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Ceisteanna – Questions. Priority Questions. - Special Educational Needs.

Wednesday, 18 December 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 559 No. 6

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 28. Mr. F. McGrath Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath  asked the Minister for Education and Science Information on Noel Dempsey Zoom on Noel Dempsey  if 18,000 children with special needs will receive the maximum service; if he will ensure that there will be no cutback in the educational service; if services to the 6,000 children in special schools are to be protected and developed; and if his Department will adopt a policy of social and educational justice respecting the human rights of all children. [26867/02]

Mr. N. Dempsey: Information on Noel Dempsey Zoom on Noel Dempsey I am grateful to the Deputy for giving me the opportunity to confirm the Government's commitment to ensuring that children who have been professionally assessed as having special educational needs will continue to receive the supports they require to enable them to participate fully in the education system and that there are no proposals to reduce the services in question.

The Government is committed to continuing to build on the unprecedented development of special education services which has taken place in recent years. Our commitment is reflected in the fact that the number of resource teachers in the primary system will have grown from approximately 100 at the end of 1998 to a projected 2,300 by the end of this year; that the number of special needs assistants in the system will have grown from approximately 300 at the end of 1998 to a projected 3,800 full-time and 1,000 part-time posts; that in excess of 500 teachers have been deployed to support special dedicated classes attached to ordinary primary schools; that in excess of 1,000 teachers are in place in 108 special schools dedicated to children with special needs; that approximately €30 million is being spent annually on the special school transport service and a further €4.4 million on the special escort service for children with disabilities; that the allocation for part-time tuition services for children with special needs is being increased from €12 million in 2002 to €19 million in 2003; that the funding allocation for special equipment is being increased from €1.6 million in 2002 to €2.26 million in 2003; and that funding for the salaries of special needs assistants is being increased from €68 million in 2002 to €100 million in 2003.

These figures represent real and substantial improvements in special education services and provide concrete evidence of the Government's commitment to the ongoing development of these services.

In addition, I am taking steps to ensure that the necessary arrangements are put in place for an efficient and effective system for service delivery. A key development in this regard has been the decision to establish the National Council for Special Education.

Additional informationThe council, which will have a local area presence, will play a key role in the development and delivery of services for persons with special needs. It will also have a research and advisory role and will establish expert groups to address specific areas of special needs provision. Such areas would include the question of the future role of the special school sector and how the reservoir of experience, expertise and commitment which the special school sector represents can be [1469]better utilised to support the special education system.

Arrangements for the establishment of the council are well advanced. A chief executive has recently been appointed to the council and it is intended that it will be vested by the end of March 2003.

I also intend to bring forward legislation, based on the Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill, to clarify the rights and entitlements of persons with disabilities to an education service and to put in place the necessary framework to deliver the required services. My Department is consulting interested parties on the proposed legislation. My objective would be to secure the passage of this legislation through the Oireachtas before the summer recess.

I am confident that the measures I have outlined will ensure that all children with special needs receive the support they require to enable them to gain maximum benefit from the education system.

Mr. F. McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath Does the Minister find it acceptable that young girls who are visually impaired must travel more than 90 miles to Jordanstown, Belfast, to receive services to assist them with their disabilities? Will he ensure that future services are planned for children and their families, not staff? In other words, will he ensure that, where possible, children with disabilities are not forced to leave their homes and families to travel hundreds of miles for services?

Is the Minister aware of the major efforts by some inspectors in his Department to assist children with disabilities and their schools by trying to put services in place before the disability legislation is implemented? This will save hundreds of millions of euro in legal challenges by parents and groups.

Will the Minister ensure that no attempt to row back on these services will be tolerated by his Department? Will he also ensure that all schools, mainstream and special, receive the maximum assistance, finance and resources to ensure that all children are respected and treated with dignity and equality?

Mr. N. Dempsey: Information on Noel Dempsey Zoom on Noel Dempsey I agree with the Deputy and I outlined clearly in my reply the money provided by the Government and spent by the Department to ensure that the special needs of children are met in as fair and equitable a manner as possible.

I am aware of the case of a young girl who, because of her visual impairment, must travel to Jordanstown for education services. While a lack in this area is being addressed, it is not acceptable that people with a visual impairment must travel outside the country to receive an education.

Some people are very vocal about and critical of what the church did in the past, and in the process, all members of the church are tarred [1470]with the same brush. Unfortunately, one of the side-effects of the church moving out of education is that the State provision is increasing. The area in question is one that is most visible. We are committed to providing the services.

If the case to which the Deputy refers is the same as the one of which I am aware, this was assessed as the best opportunity for the girl in that she would be able to avail of this education here. It is not satisfactory that she has to travel that distance, but the important point was that her needs were met and that the Department was prepared to do that. In the past, such children would have been ignored. We have far to go in this regard, but there is no doubt about our commitment.

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