Education (Inspection of Individual Education Plans for Children with Special Needs) Bill 2017: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Education Act 1998 to grant additional functions to the Inspectorate to examine and report to the Minister on the prevalence and standard of individual educational plans for children with special educational needs on an annual basis; and to provide for related matters.

This Bill seeks to extend the powers of the Department of Education and Skills' inspectorate to examine and report on the prevalence and quality of individual educational plans for children with special educational needs. As we know, the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs, EPSEN, Act was enacted by this House in 2004 but it has never been implemented. One of the provisions of the Act is that every child with special educational needs should have an individual education plan. The purpose of this is to ensure that adequate supports are provided and that measures are put in place to help the educational outcome and attainments of the child. This provision of the Act has not commenced and there is currently no statutory obligation on schools to put in place these plans for children with special educational needs.

I have questioned the Minister for Education and Skills on this matter and on the broader issue of the implementation of the EPSEN Act. He has informed me that his Department has received legal advice that the Bill cannot be enacted piecemeal or on an age basis. This legal advice has not been published and the Minister has not really provided a logical explanation for the failure to implement the EPSEN Act 13 years after its enactment. He has stated that it would cost €235 million to implement and that the programme for Government commits to implementing it on a policy basis. There has been little progress to date on this commitment, which is a very important one.

My understanding is that a working group has been established to examine the best way to proceed on the implementation of the Act. I fear this is yet another unnecessary talking shop and a stalling tactic to delay the full implementation of this Act 13 years after its publication. We do not need a working group. The Act is very clear as to what needs to be done. What we need is resources to fulfil that vision of providing every child with an equal opportunity to benefit from education. We hear a lot of talk about inclusive education but we need to put our words into action. In my view, the provision of an individual education plan for a child with special educational needs is a straightforward, relatively low-cost measure that will have a significant and positive impact on the lives of these children.

Schools and teachers are very familiar with the process of planning and there is some evidence that schools are providing these individual plans in some cases but they are not mandatory. The problem is that we do not know how many schools are providing these plans or to what standard they are devised. This Bill seeks to extend the functions of the Department's inspectorate to include the inspection of individual education plans for children with special educational needs. It also proposes that the inspectorate will provide data in its annual report on the number of schools engaged in planning and on the standards. My preference would be that the EPSEN Act be implemented in full. If that cannot be done, however, the Government needs to show that it is serious about implementing the policy objectives contemplated by the Act and about giving all children, particularly those with special educational needs, the opportunity to benefit from a high-quality education.

With this Bill, we are seeking to take a small step forward by facilitating the gathering of information on the level of planning for children with special educational needs. This will give us a picture of the current situation and we can then take action to ensure that such planning becomes standard in schools and is carried out to a very high level.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Is the Bill being opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.