Thursday, 4 November 2004

Questions (182, 183, 184, 185, 186)

Gerard Murphy

Question:

179 Mr. Murphy asked the Minister for Education and Science when she will make a start-up grant available for new classes at a school (details supplied) in County Cork. [27612/04]

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Gerard Murphy

Question:

180 Mr. Murphy asked the Minister for Education and Science the grants which will be made available for children with autism. [27613/04]

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Gerard Murphy

Question:

181 Mr. Murphy asked the Minister for Education and Science if further staff or training of existing staff and a capital grant for accommodation for persons with severe challenging behaviour who are attending a school (details supplied) in County Cork will be made available. [27614/04]

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Gerard Murphy

Question:

182 Mr. Murphy asked the Minister for Education and Science her views on whether all special schools should be allocated a home school liaison teacher; the situation regarding approval for a school (details supplied) in County Cork; and her further views on whether students in special schools need a variety of professional persons to provide multidisciplinary support. [27615/04]

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Gerard Murphy

Question:

183 Mr. Murphy asked the Minister for Education and Science if she has plans to reduce the pupil-teacher ratio for children with autism at a school (details supplied) in County Cork. [27616/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 179 to 183, inclusive together.

In general, the following grants are available to schools who establish special classes for pupils with autism: start-up equipment grant of €635 per class and capitation grant of €589.50 per pupil. In addition to this, my Department's building unit fund a once-off equipment and furniture grant of €6,348.69 when a new autistic class is established. The school concerned has recently re-organised classes to facilitate the setting up of an additional autistic class. My officials are liaising with the Department's inspectorate regarding a set-up grant and a decision will be conveyed to the school authorities shortly.

I have authorised a major expansion in the range of postgraduate training for teachers working with pupils with special needs in four colleges of education and UCD. In addition, I have authorised the introduction of a range of new training programmes to provide a mix of intensive induction training and more advanced training in specific areas. I have also established a special education support service, headquartered in the Laois education centre, to manage, co-ordinate and develop a range of supports in response to identified training needs. The service is developing training teams to deliver training in specific areas. In addition, the service supports a range of local initiatives including the use of e-learning which provides courses on-line during the school year.

My Department is funding temporary accommodation at a cost of €780 per month for the school concerned to facilitate special autism classes. The building project for the school concerned is at an early stage of architectural planning. It has a band one rating. In order to progress the project, a meeting has been arranged between my Department's technical staff, the school authorities and school's design team. My officials are nearing completion of a review of all projects which did not proceed to construction as part of the 2004 school building programme with a view to including them as part of a multiannual programme from 2005. All projects are being assessed against the published prioritisation criteria, agreed earlier this year with the education partners. Each project will be assigned a band rating and the progress of all projects will be considered in the context of the programme from 2005. Following conclusion of the current Estimates and budgetary process, I intend to publish the 2005 building programme which will operate in a multiannual framework.

The home-school-community liaison scheme is a preventative strategy, initiated in 1990 to prevent and counter educational failure in certain designated areas of socio-economic disadvantage. It is targeted at pupils who are at risk of not reaching their potential in the educational system. The scheme is concerned with establishing partnership and collaboration between parents and teachers in the interests of children's learning. It focuses directly on the salient adults in children's educational lives and seeks indirect benefits for the children themselves. Some 176 local co-ordinators are assigned to 309 primary schools in disadvantaged areas to work with school staff, parents and relevant community agencies in advancing the educational interests of children. Since children in special schools can come from different socio-economic backgrounds these schools are not designated disadvantage and were not considered for inclusion in the home-school-community liaison scheme.

However, a family with a child with special needs living in a designated disadvantage area would be visited by a home-school-community liaison scheme co-ordinator in that area. Where children are in special classes in mainstream designated disadvantaged schools the home-school-community liaison scheme co-ordinator works to support parents in parenting, to develop curricular skills with parents and to form groups of parents whose children have special needs.

Special schools in the country have access to professional inputs from physiotherapists, occupational and speech and language therapists etc. Decisions concerning the level of such support rests with the relevant health boards. Children in schools served by the national educational psychological service have access to its service, free of charge, which includes the provision of individual psychological assessments where appropriate. Unfortunately, my Department is not yet in a position to offer this service to all schools. As an interim measure, my Department funds the scheme for commissioning psychological assessments. This scheme is primarily available to those schools that do not yet have access to the national educational psychological service. In order to allow all the eligible schools to have the opportunity to access the available funding, the number of assessments per school is determined by the number of pupils.

The pupil-teacher ratio for children with autism is 6:1. In addition, two special needs assistants provide care support to a maximum of six pupils. My Department's priority has been and will continue to be the implementation of the fundamental legislative and structural measures which are essential to underpin the development and delivery of services for persons with autism.

The Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 sets out the rights and entitlements of children with special needs, including autism, to an appropriate education service and providing the necessary framework for effective service delivery. The national council for special education, which will have a local area presence, will play a key role in the development and delivery of services for persons with special needs, including persons with autism. It will have a research and advisory role and will establish expert groups to address particular areas of special needs provision. It will also establish a consultative forum to facilitate inputs from the education partners and other interested parties.

Significant progress has been made in the establishment of the national council. Seventy special education needs organisers have recently been recruited. These people will be a focal point of contact for schools and parents. They will process individual applications for resources for special educational needs. It is anticipated that the council and the special education needs organisers will become operational shortly.