I propose to take Questions Nos. 266 to 270, inclusive, together.
Officials from my Department recently met representatives of the model school for the deaf project. In the course of that meeting, it was explained to the representatives that their application for a new school in Cabra, Dublin 7, is one of a number of applications for recognition being assessed under a revised application procedure. Under this new arrangement, applications for new schools intending to commence operation in September 2004 are bring assessed by an independent body, the new schools advisory committee. As part of its remit, the committee will consult with interested parties and report to me by the end of this month.
I am not aware of any basis for a sense among parents that my Department is actively opposing the establishment of this school. It would be quite inappropriate for officials to express any view on the matter before the advisory committee has reported and I am not aware that any such view has been expressed.
There is no basis for the contention that my officials are advising parents against sending their children to the pre-school run by the model school for the deaf project. Parents are advised of the service through the medium of the visiting teacher service. My Department has sanctioned this pre-school on a pilot basis for five years to June 2007 to cater for up to six pupils. Pending a thorough evaluation of the pilot phase, I have no plans to expand this service.
My Department does not discourage parents from introducing sign language to their deaf children. On the contrary, funds are provided to the model school for the deaf project to teach sign language to parents and siblings of deaf children in the pilot pre-school. In general, deaf and hearing impaired pupils are educated in varied settings and the teaching approaches used in those settings reflect the needs and abilities of the pupils. There is, accordingly, some use of sign language, particularly in special schools and special classes.