Dáil Éireann - Volume 668 - 19 November, 2008

Written Answers. - Special Educational Needs.

Deputy Dinny McGinley asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will address the anomaly whereby students with psychological reports advising the provision of resource teaching hours and special needs assistant facilities for such students cannot be implemented by the special education needs officer without a professional clinical diagnosis of the relevant condition and difficulty from an appropriate medical consultant; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41784/08]

  Deputy Batt O’Keeffe: I wish to advise the Deputy that no anomaly exists. My Department sets out the criteria for allocating additional supports in schools which have enrolled children with special educational needs. The level of such support is determined by the assessed disability of the pupil(s) concerned in accordance with my Department’s policy parameters. The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) is responsible, through its network of local Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENOs), for allocating resource teachers and special needs assistants to schools to support children with special needs. The NCSE operates within my Department’s criteria in allocating such support.

All schools have the names and contact details of their local SENO. Parents may also contact their local SENO directly to discuss their child’s special educational needs, using the contact details available on www.ncse.ie.

Deputy Olwyn Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science his views on the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004; the timescale for its implementation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41787/08]

  Deputy Batt O’Keeffe: A significant number of sections of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act, 2004 have been commenced, principally those establishing the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) and those promoting an inclusive approach to the education of children with special educational needs. Specifically, the following sections have been commenced — 1, 2, 14(1)(a), 14(1)(c), 14(2) to 14(4), 19 to 37, 40 to 53.

As required under the Act, the NCSE provided a report making recommendations regarding the implementation of EPSEN which suggested additional investment over a period of years of up to €235m per annum across the education and health sectors. Having considered the NCSE report, and consulted with the education partners, the Department of Health and Children and the HSE, my Department identified a range of options for the implementation of EPSEN. My Department’s opinion is that the level of investment required would be greater than that envisaged in the NCSE report. In the light of the current financial circumstances, it is therefore not possible to proceed with full implementation in 2010 as originally envisaged. However, the Government will keep the matter under review and is committed to the full implementation of EPSEN at the earliest possible date.

I want to reiterate that children with special educational needs will continue to receive an education appropriate to their needs. The NCSE will continue to support schools, parents and children, and teachers and special needs assistants will continue to be deployed to schools to [191] meet children’s needs. As announced on Budget day, an additional €20m has been provided — €10m for education services and €10m for health services — to strengthen and enhance services, and continue the preparation for the full implementation of the Act at a later date.

An integrated approach is being adopted by the education and health sectors to target these additional resources to the areas of greatest need. Progress in both sectors will be kept under review by the Office for Disability & Mental Health and the Cross-Sectoral Team.