Cabinet accused of stunt on Down Syndrome children resources

Independent Deputy Finian McGrath - no reason for delay

Access to resource teachers for children with Down syndrome should be granted immediately, instead of being kicked to a committee where it will stay until 2015, according to Independent TD Finian McGrath.

Proposing legislation to the Dáil that aims to improve education for children with Down syndrome in mainstream schools, he said there is “no time for delay” because students are continuing to lose out.

The Government had agreed not to vote down the bill, but instead refer it to the Oireachtas Education Committee. However, it was accused of a “stunt” by “pretending to go along with it” while leaving parents to wait as it draws out the process further.

During yesterday’s debate, junior education minister Sean Sherlock said the bill would now be considered by the Oireachtas Education Committee “in the context of forthcoming proposals to establish a completely new model for the allocation of resource teaching supports in mainstream schools”.

He said that, instead of “fixing the existing flawed system”, the Government would create a new model, based on the recommendations of a working group which will report “before the end of spring”.

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn — who was not in the Dáil for yesterday’s debate — signalled that it will be at least September 2015 before any changes can take effect.

Mr McGrath said there was no reason why his bill could not be passed, to give immediate rights to children, while the other system is worked on.

“It is entirely unacceptable that we make students go to school everyday and try to cope while we consult and deliberate,” he said.

Current policy means 20 to 30 children with Down syndrome who start school each year do not get an individual allocation of one-to-one teaching but depend on a share from their school’s general allocation of learning support.

This is because they have a mild, rather than moderate, general learning disability, or because they do not have another qualifying disability.

Independent TD Catherine Murphy said children with Down syndrome usually require the diagnosis of a second disability before receiving resource teacher hours.

This puts parents in a position, when their child is being assessed for other disabilities, “where they want to hope for the best but they almost have to get the worst”, she said. “We cannot have that extra burden placed on parents because there aren’t supports.”

Independent TD Clare Daly said ,“reading between the lines”, the minister’s actions have been nothing more than a stunt to get TDs “off your back”.

She referred to a case being taken by two parents in the High Court next Wednesday, and said: “If you really are shifting your policy, will you instruct your legal counsel to withdraw those proceedings and resolve the issue with the parents involved.

“Or are you going to tie up the case in an expensive legal challenge with monies that could be used for the children who are going to start in September?”

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