Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan will need extra funds by the year end to cater for more students qualifying for college grants and more special needs’ supports in schools.
She also told TDs and senators that just over €1bn provided for pensions of teachers and other school staff will fall short of what was needed, as it now appeared that 350 to 400 teachers more than provided for in the Department of Education budget are retiring this year.
In a briefing to the Oireachtas education committee, the minister said demographic pressures were also impacting strongly in spending on student supports. The 2015 education budget set aside €332m for student support, the bulk of it going on grants paid to students through Student Universal Support Ireland, which also pays the €3,000 fee for eligible students.
The figure was down from €370m in 2014, an amount that included around €14m for which the minister had needed Dáil approval last December when it emerged more students than expected qualified for support.
The other main budgetary strain relates to school supports for pupils with special educational needs, as more students with disabilities require the help of resource teachers and special needs assistants, even after extra posts were provided for in the minister’s 2015 budget.
She told the committee the model to replace the current system under which pupils need a formal diagnosis, often from the department’s National Educational Psychological Service, would be replaced after a pilot system operating in 48 schools this year was evaluated.
However, the necessary information about children with complex needs is still awaited from the Health Service Executive and Ms O’Sullivan has been unable to commit to a new system, under which schools would have automatic sanction for special education teachers, being in place by next September.
The minister accepted criticism of the department’s reporting of targets on access to psychologists. Committee members said it was pointless stating that close to 100% of schools have access to a National Educational Psychological Service psychologist, when the real measure was whether children could actually get an assessment they need from the service.
People Before Profit TD Joan Collins said if there are only a certain number of psychologists, then obviously a certain amount of children will not be able to access resource teachers.
“So unless there’s more National Educational Psychological Service people, we’re really under-resourcing that area,” she said.
Labour Senator Mary Moran said she constantly received reports of people being unable to get a psychological report because their school was limited to just one or two assessments a year. Ms O’Sullivan acknowledged the service was stretched to cover all schools.
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