Dáil debates

Wednesday, 28 September 2022

Financial Resolutions 2022 - Financial Resolution No. 6: General: Financial Resolution (Resumed)


6:05 pm

Photo of Josepha MadiganJosepha Madigan (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I take this opportunity to thank my officials in the Department of Education, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Ministers, Deputies Michael McGrath and Donohoe, for their support in respect of special education, which is a priority of this Government. The Tánaiste appointed me to this role. This is my third budget as the very first Minister of State with responsibility for special education. In that time, I have increased the budget by 40%, which is significant. This budget in particular is significant. It is a budget of €2.6 billion, which represents a 10% increase on last year. In fact, it makes up 27% of the entire departmental budget. Last year, it made up 25%. This is an acknowledgement by the Government of the importance of special education.

We have increased the number of special needs assistants, SNAs, by 1,194 this year. We have increased the number of special education teachers by 686. These increases will go a long way toward supporting children with additional needs in mainstream classes, special classes and special schools. Over the last three budgets, I have increased the number of SNAs by 3,300 and the number of special education teachers by 2,000.

One opportunity that I wanted to seek out this year was the establishment of some sort of incremental funding or one-off funding for the National Council for Special Education, NCSE. We managed to achieve that by means of funding of €13 million. The NCSE had not received any extra funding since 2003. Its CEO, John Kearney, will now be in a position to employ 161 staff. Of these, 109 will be special educational needs organisers, SENOs. He will also have 40 staff dedicated to rolling out the Irish Sign Language, ISL, scheme under the Irish Sign Language Act 2017. He will also be able to employ other administrative staff that have been badly needed over the decades. It is important that a visible and effective presence be felt on the ground. The SENOs are the first point of contact for many parents and families. It is vital that this funding was not just given and increased, but also that it be expended in a meaningful way. I have every faith in Mr. Kearney that he will do so.

It is very important that the most vulnerable in society, children with additional needs, are looked after and have access to an appropriate placement whether in a mainstream class, a special class or a special school. I hope that the measures we have brought in today will help to achieve that aim. We will have 370 special classes opening next year. These will accommodate 2,000 children. We will also have 250 special school places across 42 special schools. There is demonstrable and ongoing work under way. We also have the emergency legislation brought in earlier this summer by the Minister, Deputy Foley, and myself. This will help to increase the number of special classes being opened. It has rightly been pointed out that it is not just about opening special classes, but also about making sure that they are adequately resourced and that they have the supports they need, including grants and staffing resources such as SNAs or special education teachers. We will absolutely make sure that is the case. We now have more than 20,000 SNAs and more than 19,000 special education teachers in this country. That goes a really long way towards supporting our children. We have also increased funding for the assistive technology scheme by €2 million, an increase of 60%, and we have some funding going to special schools under the free schoolbooks scheme. Approximately €1 million of the funding for that scheme will go to special schools, which will help our most vulnerable children.

I commend this budget to the House. There is also some funding for the National Educational Psychological Service, which will receive 54 extra staff members. Lastly, on summer provision, as the Minister, Deputy Foley, has alluded to, this is something we wanted to announce at the time of the budget because it allows schools certainty in planning, allowing them to get their staff knowing that they can hold them and that the funding is there to do so. There will be €40 million in total for schools to hold summer programmes in 2023.


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