Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Questions (114)

Jonathan O'Brien


114. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Minister for Education and Skills if she will provide an update on the development of a pilot scheme for the new allocation system for special educational needs resources for the National Council for Special Education, including the timeframe, the number of schools that will be involved, and the current consultation that is underway. [9096/15]

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Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Education)

This is a follow-up question to ask the Minister to update us on the pilot scheme for the new model, the timeframe for its introduction and the number of schools in which it will operate.

I recently announced that I am not proposing to change the way teachers are allocated to schools for children with special educational needs for the coming school year. In the consultations, there was a broad welcome for the proposed new model from parents, disability groups, schools and stakeholders. However, there has not been sufficient time to address all of the concerns which have been raised in advance of the 2015 school year.

I have asked my Department to design a pilot of the new model, which schools could opt into on a voluntary basis. In conjunction with the National Council for Special Education and the Educational Research Centre, the Department is currently designing a pilot which could consider the impact of the proposed new model on schools. Following the completion of this work, consultation will take place with education partners. The number of schools involved and the timeframe for the establishment of the pilot will then be established.

I welcome that the Minister will not proceed with the pilot for the upcoming academic year in light of the genuine concerns that have been raised by parents and schools. While I agree wholeheartedly with the proposals contained in the new model, these concerns have to be addressed and, given the time and resource constraints on the Department, I support the introduction of a pilot project. However, the issue that arises in respect of the pilot project is that it will be based on voluntary opt-in. I do not think any school will opt into a system which could result in the loss of resources. That needs to be borne in mind when the pilot project is being developed.

There is no doubt that we are dealing with the same number of resources but they will be divided differently. Some schools will gain and others will lose. Perhaps the Department would be willing to carry out a scoping exercise based on the principle of what you have you hold to determine the cost arising to it for a school that gets an increased resource allocation under the new model. Is the Minister willing to commit to some sort of scoping exercise?

We have done some initial work in that regard because when we were considering whether to introduce the new model we needed to estimate how much it would cost and how it would impact schools. I do not have specific figures for the Deputy, however. One of the purposes of the pilot is to gather information about how the model would affect schools. I accept the Deputy's point that if a school thinks it would lose resources, it might not opt for the pilot. That is something we have to consider. We have established a steering committee with NCSE, the Education Research Centre, the inspectorate, the National Education Psychological Service and the special education unit to investigate what kind of pilot could be established, how we might decide which schools to accept for inclusion in the pilot, what kind of support might be needed and how we evaluate the pilot.

We are working on all of this.

I thank the Minister for clarifying the matter. The Department has done some work on the cost of implementing the new model, under which the Minister will still be dealing with a defined allocation of resources. Under the model some schools will lose resources, while others will gain. There will also be a cost in terms of implementation. What I am asking is whether it is possible to have or whether the Minister is willing to look at a situation where schools will hold what they have. Schools which have to date used their allocated resources would hold resources they might otherwise lose under the new model. Under the new model, as we know, some schools will gain on the basis of a wide number of factors. What would be the additional cost in that regard? I am talking not only about the implementation of the new model but also looking at what we have. If we were to have the new model side by side with a situation where no school lost resources, what would the additional cost be? I am asking the Department to do this.

We can look at what that would cost. One of the factors is that there is an increase every year in the numbers of resource teachers and SNAs on foot of demographic changes. If one was to adopt an approach where one would hold what one had, there might be an impact if the pattern were to change and a number of children with particular needs were to enter during the school year. Even if it were to hold what it had, the school might not have the resources required. It is a little more complex than this.

Under the new model the school would receive an increased resource allocation.

It would be based on assessed needs depending on the type of school it was. The matter becomes quite complex when one starts to look at the effect on individual schools. This illustrates one of the reasons we were not ready to bring it forward this year. We must ensure we are fair to all children. This is obviously a very sensitive issue in terms of each child's needs, no matter what school he or she is attending.