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 Header Item Ceisteanna - Questions
 Header Item Priority Questions
 Header Item Special Educational Needs Services Provision
 Header Item Back to School Costs

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 809 No. 3

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Ceisteanna - Questions

Priority Questions

Special Educational Needs Services Provision

 1. Deputy Charlie McConalogue Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn his views on whether children qualifying for a special needs assistant this coming September will experience reductions in their allocated special needs assistant hours due to the continuance of the cap on numbers at a time when the number of students qualifying for special needs assistant support has increased by 10%; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32544/13]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn): Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn Contrary to the Deputy's public expressions in recent days, I can confirm that there has been no reduction to the overall number of SNA posts for the coming school year.

  This provision remains at 10,575 posts - the exact same amount as last year. Let me be very clear - children who qualify for access to SNA support for the coming school year will receive access to this support on precisely the same criteria as they did last year. There has been no change in the method or criteria on which SNAs are allocated. As a result, there is no cut and no changed policy decision on SNA allocations for me to reverse as Minister for Education and Skills.

  It is important to note however, that the level of SNAs required to support children with special educational needs changes from year to year in line with the enrolment of different children with different care needs. The care needs of individual children can also change from year to year. The NCSE takes these factors into account when allocating SNAs to schools. It is therefore not accurate to say a change in a school's SNA allocation has anything to do with budget cutbacks or policy changes.

  In June 2012 the NCSE reported that the number of children requiring support for the 2012-13 school year was in the order of 20,000 and the most up-to-date current figures show that for December 2012, there were 21,972 accessing SNA support. This is the 10% increase being cited by Deputy McConalogue but the education system seems to have operated perfectly well and has coped with these demands over the past six months.

  Additional information not given on the floor of the House

  Indeed, the NCSE has advised me that while it has had to work within the cap introduced by the previous Government in 2010 for three years, it has always had surplus capacity at the end of each academic year. I am confident that the system will be sufficiently resourced in order to be able to meet the demands placed upon it in the coming school year.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Robert Troy): Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy I call Deputy McConalogue, who has one minute.

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue I thank the Minister for his response. This is an issue we discussed on Private Members' business last week. At the outset I express my disappointment that neither the Minister nor a Minister of State from the Department of Education and Skills was present for the second day of that debate. In my experience that is unprecedented in the conduct of Private Members' motions. Parents of children with special needs were present in the Visitors Gallery. There was a protest just outside the gates in which parents of children with special needs came to express their dissatisfaction with the Minister's approach to the issue. The combined groups of parents involved issued a statement afterwards outlining how the policy the Minister is pursuing of keeping the cap the same at a time when there is a 10% increase in demand is leading to cuts.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn The Deputy is wrong.

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue The cap is remaining the same and there is a 10% increase in demand. Those are two facts. That means there is a reduction in hours available to individual children who need to avail of an SNA-----

Acting Chairman (Deputy Robert Troy): Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy I thank the Deputy.

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue -----because they now have to share those SNAs with more children, meaning there are fewer hours available to them.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Robert Troy): Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy I thank the Deputy.

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue I am disappointed the Minister is not acknowledging that is the impact it is having on the ground - it is leading to a cut for many children. I ask him to acknowledge that and apply the same-----

Acting Chairman (Deputy Robert Troy): Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy I thank the Deputy.

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue -----treatment to SNAs as he did to the issue of resource teachers-----

Acting Chairman (Deputy Robert Troy): Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy I thank the Deputy.

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue ------where he actually increased the number of teachers available there.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Robert Troy): Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy The Minister has one minute to reply.

Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: Information on Jonathan O'Brien Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien I ask the Acting Chairman to clarify the times for Priority Questions.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn I think there is more time than that.

Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: Information on Jonathan O'Brien Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien I believe for Priority Questions there is more time.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Robert Troy): Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy I am going with what I am advised.

Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: Information on Jonathan O'Brien Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien I understand that, but I-----

Acting Chairman (Deputy Robert Troy): Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy The Minister has two minutes to reply followed by one minute, one minute, one minute and one minute.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn Is that for Priority Questions as distinct from ordinary Oral Questions?

Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: Information on Jonathan O'Brien Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien For Priority Questions I thought there was more.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Robert Troy): Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy They have all changed, yes.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn I would be happy to write to the Deputy setting out what is contained in the reply because if I am to obey the Chair, I do not have the time to give him the full reply.

I am happy to indicate there has not been the reduction in supply he suggests because the demand has not increased as he has alleged. It was not brought to my attention by any of the education partners that there was a shortage of SNAs in recent months despite the increase in pupil numbers in the system. I do not know how many times I have to say that to the Deputy. He has taken two statistics, seen a 10% increase and presumed that meant a similar increase in supply was required in order to meet that demand. That has not been manifest in the system and even to this year, the allocation so far from the NCSE is below the 10,575 figure because the reserve has been kept.

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue In his final reply I ask the Minister to outline why neither he nor one of his Ministers of State was available to be present in the Dáil last Wednesday night for the debate on the Private Members' motion.

I would be pleased if the Minister could provide some evidence to back up his case. So far we have seen nothing in that regard from him other than an assertion that there has been no cut. We had the same assertion from the Minister and the Tánaiste here in the Dáil that there was no cut in resource teachers and we saw the about-turn the Minister did on that when he admitted there was a cut and he brought forward 500 additional teachers. He is still keeping up this pretence without offering any evidence to show it is not having an impact on the ground. I ask him to enlighten the Dáil today as to what the average hours each child, who avails of an SNA, will get in September as opposed to what it was last September. That might clarify whether students are getting fewer hours' access to an SNA as a result of the 10% increase in demand.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn If the Deputy will not take my word for it, I can only draw his attention to the statement released by the National Parents Council last week which stated: "Parents should have no fears regarding the allocation of SNA support. If a child has been assessed as requiring SNA support then an allocation has been provided for the coming year".

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue Does the Minister have any explanation as to why he was not present last Wednesday night?

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn I had other commitments. Unfortunately the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, was not available because he was sick and the Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, was out of the country.

Back to School Costs

 2. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien Information on Jonathan O'Brien Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn his plans to implement the recommendations of the Oireachtas Select Committee on Education who have proposed that pupils should not be obliged to wear crested uniforms and schools should end the practice of using work plans and if he will present a timetable for when these measures will be implemented.  [32342/13]

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn My Department will carefully consider the joint committee's report on tackling back-to-school costs which was published last week.

Tackling the costs associated with school is a major priority of mine. I have recently issued guidance on schoolbook rental schemes. I have also raised the matter of school uniforms informally with the National Parents Council at primary level recommending that it and the National Parents Council at post-primary level mobilise parents' associations to raise this issue with school authorities. I agree with the joint committee's view that more must be done at school level to show greater leadership in this regard.


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