Wednesday, 13 October 2021
Department of Education and Skills
Special Educational Needs
143. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills when she will establish the estimated costs of fully implementing the remaining sections and subsections of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004; if she plans to review the Act in view of changing needs and priorities as stated by her colleague Minister of State for Special Education and Inclusion in February 2021; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50118/21]
The Education for Persons with Special Needs (EPSEN) Act 2004 sets out the vision for the education of children with disabilities in this country.
The Act requires that a child with special educational needs should be educated in an inclusive environment alongside their peers unless the nature and extent of those needs would not be in the best interest of the child concerned or the other children with whom the child is to be educated.
For this purpose, my Department funds a continuum of education provision which covers the full spectrum of need ranging from placement in a mainstream class with supports or a placement in a more specialist setting, a special class or special school.My Department currently spends in excess of €2b in supporting this continuum annually.
I wish to advise the Deputy that a number of sections of the Education for Persons with Special Needs (EPSEN) Act 2004 have been commenced.
The commenced provisions include those establishing the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) and those providing for an inclusive approach to the education of children with special educational needs.
The following sections of the EPSEN Act were commenced in 2005.
Section 1 – Interpretation
Section 2 - providing for the inclusive education of children with Special Educational Needs
Section 14 – placing certain duties on schools
Sections 19 to 37 - placing the Council on a statutory footing.
Section 39 - placing certain duties on Health Boards
Sections 40 to 53 - amending the Education Act
Schedule 1 – providing for meetings and membership of the Council
Schedule 2 providing for the Chief Executive Officer of the Council.
The remaining sections of the Act have yet to be commenced. The Sections of the EPSEN Act which have not been implemented are those which would have conferred a statutory entitlement to –
an educational assessment for all children with special educational needs.
consequent development of a statutory individual educational plan (IEP).
the delivery of detailed educational services on foot of this plan.
an independent appeals process.
The Government has committed to consulting with stakeholders on how best to progress the EPSEN Act.
It should be noted, however, that since EPSEN was enacted, the Department’s policy on supporting children with special educational needs has changed and evolved on foot of evidence based policy advice from the NCSE which takes account of international perspectives.
Significantly, the focus of special needs education provision has changed from a model that is diagnosis led to one which is driven by the needs of the child. This is a substantially different view to the one underlying the EPSEN Act. The levels of investment by Government in special education has increased to facilitate the underlying reforms required to implement and embed the needs based approach.
I have also indicated that one of my priorities as Minister for Special Education and Inclusion is to carry out a review of the EPSEN Act.
This review will take into account the range of reforms and increased investment in supports which have taken place in recent years including the development of new allocation models which are not based primarily on the outcome of an assessment. The requirement for a diagnosis can create a risk of children being diagnosed as having a special educational need for resource allocation purposes, rather than for health reasons. Also, that as there is a spectrum of ability and disability within every special education disability category so account must be taken of need, as well as diagnosis.
Policy advice has been requested from the NCSE on the specialist education placements is also expected in the coming months.
The NCSE has responsibility for planning and coordinating school supports for children with special educational needs including the allocation of SNAs and reviews. The Department does not have a role in making individual school determinations. Accordingly your question has been forwarded to the NCSE for direct reply.
The NCSE manages the exceptional review process and handles each case individually. Some review requests can be concluded as an office based exercise, whilst others require a school to be visited. The timeframe for concluding a review can vary depending on the school context or the nature of the information provided.
In processing applications for an exceptional review of SNA support, the NCSE considers each application on the basis of the information provided by the school. Schools are required to use their existing allocation and deploy SNAs in support of the care needs as they are currently presenting in the school. The NCSE examines the application to identify whether there has been a significant change in the profile of care needs in the school. In some cases an additional allocation is required and is subsequently made available to the school. As advised in the Guidelines on the SNA Exceptional Review process published on the NCSE website, priority is given to schools with no or limited SNA resources and to rapidly developing schools.
For the 2020/21 Exceptional Review process, given the particular public health requirements and the fact that school buildings were closed for some of the year, wherever possible the opportunity was taken to conclude a review as an office based exercise. In most cases this resulted with the review being brought to a conclusion without a school visit. However, in some cases it was also necessary to visit the school in order to complete the process and 332 such school visits took place. The school visit provides an opportunity to engage with teachers, SNAs and school management on the effective deployment of SNAs in the school and the NCSE is thankful to schools for facilitating their taking place.