Monday, November 19, 2012
The Department of Education cannot say when children with special needs will be assured the full resource teaching they require, as staffing limits imposed by the troika mean pupils are getting just 85% of the recommended support.
The 2004 Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs (EPSEN) Act says children should have their level of needs for resource teaching, learning support, and other help professionally assessed.
However, the section requiring those needs to be fully provided has yet to be implemented.
Because of a cap on resource teacher numbers, the department instructed the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) in June to allocate 85% of resource teaching hours recommended to pupils.
The cut is also to allow for children with newly- assessed needs during the year to be provided with assistance.
However, the effect is that schools must put children with a range of learning difficulties into bigger groups for resource teaching or reduce one-to- one teaching.
The NCSE said last week an additional 430 extra resource teaching posts are being allocated to about 1,700 schools on foot of needs identified since the summer, but they too are based on 85% of the recommended support being given.
The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation has welcomed the creation of up to 300 full-time posts in primary schools as a result.
But the union said it is not good enough that the level of support is falling year-on-year.
"The Government must provide the teaching resources so that special needs children can get an appropriate education in their local primary school," general secretary Sheila Nunan said.
But the department expects full implementation of the EPSEN act could cost it and other departments more than the €235m a year that the NCSE estimated would be needed in 2006.
"Given the prevailing economic conditions, combined with employment control framework and spending restrictions, it will be difficult to implement the outstanding sections of the EPSEN act in the near future," it said.
Ruairi Quinn, the education minister, told the Irish Examiner last year he believes in legislating for rights but doing so should be subject to the availability of resources.
However, it is unclear if this view remains on foot of the children’s rights referendum result.
His department said it is determined to meet a Programme for Government commitment to publish a roadmap for implementing the EPSEN act.
"It is also intended to bring into effect many of the good ideas contained in the act, through policy developments across a range of areas in conjunction with forthcoming NCSE policy advice," a spokesperson said.