I propose to take Questions Nos. 259 to 262, inclusive together.
My Department's July Provision Grant Scheme provides funding for an extended school year for students with severe or profound intellectual disabilities and students with Autism.
The scheme was developed to reduce potential regression in learning associated with these specific categories of special education needs over the summer holidays.
It is not possible to estimate the cost of extending the existing July Provision Scheme to other categories of children with Special Educational needs. Such an estimate would require analysis of the availability and willingness of schools to provide for this and also the availability of suitably qualified tutors to be available for home based July provision.
The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) which advises the Minister on these matters published its Policy Advice on Educational Provision for Children with Autism in July 2016 which included a review of the July Scheme.
The review found that in general parents value July provision because it provides day-time respite for families and a structured day for students. The NCSE review found a number of problems with the scheme as currently organised.
These include concerns that the scheme may be inequitable because it is not provided to all students with complex special educational needs.
The Council recommended that the relevant Government Departments consider how an equitable national day activity scheme could be developed for all students with complex special educational needs.
The proposed scheme would provide a structured, safe, social environment for all students with complex special educational needs.
My Department has convened an Implementation Group to ensure that the Report’s recommendations are fully and appropriately considered.
There has been consultation with a number of other Departments and State agencies regarding the future direction of the July Education Programme.
It is expected that the Group will make recommendations shortly concerning a revised scheme which would be implemented next year at the earliest. Before any changes are made, there will be consultations with stakeholders.
I met with a number of representatives from Down Syndrome Ireland on 3rd July 2019. There was a very fruitful discussion across a range of issues affecting children with Down Syndrome in the education system, including the review of the July Provision Scheme. The Department undertook to continue to engage with Down Syndrome Ireland on a range of education matters.
The policy of my Department is to ensure that all children with special educational needs, including children with Down syndrome, can be provided with an education appropriate to their needs.