Special Educational Needs Expenditure

Questions (33)

Michael McGrath

Question:

33. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Skills the impact of the special needs assistant cap on access to special needs support from next September in view of the increase in demand; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32273/13]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

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 reduction in 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.

It is important to note that the level of SNAs required to support children with special educational needs changes from year to year in line with the enrolment of different children with different care needs. The care needs of individual children can also change from year to year. The NCSE takes these factors into account when allocating SNAs to schools. Therefore, even if the number of students receiving SNA support rises, this does not necessarily mean that the required number of SNAs to support their care needs should rise by a similar percentage. In June 2012 the NCSE reported that the number of children requiring support for the 2012/2013 school year was in the order of 20,000 and the most up-to-date current figures is that for December 2012 of 21,972.

The initial allocation of SNAs for the coming school year will support about 22,000 pupils. This is at about the same level supported in December 2012, despite the passing of 6 months. To date the NCSE has allocated over 10,490 SNA posts to schools which leaves over 80 posts available for allocation during the school year. The NCSE has advised that they have processed all applications for SNA support this year and have allocated the level of SNA support to schools that it considers will meet the care needs of all qualifying pupils. These allocations have been made in line with DES policy and there has been no change in the policy or its application this year.

Details of the SNA allocations which have been made to schools by the NCSE for the 2013/2014 school year are now available on the NCSE website www.ncse.ie, which provides details of the SNA allocations for each school on a school by school and per county basis.

Student Support Schemes Issues

Questions (34)

Seán Crowe

Question:

34. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will intervene to stop third level institutions employing debt collectors to pursue student debt, in view of the serious difficulties that arose from the processing of grants through Student Universal Support Ireland in the 2012-13 academic year. [32215/13]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The Deputy will appreciate that third level institutions are autonomous bodies and I have no role in their day to day operational affairs. Those matters are the responsibility of the management authority and governing body. In relation to the specific issue of debt collectors, as referred to by the Deputy I understand that the debt that some institutions are trying to collect are those relating to student fees. All students are liable to pay fees or student contribution unless they qualify for some element of a fee grant under the Student Grant Scheme. Regarding the payment of fees, where a student has informed the institution that a decision is awaited from the grants system, I understand that SUSI has a facility in place allowing institutions to liaise with it directly to confirm the status of an individual application. It is understood from SUSI that their experience is that where there is a decision is awaited, and institutions have been in contact with them, the institutions are dealing with these cases in a sensitive and understanding manner.

National Council for Special Education

Questions (35)

Michael Colreavy

Question:

35. Deputy Michael Colreavy asked the Minister for Education and Skills his views on reports that children with special educational needs from middle-class backgrounds continue to receive more support at school than those from working-class areas as a result of having enhanced access to private psychological assessments when compared to schools dependent on the State funded National Educational Psychological Service. [32213/13]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) published its Policy Advice on Supporting Children with Special Educational Needs on 17th May, 2013. This is a very significant report which is based on a review of best practice in both national and international research and follows a wide process of consultation with children with Special Educational Needs, parents, representative groups, educational partners, voluntary bodies and advocacy groups. The report refers to the limited availability of assessments in some areas and indicated that there was parental concern with regard to the assessment process and the waiting time for health or educational assessments. The report found that a serious consequence of the limited access to professional assessment is that access to supports which require an assessment to trigger a support may become dependent on the ability of the parent or the school to fund private assessments and that some schools and parents have greater capacity to source private reports. The report concludes that diagnosis should not be a prerequisite or determinant for the allocation of additional resources for a child or young person with special educational needs which should instead be based on the needs of the child, irrespective of category of disability. Instead, greater use should be made of school-based data and school performance in decision-making related to resource allocation.One of the principal recommendations of the policy advice is that a new model should be developed for the allocation of additional teaching resources to mainstream schools, based on the profiled need of each school, which will ensure that a more equitable resource allocation system will be in place for students, which will be based on their educational needs as opposed to being based primarily on a diagnosis of disability. I have requested the NCSE to proceed immediately to establish a Working Group to develop a proposal for consideration in relation to a revised allocation mechanism.

Traveller Community Issues

Questions (36)

Michael Colreavy

Question:

36. Deputy Michael Colreavy asked the Minister for Education and Skills if it is appropriate for the statistics section of his Department to contact schools to request in writing from the parents of Traveller children confirmation of their ethnic status in order to qualify for the higher capitation grant; and if he considers this method of data collection at odds with the concept of integrating Traveller children into a mainstream school setting. [32214/13]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The statistics section of my Department recently contacted schools to remind them (as was always the case) that parental consent is required in the identification of a pupil as a member of the Traveller community. The statistics section also recommend to schools that they collect this information using a consent form. The current policy, in relation to Traveller education, is underpinned by the Report and Recommendations for a Traveller Education Strategy which was launched in 2006. The Report covers all aspects of Traveller Education from pre-school right through to further and higher education within a lifelong learning context. The primary aim of the report is to ensure a quality, integrated education for Travellers underpinned by the principles of inclusion and mainstreaming with an emphasis on equality and diversity and the adoption of an intercultural approach. In keeping with the recommendations of this report allocation of resources is underpinned by the principle of "individual educational need" rather than "Traveller identity". In line with this approach the majority of recommendations in relation to mainstreaming of educational provision have been implemented at this stage. As there are still some Traveller specific supports provided it is necessary to collect specific data in order to determine these resources.

Student Grant Scheme Eligibility

Questions (37)

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

37. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will provide a guarantee that he has shelved plans to include assets such as farmland and business premises in the means tests for third level students. [32212/13]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The Deputy will be aware that, following agreement in principle by the Government to broaden the current means testing arrangements for student grants by way of inclusion of the value of capital assets, I set up a dedicated implementation group to bring forward detailed proposals. I have received a draft report from the implementation group. This is currently under consideration and I will be consulting further with my Cabinet colleagues. The Deputy will appreciate that, until a collective Cabinet decision has been taken, it is not possible to say what assets may be included in any new means testing arrangements for student grants.

Child Care Guidelines

Questions (38)

Seamus Kirk

Question:

38. Deputy Seamus Kirk asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he is satisfied with the implementation of Síolta and Aistear; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32269/13]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The Síolta and Aistear Frameworks represent a comprehensive set of national practice guidelines which support the development of quality early childhood care and education in Ireland. Both Frameworks are based upon extensive research evidence on best practice in early childhood education and care and also have been developed through extensive consultation with all interested parties including parents, teachers, the broad range of staff working in early childhood care and education settings and children themselves. Implementation of these Frameworks to date has involved: Raising awareness of the contents of each framework though publication and dissemination of information, e.g., Síolta and Aistear manuals and guidelines; Aistear tip sheets for parents; Aistear Toolkit (online); Collaboration with City and County Childcare Committees, Voluntary Childcare Organisations in the development and delivery of the Síolta Quality; Assurance Programme field test. This was a unique collaboration across Voluntary Childcare Organisations and other agencies all of whom worked with my Department in developing a mentoring model for the implementation of Síolta. Establishment of the Aistear in Action Initiative (a collaboration between NCCA and Early Childhood Ireland). The Aistear Tutor Initiative (a collaboration between NCCA and the network of Education Centres). This Initiative will see 26 summer courses on Aistear available to primary teachers through the Education Centres. Given that the implementation of Síolta and Aistear had to be done within existing resources, I am satisfied that these resources were utilised to the maximum extent possible.

Special Educational Needs Services Provision

Questions (39)

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

39. Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Education and Skills the reason it is taking until 2015 to implement the national policy on educating children with autism; and the reasons behind the lengthy delay for implementing a national policy for children with autism. [32208/13]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The Deputy may be aware that, mindful that greater clarity on my Department's policy on the education of children with autism would be useful for schools and parents, my Department is currently in the process of preparing a comprehensive statement of existing policy within the boundaries of one document. While this policy document is in preparation, the Deputy is assured that national policy for the education of children with autism is being fully implemented in a timely and consistent manner. My Department's policy on the education of children with Autism resides within the overall policies on the education of children with special educational needs. In the main these policies are not condition-specific. In this context, the Autism policy, whether expressed in a multiple of documents or in a single document, should not be viewed as a separate 'stand alone' policy. The new policy statement will not be exclusive. Policies are subject of necessity to change from time to time. Also, the new statement will neither alter nor add to existing policy. It will reflect the current policy in a coherent and articulate manner for the benefit of schools and parents. As the Deputy is aware I have now requested the NCSE to prepare Policy Advice on the Educational Provision for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and it is not expected that the report will be finalised until early 2015. The time frame required is reflective of the wide consultation process which will be a feature of the preparation of the advice. I have specifically requested the NCSE to consult widely with parents, professionals and other stakeholders and interested parties. Furthermore the NCSE has commissioned research which will not be finalised until mid to late 2014 and I expect that this research will inform much of the work in preparing the policy advice. It is for these reasons that the advice is not expected until 2015.