I can inform the Deputy that in 2017 my Department introduced a new model to support pupils with special educational needs. This means schools are now front-loaded with additional teachers to enable them to respond to pupil needs, rather than requiring an assessment to allow them to apply for such additional resource. This reduces the administrative burden on schools as schools will no longer have to complete an application process annually and apply for newly enrolled pupils who require additional teaching support. Children who need support can have that support provided immediately rather than having to wait for a diagnosis.
In common with many other psychological services and best international practice, my Department’s National Educational Psychological Service has adopted a consultative model of service. The focus is on empowering teachers to intervene effectively with pupils whose needs range from mild to severe and transient to enduring. Psychologists use a problem solving and solution oriented consultative approach to maximize positive outcomes for these pupils. NEPS encourages schools to use a continuum based assessment and intervention process whereby each school takes responsibility for initial assessment, educational planning and intervention for pupils with learning, social, emotional or behavioural difficulties. Teachers may consult their NEPS psychologist should they need to at this stage in the process. Only in the event of a failure to make reasonable progress, in spite of the school's best efforts in consultation with NEPS, will the psychologist become involved with an individual child for intensive intervention or assessment.
This system allows psychologists to give early attention to urgent cases and also to help many more children indirectly than could be seen individually. It also ensures that children are not referred unnecessarily for psychological intervention. NEPS psychologists are afforded a degree of flexibility in responding to need as it presents in their allocated schools.
By way of clarification NEPS psychologists are assigned schools based on a weighting process which takes into account school size, DEIS status, gender mix, special class occurrence and geographical spread and equating roughly to a 5,000:1 pupil to psychologist ratio.
I can inform the Deputy that starting from a level of 173 whole-time equivalents in 2016 and following increases allowed in Budgets 2017, 2018 and 2019 the sanctioned number for NEPS psychologist currently stands at 204 w.t.e. Some 197 of these posts are currently filled which represents the highest number of psychologists to be employed within NEPS since the inception of the service in 2000. The filling of the remaining posts is being actively pursued by my Department in conjunction with the Public Appointments Service and a number of new appointments are imminent.
I would advise therefore, if there are concerns in relation to the educational or social and emotional development of any child, that these should be raised by parents, in the first instance, with the Principal of the school concerned, with a view to that Principal discussing the situation with the assigned NEPS psychologist or local NEPS service.