Thursday, 7 March 2013
EPSEN Act 2004
To ask the Minister for Education and Skills when he will publish and take action on the plan to implement the EPSEN Act 2004 in view of the contents of a report (details supplied) from the Children's Rights Alliance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11887/13]
The Children's Rights Alliance report noted that the Department of Education and Skills received an overall "B-minus" grade for solid progress, particularly in literacy, patronage and school buildings. This is one of the highest grades given to any Department and reflects well on the overall performance of our education system.
The National Council for Special Education, NCSE, has advised that an additional investment of up to €235 million per annum across the education and health sectors would be required to fully implement the EPSEN Act. In the Department's view, the level of investment required could be greater. While the Minister has done his best to date to preserve overall funding for special education, it has not been possible to identify additional resources from within the education budget to cover this cost.
The NCSE has been asked to provide policy advice on how the education system can best support children with special needs. This advice will guide the preparation of a plan on how aspects of EPSEN can be implemented, including prioritising access of children with special needs to an individual education plan.
I thank the Minister of State for his reply. We all recognise that children with special educational needs rely heavily on the State. Supports appropriately provided and administered early to improve their educational experience and outcomes are vital. I acknowledge that there is an enormous cost involved in the provision of SNA support. However, current demand for such support is phenomenal and growing. The proposed cap will put the service under severe pressure. I accept that we do not have an endless supply of money but special needs children are more vulnerable than the average child. In the past, many of these children were abandoned. They did not receive the type of support available to others during the past number of years. It is now recognised that with the right supports these children can flourish and become a positive part of mainstream society, which previously was not acknowledged.
I understand full implementation of the EPSEN Act will cost the State more. However, as has been stated many times, our top priority must be to assist those most in need. There is no doubt but that within the education system special needs children are the most dependent on the State.
I acknowledge the points made by the Deputy. As I stated earlier, the NCSE has been tasked with the provision of policy advice on the appropriate nature and configuration of educational supports required to be allocated in order to achieve as much as possible of EPSEN within the confines of the parcel of funding available in that regard. The Government will endeavour to ensure as much as possible of it is implemented.
The internal assessment is that the cost could be higher than the figure which I mentioned earlier. We will do our best to implement EPSEN within current constraints.
Depending on to whom one speakers the cost of full implementation of the EPSEN Act ranges from €235 million to €500 million. The first thing we need to do is determine the real cost.
In terms of the services currently being provided, I do not believe there is sufficient co-operation between the Departments of Education and Skills and Health in this regard. The HSE is currently reconfiguring delivery of its services. I have spoken to some of the principals and parents involved in the provision of special needs education. They believe there is not enough co-operation between the Departments of Education and Skills and Health in terms of the delivery of services. Some of the HSE's reconfiguration plans will affect the delivery of services.
Without being facetious, that is too optimistic. A number of sections have already been implemented. I can provide a list of all the sections that have been implemented thus far but for the sake of brevity, I will not do so now.
I take the point made by Deputy O'Brien in regard to ensuring greater collaboration between the Departments of Education and Skills and Health and for people to think outside the traditional silos within which they exist in terms of delivery of policy outcomes. I note the point made in that regard.