Dáil debates

Thursday, 2 November 2006

Crime Levels

Special Educational Needs.

5:00 pm

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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Go raibh míle maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle, as ucht cead a thabhairt dom an cheist thábhachtach seo a ardú. Tá áthas orm go bhfuil an tAire Stáit inár measc, cé gur mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire Oideachais agus Eolaíochta í fhéin mar gheall ar an cheist thábhachtach seo.

The Minister has clearly stated that every child deserves the opportunity to reach his or her potential. She has stated that her aim is to create the environment in which this can be achieved. This laudable statement contrasts sharply with the tortuous and damaging uncertainty that the Minister and her Department have created for one of my young constituents in Balbriggan. One young constituent, Oisín Melia, who was born on 26 April 2002, made repeated visits with his parents to the Mater Hospital child guidance clinic in Swords and was finally diagnosed with autism in June 2005. Fortunately for Oisín, his parents are well informed and well able to fight his case and the Minister for Education and Science has not heard the last of this matter. This matter needs to be resolved and the Minister needs to learn lessons from the progress, or lack of it, to date.

I am in possession of a report by researchers from California State University, Stanislaus, which was given to me by Oisín's parents. This report indicates that most experts in autism agree that the earlier the intervention is delivered, the better will be the outcomes. The report also questions the suitability of treating children with autism with a variety of intervention methods. Thankfully, Oisín's parents have taken this to heart and sought the constancy and routine which a child like Oisín requires to make progress. Considerable progress has, therefore, been made.

A letter from Nessa and Ciarán Melia stated that the Department of Education and Science sanctioned 20 hours' tuition per week. It then stated that Oisín began taking 25 hours' tuition per week in January 2006, with his parents covering the additional cost. The letter stated that since then, Oisín progressed well and began to communicate verbally in the following two months, albeit in a very basic way. His parents also made some progress in respect of toilet training for him. They argued that this would have been inconceivable prior to him receiving applied behavioural analysis, ABA, intervention and stated categorically that this intervention was reaping rewards for their son and gradually opening up potential for the future. The letter went on to state that while they were encouraged by Oisín's progress, they were extremely concerned about the home tuition system under which he received his funding. According to the Minister, such funding is re-examined every six months and the criteria under which it is awarded are currently and distressingly put in doubt.

I ask the Minister to take on board the plight of this family. Life is difficult enough for it without putting it in a position which creates uncertainty. Not only is the Minister creating uncertainty for this family, there is no list of tutors qualified in ABA tuition in the Department of Education and Science. The parents advertised in a newspaper and, luckily, received an excellent Montessori-trained ABA teacher. However, this teacher is finding her position in doubt because of the Department's position. In sanctioning 20 hours, the Department is effectively saying that the hours are acceptable but that it is not too sure about the tuition and who will administer it. This is unacceptable. I ask the Minister to take on board the real and very good advice I have received, which basically reflects on a letter to a Government colleague where the Minister stated that the home tuition scheme provides funding for parents for education at home and it was extended in recent years to facilitate tuition for children awaiting a suitable educational placement.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy Sargent's time has concluded.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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I will conclude by saying that there is no authority citing the requirement for a school placement. The area administered by Fingal County Council only has 11 places for a population of 250,000, even if everyone was suitable for a school placement. The Minister will, hopefully, have to meet the parents and tutor in question and visit the location where the tuition is taking place to be satisfied that the best possible tuition is being given to this child at a bargain basement price for the Department.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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I ask Deputy Sargent to conclude as he has exceeded his allotted time.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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I ask the Minister to take on board the advice. A total of 30 to 35 hours is required internationally for children with autism. Some 20 hours is insufficient and, at least, the Department should leave the tutor in place.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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It is unfair to the staff of the House for the Deputy to exceed his allotted time.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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I am not keeping them any longer than is strictly necessary.

Photo of Tony KilleenTony Killeen (Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Clare, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Deputy for raising this matter as it provides me with the opportunity to clarify on behalf of the Minister for Education and Science the position of the Department of Education and Science in respect of the educational provision for pupils with autistic spectrum disorders, ASD, and, in particular, associated issues under the home tuition scheme.

The Deputy is aware of the commitment of the Department of Education and Science to ensure that all children, including those with ASD, receive an education appropriate to their needs. The variety of current provision in this regard includes pre-school classes for children with autism, special classes for children with autism attached to special schools and mainstream schools, special classes for children with Asperger's syndrome, as well as a range of supports for pupils with autism integrated in mainstream classes. A pilot scheme has facilitated the establishment of stand-alone facilities providing an ABA specific methodology.

The Department is of the view that children with autism, in common with all children, should have access to appropriate provision delivered by suitably qualified teachers within the school system where the children can mix with their wider peer group and have maximum opportunities for integration. Pupils benefit from having a wider range of ASD teaching methodologies, fully qualified national school teachers, a school structure and the option of integration into mainstream classes immediately available, depending on each child's ability and progress.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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Can we talk about the child whose case I raised?

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy Sargent should allow the Minister of State to speak.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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We are talking about a universal situation.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Minister of State, without interruption.

Photo of Tony KilleenTony Killeen (Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Clare, Fianna Fail)
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Schools have the support of the special education support service which is committed to providing continuing training as appropriate.

The newly established National Council for Special Education and its team of more than 70 special educational needs organisers are also working across the country to ensure that new services are put in place where needed so that children with special needs, including those on the autistic spectrum, have access to appropriate school-based provision.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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That would be for children in school, not for those receiving home tuition.

Photo of Tony KilleenTony Killeen (Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Clare, Fianna Fail)
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The home tuition scheme administered by the Department provides funding for parents to educate children at home who, for a number of reasons such as chronic illness, are unable to attend school. The scheme was extended in recent years to facilitate tuition for children awaiting a suitable educational placement, including children diagnosed with ASD. The child in question has been sanctioned 20 hours per week, which is the maximum allowable under the terms of the scheme.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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That is not enough internationally.

Photo of Tony KilleenTony Killeen (Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Clare, Fianna Fail)
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On review of a number of applications for home tuition, details concerning the qualifications of some of the proposed tuition providers gave rise to concern. As home tuition takes place outside the normal school framework, the Deputy will appreciate the need to ensure that tuition providers are appropriately qualified to educate the children concerned.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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Why does he not explain this?

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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I ask the Deputy to behave.

Photo of Tony KilleenTony Killeen (Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Clare, Fianna Fail)
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The usual requirement is a fully qualified teacher. However, other qualifications are acceptable, depending on the individual needs of the child. In this context, a review of qualifications is under way in consultation with the Department's inspectorate. Nominated tuition providers with qualifications other than teaching qualifications have been accepted for the first school term this year to allow time to establish the suitability of the range of qualifications submitted. As the process progresses, the parents concerned will be informed of the decision which will result in approval for subsequent terms of the nominated tuition provider or direction to recruit a tuition provider with suitable qualifications. It is important to stress that the allocation of tuition hours under the scheme is not at issue in the context of the review of qualifications in this regard.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter as it provides me with the opportunity on behalf of the Minister to clarify the position of the Department of Education and Science in respect of the educational provision for pupils with ASD and, in particular, associated issues under the home tuition scheme.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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That is not enough, the child needs certainty.

The Dáil adjourned at 5.20 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 7 November 2006.