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22.08.2018Additional means to those working with children and students from vulnerable groups: how to use them?

In 2018, for the first time, the Ministry of Education allocated nearly BGN 25 million for schools and kindergartens to work with children and students from vulnerable groups. The budget forecast shows a promise that this commitment will continue in the coming years. The funds have already been received in the accounts of the municipalities, and from there -  transferred to schools and kindergartens. How are they determined and what can be used for?

The allocation of additional resources to work with children and students from vulnerable groups is regulated in Art. 52 and 52b of the Regulation on Financing (published in State Newspaper No 31/2018). Many of the specific features are not yet clarified by the MES and will probably change in 2019, since such allocation has never been done before. However, the answer to some of the important questions can be given with categorical clarity. For example:

Which schools and kindergartens can receive the funds under Art. 52 a and 52 b?

  • Schools and kindergartens that have filled out information in the National electronic informational system for education (NEISPUO) in the "Environmental Features" work card for more than 80% of the children in kindergarten or primary school students can receive funds, having at least 15 children or students, trained in them.
  • Schools and kindergartens having at least 20 % children from vulnerable groups. Vulnerability is determined by the parents' educational status: if parents have lower than secondary education, students are at risk and should be considered representatives of vulnerable groups;
  • Only kindergartens and primary schools can receive those funds, since in 2018 there is no provision for allocating funds to middle-class students.

In 2017, many schools, where there are over 20% of parents with low education did not complete the information and therefore did not receive additional funding under Art. 52a and 52b. Educational institutions can now fill in a work card "Environmental features" for 2019.

Why there is a difference between different schools and kindergartens?

According to the Regulation, schools and kindergartens with a concentration of students from vulnerable groups receive an extra between BGN 40 and 200 per student for additional work with those at risk. They are divided into 5 groups, the first group (40 BGN per pupil per year) receives the lowest funds and the highest is provided to the schools in the fifth group (200 BGN per pupil per year). 

Where the respective school or kindergarten will be divided, and how much will be funded depends on two factors: 

  • percentage of parents with lower than secondary education (for which information is filled in);
  • percentage of parents with lower than basic education (for which information is filled in)

Thus, in the "heaviest" fifth group there are schools and kindergartens, where more than 60% of parents have lower than secondary education and over 50% haven't got even primary education. In fact, most of them teach children of parents who rarely have any kind of education. For example, school X from the municipality of Tvarditsa has registered information about the family environment of 192 out of a total of 199 students, such as:

  • 32.82% of parents never attended school;
  • parents of 41.14% of pupils have attended school for a short time and have not got even primary education;
  • 23.44% of parents have only basic education, ie. completed fourth grade;
  • only 2.6% of parents have completed primary education.
  • No registered parent with secondary or tertiary education.

The division of schools in groups is listed in Annex 6a to Art. 52b of the Financing Regulation.

What can those funds be used for?

Allocated funds are ONLY for basic and additional salaries of the staff, as well as for payments of experts. The principal could ude them to pay for:

  • additional work of teachers, participating in the teams of covering full range of students ;
  • appointment of educational mediator, social worker and others. It is permitted to appoint any position, incl. guardian, fireman ... with the idea that this person should help working with parents and will support overall efforts to return children to classrooms;
  • additional Bulgarian language classes;
  • staff involved in measures to support access to education: in essence this means an opportunity to increase teachers' salaries.

Those funds could not be used for repairs, and purchasing equipment, or any other costs than salaries or fees.

 Can a non-governmental organization be involved?

 Yes, that is why Art. 52a (2) provides for the possibility of incurring expenses "for other payment and non-employment relations". For example, the school could delegate to NGOs the recruitment and supervision of an educational mediator or other staff supporting work with parents. The implementation of a number of OPSESG projects has shown that educational mediators are most effective when supervised by a trustful NGO.

The ability to engage NGOs is one of the heuristic guidelines that need to be further developed in the coming years.

 Beyond the numbers

 Allocation of additional funds to work with children and students from vulnerable groups is one of the demands that hundreds of schools and thousands of teachers have been making for years. It has its own reasons: students from low-education families are significantly more at risk of dropping out of school or of low success. They can not get enough support and motivation from the family environment, which is why the school has to offer additional activities with the pupils and also with the parents.

 It is positive that the Regulation defines additional transfers as means for "working with" children and students from vulnerable groups. Ie. they are provided for additional activities, not as "compensation". 

At the same time, the application of Art. 52 and 52b of the Financing Regulation, as well as the positive effect, are faced with several serious challenges:

1. Granting those funds is not tied to specific results! It is entirely possible for a school / kindergarten to spend the money legally and inefficiently without achieving tangible results. Indeed, there is no indication what specific results are expected to be achieved. This is a serious omission that the MES should remove from 2019;

2. Use of resources for working with parents is not guaranteed: although the allocation of additional funds is precisely because of the low educational status of parents, schools are not obliged to invest in working with parents. Part of the expenditure referred to in paragraph 3 of Art. 52a provide an opportunity to appoint staff to work with parents (appointment of educational mediator, social worker, teacher's assistant, etc.), but the school principal may not take advantage of this opportunity. There is no obligation to make the four types of expenditure set out in paragraph 3 of Art. 52a, nor any exemplary proportion between them. The principal could only use all means to raise the salaries of his/her current staff, ie. the innovation of the investment can be reduced to zero, without violating the Regulation.

The MES would significantly increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the investment if it has introduced certain conventions as a mandatory percentage of the costs to be used to work with parents and to achieve certain results (comparable not between schools but measuring the performance of each school for itself ).

3. There is a real danger that the investment will further strengthen segregated education: in fact, the supported schools and kindergartens are three different types - rural schools (usually there are few children, ethnic minorities, parents with low education), segregated schools in large cities (with many pupils whose parents are low - educated) and ethnically mixed schools (support can be provided for all schools where students from vulnerable groups are over 20% and some of the schools supported - especially those, divided in groups 1 and 2 - are ethnically mixed schools with a relatively low percentage of minority children). As Art. 52a and 52b of the Regulation does not differentiate between these different situations and uses the same rates, the largest additional funding is provided by the large segregated schools. Some receive a serious transfer - e.g. Primary School "Bratya Miladinovi" in Sliven received additional BGN 275,400, being in 5th  group and training 1377 students. The additional support is significantly lower in ethnically mixed schools - they are in groups 1, 2 and partly in 3 (student rates are significantly lower) and in many of them the number of pupils decreases seriously due to secondary segregation (i.e. the white flight, more about this process see at http://www.amalipe.com/files/publications/desegregacia.pdf). The least additional funds go to rural schools due to the relatively small number of pupils - although the need is especially acute, as the delegated budget is low. Some of them receive additional BGN 3000 - 4000, which will probably be used only for increasing their salaries.

MES should seriously consider how the necessary additional investment to work with vulnerable groups should not reinforce educational segregation. Steps in this direction could be:

  • reducing the differences in standards for different groups: Currently, schools from group 1 receive 4 times lower additional funding than schools in the 5th group. Taking into account the need for targeted activities to stop secondary segregation in ethnically mixed schools, it would be reasonable to raise the rates for 1 and 2 groups combined with a requirement to organize the requested activities;
  • introducing a minimum "flat" rate for the additional support provided to channel larger resources to small schools and kindergartens;
  • introducing certain conventions in receiving a larger amount as additional support: eg. related to certain obligatory activities, improvement of pupils' educational achievements, etc.

4. There is no incentive to engage NGOs working in the community: the practice of a multitude educational initiatives shows that community-based organizations are extremely effective in working with Roma parents. The current text of the Regulation allows schools and kindergartens to engage NGOs, but does not create incentives to do so, and does not even specify this option explicitly. Perhaps more innovative principals will engage active NGOs, but in the most troubled schools this is unlikely to happen.

It is appropriate for the Ministry of Education and Science to introduce incentives to engage NGOs from 2019 onwards. 

5. Middle-class students are not included: additional means of working with pupils from vulnerable groups include only learners in pre-primary and primary education. At the same time, every year the number of students from vulnerable groups in secondary schools is increasing, as in many vocational high schools, university and unified schools there is a concentration of pupils whose parents are low-educated. A particular need for support is also provided by the unified schools that teach high school students, ie. up to 10 grade

It is necessary that these schools and pupils to be also included in the scope of Art. 52a and 52b.

      Author: Deyan Kolev

 

 

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