Written Answers. - Special Educational Needs.

Jan O'Sullivan


225 Ms O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Education and Science the effect circulars sent from his Department in October 2002 and February 2003 in relation to the processing of application for resource and special needs assistance will have on the time it takes for a child with special needs to be provided with the support he or she requires; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3902/03]

My Department's circular of October 2002 to all schools advised of the introduction of a term-based approach to the processing of applications for resource teacher and special needs assistant support. Under the term-based approach it was indicated that applications for the supports in question received in my Department by close of business on 8 November 2002 would be responded to in the week commencing 9 December 2002. It was further indicated that applications received after 8 November 2002 would be treated as applications for the final school term and that the closing date for applications for this term would be notified to schools early in the second school term.

The circular of February 2003 advised schools of the procedures which would apply in respect of applications for resource teacher and special needs assistant support for the last term of the current school year. It advised schools that all applications received by close of business on 7 February 2003 would be rated as applications for the last school term and that my Department would respond to these applications in the week commencing 7 April 2003. It was subsequently decided to extend this cut-off date for applications from 7 February to 14 February 2003 in order to give schools some additional time to submit their applications.

The introduction of the term based approach was necessary in order to enable my Department to cope with the major expansion in the level of resource teacher and special needs assistant support being sought by and allocated to schools. The level of this expansion is reflected in the fact that the number of resource teachers in the primary system has increased from 104 in October 1998 to 2,300 at present and the number of special needs assistants has increased from 299 to 3,800 full-time and a further 1,000 part-time posts over the same period. The previous lack of set application and response dates had posed significant administrative difficulties for my Department's payroll and grant payment systems. I am also aware that the lack of clarity in relation to the timing of the decision making process had been of concern to schools.
While the introduction of the term-based approach may have an impact on the speed with which some applications are responded to, I am satisfied that its introduction was necessary to ensure my Department's continued capacity to process the volume of applications now arising. I am also satisfied that the impact of the term based approach in bringing greater clarity and certainty to the process has been generally welcome by schools who now have much greater assurance as to when their needs will be met and can plan accordingly.