Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill 2003: Report Stage (Resumed).

Amendments Nos. 43 and 44 not moved.

I move amendment No. 45:

In page 8, lines 30 and 31, to delete "educational disability" and substitute "special educational needs".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 46 not moved.

I move amendment No. 47:

In page 9, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following:

"(15) Parents may, prior to the enrolment of a child in a school as a student, request that an assessment be carried out in order to ascertain whether or nor the child has any special educational needs and the principal of the school shall, in consultation with the parents and with the special educational needs organiser request a special educational needs organiser to arrange for such an assessment to be carried out, with the written permission and in partnership with the parents.".

Amendment put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 39; Níl, 57.

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Connolly, Paudge.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Crawford, Seymour.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • Enright, Olwyn.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Gormley, John.
  • Harkin, Marian.
  • Higgins, Michael D.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • McCormack, Padraic.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Paul.
  • McManus, Liz.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Morgan, Arthur.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Noonan, Michael.
  • O’Dowd, Fergus.
  • O’Shea, Brian.
  • O’Sullivan, Jan.
  • Pattison, Seamus.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Seán.
  • Sargent, Trevor.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Upton, Mary.

Níl

  • Andrews, Barry.
  • Ardagh, Seán.
  • Brady, Johnny.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Brennan, Seamus.
  • Browne, John.
  • Callanan, Joe.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Curran, John.
  • Davern, Noel.
  • de Valera, Síle.
  • Dempsey, Noel.
  • Dennehy, John.
  • Devins, Jimmy.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Finneran, Michael.
  • Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
  • Fleming, Seán.
  • Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
  • Glennon, Jim.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Harney, Mary.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Hoctor, Máire.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kelly, Peter.
  • Killeen, Tony.
  • Lenihan, Conor.
  • McCreevy, Charlie.
  • McEllistrim, Thomas.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Mulcahy, Michael.
  • Nolan, M. J.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • O’Connor, Charlie.
  • O’Donnell, Liz.
  • O’Flynn, Noel.
  • O’Keeffe, Batt.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • Power, Peter.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Sexton, Mae.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Walsh, Joe.
  • Wilkinson, Ollie.
  • Wright, G. V.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Durkan and Stagg; Níl, Deputies Browne and Kelleher.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 48:

In page 9, line 17, to delete "an educational disability" and substitute "special educational needs".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 49 not moved.

Amendment No. 50 in the name of Deputy Enright arises out of Committee proceedings. Amendment No. 51 is consequential on amendment No. 50. Amendment No. 56 is consequential on amendment No. 55. Amendment No. 71 is consequential on amendment No. 70. It is therefore proposed to take amendments Nos. 50, 51, 55, 56, 70 and 71 together, by agreement.

I move amendment No. 50:

In page 9, line 18, to delete "under this section".

This is a technical amendment to tidy up the language. Moving the words "under this section" to the end makes more sense and it also reads better.

I have checked this with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and have been informed that the current draft of the provision is in order, does not require amendment and it would be safer to leave it as it is.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 51 not moved.

I move amendment No. 52:

In page 9, line 21, to delete "an educational disability" and substitute "special educational needs".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 53 not moved.

I move amendment No. 54:

In page 9, line 21, after "shall" to insert ", unless an assessment undersection 3 of the child is being or has been carried out,”

This amendment relates to a point that was made by Deputy O'Sullivan yesterday. It will ensure that the council or the health board will not be obliged to carry out an assessment of a child if an assessment has been or is in the process of being carried out. The amendment is designed to avoid duplication and the needless over-assessment of children.

I have no difficulty with the amendment, which makes sense.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 55 and 56 not moved.

I move amendment No. 57:

In page 9, line 23, after "child" where it secondly occurs to insert "has or".

Deputy O'Sullivan and I agree about the need for this amendment. I thank Deputy O'Sullivan for raising the drafting issue on Committee Stage

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 58:

In page 9, line 24, to delete "an educational disability" and substitute "special educational needs".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 59 not moved.

As amendment No. 61 is an alternative to amendment No. 60, the amendments may be discussed together, by agreement.

I move amendment No. 60:

In page 9, line 29, to delete "3 months" and substitute "1 month".

This amendment relates to time limits. It was suggested on Committee Stage that the timeframe for the beginning of an assessment could be reduced from three months. Having considered the suggestion, I agree with the basis for it. I have proposed amendment No. 60 to reduce the period to one month. As a consequence, Deputy Crowe's amendment No. 61 is unnecessary. My amendment meets the thrust of what he suggests.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 61 not moved.

I move amendment No. 62:

In page 9, to delete lines 35 to 37.

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 63:

In page 9, lines 36 and 37, to delete "an educational disability" and substitute "special educational needs".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 64 not moved.

I move amendment No. 65:

In page 9, line 41, to delete "section" and substitute "Act".

The intention of this amendment is that the assessment of a child with disabilities will be conducted under the Act, rather than just under section 4. I propose that section 4(6) be amended so it states: "an assessment for the purposes of this Act shall include an evaluation and statement of the nature and extent of the child's disability". I want the evaluation and statement to apply to the entire Act, rather than merely to assessments under section 4. I think the amendment is quite self-explanatory. There should be an evaluation and a statement of the extent of the disability regardless of the part of the Act under which the assessment is being conducted. It is an important proposal because it is necessary that this kind of information is made available, regardless of whether it is under this section or any other part of the Act.

Deputy O'Sullivan's amendment is no longer necessary because we have taken on board what she has proposed. As a result of amendment No. 34, which was agreed yesterday evening, school-based assessments must also include "a statement of the findings" as an inherent part of the assessment process. We have also set out the timeframes that apply to it. The Deputy wants all assessments to include a statement of findings. That will happen as a consequence of the acceptance of amendment No. 34. The Deputy's request has been met.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 66:

In page 10, line 3, after "potential" to insert "and a statement of the necessary resources required to provide those services".

We will return to the significant issue of resources, which is central to this legislation, when we discuss the proposed amendments to section 12 of the Bill. The resources that are required should be provided for in legislation in some way. The right to an assessment and an appeals procedure will not be of any use to children with disabilities if their schools have not been given the resources needed to meet their educational requirements. This issue arises in the context of the proposed disability Bill and other discussions on rights-based legislation.

Parents know that the assessment will be of no great use to them if they have not been given an assurance that resources will follow it to meet the needs that have been clearly stated to be required by the child. This amendment and my amendments to section 12 attempt to build into the legislation a clear indication of the resources that are required and an obligation that they be supplied. I am aware that the obligation to supply resources is not the subject of this section, but it is the central issue for most people who have a child with a disability. They do not want to have to continue to fight, along with other parents whose children have disabilities, to get what their children need.

If we state in each child's assessment details of the resources needed by him or her, clear information about the resources required by each school will be available. Such a system would be a strong lever in the process of attempting to ensure that the necessary resources are supplied to schools by the Department of Education and Science, through the public purse. Disabilities groups are fighting strongly for rights-based legislation, as opposed to resource-based legislation, because they are concerned that parents will be told that although the right to an assessment exists, resources are not available to cover all the needs. They are worried that parents will be told that their children have to be placed on a waiting list and that they might get speech therapy or one-to-one help with dyslexia in two or three years' time. Disabilities groups do not want parents to be told, "We are very sorry, but there are other priorities and other children in front of your children in the queue". It is essential that such a focus is placed on the resources that are required. As a nation, we should commit ourselves to resourcing the needs of children and adults with disabilities.

I realise that I am straying into a wide area, but this is the crux of the matter as far as most people are concerned. If we clearly indicate that considerable resources are required, I believe that people will be willing to ensure that there is enough money in the public purse to meet that need. People need to be assured that their moneys will go to that particular area. I have outlined that the resource aspect of the matter is crucial. I believe strongly in rights-based legislation because if one has a right, one inevitably attracts the resources that are needed. I have proposed amendment No. 66 to ensure that we publish a statement of the resources required to provide services to each child who is assessed.

I support Deputy O'Sullivan's amendment. She has made her argument well. She is correct to say that everything hinges on the issue of resources. People have expressed a good deal of faith in this legislation since the Minister's amendments became known, but they still have genuine concerns about resources. They understand how the legislation that has been published is supposed to work in theory, but they are not sure that the necessary resources will be provided in practice.

People have a genuine concern that we are publishing legislation. They see how it is supposed to work in theory, but they are not sure that the necessary resources will be provided in practice. Section 13 deals more specifically with financing of this area, but section 4, where we are talking about what the child will need, providing the statement of resources required, is where the words should be inserted, so that it is clear that people will get exactly what they need. I do not mean resources merely in terms of hours, but physical resources too, which might be needed in the school, including lap-top computers and so on. The school must also be aware of what it has to juggle with if it has different children requiring resources, so the statement must be very clear in that regard.

I support amendment No. 66. It is a very strong amendment which gets to the heart of the debate about the Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill. A statement of necessary resources is needed because we need to know where the child will go, what the plans are and what is going on in the services. Currently there is some mismatch of services and a lack of continuity. Stability and continuity are necessary and if we are serious about this legislation they must form a key element of the Bill's strategy.

It was stated yesterday that the children's needs should be the priority and the focus of this Bill. Amendment No. 66 is relevant in that area. There should not be a need for a debate on necessary resources. We have moved on from debating the resources from the State. We all accept that Ireland is now a very wealthy and vibrant country. The debate now is about how we distribute those resources. The Minister says he is concerned with disadvantage and with disabilities. If we genuinely believe in equality, we must begin the process of distributing the resources. Amendment No. 66 is part of that process. There is no point in clapping ourselves on the back after the Special Olympics, saying that we all did a great job and that the event was very successful, if we do not include in the legislation amendments such as amendment No. 66. By doing so we would say to the families and children suffering disabilities that we are deadly serious about rights and services. The public purse issue is now off the agenda and I do not want to hear anyone in any political party mention it again in this regard. The resources and facilities are there.

Every now and then we see squandering of resources. That is a different debate. The public money is there, and there is no reason we cannot put the funding into the services. There is no reason the Minister for Education and Science and his Department cannot get the necessary funds from the Department of Finance and its Minister to implement common-sense policies which will provide services for children and will put an end to the nonsense of all the legal cases. Most families are weary of bringing cases to the courts, winning awards and then being provided with the services. Let us take the opportunity before us. I urge all Members to support amendment No. 66.

I support this necessary amendment. The Bill must include reference to resources, and this amendment is appropriate.

It was notable that when the Deputies opposite spoke about providing for children with special needs, they used the word "services" more often than "resources". In the context of the Bill, the word "services" is more appropriate. Section 12 deals with the question of resources and how they might be prioritised and so on. We are talking about a statement of the services that a child will need, and under this Bill, those services will have to be provided. When one talks in terms of provision of services, one automatically requires, and it automatically implies, the provision of resources.

We are talking of people who are qualified to carry out assessments on children. We have a list of such people — psychologists, medical practitioners, school principals, appropriately qualified social workers and therapists — who are suitably qualified to provide support services. They will be asked to assess a child and say what services he or she needs. If we also ask them to quantify the financial resources required, then the one-month or three-month assessment periods of which we have been talking will extend quite considerably. The focus in this area is simply on the statement of the services which the child needs.

I understand what people are saying, but section 12 deals with the point of resources and that is the appropriate place for the debate about resources. By removing the word "services" and putting in the word "resources" we would do a disservice to the children.

I do not want to remove the word "services". I merely want to add in the phrase relating to resources. I referred to section 12. I should have referred to section 13. Other speakers followed suit and also wrongly referred to section 12. I believe it was section 12 in the Bill published last year, but the section relating to resources in the Bill before us is section 13.

I accept part of what the Minister says regarding section 13 being the main section where resources are involved, but in section 4, the section under consideration, we have an opportunity to assess the resources required for each child. That is important because section 13 is very general regarding resources. It involves the overall resources required which the Minister for Education and Science, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Health and Children will determine. That will be a big sum. If one can break that down into the units of money required for each child, one has a much better chance of attracting the resources necessary to address the needs of individual children who have educational learning needs. That is why we should insert the actual resources when we are doing the assessment of need. If one merely puts them in under an overall figure in section 13, inevitably there will be an assessment of what the public purse can afford, and people will then have to make do down the line with whatever their share of that amount is.

The resources should be included in this section. That will provide the opportunity for what is required to be listed and included in each child's assessment of need. I note the point the Minister made in terms of time frames, but if one already accepts that children might need two hours resource teaching weekly, or more likely two hours daily — with the need perhaps for a speech therapist, a wheelchair ramp or whatever, there being different needs for different children — it should not be too difficult to apply some kind of quantity in that area. We know what teaching hours cost and what ramps cost. We know the hourly cost of a speech therapist's time. I do not accept the Minister's assertion that the time frame would be extended.

We should be able to break cost down in the way instanced by Deputy O'Sullivan. There is a good deal of benefit in breaking costs down for each child, and perhaps more importantly for each school, so that they can see what they will get. I do not want to evaluate the services being provided to a child in a value for money sense, but if we want to ensure that the services are provided and the money is being spent where it should be spent, on each child who needs it, such breaking down of costs is the best way. A school might be given a certain amount of money to pay for resource hours and other aspects, but we must ensure that the money is spent on the children on whom it is supposed to be spent. This is the best way of ensuring that.

Amendment put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 38; Níl, 52.

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Bruton, John.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Connolly, Paudge.
  • Crawford, Seymour.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Cuffe, Ciarán.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • Enright, Olwyn.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Gogarty, Paul.
  • Gormley, John.
  • Harkin, Marian.
  • Higgins, Joe.
  • Higgins, Michael D.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • McCormack, Padraic.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Paul.
  • McManus, Liz.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Morgan, Arthur.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • O’Dowd, Fergus.
  • O’Shea, Brian.
  • O’Sullivan, Jan.
  • Pattison, Seamus.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Seán.
  • Sargent, Trevor.
  • Stagg, Emmet.

Níl

  • Andrews, Barry.
  • Ardagh, Seán.
  • Brady, Johnny.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Brennan, Seamus.
  • Browne, John.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Curran, John.
  • Davern, Noel.
  • de Valera, Síle.
  • Dempsey, Noel.
  • Dennehy, John.
  • Devins, Jimmy.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Finneran, Michael.
  • Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
  • Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
  • Glennon, Jim.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Hoctor, Máire.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kelly, Peter.
  • Killeen, Tony.
  • Lenihan, Conor.
  • McCreevy, Charlie.
  • McDowell, Michael.
  • McEllistrim, Thomas.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Mulcahy, Michael.
  • Nolan, M.J.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • O’Connor, Charlie.
  • O’Donnell, Liz.
  • O’Flynn, Noel.
  • O’Keeffe, Batt.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • Power, Peter.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Sexton, Mae.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Walsh, Joe.
  • Wilkinson, Ollie.
  • Wright, G.V.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Stagg and Durkan; Níl, Deputies Browne and Kelleher.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendment No. 67 arises out of Committee proceedings. Amendments Nos. 100 and 101 are related. Amendments Nos. 67, 100 and 101 may be taken together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 67:

In page 10, between lines 3 and 4, to insert the following:

"(7) Where an assessment carried out in accordance with this section establishes that the child concerned has an educational disability, the Health Board or Council as the case may be shall, within one month from the preparation of the assessment, cause a plan to be prepared for the appropriate education of the child (in this Act referred to as an ‘education plan').".

The intention is that the preparation of an assessment for a child who is not at school should lead to a plan. I do not believe that is clearly stated in the legislation. While it is clearly stated that the assessment will lead to the formulation of a plan for a child who is at school, it is not clearly stated in this section which is why I tabled amendment No. 67.

In amendment No. 102, I propose that a deadline for the preparation of a plan by the council or health board should be included. These plans must accommodate children with more complex needs and this will take more time. Therefore, I propose a time limit of one month in which to commence a plan and a further two months for its completion. The one month suggested by the Deputy is not feasible in this case.

I do not believe amendment No. 100 is necessary. Principals must request the council to prepare an education plan when one cannot be prepared by the school. Equally, under section 5(8), a health board must make available the statement of findings to anyone involved in the education of the child to ensure they are informed of the child's educational needs. I do not believe this amendment adds anything to this situation.

Having thought a little more about amendment No. 101 since Committee Stage, when we had a good discussion on it, I believe that to accept it would create an unnecessary and an unhelpful duplication. It would have the effect of requiring the special education council to prepare an education plan where one is in train or has already been completed by the school. Therefore, I do not intend to accept these amendments.

I accept what the Minister said about amendment No. 101 bearing in mind that the plan would already be in train. Is it the case under section 8(3), that the special educational needs organiser would be involved?

Yes, if necessary.

It is not so much the time scales about which I am concerned but that there would be a plan after the assessment. I believe the Minister's amendment No. 102 addresses that issue but will he clarify if it addresses the issue of whether the assessment is carried out by the health board or the council?

Section 8(1) makes it clear that an education plan must be prepared by the council and the health board if the assessment shows that the child has a special educational need. What the Deputy is trying to cover is dealt with in that subsection.

The Minister will be aware of many of the cases of which I am aware in our constituency, namely, of families which are in serious difficulty. I am aware of a case where the mother in question must go into the school each day to provide extra assistance to her son because no special classroom assistant is provided. She has being doing so for the past four or five years and has come to the view that at this stage, a classroom assistant other than herself would be the right person to do the job because of the evolution natural in a relationship between a child and its mother as the child grows older. That is just one of many cases which I have brought to the Minister's attention and of which he is no doubt well aware.

While I understand the Minister and the Government cannot give categorical, legally binding assurances as to the availability of funds, is there any possibility that multi-annual funding could be earmarked for this type of need which would be separate from the normal annual budgeting the Government does? As the Minister is well aware, budgets are currently framed one year at a time. There are three-year perspectives but they have no particular legal force when adopted here. My understanding is that, as part of the Stability and Growth Pact, the European Union is asking governments to present multiannual budgets so it will have a better understanding and can judge compliance by countries to their requirements under the pact. That would ensure that countries do not enter into commitments in one year that are not capable of being met within a similar allocation in subsequent years.

In the context of a reform of the Estimates in order to comply with EU requests, could the Government simultaneously use that as a means of identifying certain types of need, such as the needs of children, as provided for in this Bill, which deserve a multiannual financial projection? That could be accounted for differently from the normal annual projections and would have a certain protection with regard to their financial continuance that would not be enjoyed by other categories of expenditure. Will the Minister consider this matter? I do not expect he will be able to give me an assurance here and now because, of course, this would be a matter for the Minister for Finance and the Government collectively. It might be a productive line of inquiry for the Minister to pursue, however, in the interests of the children concerned, who I know he is sincerely concerned to help.

It is important to examine the wording of amendment No. 67, which I strongly support. It states:

Where an assessment carried out in accordance with this section establishes that the child concerned has an educational disability, the health board or council as the case may be shall, within one month from the preparation of the assessment, cause a plan to be prepared for the appropriate education of the child.

The amendment introduces efficiency in specifying a one-month period. Later on, the Minister for Education and Science has referred to a period of six weeks. This important amendment ties down the plan that will be prepared for the child's education.

I have a problem because the Minister has already spoken twice.

The Chair can amend Standing Orders to let him contribute again.

I will allow a brief reply.

I apologise for that. In future I will wait until everybody has contributed. I have indicated that a month would be too short but we amended that yesterday. What the Deputy is seeking in this amendment is catered for already in section 8(1).

Deputy John Bruton mentioned multiannual funding and with his vast experience in the Department of Finance he will be aware of the difficulty in getting that Department to adopt such funding. We have done so in the capital area and I hope that in future, particularly in light of the Stability and Growth Pact, and the necessity for three-year forecasting, we will have some mechanisms to do this. We have envelopes for three and five-year expenditure but I know the Deputy means that in this area we should focus money specifically for children with special needs. In the Bill I am endeavouring to quantify what the provision of these services and resources will cost. Under section 13, it is my intention to try to have multiannual funding.

Would the Minister yield for one second?

We cannot develop this into a Committee Stage debate.

There are already certain categories of expenditure, such as interest on debt, which are treated differently from normal, voted funds. Therefore, that could provide an opening for something to be done in this area.

I appreciate that in tabling amendment No. 102, the Minister has moved a certain distance concerning these timeframes. We will be discussing other timeframes in a forthcoming grouping of amendments, so I will not press this amendment. If it is possible to tighten it up in the Seanad, however, that would be welcome.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 68 and 69 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 68:

In page 10, line 6, to delete "Board." and substitute "Board; such an appeal shall be determined by the Appeals Board within 6 weeks from the date that it receives the appeal.".

Deputies Enright and Stanton have suggested that an appeal against a refusal to accede to a request for an assessment should take place within six weeks. At present, there is no time limit for this form of appeal and I agree there is a need for an appropriate time period to be inserted. Given that this is an appeal on quite narrow points, it should be possible for the appeals board to deal with such an appeal within six weeks. This amendment will achieve the Deputies' desire to ensure that appeals are heard within a specified period.

I am happy with the wording of this amendment which seeks to achieve the same objective as my amendment No. 69. It is important to have clarity so that when parents appeal there will be a definite timeframe for a response.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment Nos. 69 to 71, inclusive, not moved.

I move amendment No. 72:

In page 10, line 14, after "expertise" to insert "and qualifications".

On Committee Stage, Deputies Enright and Stanton made the point that experts permitted to participate in the assessment process should have recognised qualifications. That obviously makes sense so I have proposed this amendment to section 5 in order to reflect and underline that point.

I welcome the amendment which affects further amendments we have tabled. We had raised issues concerning the qualifications of psychologists and who would judge them as being suitable. Earlier, the Minister acceded to that point also. I welcome the fact that qualifications are part of this equation. It is particularly important that we should know what we are dealing with and that if parents are getting an assessment they will know what qualifications the assessor has.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 73 to 75, inclusive, not moved.

I move amendment No. 76:

In page 10, line 21, after "teacher" to insert "or teachers".

I have moved this simple amendment in order to be helpful. It would allow for more than one teacher to be selected by the principal to be involved in the assessment of a child. It is necessary because many children with special needs are taught by more than one teacher. The amendment would also allow the assessment work to be shared by teachers. It makes common sense in that more than one teacher is involved in such situations. It would strengthen the Bill by introducing best practice in this area.

I strongly support this amendment which concerns the assessment of children with disabilities. Amendment No. 76 would allow for more than one teacher to be involved in the process. We must look at the reality. Priority should always be given to the parents' views but, when it comes to education issues and decisions on services, parents and teachers should work together. If a class teacher, a resource teacher and a home-school liaison teacher are all involved, there should be a team effort to ensure the child receives quality service and maximum consultation with the parents takes place. We must take a broader view of assessment. Children with disabilities meet many teachers during their school day.

This also fits in with the discussion we had yesterday about providing services for the children and the idea of partnership. The key way to deal with the services is to have partnership between the professionals and the parents. I would promote the agenda of the parents because, as someone who has been involved in parents' groups for 11 years, I feel strongly that their views must be heard. The emphasis must be on the child, but there must also be close co-operation between the parents and the professionals because the end result will be that the child receives the best possible service. That is what the debate is about — providing services for children in this State.

Deputies Crowe and Finian McGrath dealt with the amendment as it applies to primary schools. It is also important for children with a physical disability who are studying specialist subjects at second level, such as science or metalwork. It will be necessary for more teachers to become involved at that stage because of issues of physical access. It is an important amendment from that aspect as well.

Some children have dual enrolment in both the local national school and in a special school. It is important that there is provision in the Bill for more than one teacher in such cases.

There is nothing in the Bill that prevents teachers from being included. That is the desire. I spoke with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel on the issue and it was clearly stated that under the Interpretation Acts, a word in the singular also includes the plural unless it is stated that there is a clear contrary intention. If the Bill contained the phrase "a teacher and one teacher only", it would be confined to one teacher, but "teacher", according to the Interpretation Acts, includes the singular and the plural.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 77:

In page 11, line 14, to delete "he, she or".

This is a technical amendment. Section 5(8) refers to the health board or the council so we should not refer to "he" or "she", we should refer to "it".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 78:

In page 11, line 16, to delete "needs." and substitute the following:

"needs; the parents of the child shall be informed by the board or the Council of the fact of its having so made available all or part of that statement, and of the identity of the person or persons to whom it has been made available, as soon as may be after it has done so.".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 79 not moved.

Amendments Nos. 80, 83, 85, 87 to 89, inclusive, and 97 are cognate, so they will be taken together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 80:

In page 11, line 39, before "services" to insert "support".

This is a technical amendment. The Minister removed the definition of the phrase "support services" yesterday because he wants to widen the definition compared with that in the 1998 Act and I accepted that idea. It is important, however, that we include the words "support services" so that we are clear what we are discussing. The definition is not included but this will make it as wide as possible. It is better to include the word "support" before "services" so we know exactly what is intended.

If we go back to where we were, we would have to re-insert the definition of "support services" in the Bill and we would once again narrow the focus of the legislation. The reliance on that definition is likely to narrow the meaning of the word "services" and what we want is best achieved by just including the word "services" because that expression covers the whole range, not just in education but also in health.

The definition of the phrase "support services" was still contained in the Bill when I tabled the amendment, but the situation has changed in the meantime.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 82, 84, 86, 90 to 96, inclusive, 98 and 99 are related to amendment No. 81, amendment No. 91 is an alternative to amendment No. 90 and amendment No. 95 is alternative to amendment No. 94 and they will be taken together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 81:

In page 11, line 41, after "education" to insert "within one month of the assessment".

These amendments are concerned with the timeframe for the provision of services by a health board. I take the point that Government amendment No. 99 addresses most of our concerns but it does not contain a specific timeframe, unlike amendment No. 81, which I would prefer.

The Deputy is right. There was a long and detailed discussion on making available the services of the health board or council as soon as practicable. As a result of the exchanges on Committee Stage, it was agreed that a child should not be precluded from receiving the benefit of services merely because an appeal is pending. It is particularly important that a child should not needlessly miss out on his or her education and amendment No. 99 achieves that. It provides that the services of the health board or council must be made available as soon as practicable and that, in such a situation, the council or the health board will still be required to provide services on those aspects of the assessment or education plan that are not in dispute. That is important because it gives parents and children a certain level of service and the ability to appeal to raise the level of service while any other appeal is under way. That covers the issues raised in amendments Nos. 81, 82, 84 and 86.

Section 7(5) provides that if a dispute arises between the council and a health board as to which can provide a service more effectively, it must be referred within three months to the appeals board. Deputies suggested reducing this timescale to a month or six weeks. At all times I had to be realistic in setting timeframes. In this case, the timeframe can be reduced to two months but I would not want to make the period any shorter. In cases of this nature, when there is a dispute, there can be many technical issues to be examined and the two month period is reasonable. A month or six weeks has been suggested for a time limit for the appeals board to determine or issue a direction in a dispute of this nature. Again I suggest two months is more realistic to ensure the appeals board has an opportunity to hear both sides and made a reasoned decision. Amendment No. 92 will achieve that.

I agree with the principle behind amendment No. 95. The term "may" in that situation could suggest that the appeals board could decide not to make a determination. The word "will", as suggested by Deputy Enright, might not correct that either. Perhaps, with the permission of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I might offer an oral amendment in the following terms:

In page 12, subsection 5, line 16, to delete "may" and substitute "shall".

To which amendment is this an oral amendment?

It is an oral amendment to the Bill. It makes it stronger. Deputies Enright and Stanton have also pointed out in amendment No. 95 a typographical error in the Bill, which my amendment No. 94 will correct. A reference to "Appeal Board" should read "Appeals Board".

Amendment No. 96 requires that the appeals board, in making its determination, has regard to the effective delivery of support services in the best interest of the person concerned. The first part of this amendment was referred to earlier in subsection (5), while the second part is already implicit in this provision and the Bill itself. For that reason, the amendment is not necessary. However, overall, we have endeavoured to meet the Deputies' desires to ensure that services be provided while appeals go on and that appeals timescales be shortened but realistic.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 82 to 89, inclusive, not moved.

I move amendment No. 90:

In page 12, line 13, to delete "3 months" and substitute "2 months".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 91 not moved.

I move amendment No. 92:

In page 12, line 15, after "determination" to insert "(and which determination shall be made within 2 months from its referral)".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 93 not moved.

I move amendment No. 94:

In page 12, line 16, to delete "Appeal" and substitute "Appeals".

Amendment agreed to.

I move the following oral amendment:

In page 12, subsection 5, line 16, to delete "may" and substitute "shall".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 95 to 98, inclusive, not moved.

I move amendment No. 99:

In page 12, between lines 20 and 21, to insert the following:

"(7) The provision of services undersubsection (1) or (3) by a health board or the Council shall be made as soon as practicable after the completion of the assessment or, as the case may be, the preparation of the education plan in respect of the child concerned.

(8) The fact that——

(a) an appeal against an assessment under section 6 or an appeal under section 12 in relation to an education plan is made, or

(b) a dispute is referred under subsection (5),

shall not, during the period pending its determination, absolve the Council or a health board (or both) of the duty of providing such of the services to the child concerned as are, irrespective of the outcome of the determination of the appeal or dispute, required by this section to be provided to him or her.".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 100 and 101 not moved.

I move amendment No. 102:

In page 12, between lines 27 and 28, to insert the following:

"(2) The preparation of an education plan under this section shall commence not later than 1 month from the direction concerned referred to insubsection (1) being given and be completed without undue delay and, in any case, not later than 2 months from its being commenced.”.

Unlike school-based education plans, which must be prepared within one month of completion of the assessment, council or health board plans are not time-bound and, having looked at this again, I agree with the Deputies that raised the matter that a time limitation should be included here. However, it must be recognised that such plans must accommodate children with more complex needs. They are not quite the same as the school plans. That will inevitably take more time. I proposed a dual time limit of one month in which to commence the plan and a further two months for its completion. That should meet all reasonable needs. However, when we talk about council or health board plans, we are talking about children with more complex needs.

I welcome that amendment. I accept that Minister's point that it would be more complex, and the idea is that whatever is done should be done properly rather than in a hurry. The timeframe given is reasonable.

My amendment No. 81 had a one month timeframe. I accept that the one month limit is incorporated, at least in the commencement of the plan, and I accept the Minister's amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 103:

In page 12, lines 39 and 40, to delete "educational disability" and substitute "special educational needs".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 104 not moved.

I move amendment No. 105:

In page 13, lines 1 and 2, to delete "educational disabilities" and substitute "special educational needs".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 106 not moved.

I move amendment No. 107:

In page 13, to delete lines 28 to 34 and substitute the following:

"(b) the nature and degree of the child’s special educational needs and how those needs affect his or her educational development;

(c) the present level of educational performance of the child;”.

On Committee Stage, Deputies Enright and Stanton suggested that the education plan should refer to a child's educational "development" rather than "progress". That has been re-examined and it was in keeping with the Bill's positive spirit. I am pleased to propose amendment No. 107 giving effect to that. The amendment also addresses the issue of the content of the education plans as they relate to pre-school children.

The Bill requires a child's current level of educational performance to be set down in the plan unless the child is in pre-school. My initial view on this in resisting the amendments tabled to remove that qualification was based on the difficulties in measuring the educational advancement or performance of a child before he or she is in the formal school structure. However, Deputies spoke very strongly on this and some outside groups also gave us their views on it. I have given it further consideration and, on balance, there is a strong argument for allowing this requirement to apply to pre-school children. I acknowledge the Deputies' pursuit of this matter and their putting forward this suggestion to me which I hope will be given full effect in this amendment.

I welcome the Minister's pro-active approach in these areas because we did have considerable debate. Some of the bodies that came before the committee believed emphatically that the pre-school child could benefit from being included in these plans. Research indicates that the earlier the intervention the better, where an educational difficulty is discerned. Many children now attend pre-school classes in one form or another and there are highly qualified professionals in that area as well who spot things. In a former life I was a Montessori teacher. A teacher will certainly detect where a child is experiencing difficulties because of his or her training and because he or she works with children. I recall detecting deafness, for example, in a child. If one can intervene at an early age, obviously that will be crucial for the child's development. I welcome the Minister's approach in this area.

I too welcome the Minister's amendment. We have had a big issue on Committee Stage over the use of the word "progress". I know "development" is only a word, but it is a more positive way of looking at matters. We had a discussion yesterday as regards pre-school children. It is important that they are included. I made the point yesterday and I reiterate it as regards how much can be changed for the child if his or her condition is detected at an early age. This amendment deals with this.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 108 not moved.

I move amendment No. 109:

In page 14, lines 1 and 2, to delete "or educational disability (being a category of such need or disability" and substitute "(being a category of such need".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 110:

In page 14, lines 9 to 11, to delete all words from and including "the" where it firstly occurs in line 9 down to and including "needs" in line 11 and substitute "international best practice".

Currently the Bill requires the council to prepare and amend guidelines in line with policy for the time being of the Minister. This would necessitate it being done in line with best practice. No one on either side of the House would claim the policies of various Governments towards special educational needs in Ireland has been a model of best practice. In fact, occasionally it has seemed as if Ireland's policy towards those with special needs has been an example of worst practice and for other states to avoid. One of the functions of the council, as laid out in section 18 is to disseminate among schools and parents information relating to best practice, nationally and internationally, concerning the education of the child with special needs. Nowhere is the council empowered to ensure that best practice is applied. Regrettably, I have no doubt the reason for this is that the best possible practice would be considered too expensive by the Minister for Finance.

Parents and schools are being told what best practice is and then perhaps they will not receive it because bodies such as IBEC, for example, want corporation tax cut again. When the Minister opposed this amendment on Committee Stage, he asked the Opposition whether it was being suggested that the council or the Minister might not adopt best practice. My fear is that the Minister who finds himself or herself constrained by financial considerations might choose not to adopt best practice. There might also be disagreement between the Minister and the council over what constitutes international best practice. This Government seems to be fairly relaxed about some international practice being introduced over a range of issues. I have already raised this matter on Committee Stage. I am asking the Minister to acknowledge that for a variety of reasons Governments do not always adopt international best practice and to ensure that this does not happen in this vital area.

I also want to support amendment No. 110. This amendment is about efficiency and quality of service. When one talks about international best practice it is important to realise that the educational system is changing every day. Techniques are changing and with the use of modern technology and different skills we should all be open to examples of international best practice as regards services in education — particularly in this debate on the provision of services for children with disabilities. I would strongly urge people to be open to new ideas and techniques. These changes are constantly being used every day in our primary schools, in my experience, as well as secondary schools, by children with disabilities and by their class teachers. They are also being used in the evening time at home for children with disabilities.

We must open our minds to the constant modern changes in techniques and communication skills. Some of the people involved on the ground are ahead of the planners and the politicians as regards this issue. It is important that we do this. I would strongly urge the Minister to support amendment No. 110, because ultimately it is about benefiting the child.

I also support amendment No. 110. To be fair to the Minister I will concede that in his first amendment, yesterday, he has included the fact that provision is to be made "in a manner that is informed by best international practice". He has come a long way towards accepting the spirit of the amendment being tabled by Deputies Crowe and McGrath. However, he could go a little bit further by accepting the amendment. What I see, and many teachers would anticipate, is the dreaded circular which flags a change in policy. That is something we do not often come to address in this House. To accept this amendment would clarify where we are going in this regard.

Deputy Enright has made the point that it is in the Long Title of the Bill. However, the two Deputies are correct in asserting that we need to ensure best practice is available to children. Matters move so quickly nowadays, that it is important to have this included in the Bill.

That provision for children with special educational needs should be informed by best international practice is now included in the Long Title of the Bill as a result of amendment No. 1, as Deputy Enright has indicated. It was part of the amendment put forward by Deputy O'Sullivan. The entirety of the Bill is to be informed by best international practice. The council will also have a role, obviously, in conducting research and advising the Minister in any matter affecting the education of children with special needs. Obviously, that will exert a strong influence on Government policy as will best international practice. However, in the final analysis, it is the responsibility of the Minister and the Government of the day to set policy as regards education, as with many other matters. To permit guidelines to be drawn up in the absence of policy would be an abdication of Government's role and I do not believe that would be either healthy or acceptable.

I have another strong reservation about putting it into this section of the Bill, or any particular. I could foresee a wonderful three-month argument in the High Court at some stage where various experts would argue over what precisely constituted international best practice. I would prefer to spend the money in providing facilities for the children rather than the lawyers in the High Court.

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried."
Amendment declared lost.
Amendment No. 111 not moved.

I move amendment No. 112:

In page 14, lines 31 to 33, to delete all words from and including "a" in line 31 down to and including "transferred" in line 33 and substitute the following:

"it is proposed to amend a child's education plan pursuant tosubsection (8) (b) the principal of the school to which the child is to be transferred shall inform the parents of the child of the proposed amendment and they may request that that principal”.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments No. 113 to 119 will be taken together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 113:

In page 14, to delete lines 44 to 47 and substitute the following:

"10.—(1) The Council may——

(a) of its own volition, or

(b) at the request of a the parents of a child in respect of whom an education plan has been prepared under section 8(1),

designate the school which a child with special educational needs or, in the case of request underparagraph (b), the child referred to in that paragraph is to attend for the time being and that school shall admit the child as a student upon being directed by the Council do so”.

It has been suggested that parents should have the power to consent to the designation of a school, or to appeal a failure or refusal to make such a designation. I favour the latter approach rather than the former.

Amendments Nos. 113 and 119 permit parents in these circumstances to request the council to designate a school and to appeal if it fails to do this. If a particular school has been sought it will be a party to this appeal. The council will be required to indicate whether if it were to designate a particular school it intends to make a recommendation to the Minister for additional resources for that school. That ensures that all parties will have all of the relevant information to present their cases fairly to the appeals board. Those two amendments cover the point made by the Deputies in their proposed amendments to the scheme. There was a strong feeling that there should be parental involvement and we have allowed for it here.

Parents have a constitutional right to choose a school and I want to ensure that this is constitutional. One of our concerns dealt with in amendment No. 114 was to ensure that the parents' constitutional rights are protected. The Minister appears to have ensured that. It is very important that the parents have a major role in this because ultimately they must decide on the appropriate education for their children.

I would like to be clear on this too because the wording of the Minister's amendment does not include the appeal, which was our concern. Can the Minister please confirm or clarify that the choice will rest with the parents so that an appeal will not be necessary?

We cannot infringe the constitutional rights of the parents in legislation. The fact that the school is designated imposes an obligation on it to enrol the child, if the parents desire. It does not impose an obligation on the parents to send the child to that school so it does not infringe their rights in that sense.

I would like to raise another important issue here because this section covers the designation of schools. I am concerned that schools may try to opt out of being designated by the council. Does the Minister envisage giving the council a role to ensure that all schools are inclusive and do not set up obstacles by not looking for resource teachers, physical access and so on? There is a risk that certain schools will decide it is easier to run their business without children who have special needs. They will try therefore not have the kind of resources necessary to accommodate a child with special needs and avoid being designated. What are the Minister's views on how he might direct the council to avoid this and to ensure that all schools are open and inclusive of children with special needs?

If the school appeals against the designation what happens to the student concerned during that process? Does he or she attend the school while the appeal proceeds? Previously, section 10 gave the school the right to appeal designation from the council. Parents had no right to appeal and they have no ability to challenge the ruling of a council if it refuses to designate a school. Does the Minister's proposal change that? Can he explain why the school but not the parents can appeal the council's decision? I am not sure if these changes have that effect but I am concerned about what happens to the child during the appeal process.

In the case of a school saying that it cannot take a child or cannot be designated to take a child with a physical disability, for practical reasons alternative arrangements would be necessary until that appeal was heard. If the child is wheelchair bound and the school does not have ramps, wide doors or whatever, an alternative would have to be found. The focus of the Bill, however, is to ensure that these things become apparent before the child arrives at the school door. The procedures we have established should surmount those difficulties and overcome the physical obstacles by the time the child comes to the school. Part of the effect of these amendments is that parents will have the right to appeal a designation or a school's refusal to accept a designation so they will be party to that.

To answer Deputy O'Sullivan's point, the council has a role to play with schools on planning and the provision of facilities for children with special needs. That would initially be done on a voluntary basis but the council has powers to designate the school and make it accept children. Members should make it known that section 29 and the Education Act covers these eventualities. There are sufficient powers available to ensure that a school does not shirk its responsibility.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 114 to 118, inclusive, not moved.

I move amendment No. 119:

In page 15, between lines 22 and 23, to insert the following:

"(6) If the Council fails or refuses to make a designation undersubsection (1) at the request of parents under paragraph (b) of that subsection or fails or refuses to make such a designation of a particular school specified in their request (if such has been specified), the parents may appeal to the Appeals Board against that failure or refusal.

(7) On the hearing of an appeal undersubsection (6), the Appeals Board may -

(a) allow the appeal and give a direction to the Council requiring it to designate under subsection (1) a school or, as the Appeals Board thinks appropriate, the particular school specified in the request, or

(b) dismiss the appeal.

(8) If the subject of an appeal undersubsection (6) is whether a particular school specified in a request of parents should be designated, the Appeals Board shall cause the board of management of that school to be made a notice party to the appeal and that board shall have the right to make submissions to the Appeals Board in relation to the matter (and subsection (5) shall apply for this purpose as it applies for the purposes of an appeal under subsection (3)); for the purposes of such an appeal the Appeals Board shall require the Council to indicate whether it would, if it were to designate the particular school concerned, make a recommendation of the kind referred to in subsection (2) and if it indicates that it would make such a recommendation, to specify the nature of it.

(9) The Appeals Board shall hear and determine an appeal made undersubsection (3) or (6) within 2 months from the making thereof.

(10) The Council shall comply with a direction given to it under this section.".

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 120 is in the name of Deputy O'Sullivan. Amendments Nos. 129 to 133, inclusive, are related. Amendments Nos. 132 and 133 are alternatives to amendment No. 131. Amendments Nos. 120 and 129 to 133, inclusive, will be taken together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 120:

In page 15, line 28, to delete "children" and substitute "each child".

Many of these amendments are on drafting issues. We discussed amendment No. 120 on Committee Stage which deals with the review of the education plan. The Bill states that the review should cover, "the operation of each education plan for children who are attending the school". I suggest that should refer to "each child". The Minister made the point then that it might include people who do not have a special need as well as those who do. The wording, however, should be changed in some way to differentiate and avoid having an overall plan for a group of children rather than for each individual child who has a need.

Amendment No. 129 seeks to replace the word "request" with the word "require" to strengthen the terminology. Likewise, the change proposed in amendment No. 130 is to strengthen the parents' hand by deleting the phrase "where the principal considers it appropriate to accede to their request" and to give the parents the right to have their request acceded to without the principal's judgment getting in the way. Amendment No. 131 relates to the previous amendment.

In amendment No. 133 we seek to ensure that after making the request, the principal must make the decision rather than sending out a notice to the parents a week after the decision is made. Inserting the words "2 weeks after receiving the request" sets a definite timeframe within which he or she must take action and would be a better way to approach this issue.

In response to Deputy O'Sullivan's point regarding the use of the term "each child" in preference to "children", I draw her attention to the Interpretation Act where singular means plural and plural means singular. The Parliamentary Counsel is satisfied that it meets the requirements outlined by the Deputy. I accept her point, but it is clear in legal terms, although it may not be clearly written in plain English, that it applies to individual children.

Regarding amendments Nos. 129 to 131, inclusive, section 11(5) provides that a school principal can refuse to accede to a parent's request for a review of the education plan. It is possible that parents would make unreasonable demands on the school and principals must have some protection from that. Section 11(6) safeguards against the school acting unreasonably. These provisions strike a balance and, therefore, I do not deem the amendment necessary.

Regarding the suggestion made by Deputy Enright and Deputy Stanton, I tabled a similar amendment, No. 132, requiring that a decision on whether to accede to a parent's request for a review must be made and communicated to parents within two weeks of the principal receiving the request.

I accept the point about the words "child" and "children". However, I am still concerned at parents not always having their requests acceded to by principals. Section 11(6), to which the Minister referred, makes provision for recourse to the appeals board, but that is a cumbersome procedure. I would like to see parents having a greater right because, essentially, we are talking about cases where they feel their children are not progressing as well as they should under the plan. Parents feel strongly in these situations and it would be unlikely they would call for a review unless they had very good reasons for so doing.

Parents deal with their children on a daily basis, help them with homework and so on. The requests would be genuine in almost all cases. I would like to see a stronger right for parents to have reviews carried out. Principals are busy people and may not be in close contact with children if they are in a large school whereas the parent has close contact. I believe my amendment to delete the word "request" and substitute the word "require" should be further considered by the Minister.

I accept Deputy O'Sullivan's point, but it can equally be said that in almost all cases the school will also be reasonable. I do not want to put principals in an impossible position. A great deal of discussion focused on the workload of principals. Let us be honest. There are awkward school principals but there are also awkward parents.

There are awkward Deputies as well.

A balancing provision is better than giving one or the other an absolute and total right at all times. Making provision for appeals is a reasonable safeguard.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 121, 123 to 128, inclusive, and 151 are related and will be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 121:

In page 15, lines 29 and 30, after "concerned" to insert "has received the services required as contained in the education plan and".

Our amendment is designed to expand the scope of the review of the progress of the child's education plan. The intention is to take into account whether the child has received the services required, as specified in the education plan. Section 9(2)(e) states that the education plan should include: “the special education and related support services to be provided to the child to enable the child to benefit from the education and to participate in the life of the school”. Any review of such a plan should take into account whether those resources are supplied and, if they are not, a reason for this should be given. There is no point in having an education plan that does not provide the recommended services and resources. The failure of any element of an education plan may be as much related to a lack of resources and services as anything else. I urge the Minister to accept the amendment so that any review of the operation of the education plan can be as thorough as possible and that where resources have not been made available for the provision of services, this can be identified and, I hope, the situation can be rectified.

The Minister made the point on Committee Stage that we could have a case where resources and services are provided but the goals are not met. I fully accept that, but I do not see any reason the review cannot state this as well. It is not an attempt to get at the Minister for not providing the resources, nor is it an attempt to suggest that the provision of resources may not be the only problem. The aim of the amendment is to ensure that all aspects of the plan are reported on and examined when a review is carried out to try to pinpoint any problems that may have occurred. A review should examine if the recommended services were provided for the implementation of the plan.

I strongly support the amendment. The key words in the amendment are "services ... in the education plan". The plans cater to the individual needs of children. The implementation of the plan and the provision of services are crucial to its success in helping children with disabilities. It is important that services are provided to help children reach their maximum potential.

I remind the Minister that these children only get one shot. In the past, many children missed out on services and there is a danger children today will as well. The waiting times for the provision of services result in many children being put at a disadvantage and lead to them falling behind. The aim of the amendment is to prevent this happening.

Deputy Crowe referred to children playing a full role in school life. There is no point in a child with a disability being in a school if he or she is not fully included in the life there by pupils and teachers. There have been many examples of children with disabilities in schools who were isolated in rooms. In many cases the children and their families have had negative experiences. I am aware the Minister is a strong supporter of educational and social inclusion. The real test of inclusive education is that plans, services and the requisite professionals are in place and children and their families feel part of their schools. There are many examples of good practice in this regard.

On the matter of designated schools, some schools deliberately set out to block children with special educational needs or those who come from a poor socio-economic background. That is a disgrace. Such discrimination is unacceptable. I had experience of children in care who were turned down by five or six schools simply because they were in care and could be a problem. Some 90% of them were just looking for a bit of attention and wanted to get on with their lives against the odds. We should hammer any school or service that does not accept its responsibilities. Teachers and schools are paid for by taxpayers. Teachers are public servants and have a duty to ensure all children are included in the education service.

Deputy Stanton and I tabled a number of these amendments. In regard to the Minister's amendment No. 123 and our amendment No. 124, in our consideration of this section — this also relates to our amendments Nos. 126 and 127 — we are conscious of ensuring that failure is not ascribed to a child and of ensuring that the language used is positive. In amendment No. 124 we propose that the education plan may need to be modified. I understand from where the Minister is coming in proposing amendment No. 123. It covers more or less the same point, but he has put it in a different way. We have to be able to recognise that goals may not have been achieved for whatever reason. I can accept the language the Minister has used in amendment No. 123 and, on that basis, I will withdraw amendment No. 124.

Amendment No. 126 proposes to delete the words specified. Amendment No. 127 is important because to state that a child is not achieving is an unfair comment to make in respect of a child. It would be better to insert that the goals are not being achieved, as proposed in amendment No. 127.

Amendment No. 128 is important because while I acknowledge that the Minister is trying to be practical, a review after four months would be preferable to one after six months, as provided. If one takes January as a starting point, a review after six months would bring one to the end of that school year. Having a review of the plan after six months would mean that a child would have moved on to the next school year, which might be from sixth class to post-primary school. Therefore, a review of the plan after four months would at least be more reflective of term time, from September to Christmas, and one would have a chance to review the plan within the next phase of the school year before a child moves to the next school year. If a child moves from fourth class to fifth class, he or she has to deal with a new teacher and the process will have to start again, to some extent, likewise and more especially when a child moves from primary to post-primary.

Amendment No. 151 is an important amendment because this section deals with young people who have reached 18 who no longer come under the terms of the Bill. We must have regard to meeting the goals set in the plan, but we must also have regard to the possibility that the plan has not worked. I am aware the Minister might argue that the inclusion of this amendment may impose a liability on the State. However we must recognise that if a child up to the age of 18 has been failed by the State, the Department or whomsoever, that must be recognised. If the education plan for the child did not achieve its goals, that must be recognised. If a plan was not provided for a child for whom it should have been, that must also be recognised. A young person on becoming an adult at the age of 18 is not covered by the Bill, but that person should have his or her rights or entitlements met if the legislation failed him or her when he or she would have had rights under it.

I support amendment No. 121. It is important and it links into the point I made about the need to specify the resources required. Deputies Crowe and McGrath propose that it should be specified that the child has received the services required when reviewing the plan. That links in with the issue of ensuring that while we set goals and decide that certain things need to be done, we need to ensure that they are done and that the schools are resourced to do them. If this amendment is accepted, it will be an important check-point to ensure that services specified in the plan have been provided.

In regard to the points made by Deputy Enright, we had a long discussion on Committee Stage on the importance of not attributing failure to a child but acknowledging that the system is failing the child rather than the child in any way being a failure. I recognise that the Minister has taken that point on board in his amendment No. 123. That points to the benefit of having a good Committee Stage debate on legislation.

In reviewing the education plan, the focus will be on establishing if the child is achieving the targets that have been set for him or her. There is a danger that what is proposed in amendment No. 121 could blur the focus by concentrating more on the provision of services rather than whether the targets set are being achieved.

Deputy Crowe quoted me correctly in what I said on Committee Stage, namely that there could be a situation where the services have been provided but the child did not reach the goals set for him or her. That is as likely a scenario as the opposite being the case. In such cases, the purpose of the review would be to change the plan. While my advice on the acceptance of this amendment is that it could end up blurring the focus, I am inclined to think the provision of the services will be laid out in the plan. They will be set out for all to see and the person who comes in to review the plan will be able to see fairly quickly whether the services have been provided and that might help to focus the blame on where it is to be attributed. If there is an education plan detailing services to be provided and the child does not achieve the goals set because the services have not been provided, it probably would be important that we would know that and that the person reviewing the plan would know that. I will accept amendment No. 121 on that basis, as it probably will strengthen the case here.

In regard the rest of the amendments, we have tried to be as positive as we possibly can be in the language we have used. In respect of the definition of educational disability and the definition of special educational needs, a negative view was expressed on Committee Stage regarding the phrase "the child concerned failing to achieve the goals specified in the education plan". For that reason, I tabled amendments Nos. 123 and 125 which propose to change the language used in this section to refer to the goals in the plan not being achieved. It is a more neutral phrase and I hope it is one on which the Deputies can agree. Therefore, I do not believe that amendments Nos. 124, 126 and 127 are necessary. For instance, in respect of one of those amendments, we are referring to the parents having reason to believe their child is not achieving the goals specified. Deputy Enright's amendment in regard to lines 1 and 2 on page 16 refers to that. The parents will make that decision rather than somebody outside the family. Therefore, that amendment is not necessary.

In relation to amendment No. 128, I do not agree that we should reduce the prohibition to seek a review of the plan within the first six months following its preparation. Eloquent arguments have been put forward that the review should be done on a term by term basis, but despite the fact that a review after four months would cover the period from September to Christmas and fit in with the school calendar time scale, that is not a sufficient reason for changing the period of the review. We should make provision to allow every opportunity for the plans to be put in place and implemented.

Most of us would be aware of the developmental stages of some children, particularly those with special needs. Some of them can take to a task straight away, show reasonable progress and achieve all the goals set perhaps in even fewer than six months, but others may be slow to start and then in the last few months of the time frame set show signs of achieving what they want to achieve. Therefore, on balance, six months is a more reasonable time frame to use to allow for the different developmental stages for the child concerned.

In relation to amendment No. 151, I have reconsidered the issue following our discussion in committee, but I still believe the section, as it stands, effectively covers the objective the Deputies have in mind. The section, as a whole, ensures that deficiencies in education provision caused for whatever reason are identified and addressed. That underlines the section.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 122:

In page 15, line 34, after "purposes" to insert "of".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 123:

In page 15, lines 42 and 43, to delete "child concerned is significantly failing to achieve the goals specified in the education plan" and substitute the following:

"goals specified in the plan concerned have not been achieved".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 124 not moved.

I move amendment No. 125:

In page 16, lines 1 and 2, to delete "their child is not achieving the goals specified in the education plan" and substitute the following:

"the goals specified in an education plan prepared in respect of their child are not being achieved".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 126 and 127 not moved.

I move amendment No. 128:

In page 16, line 3, to delete "6" and substitute "4".

Question, "That the figure proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 129:

In page 16, line 3, to delete "request" and substitute "require".

Question, "That the word proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 130:

In page 16, lines 5 and 6, to delete "where the principal considers it appropriate to accede to their request".

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.
Debate adjourned.