Dozens of families, it emerged, had sought her help in wishing to complain about the allocation of special needs assistants (SNAs) because of the withdrawal of, or reduced access to, such staff in hundreds of schools as a result of a Government staffing limit. But the Ombudsman had to tell them she cannot investigate, because the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) is outside her remit.
Hundreds of children, parents and teachers protested outside Leinster House last week calling for the lifting of a limit of 10,575 SNAs meeting the care needs of around 13,000 children in primary and second level schools.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn said he must keep a limit in place because of staffing restrictions for schools and education agencies under the EU/IMF bailout deal.
A Department of Education review earlier this year found there were 27% more SNAs in place than merited, mostly because the children they were appointed to work with had left some schools.
Ms Logan wrote to previous health minister Mary Harney earlier this year requesting that the law governing her office be amended to grant her the powers to investigate complaints against the NCSE.
The legislative responsibility has since passed to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and Children’s Minister Frances Fitzgerald.
“There are a number of organisations that were set up after our own 2002 legislation and it is a concern for us that we don’t have a role or authority to investigate if families or children have complaints about them,” a spokesperson for Ms Logan said.
“The question of SNAs is a big one at the moment and we want to do what we can to help families in a difficult situation,” she said.
A spokesperson for Ms Fitzgerald said her department expects further contact from the Ombudsman for Children’s Office (OCO) in relation to her remit later this year.
The NCSE said it met with Ms Logan last year and agreed to allow her office submit queries to it on an interim basis until the question of her authority to investigate complaints is resolved. A spokesperson said the council received six requests last year and engaged with the OCO in all instances.
While the NCSE official is agreeable to come under the remit of her office, Ms Logan has asked it to be as transparent as possible about its decision-making process and to communicate more openly with parents.
Many families with issues around the NCSE’s handling of allocation of SNAs or resource teaching hours may also have complaints to the OCO about access to other services, such as speech and language therapy which is administered by health services.
The country’s 4,000 schools have only been allocated 90% of the resource teaching hours recommended for children with severe learning difficulties from this month because of another cap on staffing.
However, the Department of Education says extra hours may be sanctioned depending on the level of late applications to the NCSE for pupils who require extra teaching since last May’s deadline.