The Government has been accused of reducing its targets of providing extra psychologists to support schools’ work with students with special needs.
Fianna Fáil education spokesman Thomas Byrne said Education Minister Richard Bruton’s 2017 action plan, published this week, commits to only beginning the hiring process for 10 new staff to the National Education Psychological Service (NEPS).
This will not begin until between April and June, which he described as a delay to earlier promises on the recruitment.
Mr Byrne said Mr Bruton’s 2016-19 education plan of last September promised to begin hiring 65 educational psychologists in the first quarter of 2017. While that commitment did specify that recruitment would take place “as resources permit”, Mr Byrne said the delay is disappointing.
“It’s well acknowledged that we urgently need to hire additional psychologists to assist students with special needs. No explanation has been given as to why the recruitment process has been delayed,” he said.
Recent figures provided by Mr Bruton have shown that, despite promises that all schools would have some level of access to NEPS services, schools with a total 34,500 primary pupils do not have an assigned psychologist.
At a forum in Cork to consult about wellbeing in education, Mr Bruton referred to the commitment in the 2016-19 plan to increase NEPS staff by 65 psychologists. He was among panel members in a town hall-type meeting at St Brogan’s College in Bandon, where more than 70 representatives of the education community, including teachers, students, parents, support services, and the broader health and social services gave their views.
“Schools, while not the only players in the area, have an important role in promoting wellbeing,” said Mr Bruton.
His plans include the rollout, from next autumn, of wellbeing as an area of learning in the reformed junior cycle for second-level students up to third year. Ringfenced staffing allocations for guidance counselling are also being restored to second-level schools, and supports are being given to implementing recent guidelines on mental health promotion for primary and second-level schools.
Mr Bruton later visited Darrara National School near Clonakilty, a 130-year-old school which prides itself on its use of special education staff to help those among its 68 pupils who need extra help.
“For the past eight years, the school has used its special education teacher allocation to support as many pupils as possible. We also employ varied teaching methods and innovative techniques to support all our pupils,” said principal Bláthnaid Breslin.
From September, pupils with disabilities or severe learning difficulties will no longer need assessments from an educational psychologist or other professional to access special education resources. As well as speeding up access to extra teaching for those children, it should free up NEPS staff for other support work with schools.
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