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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 47 - 53
 Header Item Special Educational Needs Staffing
 Header Item Special Educational Needs Staffing
 Header Item Third Level Participation
 Header Item State Examinations Issues
 Header Item School Staffing
 Header Item Departmental Expenditure
 Header Item Special Educational Needs Services Provision

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 809 No. 3

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Written Answers Nos. 47 - 53

Special Educational Needs Staffing

 47. Deputy Mick Wallace Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn if he will examine the case of a school (details supplied) in County Wexford which has recently lost 2.5 special needs assistants even though two new children with special needs are due to start at the school this September; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [32246/13]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn): Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn I wish to advise the Deputy that the National Council for Special Education (NCSE), through its network of local Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENOs), is responsible for processing applications from schools for special educational needs supports, including the allocation of resource teachers and Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) to schools. The NCSE operates within my Department's established criteria for the allocation of Special Education supports and the staffing resources available to my Department.

  SNA allocations are made to schools by the NCSE annually taking into account the assessed care needs of children qualifying for SNA support each year. All schools were advised to apply to the NCSE for resource teaching and SNA support for the 2013/14 school year by 15th March 2013.

Details of the SNA allocations which have been made to schools by the NCSE for the 2013/2014 school year are now available on the NCSE website www.ncse.ie, which provides details of the SNA allocations for each school on a school by school and per county basis.

Where schools have enrolled children who were not considered at the time that these allocations were made, or where schools are seeking a revision to the quantum of SNA support which has been allocated to them for the coming school year, they should contact the NCSE regarding this matter. In general a revision to SNA allocations will only be made in circumstances where schools have enrolled new pupils or where schools can demonstrate that they do not have sufficient SNA posts to cater for the care needs of all of the qualifying children in their school.

All schools have the names and contact details of their local SENO. Parents may also contact their local SENO directly to discuss their child's special educational needs, using the contact details available on www.ncse.ie.

Special Educational Needs Staffing

 48. Deputy Joe Higgins Information on Joe Higgins Zoom on Joe Higgins asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn if he will consider a reversal of all the cuts to special needs assistants and resource hours that have been implemented by his Government. [32240/13]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn): Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn 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. The ongoing commitment of my Government to protect frontline supports for children with special educational needs is an acknowledgment of the important role played by SNAs and resource teachers in ensuring that children with special needs can progress and develop and be included, where appropriate, in mainstream school settings.

Whereas the allocations of SNA support for individual schools may change each year in line with a schools enrolment of children with care needs, there has been no reduction to the overall number of SNA posts being provided for schools for the coming school year. This provision remains at 10,575 posts, which will ensure that all children who qualify for access to SNA support for the coming school year will receive access to such support.

The total number of SNA posts allocated to schools for the 2012/13 school year was 10,487 posts. For the 2011/12 school year it was 10,320 posts. The demand for SNAs for the 2013/2104 school year currently stands at 10,490 leaving some 85 posts available for late demand. It is therefore estimated that there will be sufficient SNA posts to provide access to SNA support for all children who require such support in the coming school year.

In relation to the allocation of resource teaching support for schools from September 2013, demand for support has risen again this year, due to a combination of demographic growth and increased assessments.

Despite the fact that the overall number of posts available to the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) for allocation to schools had been maintained at existing levels, the allocations initially announced by the NCSE on 19th June were reduced to take into account of the growth in demand, within the maintained number of posts, in order to ensure that equivalent allocations could be made for all qualifying children.

The Deputy will be aware that I announced recently that I have now authorised the NCSE to restore the level of resource teaching allocations which can be provided for students with special educational needs to the 2012/13 levels. This will mean that there will not now be any reduction to resource teaching time for children on the level which applied last year.

I also committed to ensuring that the resources which will be required to ensure that the allocations can be made to schools at existing levels will be provided, including resources required to meet any late demand expected to arise between now and the start of the school year. The NCSE has now published revised details of the Resource Teaching allocations for all schools, based on existing allocation levels. Details of these allocations are now provided at www.ncse.ie.

I am concerned that the scale of increased demand for resource teachers this year, if it were to continue, would make the current system unsustainable.

I am asking the NCSE to consider the reasons for the unprecedented 12 per cent rise in applications for resource teacher support this year, which compares with an annual 1.3 per cent increase in the number of students attending school in the current year.

The Deputy will be aware that the NCSE recently published comprehensive policy advice on Supporting Students with Special Educational Needs in Schools.

I have, as suggested by the Report, requested the NCSE to establish a Working Group to develop a proposal, for consideration, for a new allocation model for teaching supports for children with Special Educational Needs based on the profiled educational needs of children in schools.

In the interim, I wish to ensure that children will not be disadvantaged while we move towards a new model which will ensure greater fairness and quality of education for children with special educational needs. That is why I have made the decision to maintain the existing allocation levels this year.

Third Level Participation

 49. Deputy Joe McHugh Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn his views on whether third level institutions need to be more ambitious in opening up undergraduate programmes to Northern Ireland residents; if he is concerned about the insubstantial increase in the numbers of third level students here who are from Northern Ireland compared proportionately with 1997; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32012/13]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn): Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn Undergraduate programmes in the universities and institutes of technology are open to students from Northern Ireland, who can apply for a place through the CAO system and who are entitled to access the free fees scheme on the same basis as Irish nationals. Universities and institutes of technology are autonomous statutory bodies and the recruitment of students is a matter for the individual institutions concerned. The International Education Strategy has a particular focus on recruiting students from priority markets outside of the EU, including the USA, China, India Brazil and the Gulf but individual institutions are free to focus their recruitment efforts on any country or region.

While CAO applications from students in Northern Ireland have been increasing in recent years, including a 40% increase since 2011, very small numbers of the students from Northern Ireland who apply through the CAO subsequently enrol in higher education institutions in the south. There are a number of reasons for this including a concentration in demand for a small number of programmes such as medicine for which there is a very high overall level of demand, and a lower rate of acceptance by students in Northern Ireland of places in Irish universities compared to Leaving Certificate students. My Department engages with Northern Ireland's Department of Employment and Learning on a regular basis to discuss issues of mutual interest, including cross border student mobility.

State Examinations Issues

 50. Deputy Patrick Nulty Information on Patrick Nulty Zoom on Patrick Nulty asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn the reason geography is being considered for removal as a compulsory junior certificate subject under his reform proposals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32015/13]

 55. Deputy Patrick Nulty Information on Patrick Nulty Zoom on Patrick Nulty asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn the reason history is being considered for removal as a compulsory junior certificate subject under his reform proposals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32014/13]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn): Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn I propose to take Questions Nos. 50 and 55 together.

Success in learning in the new junior cycle will focus on making greater connections between learning and the development of key skills. Such quality learning will be described through 24 statements of learning. Schools will design their programmes to reflect teacher qualifications and students' identified needs. All junior cycle students will be required to study English, Irish and maths and thereafter schools will have the flexibility and authonomy to choose from 18 other subjects, including History and Geography, and short courses.

The vast majority of schools already offer History and Geography and the vast majority of students choose these subjects although they are currently compulsory in only half our schools. The popularity of subjects depends on the quality of teaching, the passion of the teachers for their subjects and the engagement of their students. I see no reason why the popularity of History and Geography will change in the future. Overall, I am in favour of leaving the decision on what is offered at the discretion of the school. Curriculum choice is important in motivating students to learn and to remain in school to completion of senior cycle.

School Staffing

 51. Deputy Dessie Ellis Information on Dessie Ellis Zoom on Dessie Ellis asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn if he will respond to the claims that the reduction in the number of school guidance counsellors reflects his lack of understanding of the important role they perform in schools and that he is also denying children and young persons access to important supports and services when at school. [32219/13]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn): Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn The budget measure that required schools to manage the provision of guidance from within their standard staffing allocation, was introduced as an alternative to adjusting the standard staffing schedule and must be seen in the context of our very difficult budgetary constraints. It is also worth pointing out that, as part of last year's budgetary measures, my Department helped shelter the impact for DEIS post-primary schools by improving their standard staffing allocations – a fact which is often overlooked in this debate.

Guidance is a whole school activity and schools have autonomy on how best to prioritise their available resources to meet the requirements in relation to guidance and the provision of an appropriate range of subjects to students. This operates at local school level. The representative organisations for School Principals and school management developed a framework that assists schools on how best to manage the provision of guidance from within their staffing allocation. This approach puts a greater emphasis on group-work and class-based activity at senior cycle and maximises the amount of time available for those pupils that need one to one support.

In addition, my Department published Guidelines for Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention, which I launched jointly with Minister Kathleen Lynch last January. The guidelines are informed by consultation with key Education and Health partners and by the findings of current research. They provide practical guidance to post-primary schools on how they can promote mental health and well-being in an integrated school-wide way and they also provide evidence-based advice on how to support young people who may be at risk of suicidal behaviour.

Departmental Expenditure

 52. 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 if he will respond to the findings contained in the Education at a Glance 2013 report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development which shows the proportion of public expenditure on education in Ireland fell from 13.7% to 9.7% in the decade between 2000 and 2010; and if the failure of the Government to ring-fence funding for education will prevent the building of a knowledge-based economy.  [32205/13]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn): Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn Public expenditure on education in Ireland as a percentage of total public expenditure was relatively even over much of the first decade of this century, being 13.7% in 2000, 14% in 2005 and 13.4% in 2009. While the percentage spend reduced significantly to 9.7% in 2010 the main driver of this reduction was the very large increase in public expenditure recorded in 2010 over 2009 as a result of very significant capital transfers to Irish banks arising from the recapitalisation programme.

Alternatively, data for expenditure on education when expressed as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) reflects the continued importance placed on education and its role in building a knowledge based economy. Expenditure (public and private) on education was 4.2% of GDP in 2000, 4.7% in 2005 and 6.4% in 2010. This 2010 figure was slightly above average OECD expenditure of 6.3% of GDP and above the EU-21 average of 5.9% of GDP.

Special Educational Needs Services Provision

 53. Deputy Denis Naughten Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn the steps he will take to address the increasing numbers of special needs pupils at primary level, in view of the curtailment in funding to support such pupils; if he has assessed the impact of the curtailment of special needs assistants on children with special needs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32188/13]

 61. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn if he will indicate the extent to which he expects to be in a position to continue to meet the requirements in respect of resource, special needs assistants or other special needs teaching notwithstanding the restrictions imposed on his Department arising from the memorandum of understanding entered into by his predecessor; if he expects to be in a position to address the concerns expressed by parents in the run-up to the forthcoming budget; if he hopes to be in a position to meet in full the requirements of children with special needs currently at school or in pre-school in the coming year; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [32223/13]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn): Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn I propose to take Questions Nos. 53 and 61 together.

I wish to advise the Deputy that the level of resources being 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 and a requirement to make expenditure savings across a range of areas.

There has been no curtailment of SNA posts being provided for schools for the coming school year. This provision remains at 10,575 posts, which will ensure that all children who qualify for access to SNA support for the coming school year will receive access to such support.

In relation to the allocation of resource teaching support for schools from September 2013, demand for support has risen again this year, due to a combination of demographic growth and increased assessments.

I have authorised the NCSE to restore the level of resource teaching allocations to be provided for students with special educational needs to the 2012/13 levels. There will not now be a reduction in resource teaching time for these pupils for the coming school year. The first tranche of resource teaching posts have now been allocated to schools by the NCSE.

A number of additional posts will be required to ensure that allocations can continue to be made for valid applications for resource teaching support received for the coming school year. The full extent of this demand will not be known until September, but it may require the allocation of some 500 additional resource teacher posts.

The implications of this for my Department's Employment Control Framework and Vote are currently being raised with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and will also be addressed in the forthcoming process in formulating Budget 2014. I am, however, concerned that the scale of increased demand for resource teachers this year, if it were to continue, would make the current system unsustainable.

I am asking the NCSE to consider the reasons for the unprecedented 12 per cent rise in applications for resource teacher support this year, which compares with an annual 1.3 per cent increase in the number of students attending school in the current year.

The Deputy will be aware that the NCSE recently published comprehensive policy advice on Supporting Students with Special Educational Needs in Schools. I have, as suggested by the Report, requested the NCSE to establish a Working Group to develop a proposal, for consideration, for a new allocation model for teaching supports for children with Special Educational Needs based on the profiled educational needs of children in schools, and which will aim to ensure that resources are directed to those children and schools who need them most. In the interim, I wish to ensure that children will not be disadvantaged while we move towards a new model which will ensure greater fairness and quality of education for children with special educational needs. That is why I have made the decision to maintain the existing allocation levels this year.


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