Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Questions (53, 61)

Denis Naughten

Question:

53. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Education and Skills the steps he will take to address the increasing numbers of special needs pupils at primary level, in view of the curtailment in funding to support such pupils; if he has assessed the impact of the curtailment of special needs assistants on children with special needs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32188/13]

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Bernard Durkan

Question:

61. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will indicate the extent to which he expects to be in a position to continue to meet the requirements in respect of resource, special needs assistants or other special needs teaching notwithstanding the restrictions imposed on his Department arising from the memorandum of understanding entered into by his predecessor; if he expects to be in a position to address the concerns expressed by parents in the run-up to the forthcoming budget; if he hopes to be in a position to meet in full the requirements of children with special needs currently at school or in pre-school in the coming year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32223/13]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 53 and 61 together. I wish to advise the Deputy that the level of resources being 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 and a requirement to make expenditure savings across a range of areas. There has been no curtailment 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. 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. I have authorised the NCSE to restore the level of resource teaching allocations to be provided for students with special educational needs to the 2012/13 levels. There will not now be a reduction in resource teaching time for these pupils for the coming school year. The first tranche of resource teaching posts have now been allocated to schools by the NCSE. A number of additional posts will be required to ensure that allocations can continue to be made for valid applications for resource teaching support received for the coming school year. The full extent of this demand will not be known until September, but it may require the allocation of some 500 additional resource teacher posts. The implications of this for my Department's Employment Control Framework and Vote are currently being raised with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and will also be addressed in the forthcoming process in formulating Budget 2014. I am, however, 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, and which will aim to ensure that resources are directed to those children and schools who need them most. 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.