Some of those areas would be addressed in any event in our submission which is before the members. With the Chairman's permission, I wish to focus the discussion on a number of key areas as we see them. First, I wish to touch upon the role and functions of the council, the EPSEN Act which is the underpinning legislation, the council's main activities and the current special education policy and the supports sanctioned by the council. I shall conclude with changes that will arise because of the provisions of the national recovery plan.
The council comprises a chairperson and 12 ordinary members who are appointed by the Minister for Education and Skills for a fixed period. It is supported by an executive of some 109 staff. The council has three key functions, first, to provide a local service to schools and parents to support children with special educational needs; second, to conduct, commission and publish research in special education matters; and third, to provide policy advice to the Minister for Education and Skills in regard to any matter relating to education of children and others with disabilities.
I shall describe in brief the EPSEN Act. As members will be aware, the Act is the principal statutory provision in the special education sector. It provides a range of statutory rights for children with special education needs, as defined in the Act. The EPSEN Act 2004 specifically provided for the phased implementation of the Act over a five year period. The council, as required on its establishment, submitted an implementation report to the Minister for Education and Skills at the end of 2006 which provided an action plan for implementation by 2010, together with indicative costs at that time. In 2008, the Department of Education and Skills indicated that in the context of the current economic climate a decision was taken in the budget to defer the full implementation of the EPSEN Act. Members will also note that the renewed programme for Government restated the Government's commitment to the full implementation of the Act and committed to the development in consultation with stakeholders of a costed multiannual plan to plan for the implementation of the Act, focusing on measurable practical progress in education and health services for children with special educational needs.
Discussions have commenced between the Department of Education and Skills, the HSE, the Department of Health and Children and our association to further the implementation of the EPSEN Act as circumstances permit. The sections of the Act commenced to date refer in the main to the establishment of the council, the right of children with special educational needs to an inclusive education and the obligation of schools to provide inclusive education.
I wish to signal an important aspect of the work of the council which is sometimes not highlighted, namely, research. Research provides new evidence, ideas and views to enhance the knowledge base of educational professionals and in so doing creates new thinking, provokes and challenges current thinking and instigates change in teaching practices and pupil outcomes. The National Council for Special Education, NCSE, is building a store of research on special education and is actively engaged in disseminating its research findings to a wide audience. We can elaborate on this in our discussion later.
We are also required to develop policy advice. This is perhaps the aspect of our functions we have developed most recently. Under the EPSEN Act, the council is required to provide policy advice to the Minister for Education and Skills in matters relating to the education of children and others with disabilities. The NCSE is finalising policy advice for the Minister with regard to the future role of special schools and classes. It is expected this policy advice paper will be ready for submission to the Minister early in 2011.
We are required to implement current education policy on a day-to-day basis. Current policy on special education recognises the need for a continuum of support and provision for children with special educational needs. In accordance with current policy, children with special educational needs should be educated in a mainstream class, a special class in a mainstream school, a special class in a special school or a special school which has been designated for a particular category of disability. Also, a general allocation model applies and provides support at primary level. All mainstream primary schools are provided with a general allocation of teaching hours to support inclusive education. Under the general allocation model, additional permanent teachers assist schools to make appropriate provision for the needs of pupils with special educational needs arising from high-incidence disabilities and for children who are eligible for learning support teaching. High-incidence disabilities refer to those which occur with a greater frequency in the general population and include borderline mild general learning disability, mild general learning disability and specific learning disability.
The general allocation model does not apply to post-primary schools. The NCSE has no role in respect of the general allocation model but does sanction special needs assistants for children supported through that system where such support is warranted. Additional teaching resources are also allocated to primary and post-primary schools for the support of individual pupils with complex and enduring needs and who have been assessed as having a low-incidence disability. The number of hours allocated varies by category of disability. Post-primary schools are also given a specific individual allocation of resource teaching hours for children with high-incidence disabilities because the general allocation model does not apply to post-primary schools. There are currently 14 recognised categories of disability for the purposes of resource allocation. The allocation of teaching hours and special needs assistant, SNA, support is determined by the child's disability category and the nature and extent of his or her care needs. In 2009 and 2010 the NCSE sanctioned resources for approximately 16,600 children with low-incidence disabilities in primary schools. In the same year we sanctioned resources for approximately 17,500 pupils with both low- and high-incidence special educational needs in post-primary schools. Under its current remit, a major function of the council is the sanctioning of teaching and special needs assistant resources for schools. In sanctioning such resources the council is required to implement departmental policy while taking into account the special educational needs of children as identified in assessment reports.
It is the view of the council that the localised network of special educational needs organisers, SENOs, ensures the resources available for deployment to schools are allocated in an efficient manner and allows maximum interaction with parents and schools. SENOs made approximately 15,600 decisions on the allocation of resources to schools in 2009. An associated element of the allocations process was the identification by SENOs of the need for specialised education settings for children with special educational needs, for example, a special class setting.
As Members will be aware, in June 2009 and 2010 the NCSE was requested by the Department to conduct a national review of special needs assistant, SNA, allocation to schools. This review is now completed and a copy of the final report is attached to our submission for the information of Members.
With regard to recent developments, Members will be aware that the National Recovery Plan 2011-2014 states in respect of special education that there has been a significant increase in the number of SNAs in recent years and that it is intended to cap the number at 2011 levels and introduce a new system to facilitate the management of these finite SNA resources in a proactive manner. The council was formally advised by a letter from the Department of Education and Skills on 7 December 2010 that it has been decided to cap the number of SNAs at 10,575 whole-time equivalent posts. It is obvious that operating within a cap will require a significantly different approach to allocation by the NCSE and to the management of this valuable resource by schools. The council is currently developing proposals to manage this process to ensure the resources are assigned to support children with the greatest level of need. The council is strongly of the view that it is important that advances made in special educational provision during the past decade are maintained to the greatest extent possible to ensure children with special educational needs are dealt with in a manner appropriate to their needs.