Education Minister Ruairi Quinn has been forced into a second embarrassing U-turn and reversed a 10% cut in resource teaching hours to schoolchildren with special needs.
The minister has ordered a review to examine why there was an unprecedented 12% rise in applications for resource teacher support this year, when the pupil population only rose by 1.3%.
He revealed it has been alleged that high income families are paying for children to be independently assessed, with psychologists put under pressure to maximise the possibility of a young child getting resources leaving low-income children with “a double disadvantage”.
“There is evidence that the current model used to allocate resources is flawed,” he said.
“This is creating an inequitable distribution of resource teaching hours.
“It has been found that pupils with special educational needs in some schools in better-off areas get more support than those from disadvantaged areas.”
The Government came under fire last week for announcing “savage” education cuts that would have seen 4,000 extra pupils share the same number of teachers as last year.
Mr Quinn rejected claims that his decision to fill another 500 teaching posts was an “embarrassing U-turn”, but admitted he made “the adjustment” after listening to the public and coming under pressure from Government backbenchers and the Cabinet, including Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
Sixteen months ago, Mr Quinn was forced to reverse cuts to disadvantaged schools and admitted “he got it wrong” as he retained more than half the original redundancies proposed.
He warned releasing the posts to cope with the record number of children needing support from September will have budgetary implications for his department in October.
“This will cost extra money,” said Mr Quinn, who has ordered a review of the allocation system for resource teachers.
“The equivalent funding I am going to have to get next year to bring it through until we get the new allocations model is the equivalent of increasing the pupil teacher ratio next year by two pupils from 28 up to 30.”
More than 42,500 students will need additional teaching support from September, compared with 38,400 pupils last year, from 10,265 resource teachers – including the 500 resource teaching posts that had been set aside for pupils assessed during the school year.
The overall figure will include 22,000 pupils – up by 2,000 – who also need to share the support given by 10,575 special needs assistants (SNAs),
The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has rejected claims of any cuts to the service, adding that the SNAs are moved around schools to meet the needs of youngsters and that figure includes 80 posts still to be filled to respond to new or emergency cases during the year.
It had implemented the Department of Education instructions to cut resource hours, which would have resulted in a pupil allocated with 4.15 additional teaching hours each week last year having that cut to 3.45 hours – a 25% drop from 2010/2011 levels.
Teaching union the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) – which has cancelled a protest at the Dáil tomorrow – and the Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN), the professional body for primary school leaders, said the U-turn will be a huge relief to children, school principals, teachers and families.
However, a Fianna Fáil motion calling for a full reversal of special needs cuts will still go ahead in the Dáil tonight and tomorrow.
Education spokesperson Charlie McConalogue said it will come as a relief to parents and teachers that Minister Quinn once again has realised he made yet another mistake in targeting children with special needs for more cuts in September.
“We recognise the fact that resource hours are being restored and parents will welcome this, but the axe remains over special needs assistants,” he said.
“We will be pushing ahead this evening and tomorrow in our effort to get government backbencher support for the campaign to reverse SNA cuts.”
Meanwhile Mr Quinn appointed Eamon Stack, a former chief inspector in the department, to chair a working group to develop a new model for allocating resource teachers in schools.
The group, which will include parents, will give a preliminary report back to the minister in September on how to reform the system.