Dáil debates

Thursday, 5 May 2022

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Special Educational Needs

6:35 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent) | Oireachtas source

This is a very important topic, as I know the Minister of State, Deputy Madigan, appreciates. It relates to what was known as the July provision and now has a new name, that is, the summer school programme for all primary schools. I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this important matter. Since I tabled it, the Department has published the guidelines, which is one of the issues I was going to raise. I welcome that the guidelines have been issued. I also welcome the sending of a letter to all principals. I will come to the good points contained in the guidance but I have no idea why it has been issued so late in the year. It creates huge problems for schools in terms of preparation, clarity and certainty. Will the Minister of State give an explanation as to why it is so late in coming and an assurance this will not happen again?

There are a number of positive elements outlined clearly in the guidelines and the letter to principals. There are 11 bullet points setting out proposed improvements, including that an overseer may be appointed, a preparation time will be given and there will be an additional ten hours of paid time. I want to highlight the positives. There is a difficulty, however, regarding the undertaking in respect of additional pay for teachers and special needs assistants, SNAs. I am not sure whether I am just being pedantic but there seems to be a difference in this regard between what is stated in the guidance and in the letter that went to principals. The letter indicates that teachers and SNAs working on the programme will receive an additional week's pay for each week of the programme based on their personal rate of pay. On page 15 of the guidelines, the position on payment rates is not so clear. It states that overseers, teachers and SNAs who work on the programme will be paid for this work based on what they are normally paid during the year, that is, their personal rate. The letter suggests there will be a doubling of that rate. Will the Minister of State clarify this? I welcome the other points set out, including that the application form will be simplified, there will be flexibility and so on.

My difficulty relates to the core number of pupils in special schools and special classes who are being left out of the summer schools programme. The Minister of State might disagree with me on this, so I will go into a little detail to explain my point. The reason the July programme came about in the first place was not as a result of a proactive move by any Department or Government. It came from a High Court action back in the late 1990s. Arising from that ruling, the Department had to provide for a system that ensured children with complex special needs would not be deprived of an education for a long period during the summer, which was leading to such pupils regressing. It was necessary to go to the High Court to get that basic recognition and out of that ruling came the July provision. I understand a review of the provision has been under way since 2019. Where is the outcome of that review? It is very important that we see it.

Some of the figures that have been pointed out to me in respect of the number of children in special schools and special classes who are not in a position to avail of the July provision because their schools are not providing it are truly shocking. It is done on a voluntary basis and if schools do not opt in, there is no service. Various people concerned with this issue have got the figures through freedom of information requests. There should be no need to have to find out the information in this way. A review of the July provision should be carried out each year and an analysis provided of the uptake, the feedback on how well it operated and, most importantly, why some pupils were not in a position to avail of it. This would ensure the Department can learn from what is happening each year and that more certainty can be brought to bear on the issue. I keep calling it the July provision even though the name has changed.


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