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Other Questions. - Special Educational Needs.

Wednesday, 18 December 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 559 No. 6

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 29. Mr. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan  asked the Minister for Education and Science Information on Noel Dempsey Zoom on Noel Dempsey  his proposals for meeting the requirements of children with special needs in mainstream education; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26785/02]

Mr. N. Dempsey: Information on Noel Dempsey Zoom on Noel Dempsey Children with special needs attending mainstream primary schools on a fully integrated basis 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 each child. The response will normally take the form of resource teacher or special needs assistant support or both, depending on the level of need involved. The automatic entitlement to support was introduced on foot of a Government decision of October 1998 – I have given the statistics in this regard in previous questions.

In some cases the level of special needs may be such as to require placement in a special class attached to a mainstream school. The number of special classes has grown from 350 to more than 500 since 1998. Each such class is dedicated to a specific disability category and operates at a significantly reduced pupil-teacher ratio. Children attending these special classes also attract special increased rates of capitation funding and are entitled to avail of the special school transport service. Children with special needs attending mainstream schools may also require access to special equipment. The funding for that has increased from €671,000 in 1998 to €3.8 million in the coming year.

In addition to maintaining the ongoing development of these services, we are also establishing the National Council for Special Education. The council, which will have a local area presence, will play a key role in the development and delivery of services for persons with special [1471]needs. It will also have a research and advisory role and will establish expert groups to address specific areas of special needs provision. It will also establish a consultative forum to facilitate inputs from the educational partners and other interested parties. Arrangements for the establishment are now well advanced. A chief executive has recently been appointed to the council and it is intended that the council will be vested by the end of March 2003.

I also intend to bring forward the 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 put the necessary framework in place. My Department is currently consulting with interested parties on the proposed legislation.

Additional informationMy objective would be to secure the passage of this legislation through the Oireachtas before the summer recess.

I am confident that the measures which 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. Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply. Can the Minister update me on the mainstreaming of the CE schemes as far as special needs students are concerned? Is he satisfied that training for resource teachers and special needs assistants is adequate? What assessment is being carried out to ensure students with special needs are succeeding in mainstream education and that they are not just left there? Has he had any communication with the Principals' Association with regard to the extra stresses placed on principals and what assistance they may require when they are putting this scheme in place? When will the special education commission he mentioned be operational?

Mr. N. Dempsey: Information on Noel Dempsey Zoom on Noel Dempsey The date of vesting is the end of March 2003 and it will roll out over the following five to six months. I am anxious that the council be set up and have its staff, including local staff and the special needs organisers. I have had formal and informal meetings with principals at which we have discussed special education. There are mixed views on this. I can list statistics indicating the numbers we have put into classes.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon The Minister's time is up.

Mr. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan It is a pity to cut the Minister off in the middle of his dissertation.

Mr. Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton We need Dáil reform.

Mr. N. Dempsey: Information on Noel Dempsey Zoom on Noel Dempsey I am not giving a dissertation. [1472]I am answering the specific question. There is a requirement for more formal training for special needs assistants and that is being considered in the Department.

Mr. F. McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath Does the Minister accept that if children with disabilities are placed as near as possible to their own communities and home, Exchequer money will be saved in the long-term? Considering the debate between integration and special schools, does the Minister support choice for parents in education?

Mr. N. Dempsey: Information on Noel Dempsey Zoom on Noel Dempsey Yes, I support choice in education, within limits financial and otherwise. We cannot allow everybody to establish schools all over the place. However, the question related to special needs and whether parents should have the right to choose whether a child goes to a mainstream school, a special class or a special school. Based on assessments I agree with that.

For some people with disabilities there is a huge educational value in having them in mainstream schools, rather than segregated in special schools. As the Deputy said, I accept people should be facilitated as close to home as possible.

Mr. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan The Minister said “within limits”, but he did not set out the parameters of those limits. Does he believe there will be no necessity for a repetition of the circumstances that led to the Jamie Sinnott case in order to ensure access to the necessary educational facilities for a child with particular needs?

Mr. N. Dempsey: Information on Noel Dempsey Zoom on Noel Dempsey People will make up their own minds whether they want to take legal action in relation to education. The Government made a commitment in 1998 to meet the requirements of every special needs pupil on an automatic basis. That is what we are doing and the facts and figures are there to prove it.

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