Wednesday, 7 March 2001
Dáil Eireann Debate
31. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will establish the long promised advisory committee on education for the deaf; and if he will ensure a strong representation of the deaf community among the members; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6951/01]
Minister for Education and Science (Dr. Woods): My Department is finalising details of the proposed terms of reference and composition of the advisory committee on the education of the hearing impaired. The intention is that this committee, which will be representative of the various interests involved in the education of the hearing impaired, will offer guidance to my Department on the future development of education services in this area. I assure the Deputy that it is my intention that the committee will include a strong  representation of the deaf community among its membership. I expect to make a further announcement in relation to this matter in the near future.
32. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science the extent to which psychological and or other special needs teaching services are available in all schools; the degree to which such services are adequate to meet demands; the extent to which it is intended to augment such services in the near future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6896/01]
Minister for Education and Science (Dr. Woods): The National Educational Psychological Service is being developed as a dedicated agency to provide an educational psychological service to all primary and post primary schools. This service currently employs 80 psychologists providing a service to all second level schools and approximately 725 primary schools. Some 30 of these psychologists have been appointed since the commencement of the school year as part of the Government's plan to expand this service. It is intended to appoint a further 20 psychologists to the service before the end of this school year and to proceed with the recruitment of another 28 psychologists later this year. This will raise the staffing from 50 psychologists to some 128 and greatly improve the service. It is envisaged that all first and second level schools will have access to the National Educational Psychological Service by the end of the 2003-04 school year.
In the meantime, in addition to the expansion of the National Educational Psychological Service to all schools on a nation-wide basis, I am pleased to inform the Deputy that measures are being included in the Finance Bill to provide tax relief to parents who find it necessary to engage the services of private educational psychologists. Consideration is also being given to the development of school-based testing measures which will provide a more efficient means of identifying some special needs without the need for recourse to full educational psychological assessments.
Arising from a Government decision in October 1998 all children with special needs within the primary system are now entitled to an automatic response to their needs. As a result of this development, the number of resource teachers supporting special needs children in the primary system has increased from 104 to more than 750. The number of special needs assistants supporting special needs children has increased from less than 300 to more than 1,700 over the same period. Additional resource teachers and special needs assistants are being allocated by my Department on an ongoing basis.
Children with special needs of second level age are generally catered for in ordinary second level schools with the support of the resource teacher and special needs assistant services. There are 273 resource teachers and 135 special needs assistants in the second level system. Where more serious  disabilities are involved, the children are catered for in a range of special schools and special classes dedicated to particular disabilities. All such facilities operate at reduced pupil-teacher ratios and attract special needs assistant support in line with the recommendations of the special education review committee. In addition, my Department makes funding available for the purchase of computer and other equipment for children with special needs. This year the amount of funding available in this area has been increased from £987,000 to £2,730,000. It is my intention to continue to build on these developments so as to ensure that all children with special needs receive the support they require when and where they require it.
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