I propose to take Questions Nos. 313 and 317 together.
I wish to advise the Deputy that the level of resources devoted to supporting children with Special Educational Needs has been maintained at €1.3 billion this year. This includes provision for 10,575 Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) and nearly 10,000 Learning Support and Resource Teachers. These resources have been protected despite the ongoing severe financial position. The ongoing commitment of my Government to protecting frontline supports for children with special educational needs is an acknowledgment of the important role played by SNAs and resource teachers in ensuring that children with special needs can progress and develop and be included in mainstream school settings.
Whereas the allocations of SNA support for individual schools may change each year in line with a school's enrolment of children with care needs, there has been no reduction to the overall number of SNA posts being provided for schools for the coming school year. This provision remains at 10,575 posts, which will ensure that all children who qualify for access to SNA support for the coming school year will receive access to such support. The total number of SNA posts allocated to schools for the 2012/13 school year was 10,487 posts. For the 2011/12 school year it was 10,320 posts. It is estimated that there will be sufficient SNA posts to provide access to SNA support for all children who require such support in the coming school year.
In relation to the allocation of resource teaching support for schools from September 2013, demand for support has risen again this year, due to a combination of demographic growth and increased assessments. Despite the fact that the overall number of posts available to the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) for allocation to schools had been maintained at existing levels, the allocations initially announced by the NCSE on 19th June were reduced to take into account of the growth in demand, within the maintained number of posts, in order to ensure that equivalent allocations could be made for all qualifying children. On 25th of June, I announced that I have now authorised the NCSE to restore the level of resource teaching allocations which can be provided for students with special educational needs to the 2012/13 levels. This will mean that there will not now be any reduction to resource teaching time for children over the level which applied last year.
I also committed to ensuring that the resources which will be required to ensure that the allocations can be made to schools at existing levels will be provided, including resources required to meet any late demand expected to arise between now and the start of the school year. The NCSE have now published revised details of the Resource Teaching allocations for all schools, based on existing allocation levels. Details of these allocations are now provided at www.ncse.ie. In the longer term, it is proposed to develop a new model to improve how resources for children with special Educational needs are allocated to schools. I am concerned that the scale of increased demand for resource teachers this year, if it were to continue, would make the current system unsustainable. I am asking the NCSE to consider the reasons for the unprecedented 12 per cent rise in applications for resource teacher support this year, which compares with an annual 1.3 per cent increase in the number of students attending school in the current year.
The Deputy will be aware that the NCSE recently published comprehensive policy advice on Supporting Students with Special Educational Needs in Schools. I have, as suggested by the Report, requested the NCSE to establish a Working Group to develop a proposal, for consideration, for a new allocation model for teaching supports for children with Special Educational Needs based on the profiled educational needs of children in schools. In the interim, I wish to ensure that children will not be disadvantaged while we move towards a new model which will ensure greater fairness and quality of education for children with special educational needs. That is why I have made the decision to maintain the existing allocation levels this year.