Education Minister Ruairi Quinn told the Dáil education committee that staff of the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) were being assigned to every primary and second-level school in the current academic year. Previously, not all schools had access, but those which did not could commission private psychologists to assess children who needed a report when applying for extra teaching supports or, in some cases, a special needs assistant (SNA).
However, Sinn Féin education spokesman Jonathan O’Brien said he understood that schools have a limit of three NEPS psychological assessments a year, meaning children are still left waiting.
“I know one case of a student waiting three months for a NEPS psychologist to come and do an assessment. The school have written on a number of occasions to get the assessment done,” he said.
He asked Mr Quinn how many students were waiting for an assessment by NEPS and the average waiting time. The minister said he did not have the information immediately available but he would find out.
Mr Quinn told TDs that two thirds of the 1,400 increase in teacher numbers at primary and second-level in the next school year would be resource teachers.
In most cases, the National Council for Special Education requires a psychological assessment in support of an application for resource teaching. The minister was forced to ask the Cabinet last June for additional resource teachers, breaching a previous cap on their numbers, after anger over efforts to reduce the hours allocated to students.
Despite the increase and maintaining individual allocations at existing levels, pupils with disabilities are still receiving 85% of the recommended weekly hours as increasing demand has forced limitations on provision since 2011.
A new system for allocating additional special needs teaching is being devised by the NCSE, which has told Mr Quinn the current system needs updating.