Wednesday, 7 March 2001
Dáil Eireann Debate
24. Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Education and Science when he expects to receive a report from the Special Task Force on Dyslexia; the timescale given for the deliberations; when the report will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6941/01]
66. Mr. Spring asked the Minister for Education and Science the position on the work of the dyslexia task force; if his Department has identified the number of children and adults who need special education for dyslexia; the number of submissions received by the task force; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6928/01]
The Task Force on Dyslexia commenced its work in October 2000. At the time of its establishment, I requested the task force to make every effort to report to me within a three month period. I understand the task force is arranging to hold its final meeting on 20 March and that it expects to present its report to me shortly thereafter. It is my intention to arrange to make the report publicly available as quickly as possible after it is received. Given the complexity of the issues with which the task force was required to deal and that  it received a total of 396 written and 896 oral submissions, I am satisfied it is making satisfactory progress and I look forward to receiving its report shortly.
My Department does not have precise details of the number of children and adults who need special education for dyslexia. An important consideration in this regard is the criteria used for identifying the dyslexic condition. I understand this is one of the matters being addressed by the task force and I look forward to receiving its proposals in this regard.
Mr. Creed: Does the Minister agree that approximately 1,200 submissions is a staggering figure and that it reflects the widespread concern in the community, particularly among parents of primary school pupils, about the inadequacy of the education system to deal with learning difficulties? What provision is being made in terms of teacher training to ensure teachers are adequately qualified from day one to deal with children who present with learning difficulties, particularly dyslexia? Will the Minister address the issue of access to in-service training for teachers, particularly remedial-resource teachers, who are being asked to take up positions which require specific skills for which they have not been trained?
Dr. Woods: I agree the response is wide and that it indicates a much higher interest in the issue than people might have anticipated. One of the reasons I set up the task force was to ascertain the problems not only in regard to dyslexia but also in regard to learning difficulties. Leaving aside the problem with definition, with which the Deputy is familiar, there is an area which is causing much frustration for children not only at primary level but up along the system. The number of submissions is huge and while this has delayed the work of the task force the report will be published as soon as possible. I do not have information on teacher training, but in-service training is an area which certainly needs attention.
Mr. Browne: (Carlow-Kilkenny): Has the task force been in contact with the Warrickshire treatment centre which is dealing with a new programme which arose from the experience of astronauts and which relates to ear balance? This centre is backed by a millionaire whose daughter is dyslexic. In reply to my written parliamentary question the Minister said the Department had been in touch with the centre. I am interested in whether the task force was in touch with it as the report states that 97% of the people involved have made a significant advancement. This is a major achievement. The treatment has not been conclusively proven but Professor Reynolds, whose ancestors I am sure came from County Leitrim, is carrying out an assessment on the success of the treatment. We thought that dyslexia was a reading disorder and the discovery that it  may be due to a physical disorder is a major breakthrough.
Dr. Woods: The Deputy can be happy that the task force is looking at the results and systems and trying to make whatever assessment can be made at this time. The task force is doing only a snap-shop at present. When a group is asked to do a job within three months it can only pull together what it can. The study being carried out by Dr. Reynolds might be valuable but it will not be available for some time. The task force is trying to pull together the information which is available and to give us the best possible advice so we can take action.
Ms Shortall: The Minister said he does not have figures on the number of people with dyslexia. I am sure he will agree that this is another indication of the information deficit within his Department. Was it part of the remit of the task force to establish the figures? Unless one can quantify the scale of the need one cannot put forward proposals for an adequate response.
I am pleased the work of the task force is on target. The Minister cannot give specific dates, but does he intend to introduce a number of the task force's recommendations in time for the new school year in September? Does he intend to alter the unsatisfactory arrangements for people with dyslexia who will sit State examinations this year?
Dr. Woods: I specifically allowed an extra 20 minutes last year. One might say students with dyslexia needed the extra 20 minutes from the point of view of equality, but from the point of view of integrity all students were given the extra time. I was happy that they got extra time to complete the papers and this was very much welcomed.
Dr. Woods: There is big difference between the views on the percentages. Departmental officials will say the figure is up to 4%, while people in the associations will say it is up to 10%. Prior to Christmas I started a trial in 31 second level schools. The number of children per class in second year was approximately 20, which is amazing. This trail is proceeding and I am interested in the results.
Mr. Hayes: In a case where the Department is not able to provide specialised teaching for a  child assessed by it as having a learning difficulty, will the Minister allocate money to parents so that they can provide that service privately out of school? I am referring to the neuro-developmental work being carried out in the Dublin area which has shown a dramatic improvement in children's concentration and reading and numeracy ability. If the Minister cannot provide the service publicly, will he provide the money to parents privately?
Dr. Woods: Let me answer, please. We are assisting the groups which provide a service to children. The question of funding is being considered by the task force and I will examine this issue when I receive its report. The approach taken in the Department is to provide remedial and resource teachers. It is through those two mechanisms that the Department provides assistance.
This entire area needs to be examined and in setting up the task force I have inadvertently highlighted the issue, which has turned out to be much bigger than anticipated. This supports my view that one should do something and not just sit there; even if one does not have all the answers one should do what can be done. Many of these questions can be dealt with once I receive the report.
Mr. U. Burke: Does the Minister accept the biggest problem in regard to dyslexia has been the failure to identify the condition at primary level? Frequently the problem manifests and is recorded as “poorly motivated kids”. They went through the primary sector and into the second level sector where they were discovered.
Dr. Woods: The approach being taken is to increase the number of remedial teachers with a view to identifying the problem at the earliest possible time. There is also a question of getting the assessments. The increased numbers in the national education psychological service will have a big impact. Given that the service is only being increased at the moment the impact will follow-on fairly soon.
Dr. Woods: The service had 50 people but the number is being increased to 100 and later will be increased to 125 so it will have an impact. Another question has been tabled on that matter  today. I asked the Minister for Finance to include in the Finance Bill a provision whereby those who make private arrangments can claim against tax. That provision is contained in the Finance Bill.
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