I propose to take Questions Nos. 95, 96 and 100 together.
I wish to advise the Deputy that this Government is committed to the protection of frontline services for pupils with special educational needs. The Programme for Government sets out that education will be a priority for this Government and that we will endeavour to protect and enhance the educational experience of children, young people and students. Approximately 15% of the entire budget of my Department – some €1.3 billion – was spent in support of children with Special Educational Needs in 2011/12. The provision for the 2012/13 school year is in line with expenditure last year and shows that despite the current economic difficulties, the overall level of funding for special education has been retained.
In line with this Government's commitment to protect frontline services for pupils with special educational needs:
- 10,575 whole time equivalent (wte) Special Needs Assistant (SNA) posts are being provided for primary, post-primary and special schools for the current school year in order to support the care needs of pupils with disabilities.
- Approximately 9,950 learning support/resource teacher posts, including those provided under the General Allocation Model, are also being provided in primary & post primary schools in order to provide additional teaching support to pupils with special educational needs.
- Over 1,100 teachers are also being provided for in special schools providing teaching to pupils with various disabilities at much reduced pupil: teacher ratios, for example the autism PTR is 6:1 and the moderate general learning disability PTR is 8:1.
- Enhanced levels of school capitation are payable to most special schools and special classes and special School Transport arrangements for pupils with disabilities are provided at a cost of over €60m per year.
- Approximately €1.3m is also provided annually to schools for assistive technology support.
- Early educational intervention is provided for children with autism from 2½ years of age. There are now 76 early intervention classes for children with autism attached to mainstream schools that are funded by the Department. Funding is also provided through the home tuition programme for children with autism who are unable to access placement in an early intervention class.
- An extended school year is also currently available for pupils who have either a severe/profound general learning disability or who have autism.
The continued commitment of this Government to special education provision, at a time when savings are being required across a range of expenditure areas has ensured that children with special educational needs can continue to have access to educational facilities in line with their requirements. The level of investment being provided will ensure that provision can continue to be made to provide for the educational requirements of children with special educational needs in mainstream primary and post primary schools and special schools this year, including such schools in Co. Kildare.
My Department has also requested the National Council for Special Education to provide policy advice to the Department, in accordance with its role under the EPSEN Act, on the appropriate nature and configuration of educational supports which should be provided to schools to support children with special educational needs. In preparing its advice the NCSE has consulted widely with representative bodies and education partners. The advice from the NCSE is expected in the coming months. It is intended that the significant resources to support children with Special Educational Needs are deployed to ensure the best possible outcomes for students. The advice will be a key input into achieving this goal.