The Government has been forced into an embarrassing U-turn over cuts to special needs following a backlash from parents and teachers.
However, planned protests against the cuts will still take place this evening.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn, trying to play down the significance of the U-turn, said it was an adjustment in response to concerns by Labour TDs and “unease” at Monday’s meeting of the Cabinet’s social affairs subcommittee. Asked about anger vented by parents of children with special needs over the past week, he claimed parents “were unnecessarily frightened” by the INTO.
The reversal will cost the Department of Education around €20m next year, which Mr Quinn will have to find elsewhere in his €8bn budget if a review of how special needs supports are allocated does not come up with another way.
Despite the fast-tracking of 500 more resource teachers for 42,500 pupils whose one-to-one tuition was to have been cut by up to half an hour a week, parents say children will still feel the effects of limits on special needs assistant (SNA) numbers and other measures.
The last 500 resource posts were being kept by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) for late applications in autumn. Last week it told schools they would get 75% of recommended hours for pupils with disabilities, instead of the 85% this year, due to a cap of 5,265 resource teachers it can sanction.
The INTO has called off its Dáil rally tonight in response to the reversal. It rejected Mr Quinn’s claims, saying parents were rightly concerned by the scale of the cuts and not by its robust but fair commentary.
NCSE chairman Eamon Stack, ex-chief inspector of Mr Quinn’s department, will oversee a review of how resource teachers are given to schools. The minister said it will focus on why there was a 12% rise in pupils qualifying for support when enrolments were up 1.3%.
Lorraine Dempsey, of the Special Needs Parents Association, said shared access is more common as the same 10,500 SNAs have to care for more children.
“We’ve decided to continue our protests because of concerns on this, with one SNA often catering for five children in five different classes, but also concerns about siblings with autism forced to share July provision and other issues,” she said. “Parents are stakeholders in their children’s education; their anger and fear has been in response to announcements by the NCSE and the department, and not to comments from unions.”
Fianna Fáil insisted that SNA provision has been cut, with the same 10,500 allocated for 22,000 children in September, 2,000 pupils more than this year.
Charlie McConalogue, the party’s education spokesman said: “It’s very clear the minister is simply reacting to public reaction, primarily from parents. But because the SNA cuts are harder to measure, he decided to leave those numbers as they were because he feels he can get away with it.”
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