I propose to take Questions Nos. 120, 125 to 127, inclusive, 133 and 134 together.
The Deputy will be aware that this Government is committed to the protection of frontline services for pupils with special educational needs. 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), nearly 10,000 Learning Support and Resource Teachers, provision for over 600 Special Classes attached to mainstream schools at reduced pupil teacher ratios, enhanced capitation for special schools and special classes and provision for assistive technology support.
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 the overall level of funding for special education has been protected despite the ongoing severe financial position. There has been no reduction in the level of funding to support children with Special Educational needs since this Government came to office.
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, enrolled in all schools, including schools in Co. Kildare, to ensure that children with special educational needs, including those with Autism and Aspergers Syndrome can continue to have access to educational facilities in line with their requirements. In relation to the number of school places available for children with special educational needs throughout the country and in County Kildare, the policy of my Department is that children with special educational needs should be included in mainstream placements with additional supports provided. All schools and all school places are therefore available for children with special educational needs to be enrolled. In circumstances where children with special educational needs require more specialised interventions, special school or special class places are also available.
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.