Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS)

Short summary

Similar to other countries, Ireland has a historical legacy of disadvantage (geographical, educational, social and political). As elsewhere there is disparity within the population, and while there is a rural disadvantage, an urban disadvantage is seen as being particularly severe given spatially concentrated nature of urban disadvantage. For instance, Limerick city has pockets of poverty which is reinforced by spatial segregation incorporating poor housing, communities with low educational qualifications and/or poor employment prospects, high unemployment and inadequate infrastructure etc.

This is then mirrored in education, with schools in disadvantaged areas struggling with special education, low levels of numeracy and literacy, disruptive behavior, children who have low educational and employment aspirations and early school leaving. In some instances, parents themselves may have negative attitudes towards education or because of their poor literacy and/or numeracy skills be unable to help their children succeed in education. They are also operating in a very competitive education environment where middle-class families have social, cultural and economic resources to ensure their children succeed academically in education.

This is reinforced by the very academic nature of Irish education. There is a very strong emphasis on general education with a strong focus on academic subjects, with less prestige attached to vocational education (including apprenticeship training). Since the 1970s, there has been a wide range of educational initiatives which have attempted to address educational disadvantage and the current national initiative has grown from these early attempts to promote equality in education. 

The DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) Initiative is the most significant national (and centrally funded) initiative that targets support at disadvantaged communities, particularly those located in urban areas. It is based on targeted supports that attempts to deliver equality of opportunity in schools from preschool to post-primary education (three to eighteen years). DEIS is built upon several previous initiatives such as Giving Children an Even Break and Breaking the Cycle and the Disadvantaged Area scheme and is part of a long history of partnership intervention.

DEIS was initiated in 2005 and is centrally funded by the Department of Education and Skills (DES). DEIS is based on long term action plans and there is a strong focus on literacy and numeracy, parental engagement and building capacity of school leaders and teachers. DEIS is also built upon a strong foundation of research, evaluation and feedback to schools. 

It is based on five goals:

  1. To implement a more robust and responsive Assessment Framework for identification of schools and effective resource allocation (for instance, targeting schools with the most severe disadvantage).
  2. To improve the learning experience and outcomes of children in DEIS schools.
  3. To improve the capacity of school leaders and teachers to engage, plan and deploy resources to their best advantage.
  4. To support and foster best practice in schools through inter-agency collaboration.
  5. To support the work of schools by providing the research, information, evaluation and feedback to achieve the goals of the DEIS Plan.

Essentially DEIS is centrally funded but has a bottom-up approach to targeting and addressing educational disadvantage at a local level. It is based on the premise that disadvantage is spatially concentrated and therefore schools located in disadvantaged areas receive ring-fenced funding to enable them to tackle literacy and numeracy difficulties etc.  DEIS is a significant programme which supports a broad range of initiatives such as the Home School Community Liaison Scheme, School Completion Project and School meals programme etc. Some of these initiatives have been in place for over twenty years. 

Context of good practice

In order to qualify for the range of DEIS supports available to schools, schools must be given designated DEIS status. The designation status is based on the Central Statistics Office small area population statistics (deprivation index) and DES pupil data (children’s postal address etc.). There are three designations – DEIS Band 1 schools (most severely disadvantaged schools, DEIS Band 2 schools and DEIS rural schools.

There are a whole range of supports (smaller teacher: pupil ratio, SE teachers, literacy and numeracy initiatives etc.). The range of supports and school's designation status are reviewed periodically by the DES inspectorate and schools are expected to cooperate with these DEIS evaluations, which are quite thorough. There is a big emphasis on supports and multi-agency work within the school.  Agencies such as NEPS (National Educational Psychologist Service),National Welfare Board, TUSLA (The Child and Family Agency),Speech and Language Therapy etc. work with individual children (and family)  within the school setting. As stated above, DEIS schools have designated staffing levels and smaller classes, and there is also a big emphasis on continual professional development (CPD) for staff. This CPD is delivered at Local Education Centres by PDST (Professional Development Service for Teachers) etc.

While DEIS is centrally funded by the government (similar to education in general) and schools are expected to implement DES initiatives, schools have the flexibility to engage in non-DES initiatives which support the overall DEIS programme. This allows schools to work with local agencies (voluntary and statutory) to address a local need. For instance, some DEIS schools in Limerick are involved in the Bedford Row project, which is aimed at families and children who have a family member in prison. This flexibility allows schools to be innovative and creative in their work with parents and children.

Some DEIS schools may work with a HEI (Higher Education Institute) such as a University or an Initial Teacher Education (ITE) College to deliver bespoke CPD or workshops for children (LEGO education, school placement etc.). All schools have access to DES supported and funded (school support programme) programmes such as Home School Community Liaison Service (operating since 1990),School meals programme (free lunches and breakfast),school books Grant scheme, School Completion Programme – operating since 2002.

The DEIS initiative supports the philosophy that the school is part of the community and consequently there is a strong emphasis on building partnership with parents and also a multi and interagency approach to helping families and communities. Some schools provide parenting classes, cookery, building child-parent relationships, shared reading project and story sack projects at Christmas time. DEIS schools would also be closely involved with local support agencies (social services, housing and homeless charities etc.). School Principals also work hard to ensure staff have positive attitudes towards children (in terms of having high expectations) and encourage staff to participate in CPD that enhances teaching and learning strategies. 

In terms of the DEIS initiative – the main focus is on literacy and numeracy initiative and most of these are DES funded (all DEIS schools are expected to implement these initiatives) such as:

  • First Steps/ Reading recovery 
  • Reading for fun (family reading initiative with Home School Community Liaison (HSCL) and Speech and Language Therapist (STL)
  • Maths Recovery 
  • Ready, Set, Go Maths
  • Incredible Years
  • Friends for Life (HSCL and teachers)

There are other programmes that support the DEIS initiative but that are not mandatory. Some available in Limerick city include:

  • LEGO Education and LEGO after school clubs
  • Aistear
  • English as an Additional Language CPD
  • CPD provided by the National Education Psychological Service
  • Learning Hub Limerick
  • EDNIP (Integration of migrant communities) based in MIC

Over the last few years, there has been a significant shift towards in-school supports (agencies come into the school). Schools would work closely with the Education Welfare Service (this is a service under TUSLA – Child & Family Agency) to encourage school attendance etc. Other partnerships would include Focus Ireland – who work with children who are ’homeless’ (living in accommodation hubs) and also Sophia Housing (voluntary agency),Doras Luimní (migrant families),Barnardos’ Homemaker Family Support. Schools would also work with the local Education and Training Boards to provide classes (cookery etc.) with parents.  Limerick DEIS schools would also work with the City Council through the Social Intervention Fund (funding made available for school supports).  

DEIS schools have a high concentration of children with special education challenges and Traveller children. Children who arrive into Ireland via refugee status and asylum seekers would generally be placed in DEIS schools. Similar to the new SE model (see SE Case Study) the multiagency response to children in DEIS schools is now based on One Child, One Team and One Plan approach. For instance, in 2009 four education services were integrated under the responsibility of National Education Welfare Board (NEWB) – School Completion Project, Home School Community Liaison Scheme, Visiting teacher for Travellers and the Education Welfare Service. The NEWB practice model known as One Child, One Team, One Plan was designed to facilitate the integrated working of NEWB services with the school and the home. There was a recognition that some individual children and their families require additional support around school attendance, participation and/or retention. The model is designed to provide a systematic and consistent approach to working with a child and/or their family, incorporating a continuum of intervention ranging from the universal through the targeted to the intensive.  In 2011 NEWB was transferred to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs under TUSLA (Child & Family Agency). There is two significant initiative under DEIS programme: Home School Community Liaison Scheme and School Completion Project.

Home School Community Liaison Scheme: It was established in designated areas of disadvantage in 1990 – initially as a pilot and rolled out after successful evaluations. It is now located in 259 primaries and 181 post-primary schools. Responsibility for the scheme rests with the Education Welfare Service of the Child Family Agency (TUSLA). The DES is responsible for the allocation of HSCL coordinators in schools whose remit is to promote positive partnership between parents, teachers and community to maximize outcomes of children at risk at dropping out; there is a particular emphasis on prevention of early school leaving.  It is unified and integrated at both primary and post-primary. HSCL coordinators are teachers who may work across a number of schools. Evaluations have been positive in terms of retention and academic performance (literacy and numeracy & state exams). HSCL coordinators work with TUSLA and School Completion Project to address issues. They also engage with preschool, primary and post-primary to ensure successful transitions and into higher education. HSCL offer practical supports in schools such as parent room, literacy initiatives etc. They undertake home visits and liaise with parents to help them understand the supports being offered. They also facilitate the provision of leisure, curricular, parenting and personal development programmes for parents, and engage with adult and family literacy and numeracy services in the local area. They facilitate the training of parents as community leaders, who then act as support to other parents.

School Completion Programme: It was established in 2002 in designated areas of disadvantaged. The main focus is on the young person (4-18yrs) and the programme is organised in terms of clusters. There are currently 124 SCP clusters. The cluster comprises of local primary and post-primary DEIS and some non-DEIS (where children may transfer from DEIS primary to non-DEIS post-primary etc.). It operates under Local Management Committees or Education Training Boards (ETBs). Schools, families, state and community agencies work together to ensure children make successful transitions and remain in formal education. The SCP co-ordinates in-school and after-school, and holiday supports for children, and out of school supports for those who have left mainstream school. They work with and liaise closely with schools, community Gardaí (police),and charitable organisations such as St Vincent de Paul, Health Service Executive, TUSLA and the HSCL coordinator etc.  It is essentially a Holistic School Engagement Programme. Activities include: Breakfast and lunch clubs, homework clubs, Attendance tracking and programmes to facilitate the transition from primary to post-primary, Counselling, and self-esteem classes with young people; Drama, Music & Art classes. They also facilitate the DES funded incredible years' programme (focus is on positive behaviour) and holiday camps and Easter programmes (Literacy etc.).

Main characteristics of the challenge, description of the target group

The DEIS communities experience a wide range of challenges – social, environmental, economic and educational.  

  • Socio/economic profile of areas; 
  • Depredation of area and lack of social amenities; 
  • Poor housing; 
  • Poor or no employment;
  • Low education attainment;
  • Negative attitudes towards people and children living in disadvantaged areas (stereotyping)
  • Stigma attached to particular groups – Travellers, 
  • Mental and physical issues
  • Lack of hope and consequently of both aspirations and expectation;
  • Fear and lack of self-confidence;
  • Parents not able (because of their literacy and numeracy difficulties) to help children
  • Lack of prospects;
  • Early school leaving;
  • Addiction;
  • Lack of positive role models;
  • Crime and criminal activity in some disadvantaged areas;
  • Negative attitudes towards education;
  • Poor parenting skills;
  • Inadequate governmental/regional/local support systems and staff to cope with the demand;
  • Low staff morale;
  • Time pressures;
  • Inadequate staffing levels;
  • Training/support not always appropriate to needs;
  • Negative attitudes and closed/outdated mindsets towards people living in disadvantaged areas;
  • Fragmentation of effort across separate agencies.

Success factors and processes

Step-by-step description of main activities from beginning to end, and conclusions:

1. Preparation: identifying the problem and outlining resolution (necessary tools, etc.) 

It is founded on national policy with criteria for selection of areas and schools set and justified. Agencies, funding and additional support mechanisms are identified. Schools are surveyed and CPD is identified, which in the main is coordinated by the local education centres.  There is the liaison with agencies; fora for discussion; publicity is all part of the activities.  

2. Description of main activities; the approach used (necessary tools, timeframe, etc.)

Select areas; set up teams: recruit schools; involve principals/ agencies heads; involve researchers/HEIs; discussion fora; implement policy; set up CPD; begin CPD, begin pilot; collect/assess data; amend; expand the initiative.  

3. Useful competencies of a problem-solving team to reach main aim (necessary tools, etc.)

Liaison: collaborative panels to set up monitor/manage/ maintain each phase of the initiative.

4. What is the estimated timeframe of implementation? Is this a quick solution or a long-term investment? When is it recommended to be carried out?

The DEIS initiative is a long term initiative, that is built upon earlier programmes. Success was based on well planned but flexible set of principles arrived at collectively, initiated from the top (finance) and carried out in systematic supported phases. It attempts to address identified problems which have been and are being reviewed, amended and added to at regular intervals under the Statues of the Periodical Reports and Evaluations schedules. It is regularly assessed for impact, efficacy and the need for additional resources, support, attitudinal change increased take-up and co-operation. Action is taken when initiatives are not effective and the decision to cease an initiative involves all stakeholders. There are joined-up planning and implementation. There is an ethos of sharing expertise, knowledge, ideas and experience.  DEIS works because there are no closed doors. Permission to fail and change direction leads to increased confidence and ownership of projects, leading in turn to practitioner satisfaction and improved teaching and learning. A comprehensive programme of continuous professional development to encompass all agency staff involved is essential.  There is a commitment to taking into account the lived experiences of those involved (children and their parents in particular) and all stakeholders work towards creating the optimum learning environment for children living in DEIS communities.  

Impact of measures taken

Overall, DEIS has been successful. There have been increased retention and attendance in formal education. Early school leaving in DEIS communities has declined. There have been positive relationships built between the school and the child, parent and family. DEIS is regularly reviewed and there are reviews of individual initiatives within DEIS also. Evaluations have been positive, particularly in creating a positive attitude towards education. Literacy and numeracy levels have improved for children attending DEIS schools. There has be some (but not much) narrowing of the achievement gap between DEIS and non-DEIS schools. However, there is a much higher concentration of children with SE and Traveller children and newly arrived children in DEIS schools. There is also the challenge of engaging working-class boys in education., as this group has the highest early school leaving rate and are also more likely to disengage with education. 

Lessons learned

DEIS initiative has been successful because there has been a bottom-up approach, where schools have flexibility in adapting and tailoring initiatives to their school community. One of the risks of the current DEIS approach is children who are disadvantaged but not attending DEIS schools. There has been a lot of regeneration in Limerick and with the movement of some children into non-DEIS areas, some non-DEIS school now face a range of similar challenges to DEIS schools but do not qualify for the range or level of supports. There is some hidden disadvantage (particularly in rural areas) that is not reached via the DEIS programme. This can create a sense of unfairness.  

The need to create continual CPD opportunities for teachers working in DEIS schools and to ensure low staff turnover and commitment to children and parents. The importance of information sharing to ensure schools avail of opportunities to participate in new initiatives etc.  A partnership approach to addressing educational disadvantage is essential – schools cannot do it on their own.  

Resources needed

Necessary resources (financial and human) as well as estimated time to see impact.

  • Overall a firm commitment and belief in equity and equality of education.
  • Commitment to children and their families in disadvantaged areas.
  • Ethos of partnership and multiagency approach to tackling disadvantage.
  • The ethos at governmental level in the necessity of successful staged, managed, inclusive participation and delivery of programmes.
  • Necessary resources (financial and human) as well as the estimated time for positive impact.
  • Across-the-board agreement on principles/attitudes towards addressing educational disadvantage.
  • Clear target setting that is realisable in both the short and long term – short, medium and long term targets.
  • Guidelines to principals, teachers etc.
  • Implementation period.
  • Set deadlines for evaluation/adaptation etc.
  • Evaluations (internal and external).
  • Finance.
  • Staffing.
  • Plant. 
  • Equipment.
  • Education, Training and Continual Professional Development.
  • Teachers who are well educated and committed to children and their families. 
  • Programmes that can sustain staff changes. 
  • Broader actions on economic and social development.
  • Broader actions on inequality - socioeconomic, gender, race; & ethnicity.
  • Well-being resources need to be available to an adequate degree (suited to each need) on a collaborative basis across all agencies involved.

Any other information

The DEIS initiative is based on two approaches – schools participate in DES (Department of Education and Skills) programmes (Home School Community Liaison Scheme, School Completion Programme, First Steps, Reading recovery, reading for fun, maths recovery, Ready, Set, Go Maths, Maths for fun, Incredible years, Friends for Life, STEM for fun) and there are other programmes that schools can choose to participate in. Schools must participate in DES funded initiative and have flexibility concerning non-DES funded programmes – as long as they are related to DEIS targets (LEGO Education, EAL CPD, Aistear, etc.). This approach offers schools a lot of flexibility to work with local agencies and create bespoke programmes for their children. Over the years, the intervention has moved to work with parents, children and teachers within the school setting. This is also the approach taken with the new SE model.

A selection of IRLS DEIS project (some with multiple references: in no particular order and subject to revision, many will have relevance to more than one project)

All information pertaining to DEIS can be located at:  This site contains information on the history of DEIS, Supports to Schools, DEIS evaluations (including external evaluations) etc.

More special information on specific aspects of DEIS (including general information on DES action plans, DEIS Action Plan, school attendance and published reports on DEIS outcome can be found in the links below:

 Action Plan for Education: (this link contains access to various year action plans – e.g. 2019 can be accessed here:

The 2016-2019 Action Plan:

DEIS Action Plan:

DEIS 2017 Action Plan:

DEIS Review process:

DEIS Review 2017:

DEIS Evaluation reports (both external and internal) can be accessed here:

Learning from the Evaluation of DEIS:

Fleming, B (2017) DEIS Plan 2017: A Mixed Bag:

Educational Disadvantage and the DEIS Programme (article by Emer Smyth):

Inequalities from the Start (article by Emer Smyth):

Cherishing all the Children equally (article by Emer Smyth):

Literacy and Numeracy for Learning and Life: (There was a particular emphasis on DEIS)

National Reforms in School Education (Ireland)

School Completion Programme:

Home school Liaison:

Early School Leaving Predictive Risk Factors:,_L._Early_School_Leaving_-_Predictive_Risk_Factors_July_2017_.pdf

DEIS Action Planning:

Assessment of DEIS – Stakeholder Consultation as part of DEIS evaluation (2015):

Bridging The Gap: Inequalities in Children's Educational Outcomes in Ireland:

Inequality in Irish education | The Classroom Divide:

Evaluation of a Healthy Schools’ Programme in five DEIS Schools:

Supports for DEIS Schools:


Professional Development Service for Teachers:


Example of a School’s DEIS three-year Plan:


Early Childhood/Preschool:

Improving numeracy outcomes for children through community action research:

Article by Josephine Bleach (2014)

The Socially Just School:

Houses of the Oireachtas (2019) Joint Committee on Education and Skills Report on Education inequality & disadvantage and Barriers to Education:

Attendance and Students’ School Experiences (ESRI, 2007):

The Effects of School Social Mix: Unpacking the Differences (ESRI, 2014):

Government of Ireland: Overview of Irish Education


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Social Inclusion Unit, Department of Education and Skills

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