Thursday, 8 June 2000
Dáil Eireann Debate
54. Mr. Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny) asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will make a statement on a survey of parents of children with special needs which revealed that 44% of parents indicate that almost none of the special supports identified in the assessment of their child have been made available. [16143/00]
Minister for Education and Science (Dr. Woods): As Minister for Education and Science I would be seriously concerned that any parent of a special needs child should feel that the needs of their child are not being adequately addressed.
Arising from a Government decision in October 1998, all children with special needs within the primary system now have an automatic entitlement to a response to their needs, irrespective of their disability or location. The response in question may take the form of resource teacher support or child care support, or both, depending on the particular needs involved. Already, as a result of this development, the number of resource teachers in the primary system has grown from 104 in October 1998 to 450 at present. The number of special needs assistants helping children with special needs in the primary system has increased from 299 to 1,095 over the same period. My Department will continue to allocate further resources in response to identified needs.
In addition, the special pupil teacher ratios applicable to all special schools and special classes catering for children with special needs have been reduced to the level recommended by the Special Education Review Committee.
Also, since September 1999 the remedial teacher services has been extended to every first and second level school with a pupil teacher ratio of 10:1 or more. Schools with lower ratios are free  to apply to my Department for remedial support where they can demonstrate a need for the service.
The National Educational Psychological Service Agency was formally established with effect from September 1999. This service is being developed on a phased basis over five years with the objective of ensuring that all schools will have access to the service by the end of 2004. As part of this process, the number of psychologists in the service will be increased from 43 to nearly 100 by the end of the year 2000.
While these developments constitute a major advance in the quality of our special education service, I fully recognise that much work remains to be done. In particular, where the parents of children with special needs are concerned, I would be anxious that the system be made more responsive and supportive. In this connection, I would point out that a planning group is currently finalising work in my Department on an overall review of our approach to special education services. The remit of this group is to make recommendations on the arrangements which should be put in place to ensure the most effective provision of a high quality co-ordinated service at all levels of the education system for students with special needs.
I expect to receive the report from the planning group in the near future and I assure the Deputy that I will respond as positively as possible to any proposals which will contribute to supporting children with special needs and their parents.
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