I wish to advise the Deputy that a number of sections of the Education for Persons with Special Needs (EPSEN) Act 2004 have been commenced. The commenced provisions include those establishing the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) and those providing for an inclusive approach to the education of children with special educational needs.
The following sections of the EPSEN Act were commenced in 2005.
Section 1 – Interpretation
Section 2 - providing for the inclusive education of children with Special Educational Needs
Section 14 – placing certain duties on schools
Sections 19 to 37 - placing the Council on a statutory footing
Section 39 - placing certain duties on Health Boards
Sections 40 to 53 - amending the Education Act
Schedule 1 – providing for meetings and membership of the Council
Schedule 2 providing for the Chief Executive Officer of the Council
The remaining sections of the Act have yet to be commenced. The Sections of the EPSEN Act which have not been implemented are those which would have conferred a statutory entitlement to:
- an educational assessment for all children with special educational needs
- consequent development of a statutory individual educational plan (IEP)
- the delivery of detailed educational services on foot of this plan
- an independent appeals process.
The NCSE estimated, in its Plan for the Implementation of the EPSEN Act Report, which was published in 2006, that additional investment over a period of years of up to €235 m per annum, across the education and health sectors, would be required to fully implement the EPSEN Act.
The view of the Department of Education and Skills was that the level of investment required could be significantly greater than that envisaged in the NCSE report. Legal advice provided to that Department also indicated that the EPSEN Act, as it is currently constituted, may not be implemented on a phased, or age cohort, basis.
The level of additional expenditure required would have to take into account annual demographic growth and service developments in the area of special educational needs, pricing adjustments and salary cost differentials on an ongoing basis. Estimates would also have to be made as to the number of pupils who might currently qualify for the statutory service provisions envisaged by the EPSEN Act.
The Government is committed to helping every child, particularly those with special educational needs, to fulfil their potential.
In 2018 my Department invested over €1.75 Billion in this area - 1/5 of my Department's budget and up 42% since 2011, at which point €1.24 Billion was invested. This increased investment has allowed the Government to increase the number of:
- SNAs by 42%, from 10,575 in 2011 to over 15,000 at present.
- Special classes by 160% to over 1,450 at present, compared to 548 special classes in 2011.
- Special education teachers by 37%, from 9,740 in 2011, to over 13,400 at present.
Under the Programme for a Partnership Government, I have committed to consulting with stakeholders on how best to progress aspects of the Act on a non-statutory basis.
A range of consultations with Education Partners and Stakeholders took place in relation to the development of the new model for allocating special education teachers over the course of 2017. The new model was introduced for all schools from September 2017.
Further consultations took place with education partners and stakeholders in the context of the undertaking of a comprehensive review of the SNA scheme and will continue in relation to the implementation of recommendations contained in this report.
Consultations also took place in relation to providing power to the National Council for Special Educational need to designate a school place for a person with special educational needs, which is now provided for in the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018.
I can also advise that, whereas there is not currently a statutory requirement to provide individual education plans for children with special needs, at present, all schools are encouraged to use Education Plans. The Department of Education and Skills Inspectorate's advice is that the majority of schools are now using some form of individual education planning for children with special needs. The Guidelines for schools on implementing the new special education teacher allocation model advise schools as to the importance of ensuring that student support plans or educational plans are in place.
It is therefore intended to bring into effect many of the good ideas contained in the EPSEN Act, on a non-statutory basis initially, through policy developments across a range of areas, in conjunction with NCSE policy advice. Full consultation will also take place with stakeholders before adjustments are made.
I can assure you that this Government will continue to prioritise investment in the area of special education support and I am confident that ongoing investment and reform will continue to see improvements made in this area.