The Irish Progressive Association for Autism (IPAA) said Mr Dempey’s audit of special needs assistants (SNAs) in schools, which could lead to a reduction of up to 30% in numbers, was a “joke”.
“It’s only an exercise to cut posts. Minister Dempsey has lost control of his brief. People have lost confidence and it’s time for him to go,” said the group’s chairman, Kieran Kennedy.
Since the special needs system was introduced in schools in 1999, there have been huge backlogs. Principals have to make applications for individual pupils enrolled in their schools and the department has struggled to process them.
More than 4,700 applications have been made for special needs assistants in primary schools this year but only about 781 have been processed. These cases involve children who are starting school for the first time and their applications were prioritised.
The department told schools two weeks ago of a census of their special needs requirements, with a view to allocating staff to every school based on its size.
This would allow resource teachers and SNAs to be in place from next autumn, eliminating the need for separate applications for each pupil.
The IPAA said there were children who were still waiting for SNAs two years on and parents were now having to resort to the courts.
Mr Kennedy said: “The amount of cases being taken up is incredible and it’s going to confront the Department of Education very soon. You would not believe the anger of parents out there.”
But the Department of Education has denied reports that the number of SNAs would be reduced by 30%.
It said an inspection of 50 schools last year revealed some had kept on SNAs even though the pupils who had been earmarked for assistance had left.
“The new system is intended to prevent over-allocation. The minister’s primary concern is that resources go to schools that need them,” said a spokeswoman.
Fine Gael said Mr Dempsey was ignoring the reality that children were waiting for special needs assistants.
“The minister has been scrambling around to raise money through third-level fees or to cut costs, left, right and centre. Now he’s targeting children with special needs,” said Cork East TD David Stanton.
The plan has been given a cautious welcome by some educational groups.
INTO general secretary John Carr said: “The system we have in place now is a very centralised system where policy is being driven from (department HQ), and that’s not the best way to meet children’s needs on a national basis.
“The new system is very welcome in theory, but it has to be of a sufficient level to enable schools to meet pupils’ needs. That is the only way we will agree to it,” he said.