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Special Educational Needs.

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 7 December 2004

Tuesday, 7 December 2004

Questions (356, 357, 358, 359, 360, 361, 362, 363, 364, 365, 366, 367, 368)

Olwyn Enright

Question:

338 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on a recommendation in the report of the task force on autism of October 2001 (details supplied); if such a recommendation has been carried out; the extent to which; if not completed, when it will be completed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32188/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

Under the terms of the Education Act 1998, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment has been established as a statutory body to advise the Minister for Education and Science regarding the curriculum and syllabuses for students with a disability or other special educational needs.

Following the launch of the report on the autism the NCCA commenced work on curriculum and assessment guidelines for special educational needs by focusing on those with general learning disabilities. Draft guidelines for teachers were issued to all primary and post-primary teachers in 2002. Following a process of consultation, work is being finalised on guidelines for teachers of students with severe and profound, moderate and mild general learning disabilities. The guidelines cover the full range of education settings for children and young people. When this work is complete, the NCCA will commence work on addressing the needs of students with specific learning disabilities.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

339 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on a recommendation in the report of the task force on autism of October 2001 (details supplied); if such a recommendation has been carried out; the extent to which; if not completed, when it will be completed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32189/04]

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The system of inspection that is being used in mainstream and special schools, whole school evaluation, is also being applied to evaluate ASD provision. As is the case with other special education provision, the WSE system has been found to be sufficiently flexible to be adapted for use in evaluating ASD provision. Evaluations have already been carried out on a number of settings where there is ASD provision, and individual reports have been furnished to the school authorities concerned. The inspectors who conducted the evaluations had completed courses in special education and in ASDs.

Question No. 340 answered with QuestionNo. 305.
Questions Nos. 341 and 342 answered with Question No. 304.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

343 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on a recommendation in the report of the task force on autism of October 2001 (details supplied); if such a recommendation has been carried out; the extent to which; if not completed, when it will be completed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32193/04]

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Olwyn Enright

Question:

344 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on a recommendation in the report of the task force on autism of October 2001 (details supplied); if such a recommendation has been carried out; the extent to which; if not completed, when it will be completed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32194/04]

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Olwyn Enright

Question:

345 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on a recommendation in the report of the task force on autism of October 2001 (details supplied); if such a recommendation has been carried out; the extent to which; if not completed, when it will be completed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32195/04]

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Olwyn Enright

Question:

346 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on a recommendation in the report of the task force on autism of October 2001 (details supplied); if such a recommendation has been carried out; the extent to which; if not completed, when it will be completed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32196/04]

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Olwyn Enright

Question:

348 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on a recommendation in the report of the task force on autism of October 2001 (details supplied); if such a recommendation has been carried out; the extent to which; if not completed, when it will be completed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32198/04]

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Olwyn Enright

Question:

350 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on a recommendation in the report of the task force on autism of October 2001 (details supplied); if such a recommendation has been carried out; the extent to which; if not completed, when it will be completed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32200/04]

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I propose to take Questions Nos. 343 to 346, inclusive, 348 and 350 together.

As the Deputy is aware many of the issues raised in the report of the task force on autism were addressed in the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 which was enacted in July of this year. The Act does not restrict itself to autistic spectrum disorders but deals with all special educational needs equally and fairly.

The educational needs of adults are to be dealt with by the Disability Bill 2004 which is sponsored by my colleague the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. This Bill sets out a range of statutory rights which adults with disabilities may rely upon, including the right to an assessment of educational needs if that is appropriate, and inclusion of measures to address those needs in a service statement which may include placement in an appropriate school or centre for education, or another mechanism more appropriate to the needs of that individual.

Regarding the recommendations at paragraph 15.2.6, the measures included in the legislation are specifically designed to give effect to the right to the provision of a free primary education appropriate to the needs of all children with special educational needs, including those with autistic spectrum disorders. The guarantees of assessment, planning, service provision and annual review and evaluation contained in sections 3 to 11 of the Act in conjunction with the complete commencement of the Education Act 1998 will meet many of the requirements of paragraph 15.2.6. Section 2 of the Act requires that as far as is practicable the education of children with special educational needs will take place in an inclusive environment alongside children who do not have such needs. Crucially, the Act gives the power to the National Council for Special Education to designate particular schools for children and the schools are obliged to enrol those students, thereby ensuring reasonably proximate and appropriate services for the child. The Act delivers on most of the recommendations in the report, in that it provides for a set of enforceable rights based on the right of equal access to education for all children. The Act does not, nor should it, specify all the matters detailed in the report of the task force. Some of these should be addressed in the implementation.

It must be stressed that the Act requires that both I and the Minister for Finance must have due regard to the imperative that every child has equality of access to an education appropriate to their needs, as set out in section 13 of the Act. I believe section 13, the practical arrangement provided for throughout the Act and the arrangements, including those at section 16, which require health boards to implement policies on special education determined by the Minister for Education and Science, meets the needs of points (h) and (i). However, I do not believe it is necessary to specify the matters to be covered by those provisions in primary legislation, rather those matters will be clarified in the implementation phase.

The Act does not make specific reference to the need for additional development opportunities for professional staff working with children with special educational needs, however the Act and the constitution clearly require the State to ensure that adequate resources are in place to provide an appropriate form of education for all the children in the State. It is a matter for the National Council for Special Education to advise me in the context of the implementation report to be prepared in accordance with section 23 and it would be inappropriate for me to comment further until I have received that report and had an opportunity to consider its contents. That report must be delivered to me within one year of the establishment day of the council, which must occur within one year of the enactment, and will recommend a schedule for full implementation within a period of five years.

While the Act does not specifically refer to the linguistic needs of Irish speaking children with special educational needs, the effect of the Official Languages Act and the pre-existing rights of the child including the constitutional right under Article 42 to an education appropriate to the needs of the child guarantee that whatever educational services are needed by a child must be available in Irish if that is deemed to be what is best for the child by his or her parents and the assessment team.

The title of the Act is similar in form to that suggested in the report of the task force. By shifting the focus away from "disability" to "special educational needs", the title and scope is more inclusive than the original proposal as it is designed to encompass conditions which are not necessarily comprehended by the term "disability" as commonly construed, such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADD and ADHD. I do not propose to establish a specific section or unit within my Department to focus on policy formulation around disability issues since the establishment of the National Council for Special Education will have a great many complementary functions. The council will enable the special education section of the Department of Education and Science to focus on the policy proposals coming from the council by relieving it of much of its day to day work in ensuring that provision is available for individual children with special educational needs rather than dealing with the generality of provision.

At a national level parents will be assisted in availing of the rights under the Act by the network of advocates which will be available to them through the Comhairle (Amendment) Bill 2004 which will provide for a right of representation to every person with a disability or their parents in securing access to services. This, combined with the expertise which will be provided by the special educational needs organiser will ensure the type of support for parents and children envisaged in the report.

Any proposals on constitutional reform are a matter for the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution and I should not make any comments which might interfere with the process of the review of Article 42 in which it is engaged.

Question No. 347 answered with QuestionNo. 324.
Question No. 348 answered with QuestionNo. 343.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

349 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on a recommendation in the report of the task force on autism of October 2001 (details supplied); if such a recommendation has been carried out; the extent to which; if not completed, when it will be completed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32199/04]

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I refer to my reply to Question No. 537 of 17 November 2004 in which I indicated that my Department is at present developing, in consultation with the Irish Autism Alliance, a set of detailed responses to frequently asked questions about educational provision and supports for children with autism. These responses will focus on such matters as school placement options, educational assessments, in-service training, health-related support services and school transport.

It is intended that development of this resource will be completed shortly and that it will be available in both electronic and printed format. Ultimately, it is expected that the material in this brochure will form the basis for the issue of information on provision for children with special educational needs generally.

Question No. 350 answered with QuestionNo. 343.
Questions Nos. 351 to 353, inclusive, answered with Question No. 304.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

354 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on a recommendation in the report of the task force on autism of October 2001 (details supplied); if such a recommendation has been carried out; the extent to which; if not completed, when it will be completed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32204/04]

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Olwyn Enright

Question:

357 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on a recommendation in the report of the task force on autism of October 2001 (details supplied); if such a recommendation has been carried out; the extent to which; if not completed, when it will be completed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32220/04]

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Olwyn Enright

Question:

359 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on a recommendation in the report of the task force on autism of October 2001 (details supplied); if such a recommendation has been carried out; the extent to which; if not completed, when it will be completed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32222/04]

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Olwyn Enright

Question:

392 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on a recommendation in the report of the task force on autism of October 2001 (details supplied); if such a recommendation has been carried out; the extent to which; if not completed, when it will be completed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32266/04]

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I propose to take Questions Nos. 354, 357, 359 and 392 together.

Every effort is made to ensure that children with special educational needs, including children with autistic spectrum disorders, receive an education appropriate to their needs. Decisions regarding the most appropriate model of response in each particular case are based on the professionally-assessed needs of the individual child. Children who have been assessed as having special educational needs, including autism, have access to a range of special support services. The services range from special schools dedicated to particular disability groups, through special classes or units attached to ordinary schools, to placement on an integrated basis in ordinary schools, with special back-up supports.

My Department's policy is to ensure the maximum possible integration of children with special educational needs into ordinary mainstream schools. Many children with such needs, including autism, are capable of attending mainstream schools on a fully integrated basis with the support, where necessary, of special resource teachers and-or special needs assistants.

Children with more severe disabilities are catered for in special schools which are dedicated to particular disability groups. There are 107 special schools in the country at present. These schools cater for children from four to 18 years of age and each school enjoys a significantly reduced pupil teacher ratio and other staffing supports. For example, each class catering for a maximum of six pupils with autism will have a staffing of at least one teacher and two special needs assistants. Additional special needs assistant support is provided if deemed necessary. Special schools also receive increased rates of capitation funding.

Where placement in a special school is not considered necessary, children with special educational needs, including those with autism, can attend special classes attached to ordinary mainstream schools. All special autism classes enjoy the same increased levels of staffing and funding as are made available to the special schools. Children with autism attending special classes attached to ordinary schools may, where appropriate, be integrated into ordinary classes for periods of the school day and, in that way, benefit from being able to socialise with their non-disabled peers. A total of 139 special classes for autism are in place in the primary system at present. Further special classes for autism may be established nationwide, as appropriate. While children are awaiting a suitable educational placement, my Department may sanction home tuition as an interim measure, if appropriate.

The following dedicated resources are now deployed to support children with special educational needs, including those with autism, in the primary system: more than 2,600 resource teachers — up from 104 in 1998; more than 1,500 learning support teachers — up from 1,302 in 1998; more than 1,000 teachers in special schools; more than 600 teachers in special classes; more than 5,000 special needs assistants — up from 300 in 1998; more than €30 million on school transport for special needs pupils; and more than €3 million towards specialised equipment and materials — up from €800,000 in 1998. To appreciate the scale of improvement in the provision of resources to primary schools for special needs, it is worth reflecting on the fact that, at approximately 10,700, the number of adults providing services to children with special educational needs in primary schools today equates to more than half of the 21,100 primary teaching force in 1998.

My Department is continuing to develop the network of special educational provision for children with autism. The extent of progress can be measured from the fact that, since 1998, when autism was first recognised as a distinct special educational need, the number of dedicated facilities that have been developed is as follows: eight pre-school classes for children with autism; 134 special classes for children with autism attached to special schools and mainstream schools; five special classes for children with Asperger's syndrome; and eight autism facilities, some of which are providing an applied behavioural analysis model, ABA, of response to children with autism.

Another major landmark in the development of autism specific services was the joint launch last month by my predecessor and the Minister with responsibility for Education in Northern Ireland of the Middletown centre for autism. This marked the successful completion of the purchase of the former St. Joseph's adolescent centre, Middletown, on behalf of the Department of Education in the North and the Department of Education and Science in the South. Both Departments plan to refurbish the property to meet the needs of a centre of excellence for children and young people with autism throughout the island of Ireland. The centre will be dedicated to improving and enriching the educational opportunities of children and young people with autistic spectrum disorders.

Four key services will be provided by the centre: a learning support service, on a residential basis, an educational assessment service, a training and advisory service, and an autism research and information service. I believe that the steps taken in recent years and those in hand represent significant progress in the development of services for children with autism. However, I fully recognise that further progress is required and my Department in consultation with parents and existing service providers will seek to ensure that the recent rate of development is maintained.

Question No. 355 answered with QuestionNo. 306.
Question No. 356 answered with QuestionNo. 304.
Question No. 357 answered with QuestionNo. 354.
Question No. 358 answered with QuestionNo. 304.
Question No. 359 answered with QuestionNo. 354.
Questions Nos. 360 and 361 answered with Question No. 304.
Questions Nos. 362 and 363 answered with Question No. 309.
Question No. 364 answered with QuestionNo. 304.
Questions Nos. 365 and 366 answered with Question No. 324.
Question No. 367 answered with QuestionNo. 309.
Question No. 368 answered with QuestionNo. 324.
Question No. 369 answered with QuestionNo. 309.
Question No. 370 answered with QuestionNo. 324.
Question No. 371 answered with QuestionNo. 309.
Questions Nos. 372 to 374, inclusive, answered with Question No. 324.
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