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Ceisteanna – Questions. Priority Questions. - School Staffing.

Wednesday, 18 December 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 559 No. 6

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 27. Mr. Stanton Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton  asked the Minister for Education and Science Information on Noel Dempsey Zoom on Noel Dempsey  the reviews which are currently under way or are planned into the provision of resource teachers, special needs and classroom assistants; if he will clarify his remarks regarding such provision here when compared with other countries in the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26868/02]

Mr. N. Dempsey: Information on Noel Dempsey Zoom on Noel Dempsey Children with special needs in the primary school system have an automatic entitlement to a response to their needs. The nature and level of the response is based on the professionally assessed needs of the individual child. Where such children are attending school on an integrated basis, the response would normally take the form of a resource teacher and or special needs assistant support.

Since October 1998 the number of resource teachers in the system has grown from approximately 100 to 2,300. The number of special needs assistants has grown from approximately 300 to 3,800 full-time and a further 1,000 part-time posts over the same period.

As part of its evaluative role, my Department's inspectorate recently conducted a review of 25 primary schools, which had recently been allocated such support. The objective of the review was to provide a detailed account of the additional allocation of resources for pupils with special educational needs with particular reference to the terms of the relevant departmental circulars.

The survey established that of the 6,908 pupils enrolled in the schools surveyed, 3% were enrolled in special classes, 6% were in receipt of resource teacher support and 12% were in receipt of learning support provision. Thus, a total of 9% of pupils in the sample had been identified as having significant physical, sensory, intellectual or emotional disabilities. The survey report contrasted this 9% figure with the findings of the Special Education Review in 1993, which estimated that pupils with significant physical, sensory, intellectual and emotional disabilities amounted to an estimated 2% of the population, of which half were being educated in mainstream schools. It also noted that in England and Wales approximately 275,000 pupils have statements of special educational need and that this equates with approximately 3% of all pupils.

[1466]While expressing concern at the higher than expected incidence of significant disability identified in the survey, the report emphasised the need for caution in drawing firm conclusions because of the small sample involved. It also noted that increased access to psychological assessment services in recent years had led to increased numbers of pupils in mainstream schools being identified as having special needs.

Additional informationNonetheless, the report expressed concern that the greater availability of resources in recent years may also have led to significant over-identification of special needs in schools and that such over-identification had serious long-term implications for the future funding and development of special education services.

In view of the survey's findings, arrangements were made for an immediate review of the 788 applications for resource teacher and special needs assistant support recently received in my Department and due for response in the week commencing 9 December 2002. The purpose of this review is to verify that the special needs resources sought in these applications conform with the terms of my Department's circulars governing such allocations. In the meantime, while my Department issued sanctions, in principle, to schools in respect of the resources sought, the schools were advised not to take action on foot of these sanctions pending verification of the application process.

The schools were also advised that a psychologist from the national educational psychological service would be calling to carry out the verification process. The verification process commenced on Friday, 13 December 2002 and it is expected to be completed by the end of this week. Once this process is completed, my Department will advise the schools in question of their approved allocations.

I assure the House that the purpose of the reviews to which I referred is solely to ensure that the support services in question are properly targeted at the children who require them and that the substantially increased resources which are now being made available in the special education area have the desired effect of ensuring all children assessed as having special needs receive the support they require.

Mr. Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton I welcome my two colleagues to Fine Gael. As they have moved to our benches, they must share our aspirations and I am glad of their support.

The Minister said at a committee that there may be an underlying health reason or other reasons as to why there seems to be an increased need for special educational support. In response to an earlier question, the Minister said that psychological assessments will now be carried out by NEPS. Does that mean that other psychologi[1467]cal assessments of special needs students who need assistance in the classroom carried out by professional psychologists will not be admitted? Does that also mean that the waiting list for such assessment will increase? Does the Minister have any idea how many primary school children need psychological assessment? Is it not true that the list is long and, in some cases, the children concerned have waited for years for assessment?

Mr. N. Dempsey: Information on Noel Dempsey Zoom on Noel Dempsey No, it is not true that other psychological assessments will not be accepted. There is no change in the scheme in relation to psychological assessment. People can be assessed by NEPS. As that service is rolled out to the extent that 200 psychologists will be available, they will be able to cover more of the country. As the Deputy is aware, there is a scheme in place where private psychological assessments can be obtained.

The purpose of the review of the 788 applications is to ensure and verify that the special needs resources sought in those applications conform with the terms of the Department's circular governing such allocations. In the meantime, the Department has issued sanction in principle to schools in respect of the resources. They have been told that they have the resources, in principle, but that we are verifying that the applications are correct.

It is not the function of the Department of Education and Science to conduct psychological assessments or to determine whether they are necessary. The question of the number of children awaiting psychological assessment is one for the Department of Health and Children.

Mr. Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton Is the Minister indicating that, following this review, the bar could be raised for qualification for the provision of services? Can he assure the House that no child will be deprived of assistance as a result of this review?

Mr. N. Dempsey: Information on Noel Dempsey Zoom on Noel Dempsey I cannot assure the House that no child will be refused assistance. I assure the Deputy that any child who needs it and who conforms to the stipulations contained in the circular will receive the back-up and so on. There is no question of young people certified as having special needs not receiving the necessary resources.

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