The National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, agency was established on 1 September 1999 and is an executive agency of my Department. NEPS has delegated authority to develop an educational psychological service to all students in primary and post-primary schools, giving priority to those with special educational needs. Provision of assessments is part of the work of the educational psychologists in NEPS. This service is provided in collaboration with the psychological services provided by health boards and certain voluntary bodies, many of whom have a traditional association with certain categories of disability.
Each psychologist in NEPS is responsible for a number of named schools and visits each on a regular basis. At the beginning of the school year, the psychologists are encouraged to discuss the needs of each school with the principal and other relevant teaching staff and to draw up a programme of work for the school year. The educational psychologists in NEPS provide advice to schools on the identification and screening of children who might need to be assessed. Assessment of special educational needs is a staged process, involving teachers, parents and, if necessary, other professionals such as psychologists. Even if the psychologist is not directly involved with a child, he or she will act as a consultant to teachers and parents, offer advice about educational and behavioural plans and monitor progress. There is no quota of assessments for schools served by NEPS, although there are inevitably limitations related to the amount of time that psychologists can devote to individual schools.
As NEPS does not yet have sufficient staff in post to provide a psychological service to all schools, my Department allocated, in summer 2001, funding for NEPS to administer a scheme for commissioning psychological assessments from private practitioners. This scheme is a short-term, interim measure pending the expansion of the service provided by NEPS to all schools.
During the school year 2001-02, only schools that did not yet have access to the NEPS service were generally eligible to avail of the scheme. In order to allow equal access to the allocated funding, eligible schools have initially been allowed to commission psychological assessments for up to 2% of their pupils. NEPS management has conducted a review of the scheme's operation over the past year and has reported the findings to top management in my Department. Subject to Department of Finance sanction, it is intended to continue to operate the scheme for a further school year and to allow increased access in needy cases to the available funding. By the end of the next school year, NEPS should have reached its full staffing quota and therefore should be able to provide a full psychological service to all schools.