I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:
— the absolute commitment of this Government, and the Minister for Education and Skills, to protecting Government spending on supporting children with special educational needs – an area which has been prioritised above all other areas by this Government, despite the enormous pressures on all areas of public spending;
— that this Government has maintained the €1.3 billion annual funding for additional teaching resources and special needs assistants, SNAs, to support children with special educational needs, at a time when there is a requirement to make expenditure savings across a range of areas;
— that provision for SNA support for the coming school year will remain at 10,575 posts, which is unchanged since the introduction of a cap on the number of SNA posts by Fianna Fáil in 2010;
— that all children who qualify for SNA support will receive access to such support and all children who qualify for resource teaching will receive support at current levels;
— that the demand for resource teaching hours has risen by an unprecedented 12 per cent over the last year, while student numbers have grown by only 1.3%;
— that our response to this demand cannot simply be to continue increasing spending in an unsustainable manner – an approach previously adopted by Fianna Fáil-led governments;
— that it is has become apparent that significant inequity exists within the current system of resource teacher allocations, and that the model for allocating these resources is deeply flawed;
— that some children, particularly those in disadvantaged communities, are being further disadvantaged by the flaws in the current model;
— that the Government welcomes the publication of the recent policy advice provided by the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, on supporting students with special educational needs in schools;
— that the Minister for Education and Skills has, as suggested by that advice, requested the NCSE to establish a working group to develop a proposal, for consideration, for a "tailored" allocation model, which would underpin a new allocation system for teaching supports for children with special educational needs based on the profiled educational needs of children in schools;
— that Mr. Eamon Stack, Chairman of the NCSE and former Chief Inspector in the Department of Education and Skills, has been appointed chairperson of that group, with a mandate to report to the Minister for Education and Skills, by the end of September, with preliminary views on how the allocation system may be reformed;
— that, pending the receipt of that report, the Minister for Education and Skills has decided that the 500 posts which have been held in reserve for late applications will be used immediately to ensure that individual allocations will be preserved at 2012-13 levels while the transition to a new model of allocating resources is under way; and
— that this Government is resolute in its determination to resolve the economic woes created by successive Fianna Fáil-led Governments and will continue to invest in building fairness and quality into our education system."
This evening's debate provides an opportunity to clarify some of the issues surrounding the allocation of supports for children with special educational needs for the coming school year. It also provides me with an opportunity to reassure all parents of children with special educational needs that their children will continue to receive the supports necessary to ensure that they receive an education appropriate to their needs. We must be very clear about the changes announced by the National Council for Special Education, or NCSE, last week. The NCSE announced the allocations to schools in two separate and distinct categories of support for students with special educational needs. The NCSE informed schools that 10,490 of the 10,575 special needs assistants in our education system would be allocated to schools for September 2013. This year, we will again provide funding for 10,575 whole-time equivalent special needs assistant posts. This is the same number of SNA posts that was available last year. As Deputies will be aware, particularly those opposite, there is a cap on the number of SNAs within the education system. It was introduced by the previous Fianna Fáil Government in 2010. The Government has not altered the cap in any way, shape or form since March 2011. Due to the economic situation, the Government is not in a position revisit the decision made by Fianna Fáil to place a cap on the number of SNA posts available. However, we have maintained provision. Unlike other areas of the public sector, SNA vacancies are being filled up to this number. The number has been ring-fenced as well as capped.
Schools had been asked to submit their applications by 15 March 2013 for SNA support for the coming school year. Having considered these applications, the NCSE was able to meet all requests and allocate 10,490 posts on the basis of the exact same criteria it used last year. For the benefit of Deputies opposite, some of whom seem confused on this point, I will be very clear. The allocation of SNAs was done by the NCSE on the same policy basis as in previous years. There has been no reduction in the number of SNAs available and, as a result, no need for me to make any changes to the allocation system in my announcement earlier today. There have been some references to cuts to SNAs this year both in the House and in the media. I repeat and confirm for the benefit of the House that there has been no reduction to the number of SNA posts which are available for allocation to schools. For the coming school year, 24% of schools will have an increased SNA allocation, 23% will have a reduced allocation and 53% will see no change in their allocations. This is evidence of children growing up, gaining independence, learning new skills and even moving schools. It is manifestly false to describe these shifts across the system as cuts to individual children. No child who requires access to SNA support will be deprived of it. There has been no change to the eligibility criteria this year.
Parents who may have been frightened by reports of cuts need have no fears that their child will be denied access to an SNA. All eligible children have been allocated SNA support by the NCSE for the coming school year.