Written Answers - Special Educational Needs.

Tuesday, 14 June 2005

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 603 No. 6

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  140.  Mr. Costello  Information on Joe Costello  Zoom on Joe Costello   asked the Minister for Education and Science  Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin   her plans to try to relocate almost 70 special needs assistants with a view to retaining their experience within the educational sector in regard to the decision to dispense with the services of same from summer 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19657/05]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin): Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  Special needs assistants or SNAs are assigned to schools to meet the care needs of individual children who have been assessed by a psychologist as needing this type of support. There has been no change to the criteria or guidelines for allocating SNA support to schools and I further confirm that there are no plans to review the criteria or guidelines under which SNA support is allocated. Applications for SNA support are now dealt with by the National Council for Special Education which processes all applications for support from schools and communicates the decisions directly to the schools.

However, to ensure that resources are used in the most effective manner, a review has been conducted in recent months to establish whether primary schools have the level of SNA support they need for children in their care, whether they have resources they no longer need or whether they need extra resources. The review has found that some schools no longer have the care needs for which the SNA was originally sanctioned, that is, in some cases the child may have left the school, while in other cases the care needs of the child have diminished as the child has progressed through the school. In this regard, the schools where surplus SNA support was identified have been advised that they may retain this surplus until the end of the current school year.

My Department is engaged in discussions with the trade union representing SNAs, under the auspices of the Labour Relations Commission, on a number of issues relating to the employment of SNAs, including the matters raised by the Deputy. In the circumstances it would not be appropriate for me to comment specifically on any of these matters. It has always been the case that where the care needs of a child no longer justify SNA support, that support should no longer have been available to the school.

The Deputy will be aware that this Government has put in place an unprecedented level of [1608]support for children with special needs. Since 1998 the number of SNAs has increased from under 300 to nearly 6,000 nationally. In addition, more effective systems, such as the establishment of the National Council for Special Education, have been put in place to ensure that children get support as early as possible.

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