aims to improve co-operation between home, schools and communities to advance the educational interests of disadvantaged children.

The Learning Support Teacher Scheme

Learning support teachers provide extra support teaching for children experiencing learning difficulties, particularly in the core areas of literacy and numeracy. Generally this extra support is provided in the form of extra teaching in small groups or individually.

School Meals Programme

The School Meals Programme aims to supplement the diets of school-going children from disadvantaged backgrounds to help them fulfil their potential within the educational system and to reduce the risk of early school leaving. There are two schemes.

The Urban Scheme supports school meals for primary schools in urban areas. This programme consists of daily sandwiches or buns and milk. The scheme is not a replacement for home meals.

The Local Projects Scheme gives funding directly to national and secondary schools, local groups and voluntary organisations, which operate their own school meals projects (the meals may be hot or cold). It also covers nursery schools catering for disadvantaged pre-school children. These meals must be targeted at areas of disadvantage or at children with special needs. Funding is allocated based on a rate per meal per child.

Funding for school meals comes from the Department of Social Protection and local authorities.

From September 2023, the Hot School Meals Programme is available to all DEIS primary schools.

From April 2024, the Hot School Meals Programme will expand to more schools. You can read the list of schools approved for the Hot School Meals Programme from April 2024.

Special projects for disadvantaged youth

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

DCEDIY Projects for Disadvantaged Youth

UBU - Your Place Your Space is funded by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY) to provide out of school supports to young people. It gives grants for special projects for disadvantaged young people. Priority is given to projects for special youth work initiatives, young homeless people, young substance abusers and young Travellers.

The projects are aimed at facilitating the personal development and social education of young people at risk of drug abuse, juvenile crime, early school leaving, social exclusion, unemployment, welfare dependence, homelessness and marginalisation. In particular, they aim to help young people realise their potential and give them the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary for their integration in society.

Youth Information Centres

The DCEDIY funds the network of Youth Information Centres. The centres provide young people with access to information on rights, opportunities, benefits, health, welfare and other matters.

Further information

For further information on DEIS contact the Social Inclusion Unit of the Department of Education.

For further information on the School Completion Programme contact the Co-ordination Service in the Curriculum Development Unit.

For further information on the School Meals Scheme contact your local authority or the Department of Social Protection. There is an application form for the School Meals Local Projects Scheme (pdf). You can also get the Nutrition Standards for Hot School Meals (pdf) .

Contact your local Education and Training Board (ETB) for funding for DE Projects for Disadvantaged Youth.

Contact the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth for funding for the YPFSF.

Social Inclusion Unit

The Department of Education

Tel: (090) 648 3600

Curriculum Development Unit

Sundrive Road
Dublin 12

Tel: (01) 453 5487
Fax: (01) 453 7659

School Meals Programme

Department of Social Protection

College Road

Tel: (071) 913 8625 or (071) 915 7100
Page edited: 7 December 2023