Dáil debates

Thursday, 30 July 2020

Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Special Educational Needs

11:05 am

Jennifer Carroll MacNeill (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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8. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the supports being made available to the 39 schools that were directed to establish special classes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19404/20]

Jennifer Carroll MacNeill (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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My question relates to the 39 schools that were directed to provide special classes. Has every support that the Department and its officials can provide been provided? Can we get an assurance that the Department has responded to every request for additional resources and space that the schools have made recently and previously? Be it down to a difficulty or unwillingness on the part of the school or a lack of communication or failure in administration on the part of the Department, the parent of a child with additional needs does not care. Nor does the child. They need the school place.

Photo of Josepha MadiganJosepha Madigan (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputy for her question. I agree with her that we cannot tolerate a child with special needs not being treated equal to every other child in terms of a right to access education. I am determined to rectify such problems. The Deputy will know that 20% of the Department's Vote, or €1.9 billion, goes towards special education in recognition of the work that needs to be done in that area.

There is a process for the 39 schools. I am in a position to speak about the process generally but not the minutiae of the particular schools themselves. That is a statutory function and I have my own statutory role. The National Council for Special Education, NCSE, has had extensive engagement with patron bodies and the schools on securing places for children with special needs. There is still a small shortfall, with us needing to sort out approximately 43 special class places. We have instigated a process under section 37A of the Education Act, which is something that is only done where all reasonable efforts have failed. We did this on 26 June when letters were sent to the 39 schools to determine whether each had the capacity to provide a special class. The legislation was used for the first time in 2019 and a special school was set up in Dublin 15 as well as six special classes.

There is a perennial dearth of places for children with special needs. I am determined to stamp that out and bring a targeted action plan to this issue. We must look after our most vulnerable, those being, children with special needs.

Jennifer Carroll MacNeill (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State and appreciate her commitment to the issue. I wish her every success in that work and it is fantastic that she is in that seat.

I wish to raise a linked matter with the Minister for discussion with her colleague, the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly. The greatest issue that will face the education sector is that of children who have not received a timely disability assessment under the Disability Act to determine whether they have additional needs, communication needs or sensory processing disorders. We have seen concerning figures from the HSE. Will the Minister take this matter up with her colleague as soon as may be? Parents always know if there is something not quite right in the development of their children in terms to their connections, reaching particular milestones or meeting certain guidelines. That is evident from the reactions of consultants in Crumlin, Temple Street and elsewhere, who always trust and respond to the parents' instinct. However, parents need help. They cannot do it alone. They need professional supports as much to get structures in place for their children as to have what they are seeing in how their children are doing verified by objective third-party views.

This matter is coming down the line for the Minister, be it today or later. Children who are not getting timely assessments are not getting the services they need in a timely manner, which will impact them throughout their lives. I urge the Minister and her colleagues to take this issue up with the Minister for Health and the HSE as a matter of urgency.

Norma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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I appreciate the importance of the issue raised by the Deputy. I also appreciate her point about parents' intuition where their children are concerned. I recognise that the earlier the intervention, the more positive the outcome. I assure the Deputy that I will raise this issue with the Minister for Health and the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Rabbitte. The Minister of State, Deputy Madigan, and I will continue to be supportive of the matters raised by Deputy Carroll MacNeill and endeavour to bring them to fruition as outlined by her.

Jennifer Carroll MacNeill (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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I appreciate that commitment and the Minister's support. This matter is something that Deputies will have to raise time and again because it is of such concern, which the Minister recognises. I would welcome it if the Minister reverted to the House and updated us on the progress she has made, perhaps at the occasion of our next education Question Time. We will raise the matter with the Minister for Health separately. I thank the Minister for her commitment.