Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills

National Council for Special Education: Chairperson Designate

3:30 pm

Mr. Joe Hayes:

I will briefly thank Deputy Byrne for putting his finger on a certain issue. When I became a reluctant volunteer for this role, it struck me that, after 40 years as a civil servant, I would find myself on the other side of the line, as it were. One of the advantages of approaching my 70th birthday is becoming less bound by the frontiers of bureaucracy and more capable of saying what comes to mind. It will not be a problem for me, but the Deputy raised a valid point and I thank him for doing so.

Deputy Martin asked what the challenges would be. I thought of two, and my answer will apply to everyone's contribution. One will be to keep the current level of funding and resources. With issues like Government spending on special needs, I often find that we are rarely in the front seat when those debates take place. Funding for special needs is not something that jumps forward and, when a recession comes, it can easily be sacrificed.

Second, I am struck by the fact that, of the total education budget, almost one fifth is allocated to special education. That €1.68 billion is an enormous amount of money. The challenge will not only be to retain that level of funding, but to ensure it is spent in a meaningful way. It is not just about resources, but how one uses them. That is what I like about the NCSE. This is an organisation with a great deal of independence. Initially, I worried that it was so close to the Department of Education and Skills, it was actually a part of it and all we would be doing was bolstering the conventional wisdom. To its great credit, though, the NCSE does not do that. It has an independent research arm that is well worth listening to and one of the best in the world. It is important that we keep the resources and use them properly. For example, I feel strongly about the fact that there will be special classes, not in all schools, but where children live locally. While my next comment may be radical, the new school admissions Act will present some interesting scenarios where all schools are faced with the reality of admitting and caring for special needs children instead of passing the buck, as it were, to other schools. I hesitate to say more, as I am so new to this, but there are some hot potatoes ahead of us, and handling and dealing with them will be interesting.

I am happy to be with the NCSE, as it takes inclusion and equality seriously. We need political support and attention.

Do come and visit our research centre. Please give us support. We need it.

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