Thursday, 13 October 2011
Special Educational Needs
My motion relates to funding that was approved for the autism unit in Finn Valley College, Stranorlar, County Donegal, which has more than 300 students. Funding was approved for the old building of the former school before the new building was built. That building has recently been completed and the students moved in in September. The previous Minister approved funding for an autism unit within the former school. The board of management and County Donegal VEC assumed that funding would be transferred to the new school to provide the much-needed autistic services for the students who depend on such services. I do not understand why the funding of €150,000 has been withdrawn given that there is no autism unit in the new building. I ask the Minister of State to outline whether the funding can be re-instated. I hope he will have good news that the funding originally approved and then withdrawn can now be re-instated or at least that the Department might enter into consultations with the school's board of management to find a way of having the funding re-allocated to the school.
I have a separate issue relating to the same school, Finn Valley College. The Minister of State recently answered a parliamentary question on an application from County Donegal VEC for approximately €10,000 for the shuttle bus service to the school. The new school was built 600 m from the old building and yet the school transport drop-off and pick-up point was factored in as being at the old school rather than the new school. The pupils are now walking to and from the new school. During the first week seven or eight students walked to the school in the rain but had to go home because their clothes were so wet. Although the Minister of State has given a reply to a parliamentary question submitted by a colleague of mine in the past 24 hours saying no funding would be available even though the VEC made an appeal, it is a once-off grant of €10,000 and I appeal to him to revisit the decision.
I am taking this Adjournment matter on behalf of the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn. I thank the Senator for raising this matter as it gives me the opportunity to outline to the House my Department's position regarding the allocation of funding for an ASD classroom at Finn Valley College, County Donegal.
In February 2008, the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, advised my Department that it had sanctioned a special class for pupils with autistic spectrum disorder from September 2008 at Finn Valley College. In June 2008 County Donegal VEC submitted a formal application for funding to provide the additional accommodation. The application was assessed and in July 2008 final approval was granted and funding of €150,000 was sanctioned on a devolved basis to County Donegal VEC to provide the special class at Finn Valley College.
In January 2009, County Donegal VEC wrote to officials in the planning and building unit of my Department requesting an extension of time to draw down the approved funding, stating that the procurement process for the installation of the ASD unit was in train. My Department approved the extension in time and advised the VEC that once the works commenced on site a 70% instalment of the grant would be paid on receipt of documentation as set out in my Department's letter of approval. My Department subsequently received no request from County Donegal VEC for drawdown of payment.
In June 2010, construction commenced on a new 3,452 sq. m. school for Finn Valley College to cater for 325 pupils and was ready for occupation in September 2011. The new school was designed and planning permission had been granted prior to the approval of the ASD unit. In November 2010, a request was received by my Department from County Donegal VEC to include an ASD unit in the new school building. Following a technical assessment, it was agreed that it would not be feasible to add the unit to the project at that time, as it had reached such an advanced stage. The VEC was advised at that time to submit an application for funding for an ASD unit at the new school and to date no application has been received from County Donegal VEC.
I understand, however, that officials in the planning and building unit have recently been in touch with County Donegal VEC on this matter and that an application for funding for an ADU at Finn Valley College will be submitted shortly by County Donegal VEC. I again thank the Senator for giving me the opportunity to outline the current position to the House.
On the school transport matter, if the Senator makes direct contact with my office I will undertake to examine that case again.