Wednesday, 10 May 1995
Seanad Éireann Debate
 In educational terms, we have been building tower blocks on crumbling foundations. We continue ploughing money into third level education while largely ignoring the needs of primary school children, although I hope that some of the proposals in the White Paper on Education will help to reverse that situation.
As somebody once said, all politics are local. The situation in Rathcormac, Bartlemy, Ballincurrig and Leamlara is a microcosm of the situation of many of our primary schoolchildren as a whole. Of the 3,512 pupils attending national school in these communities, 64 have special needs of one sort or another. Unless we provide those 64 children with the remedial teaching they so desperately need, we will have failed them, their families and, ultimately, ourselves.
It has been estimated that around 15 per cent of pupils nationally are in need of remedial services. That figure translates into around 6,000 remedial teachers, nearly double the number currently employed. At a time when increased resources are being injected into third level education, we must also ensure that children in primary and secondary schools are not prevented from achieving their full potential because of lack of resources.
For years children with learning difficulties and their families have been fobbed off with vague and unfulfilled promises to expand the remedial services. The Minister for Education has put flesh on the bones of these promises and I particularly welcome the establishment of a task force to implement the findings of the Special Education Review Committee. The recently published White Paper proposes that each school will be responsible for drawing up a policy of student assessment and that the school physiological service will be expanded to support teachers in this task.
One of the problems faced by children with special needs in the past has  been the lack of co-ordination between relevant Departments and agencies. I welcome the White Paper's proposal to establish a national database which would register each child with a special disability, giving the education board in each region special responsibility for these students in co-operation with the health boards. These proposals represent a huge advance in the provision of special needs education, but as yet they are merely aspirational and their implementation may come too late for the 64 children with learning disabilities in Rathcormac, Bartlemy, Ballincurrig and Leamlara.
There is a grave danger that pupils who fail to receive appropriate remedial teaching will fall through the gaps in the education system altogether and they may eventually wind up on the rolls of the long-term unemployed on the margins of society. I urge the Minister to give priority to the expansion of remedial services at both primary and secondary level and urge her to start with the 64 children in my area who need help to realise their full potential.
Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications (Mrs. Doyle): As has been indicated to the House in the past, remedial education at primary level is first a matter for the ordinary class teachers. The majority of pupils with remedial needs would, therefore, be helped within the scope of the normal teaching service. However, it is acknowledged that remedial teachers constitute the main additional resource for addressing the problem of under-achievement in primary schools and in this case, as Senator Sherlock has outlined, the 64 children with learning difficulties in the schools he has named.
Substantial additional resources have been allocated to the area of remedial teaching in recent years. In 1994, an additional 100 remedial teachers were  appointed to primary schools and 350 schools with approximately 34,000 pupils benefited from this allocation. This brought the total number of remedial teachers in place to 1,133. Of the 3,209 ordinary national schools throughout the country, approximately 2,061 — over two thirds — now have the services of a remedial teacher either on a full-time or a shared basis.
My colleague, the Minister for Education, recently announced her intention to appoint an additional 55 remedial teachers to primary schools in the current year. Decisions on the allocation of these posts will be made shortly following the collection and analysis of the information from schools by the Department's primary inspectorate. The posts will then be allocated on the basis of priority of need, as indicated by the information collected.
 Of the 367 ordinary national schools in County Cork, 253 now have the services of a remedial teacher, either on a full-time or shared basis. This includes 41 schools allocated a remedial service in the current school year as part of the recent distribution of posts. This means that 87 per cent of pupils attending ordinary national schools in County Cork currently enjoy a remedial service.
I thank Senator Sherlock and, indeed, his Oireachtas colleague, Deputy Bradford, for raising the needs of the schools in the Rathcormac, Bartlemy, Ballincurrig and Leamlara areas. I assure them that the needs of those schools, and specifically the 64 children the Senator mentioned, will be considered in the context of the allocation of remedial posts this year.
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