Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Questions (68)

Kathleen Funchion

Question:

68. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Education and Skills the reason the number of language units is being decreased rather than increased (details supplied); the policy in place regarding the continuation of language units; his plans for a new type of provision replacing the current model; the level of provision of education services for children with a diagnosis of developmental language disorder; his views on whether it is meeting the demand for services; the policy in place for provision of language devices to children who need a device in order to communicate and attend a school setting; the application process for parents with children that need such language devices; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26619/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

63 Specific Speech and Language Disorder special classes in mainstream primary schools will be provided for the 2019/20 school year. This compares to 60 such special classes in 2011/12. In the period 2011 to 2019, the number of SSLD special classes has ranged from 60 - 65, depending on need.

My Department provides an extensive range of supports for pupils with Specific Speech and Language Disorder (SSLD). This includes provision for the establishment of special classes for pupils with SSLD in primary schools.

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE), through its network of local Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENOs), is responsible for processing applications from schools for special educational needs supports, including applications to establish special classes for SSLD. Applications meeting the criteria for establishment are approved by the NCSE.

The NCSE continues to monitor and review the requirement for special class places in particular areas and has capacity to establish such new classes or retain current classes where necessary, subject to the willingness of schools to open/retain classes. The NCSE welcomes expressions of interest from schools in opening special classes to meet the demand for special class provision. In deciding on the location of a special class SENOs take into account both the present and the future potential need for special class provision, and they must also be satisfied that the special class is sustainable and appropriately located. SENOs liaise with relevant professionals in their area to arrive at an informed decision.

The opening and retention of a Speech and Language class is, however, contingent on the HSE being in a position to provide Speech and Language therapy to the students in the class. The availability and provision of speech and language therapy is the responsibility of the Health Service Executive (HSE).

My Department has recently set up a working group to consider the criteria for Specific Learning Disability (SLD) and Specific Speech and Language Therapy (SSLD). The aim of the working group is twofold:

- To review the current definition of SLD and SSLD, which continues to be used as a criteria for entry to Reading schools, special SLD classes, for Assistive Technology and other supports for students with SLD

- To develop a new definition/criteria for SLD and SSLD and for entry to special Reading Schools and special SLD and SSLD classes.

NCSE SENOs also make recommendations to my Department where assistive technology is required. The NCSE operates within my Department's criteria in making recommendations for support, which is set out in my Department's Circular 0010/2013.

In order to qualify for equipment under the assistive technology scheme, a student must have been diagnosed with a physical or communicative disability and must also have a recommendation in a professional assessment that the equipment is essential in order to allow the student to access the curriculum. It must also be clear that the existing I.T. equipment in the school is insufficient to meet the child's needs.

Communication devices which are not specific educational interventions, or equipment specifically required as essential for school educational access, and which have a general application outside of school, are normally provided for children with disabilities by the Health Service Executive (HSE) through the HSE Aids and Appliances scheme are not provided for under this scheme.