Written answers

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Department of Education and Skills

Special Educational Needs

9:00 pm

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin North East, Labour)
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Question 171: To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if he will publish his key policy document on the education of children on the autistic spectrum; if he will confirm that this policy was produced in recent years and is the basis of his current national programme for the education of citizens with autism; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26250/11]

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Minister, Department of Education and Skills; Dublin South East, Labour)
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The Deputy will be aware that policy can be expressed and manifested through a variety of forms. Explicitly, it is communicated via legislation, regulations, rulings, orders, plans, strategies, policy statements, and other forms – or through a combination of these. Therefore the Deputy will appreciate that specific policies and objectives are not always articulated in just one document.

My Department strives to ensure that a continuum of special education provision is available as required for children with special educational needs. In line with this approach the policy is to promote a child-centred approach to education of all children with special educational needs including those with autism. As each child with autism is unique they should have access to a range of different approaches to meet their individual needs.

Children with autism present with a wide range of needs. Some children are capable of being fully integrated into mainstream schools without additional teaching or care supports. Others are able to attend mainstream schools but need additional teaching and/or care assistance. Many are best enrolled in autism-specific classes where more intensive and supportive interventions are required. Some may move from one setting to another as they get older and differing needs/strengths/abilities emerge.

The preferred policy of my Department is that children with autism are educated in school settings where children may have access to individualised education programmes (IEPs), fully-qualified professional teachers, special needs assistants, the appropriate school curriculum with the option, where possible and appropriate, of full or partial integration and interaction with other pupils.

Autism classes are established with a staffing ratio of 1 teacher and a minimum of 2 Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) for every 6 children. Other SNAs may be allocated if required to meet the care needs of the children. Start-up grants are provided to the schools to enable special equipment to be purchased. Enhanced capitation is paid in respect of each child and assistive technology is funded where this is recommended.

This approach promotes the maximum level of inclusion which accords with the intent of the EPSEN Act. While some children may be able to attend a mainstream class, for others the most appropriate provision may be in a special class or unit in the school or in a special school.

My Department supports provision in mainstream schools, some 430 special classes for autism attached to mainstream and special schools and 18 special schools for children with autism throughout the State which cater for the educational needs of some 5,000 children with autism, all of which operate within the policy parameters.

This policy is based on advice received from international experts on autism, NEPS, the Inspectorate and the report of the Irish Task Force on Autism. My Department has satisfied itself that research does not support the exclusive usage of any one approach as a basis for national educational provision for children with autism. It is for this reason that my Department's preferred policy is for a child centred approach where the approach to be taken is based on the individual child's needs.

In arriving at the preferred policy which is currently in place, my Department has considered published research, including the Report of the Task Force on Autism (2001) and the Evaluation of Educational Provision for Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (2006), both of which are available on my Department's website has also informed the policy. My Department was also mindful of contributions of many other experts at international conferences/visits have also informed the development views.

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin North East, Labour)
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Question 172: To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if he will report to Dáil Éireann on the home tuition and educational fees which he has provided for the former students of a school (details supplied) in Dublin 13 which was forced to close on 29 July 2011; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26251/11]

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Minister, Department of Education and Skills; Dublin South East, Labour)
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As the Deputy is aware the centre to which he has referred submitted a proposal for an academy for children with autism to my Department for consideration. My Department took a decision not to provide funding to support the centre as the proposal submitted was not in line with my Department's policy on educational provision for children with autism. My Department had no direct funding arrangements with the group in question.

The purpose of the Home Tuition Scheme is to provide a compensatory educational service for children 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 and also to provide early educational intervention for pre-school children with autism.

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) is responsible for the provision of a range of educational services at local and national level for students with special educational needs. In particular, its network of Special Education Needs Organisers (SENOs) co-ordinates special needs education provision at local level and arranges for the delivery of special educational services. The SENOs act as single points of contact for parents of students with special educational needs. Another specific function of the SENO is to identify appropriate educational placements for children with special educational needs. SENOs are a valuable source of support to parents who are actively sourcing a placement for their children.

The NCSE have been fully engaged in securing placements for the children in question. The NCSE has advised my Department that there are placements available for all of these children. I am aware that the parents of the children have all been advised of their placement options by the NCSE.

I also wish to advise the Deputy that my Department has approved home tuition, from the commencement of the current school year, for 1 month for all of the children concerned. The purpose of this provision is to facilitate transitional arrangements for children taking up placements. My Department will consider, as an exceptional measure, extending this period further to facilitate transitional arrangements for the children once they have enrolled in the school based placements.

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