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Written Answers. - Special Educational Needs.

Wednesday, 18 December 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 559 No. 6

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 65. Mr. English Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English  asked the Minister for Education and Science Information on Noel Dempsey Zoom on Noel Dempsey  the reviews which are taking place regarding provision of resource teachers and special needs assistants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26812/02]

Minister for Education and Science (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 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 about 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 circulars of the Department of Education and Science.

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 [1506]having significant physical, sensory, intellectual or emotional disabilities. The survey report contrasted this 9% figure with the findings of the special education review committee which estimated that pupils with significant physical, sensory, intellectual and emotional disabilities amounted to an estimated 2% of the school population, of which half (1%) were being educated in mainstream schools. While expressing concern at the higher than expected incidence of significant disability identified in the survey, the survey 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. Nevertheless, 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 my Department issued sanctions in principle to schools for the allocation of resources. Schools were advised not to take action on foot of these sanctions pending the 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 last and it is intended that it will be completed within a week or so. Once this process is completed, my Department will advise the schools in relation to their approved allocation.

Question No. 66 answered with Question No. 41.

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