Tuesday, 28 June 1994
Dáil Éireann Debate
Mr. Deenihan: I was under the impression that the Adjournment Debate would be at 8.30 p.m. and not at 12 o'clock. I am sorry for bringing in the Minister for Education, Deputy Bhreathnach, at this late hour. Nevertheless this is a very important matter which I am sure she will realise I had to raise on the Adjournment.
I appeal tonight on behalf of the teachers, parents and pupils of the Nano Nagle school for the handicapped, Listowel. It is a special school for moderately mentally handicapped people, catering for 61 children within a 30 miles radius of Listowel. It services parishes such as Glin, Tarbert, Abbeyfeale, Ballybunion, Brosna, Castleisland, Tralee, Ballylongford and Listowel. The pupils range in age from four to 18 years. Some have physical, auditory, visual and emotional problems as well as being mentally handicapped. Recently it began to cater for severely handicapped children who, ideally, need individual attention.
The child care assistant has worked in the school for the past 13 years and has been granted a career break next year from September 1994 to 1995. She is the  only child care assistant paid by the Department of Education and will not be replaced while on career break, which affects both staff and pupils.
Her daily routine includes taking children to and from school buses, accompanying them to classrooms and toileting them which is vital because seven of these children are in nappies. She plays an essential role in day to day classroom activities, thus facilitating teachers to do group work. She is involved in social training, teaching, washing, dressing, toileting and eating skills. She helps the teachers in carrying out programmes with the weaker children. In addition, she assists two children confined to wheelchairs and transports children to shops, church and on school outings. In general, she is indispensable to this very successful school. She has assisted teachers in all areas of work during the past 13 years.
The Minister may or may not be aware that the school is one of the most successful for the moderately handicapped in the country. It is doing a very good job and is embarking on a successful programme of integration with the primary school adjoining it. This began as a pilot scheme a few years ago when the convent primary school, Listowel, and the Nano Nagle school were put on the same site. This encouraged and facilitated the type of integration now taking place in both schools and they could be a model for the rest of the country.
This child care assistant was granted permission to take a career break. I understand that unless an exception is made she will not be replaced. If so, this will have major consequences for the work programme and the school curriculum. I would be grateful if the Minister could ensure that the Nano Nagle school has a child care assistant next September.
Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach): Under a special scheme introduced in 1979, my Department funds the allocation of child care assistants to selected special schools. A range of schools,  including those catering for pupils with physical, sensory and intellecutal disabilities, were allocated posts. A total of 86 posts were provided on a permanent and full time basis. These assistants are employed by the boards of management of the schools and grants are paid by my Department to the boards to cover salaries and employer's PRSI contributions.
The principal duties attached to the posts are: to give general assistance to the class teacher, under the direction of the principal; preparation and tidying of the classroom; assisting children to board and alight from the school bus, and where necessary travel as an escort on school buses; to give special assistance to children with particular difficulties and to help with children on school outings. Child care assistants may not act either as substitute teachers or temporary teachers. In no circumstances are they left in sole charge of a class.
At present there are 79 child care assistant posts serving 73 schools. Nano Nagle special school, Listowel, County Kerry has the services of a child care assistant since the inception of the scheme. The assistant has applied to the board of management of the school for a career break and it is a matter for the management authorities of the school to decide if they will grant the request. My Department has informed the school authorities that it has no objection to the board granting the application.
However, the embargo on public sector recruitment in place since 1987  has meant that no further appointments could be made, vacancies filled or replacements provided for assistants going on career break. The school authorities have been advised accordingly.
As indicated in the Education Budget announcement for 1994, I intend to allocate an additional 50 child care assistants to the special education area in the current year. These new appointments, which will be in place from September next, form part of an initial response to the recommendations of the Special Education Review Committee and will be of significant benefit in assisting teachers in dealing with special needs children.
My Department is currently assessing levels of need for child-care support in the special education area in order to ensure that the additional posts now available are used to best effect. The needs of Nano Nagle special school will be considered as part of that assessment.
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