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 Header Item Special Educational Needs Services Provision (Continued)
 Header Item Other Questions
 Header Item Special Educational Needs Services Provision

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 809 No. 3

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  3 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn]  I understand from the Inspectorate of my Department that the majority of schools already use individual education planning to support children with special needs and the Department currently supports schools in the use of individualised planning through policy guidance, support, training and inspection.

I wish to advise the Deputy that the level of resources devoted to supporting children with special educational needs has been maintained at €1.3 billion this year. This includes provision for 10,575 special needs assistants, SNAs, and nearly 10,000 learning support and resource teachers. These resources have been protected despite the ongoing severe financial position.

Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy I understood this issue would be one of the key priorities in the programme for Government and it is disappointing to say the least that from what I hear from the Minister it is unlikely to happen within the lifetime of this Government. The SNA is an important aspect of the individual educational plan but it appears that a fragmented approach is being taken to many other areas, and that is not entirely within the Minister's own remit. For example, sometimes children will require speech and language therapy. I am dealing with a school where the Health Service Executive has refused to provide the service within the school, which is a special school, and the children have to be marched down to the health board.

Other ancillary issues arise. For example, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs has provided the early child care preschool year but the children who find it the most difficult to take up that year are those who require an SNA or other supports. A fragmented approach is being taken. Is there a linkage between the HSE and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs regarding those aspects? Are there any prospects of at least pulling them together under one centralised system?

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn The original Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act was very ambitious in its objectives, as everybody recognised at the time, and when it was commissioned by the previous Government it was not all commissioned at the same time because of resources. My struggle at the moment, as the Deputy and other Deputies in the House are well aware, is trying to minimise the reductions I have to deliver to meet this country's overall budgetary targets while we remain under the supervision of the troika. However, leaving aside that broader view, there is also the internal operational difficulty of the co-operation between the HSE on the one hand and the education providers on the other, which has not been satisfactory and probably never has been satisfactory if truth be told. I can communicate with my colleague, the Minister for Health, on this matter but I know there are difficulties operationally on the ground in that we cannot force the HSE to deliver the speech therapy services in the special needs school to which she refers. All I can do is take details of it from the Deputy and see if we can get the delivery of those services, which is within the skills remit of the HSE and not the Department of Education and Skills, to the point where they are most effectively delivered.

Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy It is often the case that when adults fight with each other the children are the losers in terms of the delivery of these services. I will pass on the information to the Minister on the particular case but it is not the particular case I want to highlight. Very often this is a postcode lottery, so to speak. The National Council for Special Education and the special educational needs organiser, SENO, will only be as good as the resources available in any given area. Where they are deficient in an area or where there is a dispute, that is where children run into difficulty. It is critical that the relationship between the HSE and the Department of Education and Skills is addressed and got right but I agree with the Minister. I do not believe it has ever functioned properly.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn I share the Deputy's point. As we know, there is a massive reorganisation going on in the health services but prior to that reorganisation when the HSE was established there was dissatisfaction from many of the people who were trying to access a holistic service for children with special educational needs. Great progress was made by different Administrations in regard to the education side of the equation but it is fair to say that not the same progress was made on those aspects of the service that came from the health sector side.

Other Questions

Special Educational Needs Services Provision

 6. Deputy Brendan Smith Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn the way he can improve the provision of special needs services to post-primary students who require them; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32258/13]

 20. Deputy Dara Calleary Information on Dara Calleary Zoom on Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn when the working group to review special education will report; the key priorities the group is addressing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32254/13]

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 and 20 together.

The NCSE recently published its policy advice on supporting children with special educational needs. This report makes a number of recommendations as to how students with special needs, including post-primary students, might best be supported in the future. My Department is currently considering the full range of the 28 recommendations.

The NCSE has recommended that a new model should be developed for allocating special needs teaching resources to mainstream schools to ensure that such resources are targeted at those children who need them most.

I have requested the NCSE to establish immediately a working group to develop a proposal for consideration in regard to the new allocation model. Mr. Eamon Stack, chairperson of the NCSE and former chief inspector in my Department, has been appointed to chair the working group. The group, which will include parents, will begin its work immediately and will report progress on the proposed new model by the end of September. The NCSE expects to complete its work by February 2015.

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue I thank the Minister for his reply. My party has welcomed that report. We believe massive progress has been made on special education in the past 15 years in particular. An examination of the way we allocate resources is very important but it is crucial that we ensure it does not lead to any reduction in the resources and money provided nor any reduction of the services to students who need them. I am aware there was much concern following the increased demand on the system this year in particular.

There has been much evidence in recent years showing increased numbers of students with special needs leaving post-primary mainstream schools for special schools. According to research, academic factors were cited as the main reason for students leaving mainstream education, with the students unable to cope with the workload and the lack of support available to deal with emotional and behavioural problems. We have yet to see the same revolution that is taking place in special needs education at primary level happen at second level to the same extent.

What timeline does the Minister have in place for that report? Does he envisage it will be a report that will address the issue of improving the delivery of special education at second level? There is to be a preliminary report from the chairperson of the review, Eamon Stack, in September but when does the Minister expect the final report and what timeline does he expect following that for any potential change which may emanate from that?

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn The first deadline, so to speak, in the system is the end of September this year. I hope the conclusions of that interim report will put us in a better place with regard to giving the Deputy an accurate forecast as to when the complete report would be ready. As I said in my formal reply, the NCSE advises me that it will be early in 2015. That is a long way away and I would like to see changes begin to happen sooner but I am not in a position to anticipate what those changes would be until I get the interim report at the end of September this year.

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue I thank the Minister for that reply. It leaves a lot to be desired in terms of ensuring smooth transition from primary level to secondary level. Has the Minister undertaken any initiatives or any policy change he is working on, apart from the overall review the National Council for Special Education has been tasked with, to try to enhance the smooth switch-over from primary to secondary level for the students affected?

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn As the Deputy is aware, this is a complex area. The existing model of allocation of resources and the way the system is functioning is effectively 20 years old, and much has happened in the areas of research and experience in similar administrations across the world. I asked the NCSE over a year ago to examine the allocation model we have discussed. I got a report in the middle of May, and I welcome the Deputy's party's support for its broad thrust, but it contains 28 recommendations which have major implications in terms of how best they should be implemented and the best model of allocation of resources.


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