Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Questions (87, 88, 89, 91)

Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

87. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans regarding the provision of an academic personal assistance programmes for persons with Down's syndrome; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15527/14]

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Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

88. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans regarding the expansion of availability of books and educational materials in formats accessible to persons with Down's syndrome; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15528/14]

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Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

89. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans regarding alternative forms of testing and evaluation for persons with Down's syndrome; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15529/14]

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Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

91. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans regarding the development of an admissions process which does not discriminate against persons with Down's syndrome; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15531/14]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 87 to 89, inclusive, and 91 together. I wish to advise the Deputy that my Department allocates significant resources to ensure that pupils with special educational needs, including pupils with Down's syndrome, can participate fully in education. Pupils with Down's syndrome may receive additional teaching support in schools, either from a school's general allocation of Learning Support/Resource Teaching, or from an allocation of additional Resource Teacher hours to the schools from the National Council for Special Education (NCSE). Pupils who have care needs may receive access to Special Needs Assistant (SNA) support in schools. Many children with Down's syndrome have access to such SNA support. Other supports include provision for Assistive Technology support which can ensure that educational materials can be provided in accessible formats. With regard to the admissions process to schools, on 25th March, the Government approved the drafting of the Education (Admissions to Schools) Bill 2014. This new legislation aims to ensure that the enrolment process in all primary and post-primary schools is inclusive, transparent and fair. Among the provisions in the new Bill, will be a requirement for all schools to make an explicit statement in their admissions policy that they will not discriminate against an applicant for admission on the grounds of disability. In relation to admission to higher education, the Disability Access Route to Education (DARE) is a college and university admissions scheme which offers places at reduced points to school leavers with disabilities. Eighteen higher education institutions are currently participating in the scheme. For further information on DARE see also www.accesscollege.ie. To assist pupils to then attend third level education, core funding for access programmes for pupils with disabilities is allocated each year as part of the overall budget of each designated higher education institution. This funding supports the provision of dedicated staff, services and supports for students with disabilities. Every further and higher education institution has at least one member of staff with responsibility for liaising with students with disabilities, as required by the Disability Act 2005. In addition, many institutions have a dedicated Disability Support Service with trained disability officers, learning support officers and other specialist staff. The Fund for Students with Disabilities (FSD) also provides additional funding to both further and higher education institutions for the provision of services and supports for full-time students with disabilities. With regard to alternative forms of testing and evaluation, I wish to advise the Deputy that secondary school students with special needs may have special arrangements made for them while sitting State examinations such as the Leaving Certificate and Junior Certificate. Candidates with disabilities, including Down syndrome, can apply through their school for reasonable accommodation during examinations. Details of the reasonable accommodations that can be made for pupils with special educational needs is available at www.examinations.ie. In relation to standardised testing, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment guidelines on "Assessment in the Primary School Curriculum – Guidelines for Schools" provides general guidance for schools including on using alternative tests in relation to the standardised testing of pupils in primary schools. Finally, I wish to advise the Deputy that the recent NCSE report on Supporting Children with Special Educational Needs recommended that under a proposed new allocation model, all children, including those with Down's syndrome, should be allocated additional resources in line with their level of need, rather than by disability category. An NCSE Working Group has been charged with developing proposals for a new allocation model. Any changes to the current allocation model will therefore be considered in the light of the recommendations of the report of this Group.