I thank Deputy Kathleen Funchion and the Deputy for raising the question orally in the House.
In 2016, the National Council for Special Education was requested by the then Minister, Deputy Bruton, to review the special needs assistant scheme and to advise him on what support options are needed to provide better outcomes for students with additional care needs. Following extensive research and consultation with schools, parents, SNAs and other stakeholders a report was submitted last year. The review found that the SNA scheme was working really well, particularly for younger children and for certain type of care needs, for example, mobility and toileting. It also found that a new and more widely-based model of support involving education and health supports was needed to meet the range of student needs currently presenting in our schools. The review made a number of recommendations, including the way SNA support is allocated to schools and the need to build school capacity through training. Overall, the council recommended a new service model, the school inclusion model, that would involve the provision of speech and language and occupational and behavioural therapies in schools, as well as the development of a national nursing scheme to cater for children with the most complex medical needs. The overall aim of the model is to improve outcomes for children by ensuring each child receives the right support at the right time. The Government approved a pilot of the new model in 75 schools for the 2019-20 school year. The model will be independently evaluated. A budget of €4.75 million has been allocated to support implementation of the review findings.
Consultation will be a central feature of the development and implementation work. More than 50 people, including SNAs and their representatives, attended an information and consultation meeting last week. Separately, there have been meetings with the union representing SNAs and other meetings are planned.
I wish to take this opportunity to acknowledge the team and staff at Drimnagh Castle, where I met the teachers, behavioural therapists, HSE representatives, occupational therapists and speech and language specialists who are working on the social inclusion model. I hope that following a proper comprehensive evaluation of this model, we will be looking to extend it after the upcoming year.