Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Bill 2003: Committee Stage (Resumed).

SECTION 5.
Amendment No. 20 not moved.
Section 5 agreed to.
Section 6 agreed to.
SECTION 7.

I move amendment No. 21:

In page 12, subsection (1), line 9, after "education" to insert "within one month from the assessment".

The amendment provides for a time limit for the provision of services after the assessment. That is not in the section as it stands and we feel it is important that services are provided within a timely period, which is why we suggest one month from the assessment.

Section 7(7) provides that the services of the council or the health board must be made available as soon as practicable. This was introduced on Report Stage in the Lower House when we took on board the issues there. For this reason, I consider that the amendment is unnecessary.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 22 and 60 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 22:

I leathanach 12, idir línte 20 and 21, an fo-alt seo a leanas a chur isteach:

"(4) In the case of a child whose home language is not English, the Council shall ensure that services will be provided in the home language of that child and account shall be taken of the child's cultural background.".

This amendment is similar to the amendments that have already been discussed, including those proposed by Senator O'Toole. The amendment seeks to ensure that a child's cultural and linguistic background will be taken into account as regards services to be provided and that those services will be provided in the home language of the child. The amendment seeks to cover the fact that so many of our children have various cultural and linguistic backgrounds, which should be provided for within the terms of the legislation.

I support the amendment. Does the Minister of State's Department have the personnel, resources and expertise to provide such services? If not, will this involve an additional charge arising from the implementation of the Bill to provide the necessary linguistic expertise? Psychologists and other professionals who do not have access to translators or interpreters may not be competent to deliver the required assessments.

When Senator O'Toole and Senator Tuffy raised the issue previously it was unclear to me what they meant. However, the Minister of State and Senator Tuffy have now clarified that they were referring specifically to instruments of measurement. I take it that the Minister of State is dealing with that matter. This amendment relates to the wider issue of children's cultural and linguistic backgrounds. The Minister of State referred to the Official Languages Act, the Education Act and the Equal Status Act, but am I correct in understanding that they are targeted towards promoting a multicultural ethos within the education sector? Are the Minister of State and her Government colleagues statutorily obliged to respond to such requirements, or not?

The Senator is correct that a person's cultural background must be respected. That is already the case in legislation, including the Education Act and the Official Languages Act. That is why I cannot accept these amendments. It goes back to the point that was raised before and has already been accepted by Senator O'Toole.

Will the Minister of State assure the House that the persons referred to in the Bill will have such linguistic competency?

The amendment refers specifically to a person's cultural background and, although Senator Burke's point is a separate one, I will deal with it. He is naturally concerned as to whether there will be expertise to deal with these particular issues. I believe that there is and I also believe that there will be definite references to further teacher training, whether inservice or in teacher training colleges, with respect to educational plans to provide the most up-to-date information available. In that way, we will be able to deal in full with the issues that arise on behalf of any particular student or pupil.

I thank the Minister of State for her reply.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 7 agreed to.
SECTION 8.

I move amendment No. 23:

In page 13, subsection (1), lines 1 and 2, to delete all words from and including "The" in line 1 down to and including "school" in line 2 and substitute "Where an assessment is prepared in relation to a child, the person causing the assessment to be prepared, shall inform the Council of the preparation of the assessment, and upon the Council being informed".

The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that no child will fall through a gap in the system. As the section is currently drafted, it seems entirely up to a health board or school principal to decide whether to inform the council about the existence of a child with special educational needs. The amendment attempts to ensure that all such children will be subject to an educational plan.

The amendment is unnecessary. Principals must request the council to prepare an educational plan where 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 that they are informed of the child's educational needs. Therefore, I do not consider that this amendment adds to the situation. The issues about which the Senator has genuine concerns are dealt with specifically in this regard.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 8 agreed to.
SECTION 9.
Amendments Nos. 24 and 25 not moved.

Amendment No. 26 is out of order.

Amendment No. 26 not moved.
Amendment No. 27 not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 9 stand part of the Bill."

I know that you have ruled it out of order, a Chathaoirligh, but——

We cannot discuss matters that have been ruled out of order.

I appreciate that and I will be guided by your direction, a Chathaoirligh. Yesterday, we mentioned the issue of trained teachers in the context of the Bill. Currently, the Department of Education and Science is training no more than 35 teachers per annum at Mary Immaculate College in Limerick to work with children with special needs. Given that throughput, can the Minister of State explain how we will have enough adequately trained teachers to implement the legislation? Difficulties will arise because, while we will have pooled school resources, there will be a shortfall. There will be shortcomings in implementing the legislation, including delays that were highlighted in the debate yesterday. The Minister of State will appreciate that such delays can be crucial for those people. Something must be done, therefore, to fast-track the training of specialised teachers.

Inservice training is not the answer because we know that the Department of Education and Science's inservice programmes have many shortcomings. I do not wish to be over critical of the Department but there are huge shortcomings in the provision of inservice training at primary and secondary levels, including the lack of time available and the provision of replacement teachers. With an annual throughput of only 35 teachers to work with children with special educational needs, there will be serious difficulties in implementing the legislation.

Section 9(3) states that "the council may prepare guidelines". I am sure it was discussed in the Lower House but surely the council should have been obliged to publish guidelines. It would strengthen the Bill to include such a provision.

In accordance with an amendment to the Order of Business today, the debate will be adjourned until 1 p.m.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.