Thursday, 15 December 2005
Dáil Eireann Debate
62. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science when she expects to meet the full requirement in respect of special needs teachers and assistants in all schools throughout the country with particular reference to speech and language therapy requirements, remedial, resource or other special needs; the optimum number of positions awaiting to be filled in this regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39596/05]
Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin): My Department’s policy is to ensure the maximum possible integration of children with special educational needs, SEN, into ordinary mainstream schools. Where mainstream provision is not appropriate children can be catered for in special schools which are dedicated to particular disability groups. There are 107 special schools in the country at present. These schools cater for children from four to 18 years of age and each school enjoys a significantly reduced pupil teacher ratio and other staffing supports. Additional special needs assistant, SNA, support is provided if deemed necessary. Special schools also receive increased rates of capitation funding.
Children with SEN can also attend special classes attached to ordinary mainstream schools. All special classes enjoy the same increased levels of staffing and funding as are made available to the special schools. Children with SEN attending special classes attached to ordinary schools may also, where appropriate, be integrated into ordinary classes for periods of the school day.
As the Deputy will be aware, a general allocation scheme has been introduced under which mainstream primary schools have been provided with resource teaching hours, based on enrolment figures, to cater for children with high incidence SEN such as dyslexia and those with learning support needs. All schools were notified of their general allocation for the 2005-06 school year last May.
The Deputy will be aware that the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, through the local special educational needs organiser, SENO, is responsible for processing applications from schools for special needs supports such as resource teaching hours and SNA support for children with low-incidence SEN, on the basis of applications in respect of individual pupils. Once a school has been advised of its general allocation and the SENO has allocated hours and SNA support if appropriate in respect of pupils with low-incidence SEN, it is a matter for the school authority to recruit the relevant staff.
There has been enormous progress made over the past number of years in increasing the number of teachers in our schools who are specifically dedicated to providing education for children with SEN. At primary level there are now approximately 5,000 teachers in our primary schools working directly with children with special needs, including those requiring learning support. This compares with under 1,500 in 1998. Indeed, one out of every five primary school teachers is now working specifically with children with special needs.
At second level approximately 1,630 whole time equivalent additional teachers are in place to support pupils with special educational needs. This compares with the approximately 200 teachers who were in place in 1998 for such pupils. In addition, there are 532 whole-time equivalent learning support teachers in our second level schools.
The precise model of provision made available at second level will depend on the assessed needs of the pupils involved. Some pupils are capable of attending ordinary classes on an integrated basis with additional teacher and-or SNA support. In other cases, placement in special dedicated classes or units attached to the school may be the more appropriate response. Such special classes operate at significantly reduced pupil teacher rations. Pupils attached to these special classes may be facilitated in attending ordinary subject classes on a integrated basis wherever possible.
Enormous progress has also been made in increasing the number SNAs in our schools which specifically cater for the care needs of children with special educational needs. There are over 7,200 whole-time equivalent SNAs in primary and second level schools supporting children with special needs.
I can confirm that I will continue to prioritise the issue of special needs education and, in co-operation with the National Council for Special Education and the education partners, ensure that all children with special needs are adequately resourced to enable them to meet their full potential.
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