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 Header Item Special Educational Needs Service Provision (Continued)
 Header Item Third Level Funding

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 900 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan] The council also advised that the current model leads to unnecessary labelling of children from a young age. For the first time, NEPS support is now available to every primary and second-level school in Ireland. NEPS does not maintain waiting lists for assessment but, in consultation with schools, prioritises children who have failed to make adequate progress despite an appropriate continuum of support being delivered for those children. The proposed new model, which is currently being piloted, will remove the formal requirement for such assessments. The pilot will test the new model and allow for any concerns to be fully addressed prior to its implementation. Significant guidance has been prepared and provided to the schools involved. During the pilot, all participating schools will complete an assessment questionnaire to gather information on their experiences. All participating schools attended a pilot information day on 15 September and a further information day took place on Friday last.

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue As the Minister knows, there is real concern in schools across the country as to what system will face them next September and what allocation model will be used to decide on the number of resource hours that individual schools will get. The schools will make their applications in February or March 2016 for the following September, yet there is a total lack of clarity as to the level of resources they will receive. In her reply, the Minister indicated that the current system is inequitable due to a lack of resources in NEPS to ensure that educational assessments can be provided. Given that the current system is very much predicated on the assessed needs of individual children, can the Minister explain how schools can be certain that children with a requirement for additional supports will get appropriate supports in the absence of NEPS assessments? Would it not be a better alternative approach to ensure that NEPS has sufficient resources so that schools can have assessments carried out on those children they feel require them and can then be assured that additional hours will be provided specifically for those children?

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan The new model was proposed because the system was perceived to be unfair in so far as people felt they had to pay for private diagnoses. The National Educational Psychological Service was not designed to spend all its time on diagnosis. It is meant to be a support service. Nevertheless, a huge amount of time is being taken up on the process of diagnosis. One can certainly question the labelling of children at a young age in order to provide them with the supports they need. That is why the new model was proposed. The pilot scheme that is under way this year is designed to find out about the kind of questions Deputy McConalogue has just asked with regard to ensuring schools get the level of support they need and that the model will work for schools. I will not comment on it at this stage as I have not yet received any reports as to how the model is working. We will have to consider it carefully in terms of what will be put in place for the future.

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue Can the Minister give any indication as to what the planned model for the allocation of resources will be this coming September? There are only two or three months left before schools start applying for resource hours for next September and time is running short in terms of providing clarity. It is important that the Minister provide some indication this morning as to whether it is her plan that the new model will be adopted this coming September. The importance of assessment is not only with regard to diagnosis; it also guides schools in terms of the supports a child may need and ensures, where a diagnosis is made, that resources are put in place. There is real concern that in the absence of that, schools will not get a fair allocation based on the number of students they have with particular needs. Can the Minister comment, as I asked her to in my previous question, on how, under the new model that is being piloted, schools with students with particular needs can be assured that they will get proportionate teaching resources to support those children?

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan I will ensure that information is provided to schools in time. I realise there is a time issue in this case but, as of now, I have not had an opportunity to engage with the pilot programme in any meaningful way and, as such, I do not want to pre-empt what information might emerge. In terms of the issue with regard to the needs of individual children, the concept of an individual learning plan exists in the system and each child should have his or her own particular learning plan in the school. That is part of the system. We will have to ensure that schools have the appropriate support they need. That is the whole purpose of the new model. We have evidence that where parents cannot afford to get assessments currently, their children are not being provided with the supports they need. That is something that we want to address in the new model.

Third Level Funding

 10. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan Information on Thomas P. Broughan Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan if she will provide improved funding for third level education.  [43782/15]

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Information on Thomas P. Broughan Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan One of the characteristics of the outgoing Government is that in real terms and per capita it has seriously cut funding for third level education. That is one of its legacies. The Government has also increased third level fees significantly. Does the Minister expect the expert group on future funding to report shortly? Will its report include recommendations on student loans and is that something the Minister supports, given the dire constraints that seem to be operating in our third level sector financially?

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan I thank the Deputy. The Government recognises the importance of the higher education sector to Ireland's future economic and social development. It also acknowledges that the sector must be resourced sufficiently and in a sustainable manner to ensure it can deliver on our national ambitions. The reality of the economic situation and the public expenditure corrections that had to be made in recent years presented challenges across all areas of public expenditure, including higher education. The sector has responded well to these challenges and has continued to provide opportunities for increasing numbers of students to undertake a higher education qualification. However, in recognition of funding pressures, an expert group chaired by Peter Cassells has been established to examine funding arrangements for higher education and to identify a range of approaches which, combined, will achieve a sustainable funding base. I understand the group is in the final stages of its deliberations and I expect to receive its report shortly.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Information on Thomas P. Broughan Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan If the report recommends income-contingent student loans on the Australian model or another model, is that something the Minister would support in the context of the next few weeks, the general election and so on? The Minister's budget for the sector for 2016 is €1.45 billion for current expenditure, with a miserable €20 million on the capital side. Is it not the case that funding has been deliberately constrained and that this sector has done the most badly among all economic and social sectors in terms of funding from the Government? We have seen the rankings of Irish universities tumbling down the QS and Times Educational Supplement lists. Our highest-ranking university is Trinity College, Dublin, at No. 78. UCD, my own alma mater, is heading down to the 150 mark. Before the Minister and her predecessor, Deputy Quinn, took office, these colleges were in the 20s and 30s and very highly rated. Has that not been part of her legacy?

  The Government has done absolutely nothing in the area I represent. Dublin 10 and Dublin 17 have the lowest take-up of third level education of all electoral areas in the State, at less than 20%, as well as having the lowest provision for third level education. The Government has done absolutely nothing to change that or to encourage additional people to go to third level. Is it not the case that, unfortunately, the Government's administration of third level been a disaster and another aspect of the fallout of the austerity years? We need a fundamental change. By the way, my own approach is to base funding on progressive taxation and progressive income tax.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan The indications are that a range of options will be proposed by the Cassells group. We will consider all of them. I will not pre-empt that before I even see the report. Certainly, all options will be considered.

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