The Title of this Bill has been changed from the Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill 2003.
Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Bill 2003: Second Stage (Resumed).
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy de Valera. I also welcome this excellent legislation. However, I hope that it will be followed up with adequate resources. In five years, there has been a sea change in people's attitudes towards entitlements and needs. I first became involved in politics in 1999. When I knocked on doors, the major issues were potholes and water and sewerage schemes. They were very much related to the physical infrastructure. However, I noticed during this year's canvas with my respective colleagues, councillors and urban councillors that many of the issues raised on the doorsteps related to education. There was a sea change in people's attitudes. They are more informed and in tune with their rights and those of their children regarding education. The electorate is evolving and becoming more sophisticated. People's interest in their own families and their children's education is increasing. That was evident on the doorsteps during the local elections.
I welcome the fact the Title has changed to the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Bill 2003. The word "disabilities" has been removed. People who suffer from dyslexia, for example, do not have disabilities but needs that must be addressed, something the Bill tries to do.
There is some confusion with the Department for Education and Science, and perhaps the Minister of State will be able to shed some light on it. The Department announced there would be restrictions on hiring psychologists earlier this year. I assume that was in light of the fact that there was to be a new weighting system for special needs resources. I am a little confused and require clarification on how the new weighting system will impact on the legislation. Small schools in rural areas are currently concerned about the special needs services and resources they have available. They worry there might be a depletion or reduction in those resources.
I require clarity on how the new weighting system for special needs resources will impact on the legislation. Since February 2003 the Minister for Education and Science has received more than 8,000 applications for special educational resources at his Department. However, the vast majority of those, more than 88%, have not been sanctioned, leaving children in need of some form of assistance at school without that help.
There is fear and worry at secondary school level. I have been speaking to a few teachers involved in the special needs sector. They want to know what will happen now, where the psychological assessment will come into play and whether it will be in-house and up to the teachers to deliver.
A psychological assessment by a qualified professional is required in the case of a four year old pupil with mild dyslexia. The issue is access to the right psychological services at the right time. An example came to my attention of a parent who moved her ten year old son from an urban school with a pupil-teacher ratio of 30:1 to a rural school where the ratio was minimised. This child's mild dyslexia was only diagnosed at ten years of age, mainly as a consequence of the greater one to one attention he was receiving in the new school. The needs of children who are lucky enough to enjoy a low pupil-teacher ratio environment will be met but in a classroom of 30 pupils many children will slip through the net if they are not assessed at the right time.
Legislation needs the support of Government in terms of both delivery of resources and the political will to clear bottlenecks that obstruct critical services. This is the kernel of my argument. This is excellent legislation but political will is required for its implementation and to provide the necessary resources. It appears the Dormant Accounts (Amendment) Bill 2004, which was debated in the House yesterday, will be enacted by the Government. Some of the funds available under the provisions of that Bill could be disbursed to the Minister of State and the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Noel Dempsey. I objected to the methods stipulated in that Bill for the allocation of funds as the decisions will be made at Cabinet. Education and disability were mentioned as areas to which dormant account funds could be allocated and a significant portion of the fund should be channelled into the special needs sector. If the Dormant Accounts (Amendment) Bill 2004 is to be enacted, the special educational needs sector is an area which should receive support. Some 57% of schools in the north-west have no psychological assessment provision. This means that too many schools have teachers and principals who are under significant pressure.
We must ensure the definition proposed in the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Bill 2003 cannot be used to restrict access to any service or assistance for those who need it. The remit of this legislation applies only to those under the age of 18. What protections shall be afforded a pupil with special educational needs who wishes to remain in full time schooling until the age of 19 or 20?
Although we are not as far ahead in this area as Australia and the United States, for example, adult education has been very much in vogue in Ireland for the last ten to 15 years. What is the special educational needs provision, for such conditions as mild dyslexia, for the adult of 40 or 50 years of age who returns to education? We should follow the precedent already set in this country that education is a lifelong endeavour, from birth to death. There should be no cut-off points and every incentive should be provided to encourage people to return to education. The Government may claim that its long awaited disability Bill will protect adult learners such as these but it has stalled long enough and must produce this legislation as a matter of urgency.
Dealing with support services or State agencies on behalf of one's child can be a daunting task. Many advocacy services have been established in the adult education sector to encourage and facilitate people to return to education. What about the parent who must approach officialdom to represent the special educational needs of his or her child? There should be a conduit or advocacy service for such parents. Currently, parents are approaching their public representatives across the political divide, be they urban councillors, county councillors, Deputies or Senators, pleading for services for their children. I am neither condemning nor condoning this situation but an advocacy service is required. Some parents may have a problem with their child's school and feel uncomfortable approaching the principal or class teacher.
The Bill puts considerable extra pressures on school principals. What supports and resources will be available to both primary and secondary schools in the implementation of the legislation? Again, it is a question of resources and commitment. The Bill looks great on paper but the implementation aspect must be addressed.
The Minister for Education and Science must ensure that meeting the requirements of special educational needs students is a core component of teacher training programmes. Progress is evident in this matter and such special training is ongoing in many of the primary teacher training institutions.
The Dyslexia Association of Ireland has identified a need which has been met by a significant voluntary effort on the part of parents throughout the country. A dyslexic workshop in Letterkenny is based on the voluntary effort of parents. It takes place in the Letterkenny Institute of Technology, which, fortunately, is not charging fees. However, it costs the parents €50 to employ a teacher for each three hour session and the total cost is €1,310 per night. The Revenue Commissioners have now stipulated that the teachers must pay tax on these earnings, which is fair enough as everybody must pay tax. However, the teachers have naturally increased their rate and from September the fee will increase from €50 to €80, which will constitute an increased fee of €500 per night for parents.
There must be some kind of intervention to subsidise these parents. We have to acknowledge the effort parents make to ensure their children have access to equal educational opportunities. The parents who organise this workshop on a weekly basis are taxpayers who are forced to dip into their own pockets to access a service that should be provided by the State. Mainstream funding should be provided for such facilities as dyslexic workshops. In the interim, the Minister for Finance must intervene to provide some sort of subsidy for the voluntary efforts of these parents. They have raised money on their own initiative, including substantial funding from Donegal County Council, money from charity football matches and so on. It is not good enough that they should have to battle so hard for a service that should be provided by the State.
The Minister of State will get a fair wind for this legislation and everybody in the House supports what she is trying to achieve. I congratulate her on it. It is a considerable advance on the version that preceded it. I have had a deep interest in this subject for many years as I was engaged in that policy field for some time. It is important to ensure that as many children as possible can live a normal life to their full potential and attend ordinary schools with their brothers and sisters. A wide range of conditions is involved. For some people provision will be needed in special schools, but by and large children can go to school with their brothers and sisters, their friends and neighbours. That is much better socially and educationally. It is also better for them than spending half the day being driven around the country in a bus to try to get to a special centre. It means, however, support for the schools and the teachers. It requires classroom assistants, often on a one-to-one basis, and smaller classes, as Senator McHugh spoke about.
School enrolments will fall over the next few years. I hope the opportunity will then be taken to reduce class sizes rather than the number of teachers. I have no doubt that a smaller teacher-pupil ratio gives children an enormous advantage, particularly children with special needs. They need particular attention and dedicated teachers. When we find those we should hold on to them as best we can and try to ensure the reward system recognises what they have done and encourages them to stay in their jobs. There have been difficulties, as we have been told, about dyslexia, autism, Asperger's syndrome and various ranges of Down's syndrome. It seems there is a danger of people falling into a black hole between the ages of 16 and 18. I have heard of cases where people leave the child psychology service and do not come into the adult service until they are 18. Those types of barriers are hopeless for children with special needs.
I have a young neighbour with median Down's syndrome. He actually designed my Christmas card for the National Forum on Europe. He is now at a further education school and it is wonderful to see how he is getting on. He might actually be able to follow some sort of artistic career. To decide that people cease to have a need or an entitlement at a particular age is somewhat fallacious. It is important, too, that parents are helped and supported in this. I am glad the Bill gives some indication of the way parents should be involved. They need support and should be helped. People who are doing innovative and experimental work in these programmes in schools should be helped as well. They are worthy recipients of any dormant accounts funds or others that may be on offer.
There is a danger with falling rolls. I remember in the past when schools were full head teachers, by and large, did not want to see difficult children. They tried to get them certified out of the system. Now suddenly, because of falling rolls, the thresholds have come down as well. I applaud the fact that special needs children are being taken into schools. However, it would be a pity if they were being taken in without the support structure, the teaching help etc. they require. On a final note, I have seen many of these documents and have written some. Words are great on paper but make very little difference unless, they are backed by money and resources. While the legislature is mandating the Minister of State and her successors to provide these services to young people and their families who need them, there is an implicit commitment that it should mandate the funds, as required. I wish the Minister of State well with the Bill. I have no doubt it is enlightened and far-seeing and in keeping with best practice elsewhere. However, I return to the question of resources. There must be the will for this. It would be cruellest of all to raise the hopes of parents and children as regards a service and then tell them they are not a priority when they go looking for it, as the money is not there.
I welcome the Minister of State. I will start by echoing Senator Maurice Hayes's comment that it would be really cruel to have the hopes of so many people raised and not bring forward the resources needed to implement this very good Bill. I was delighted the Title of the Bill was changed, for a start, to the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Bill 2003. There is a large number of people with disabilities, all of ourselves included, who did not have to have any extra resources for our education. It is much better that we focus specifically on people with special educational needs. The provision of services to this area is woeful. We have a large number of people with varying abilities who are ready to take up these services.
Senator Maurice Hayes mentioned people with Down's syndrome and autism. It is most important to recognise that we now know the abilities of people with both these conditions, which are among the main groups likely to take up these educational places, varies widely. The extent a person is affected by Down's syndrome depends on how many cells are inherited in an abnormal chromosome. While we know that about 70% of people with autism have intelligence quotients below 70, some 30% do not. This is a major challenge for teachers and schools to take on. The resources must be put in place to help them.
I was relieved to see the Bill takes into account that when assessing the child and drafting his or her educational plan the underlying condition has to be considered. That is important and it is covered in the Bill. When we had children in special schools, it did not necessarily mean that all their needs were fulfilled by having them there. We want to be sure, as well, that their underlying conditions are taken into account when the various assessments are being made. The level of social interaction, communication and behavioural problems of some of these children will be very relevant. The amount of assistance needed within classrooms may be considerable. Some people with, for example, autism, if seriously affected, will require long-term support. That is not to say we should not give it. We must remember, as well, that there is quite a high prevalence of these conditions in Ireland.
When I did medicine one rarely saw someone with Down's syndrome over the age of 20 or 25. Now nearly everyone is 50 to 55. It is the same with autism. We did not see people with autism much because most of them were put into mental institutions. We have about five to ten people with autism per 10,000 of the population, which is a considerable number. That means this Bill will require substantial resources. We do not know the causes of autism. Numerous environmental causes have been implicated. Viruses, vaccines, medication, lifestyles, emotional trauma and chemicals have all been suggested. However, we know, without a shadow of a doubt that genetics is important in this. International studies show that in monozygotic twins, twins which are genetically identical, there is a 60% to 91% chance that each twin will be affected. The corresponding figure for dizygotic twins, twins from separate eggs, is approximately 30%. There is much international research on the epidemiology of autism. I was delighted the Minister for Health and Children attended the recent conference on the genetic approaches being taken to identify families, which may be susceptible to autism. The conference took place at the National Centre for Medical Genetics in Our Lady's Hospital, Crumlin. Dr. Seán Ennis from the Department of Medical Genetics at Our Lady's Hospital and Professor Michael Gill and Dr. Louise Gallagher from the Department of Psychiatry and Genetics in Trinity College also attended the conference. They have formed a research group on the genetics of autism and are collaborating with the National Alliance for Autism Research, a parent-led non-profit organisation in the United States. I was delighted to hear the Minister say he would ensure co-operation in this area.
I am sure some Members saw the recent "Prime Time" programme about several families of children with autism. In one particular family, four out of five children had autism, all of whom were boys. Members will be aware autism is much more common in boys. While we are good at undertaking research, we must improve our woeful services in this area. There was another great coup for Ireland today regarding the promotion of further scientific research in the telecommunications sector. We also undertake research in genetics. Science Foundation Ireland is investing a great deal of money in areas such as neurophysiology. We must ensure we contribute largely to international research in this area. I was glad to hear of the Minister for Health and Children's support in this area.
Senator Hayes mentioned the possibility of a gap in the legislation in terms of 16 to 18 year olds. Great care must be taken to assist children during the transition from primary to secondary school and the Bill makes provision in that regard. It is good Senator Ormonde and Senator Fitzgerald are here for the debate given their backgrounds in teaching. While the transition from primary to secondary education is hard for those who do not have educational problems, it is even harder for those with communication and social behaviour problems. We need to ensure the provision of assistance to such people when moving to secondary school.
I recall speaking to a nun who worked in a convent in one of more deprived areas in the city. She told me that children in their first year at secondary school would benefit from more support. Many students fall out of the system during their first year in secondary school because they become overwhelmed by it all. I hope this issue will receive careful consideration.
It is shameful that our facilities in the area of child and adolescent psychiatry are poor. It is not as a Minister said in this House when I raised this point before that people do not apply for such jobs — the jobs do not exist. We must first create posts if we want people to apply for them. It is sad that the Irish College of Psychiatrists estimates that approximately €250 million needs to be spent on child and adolescent psychiatry. Children attending developmental paediatricians should be referred to psychologists or psychiatrists, but we do not have people in place to treat them. Such a service could make an enormous difference to the education of those for whom we are legislating. It is widely acknowledged that the earlier problems are diagnosed and dealt with, the better off will be those concerned.
I warmly welcome the Bill. We need now only ensure that the Minister for Finance provides the money required to implement it. I am sure great will exists within schools to implement this legislation.
I welcome the Minister of State. I am pleased she is present to hear the debate on this issue as I know she has empathy with the issue given her previous background of educational psychology.
I am glad the Title of the Bill has been changed because it represents a holistic approach to education for children with special educational needs and provides us with the freedom to ensure the rights of such children are guaranteed. That is to be welcomed. I am delighted the Bill has been teased out by so many teaching organisations within the teaching profession and by bodies which represent all forms of disability. The Bill has been broadly welcomed on all sides of the House.
Legislation in this area up to now has included manyad hoc arrangements and much unfinished business in terms of how we handle such problems. Everything is going well on paper. This legislation puts in place a structure on how we deal and cope with the problems which may arise. It ensures, as provided for in the Constitution, that such children have a right to education, something which has not been stated in legislation up to now. That, too, is to be welcomed.
It is important we aim as much as possible towards assisting such children to blend into mainstream education and, if that is not possible, that we find a way around the problem. It is equally important we involve parents at all levels in the creation of educational plans. Existing arrangements have only dealt with issues in anad hoc way. The Bill incorporates an appeals system for parents who feel the rights of their children are not being guaranteed. The Minister appears to have got everything right so far. However, we must ensure we have the resources to implement the Bill, an issue raised by all speakers in this and the other House.
I am glad the Bill provides that the Ministers for Education and Science and Finance will have a statutory duty to provide the money to enable children to pursue an education which will allow them to develop to their full potential. I have a difficulty with the notion that while the implementation of the plan will commence immediately, it will take five years to complete. When a problem with a particular child is identified the class teacher, subject teacher or principal is informed. It does not take long to do that and having identified the problem, an assessment is then organised. It has been stated that such assessments could take up to three months. I do not understand why that is so. I am basing my argument on the model of which I have experience, that operated by the City of Dublin VEC. One should not have to wait three weeks for an assessment. It could be done within a week if one acts quickly having identified the problem and calls in the psychologist and informs the parents and guidance counsellor. With such a team it should be possible to have the assessment done quickly. It would be very easy for one to get the assessment done quickly and to form one's educational plan from it.
One might also have an organiser from the national council. I am not sure what the organiser, who will be part of the education plan, will do. It is easy to solve simple problems, for example, by withdrawing a child from the classroom if he or she is not fulfilling his or her normal ability. I refer, for example, to children with good ability who have pulled out of the educational mainstream for whatever reason. One can cope with that, but one has to return to the special needs council in the more complex areas. I do not fully understand how it will work on the ground.
The progress of the education plan will be monitored. If we do not succeed, parents will have redress through the courts but it is natural that we do not want to go down that road. I welcome the Minister's reference to a process of mediation. Both parties — the parents representing the child and the various professionals dealing with the situation — will be able to meet to work out their positions rather than imposing a further burden on the parents. I welcome this measure because it represents the way forward.
The need for close co-operation between the Departments of Health and Children and Education and Science is an important issue. It was great on paper. Throughout my educational life, we felt we could ring the Department of Health and Children when problems existed in respect of dyslexia, ADD or other issues with health implications. We failed to get co-operation on every occasion, however, and we were sent from Billy to Jack. It is important that we fill the gap if we are to succeed with integration, co-ordination and co-operation. I refer to dyslexia and autism in particular.
Trained professionals, such as remedial teachers and resource teachers, must be employed on the ground very quickly. Backup services must be provided in schools to help us to detect where problems exist and to formulate educational plans. Class teachers will not be knowledgeable in this regard without proper inservice training. One cannot expect a maths teacher, for example, to be able to organise an educational plan for a child with special educational needs. Such people need to be trained so they know what is involved. They need a backup team. On paper, the Bill is great but I am trying to imagine how it will work on the ground. We need to tease out this area further to ensure that what we are saying is workable. I believe it can work, but it is important that the right people are employed to work on it.
Senator Henry spoke about the transition from primary school to secondary school. There has always been a large gap in that regard. Problems were often picked up in first year, but it was too late at that stage. Major problems affecting children should be picked up. For example, one might not be able to understand why a child is falling out of the mainstream. Such issues should be noticed before first class. The Department of Health and Children has a role in that regard. Problems begin to manifest themselves before children reach the age of two. I would like entire plans to be worked out at primary level. I maintain that it is much too late when children reach the age of 13 or 14 because the transition has been completed at that stage. It is very hard to pull it back then. The emphasis should be placed on primary level.
All speakers have mentioned the cut-off point of 18 years of age. We cannot use such a yardstick for children with special educational needs because they start late. More often than not, a child with such needs who has a chronological age of 18 has a mental age of six or eight. We should be in a position to make that more flexible. Each case should be analysed. If a child is doing well at the age of 18, we should not remove him or her from a programme. If children are doing well, they should be allowed to proceed in whatever environment, other than the mainstream education system, that allows them to continue with their education plans. I am looking for a change in the section that sets a cut-off point of 18 years. I do not like the idea of a cut-off point.
Funding is a major issue. If we are to implement the Bill properly, it is important that trained professionals are employed. We have it all on paper now, but I am concerned that it will not go any further. The principals of the schools may not be able to handle education plans because they do not have the personnel to do so. If one telephones a psychologist, he or she might be unable to give one an appointment because he or she might be too busy. One might have to wait for four or five months before the psychologist can get to one's school. More often than not, psychologists represent a region and have to cover a certain number of schools in that area.
I believe in instant plans. If I identify the problem, I want to be able to get an assessment done within a short period of time, to be given the expertise to put a plan in motion and to monitor the plan. The parents, psychologists and teachers should be able to come in to monitor it, to examine the progress that is being made and to determine how best to move forward. If we include such a measure, provide the funding and make available the professional skills, this will be seen as a superb Bill. I look forward to seeing how it will work on the ground.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy de Valera. I congratulate her and her colleague, Deputy Noel Dempsey, on the work that has been done in respect of the Bill to date. I am aware that it was substantially amended in the other House. A good cross-party consensus on the Bill was reached by, the Minister and the Opposition spokespersons in the Dáil. It is fair to say that the Bill before the House is a good one and I wish it well. However, I do not think the problem is this Bill or the other legislation in this area. It is like many other things in this country.
Two parents in my constituency asked me to call to their house last week to discuss their seven year old child, who was diagnosed with high functioning autism two years ago. He is falling behind in his local national school, even though he receives six hours of special needs assistance each week. The assistance, which is more than most children get, is of great benefit to him. His mother and father have been pulling their hair out for the past two years. They have consulted various agencies but nobody has taken responsibility for the child's specific need for speech and language therapy. Senator Ormonde mentioned a range of general issues, but I would like to discuss this specific case. The child's parents have known about the diagnosis for two years.
I have worked out that four agencies are involved in this case — the National Educational Psychological Service, which is under the remit of the Department of Education and Science; the local health board, which takes responsibility for the appointment of speech and language therapists; the child's school, its teachers and its management; and Beechpark Services, which is part of the health board but is contracted to do special work with children who present with these difficulties. I have been doing my best to contact the four administrative agencies in recent days to find out if they can come together to decide when the child will receive some speech and language therapy. The longer he has to manage without such therapy, the further he will fall behind. His parents are concerned because nobody is responsible for developing a plan for the boy, who is falling behind. His special educational requirements, as they are currently constituted, do not fit the bill.
I hope that some element of responsibility will be provided for when the council meets to put together plans for each child, as is intended under this legislation. I accept that it is an issue of finance, but it is more than that — it is an issue of management. One cannot tolerate the continued involvement of three or four separate players in providing a service to a child because it means that nobody is responsible for anything. The health board took great pleasure in stating in a letter to the child's parents that it is no longer responsible for the child. I have a copy of the letter, which states that the child has been moved to another service. The board states it has done everything it can and that responsibility simply lies with another service now. It strikes me that some agencies take great pleasure in moving the cases that appear on their desks each day to other agencies. They regard it as a success.
This is an issue of political responsibility. If a child presents with autism, dyspraxia, dyslexia or any of the problems that arise in special needs education, there should not only be early intervention but complete monitoring of that child's educational requirements through national school and one person must take responsibility for that, not four agencies.
In the early 1990s under various Ministers, not from the party opposite — Members can work out who I am talking about — there was a great demand for what were called inter-agency responses. Having been in politics for ten years, my experience is that when people talk about an inter-agency response it is an excuse to do nothing or for one agency to wring its hands while the other takes the rap. When this Bill is enacted and the council is working, with all the resources in place, we must put the responsibility on one person to take charge of that child up to the age of 18. That person will then be held accountable for the services he or she puts in place.
I wish the Bill well. The Government's intentions are correct. I realise there will be calls for resources but I appeal for better management of the services, less foot dragging and more responsibility on the part of all the agencies involved. Why does the area of speech and language therapy come under the Department of Health and Children and not the Department of Education and Science? If we are talking about providing speech and language therapists for which, from my knowledge on the ground, there is a great need it should come exclusively from within the Department of Education and Science. That would give the Department greater control in providing additional places.
The Minister can correct me if I am wrong but I understand Trinity College, Dublin, is the only college operating this course. Will the Minister outline when replying her Department's plans, and those of Trinity College, to expand radically the number of undergraduate courses? Hundreds of speech and language therapists are needed. They are not available currently and the two options available are to increase the intake to the undergraduate course or purchase them from abroad. There are gaps in the service because we do not have enough therapists in place. I ask the Minister to respond to that point.
On the issue of special needs assistants, credit is due to the Department over the past few years and in regard to the announcement made by the Minster recently. We now have many more special needs assistants in place, which is welcome. In trying to formalise this area does the Department have the view that we should have a number of designated special needs assistants assigned to each school rather than to various children in that school? Once the child goes through that school, while they get extra hours per week, which is helpful, there are other children who cannot even get that level of assistance. A school in my constituency which has six special needs assistants asked if it would not make more management sense to allocate those assistants to the school rather than to the children. I would be interested in hearing the Minister's reply in that regard.
If a child is falling behind as a result of one of these problems, a useful practice is to encourage him or her over the summer months in particular to get extra help. A very good scheme is run by the Department where extra help with tuition is put in place over the summer months but in regard to the child I met last week with his mother and father, they have only recently been told by the Department that they can get summer tuition, which I understand is three hours a day, four days a week between now and the end of August. The parents' dilemma, however, is that they have to find a teacher to take up that offer but how many teachers would take it up in the two months they are off? Is there not a greater responsibility on the National Educational Psychological Service, or the Department, to specifically provide extra help to parents of these children over the summer months rather than putting the responsibility on them to find a teacher? Without the help of their local school, the parents in the case I am bringing to the attention of the House would not know where to turn. Even in that school environment there is no one who could provide two months' help to the child. The Department, and NEPS in particular, have a major role to play in providing extra help at key times in the year when the school is closed for holidays.
I echo a point made by Senator Hayes and other colleagues. The key time for a child is in primary school. Children with these types of difficulties can make amazing progress if the intervention is made at an early time. We must focus our efforts on giving all of them the potential to deliver their best in terms of their educational opportunities. It is about delivering opportunities for everyone. Our focus must be on primary school level and we must work to address the problem of the approximately 20% of the current cohort who either do not make it through to senior cycle or else lose out in terms of basic numeracy and literacy skills. We are all aware of the difficulties in terms of literacy skills. Perhaps I am old-fashioned but I believe the basics have to be got right first and the way to do that is to pour resources into our primary school system.
I wish the Government and the Minister every success. I have always admired the Minister of State, Deputy de Valera. She is a humble Minister. She does not highlight her achievements the way other Ministers do from time to time. She gets on with her work in a quiet and dignified fashion and I have always appreciated that fact. I wish her well in this area in which I am aware she has a keen interest. We need a Minister like the Minister of State working on the commitments that will be put in place when the Bill is enacted. It does not matter how many agencies are put in place. Unless people take responsibility for their actions and there is proper accountability in terms of the money allocated to a service, we will not get the dramatic change we need in terms of providing fair opportunities for these children.
I join my colleagues in welcoming the Minister of State, Deputy de Valera, to the House. It is fitting that she is taking this Bill. I was mulling over the comments I might make when Senator Hayes recognised the tremendous qualities of the Minister of State, particularly regarding education and her capacity to think outside the box. I am aware she has made great strides in regard to funding post leaving certificate courses, which is of particular importance, and also in this area. In too many cases education is regarded as being about the points race and students getting into college. It is obvious that the Minister has a great regard for the importance of allowing everybody to achieve their ultimate goal and that the education system should be there for everybody, regardless of their abilities or disabilities and their ultimate potential. The reality is that education provided by the State should be for everybody. That will allow everybody attain their individual goal.
There has been a welcome discussion of the Bill in the House. Senator Hayes indicated that there have been significant changes to the original Bill by virtue of a wide-ranging and bipartisan approach to it in the other House, which is welcome. The same trend is developing here and that is particularly welcome because no individual or party has complete wisdom in terms of all the knowledge associated with education. I welcome the good approach to it.
I share the views, as I know does the Minister, of many speakers particularly in regard to the funding elements. In some cases funding has not been made available to the extent it might, although within that framework much work has been done and, in terms of the funding provided, great strides have been made. There is a continued need to enhance the finance available.
The Bill provides the statutory framework in which the education of children with special needs will be catered for and guaranteed as a right. It is particularly welcome that this right is enforceable in law, something that has been debated for a while. It will give great comfort to people going forward because when legislation such as this is passed, it will not necessarily be dealt with by the current crop of politicians but it sets an agenda. Regardless of who is in power in the future, the rights will be enforceable in law.
I am aware people have made comments, as I have, about the funding but much progress has been made. The Department of Education and Science has made tremendous progress over the past few years in this area.
While I appreciate Senators' kind remarks, it is only fair to point out that the Bill is primarily the responsibility of the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Noel Dempsey. It would not be fair of me to take the plaudits but I am happy to play a supporting role.
The Minister of State is far too humble and modest for this business.