Written answers

Tuesday, 21 June 2022

Department of Education and Skills

National Educational Psychological Service

Photo of Pat BuckleyPat Buckley (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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574. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if her Department has plans to increase NEPS services across the State and reinstate and expand the in-school and early years therapy support demonstration project; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32532/22]

Photo of Norma FoleyNorma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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My Department’s National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) provides educational psychological support to all primary and post-primary schools. This involves direct support in the event of a critical incident, access to national and regional support and development work to build school capacity to support students, access to a NEPS psychologist for responses to queries arising, and access to individual pupil casework where there is need via a NEPS psychologist.

Following the introduction of a new model of Special Education Teacher Allocation (SET model) to all Primary and Post Primary School in September 2017, additional supports for children with special educational needs are now embedded in all primary and post primary schools.  Schools allocate their Special Education Teaching and SNA supports based on need in the school setting, so that those with highest level of need can access the highest level of support within the school in a timely manner.  This replaced the previous model of support whereby children with more complex needs required a clinical diagnosis of a particular disorder in order to access Resource Teaching hours. The introduction of this new model means that pupils no longer have to have a psychological assessment, or a diagnosis of a disability, in order to access additional support in school.  Schools provide supports based on a Continuum of Support so that those with highest level of need can access the highest level of support within the school in a timely manner.

NEPS’ psychologist numbers currently stand at 224.52 whole-time equivalent (WTE) posts, having grown from a base of 173 in 2014.  Any further expansion of the NEPS service will be considered as part of the estimates process for 2023.

The School Inclusion Model (SIM) is based on policy advice from the National Council for Special Education based on the principle of providing the right support at the right time delivered by a range of personnel with relevant qualifications and skill-sets. Its purpose is to help students achieve better outcomes. Independent evaluation is a central part of the project and the outcome will inform future policy on extending the SIM. The project includes a number of elements:

- Provision of in-school therapies (speech and language, occupational)

- Allocation of SNAs on a front-loaded basis

- Training of SNAs

A demonstration project to provide in-school and preschool therapy services took place over the course of the 2018/19 school year.

The project was developed by the Department, the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Department of Health, and the Health Service Executive and managed and co-ordinated by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE).

The purpose of the project was to test a model of tailored therapeutic supports by providing speech and language and occupational therapy within ‘educational settings’. This innovative pilot complemented existing HSE funded provision of essential therapy services. 

The project took place in the Health Service Executive (HSE) Community Healthcare Organisation (CHO) 7 Region of South West Dublin, Kildare and West Wicklow. 75 schools (of which includes 22 schools that are in the DEIS programme), including a representative sample of primary, post-primary, and special schools took part. 75 preschool settings associated with primary schools participating in the project were included. In total 150 settings participated in the demonstration project.

Children who require speech and language therapy services on a one-to-one basis continue to access services from the Health Service Executive. The in-school therapy model was designed to supplement, not to replace existing services.

The aim of the Demonstration Project was to design a therapeutic support model for the school setting that would lead to better outcomes for the children.  It involved the development of a continuum of support, specialist, targeted and universal supports, in line with best practice for students.   

The project was evaluated over the course of the 2018/19 school year and this was positively evaluated.

In February 2019, the Government approved the trialling of the Model for the 2019/20 school year. Initially designed as a one year pilot involving up to 75 participating schools in the CH07 region, it was interrupted by Covid-19 with the closure of schools and the diversion of HSE therapists from the project to Covid-19 related work. It was then extended to the 2020/21 school year which has also been interrupted by Covid-19.

Progress has been made on aspects of the Model but much remains to be done in terms of in-school implementation and evaluation. 

The Pilot has now recommenced in CHO7 and therapists are working within these schools and are providing ongoing support on a responsive basis to deliver therapy-based strategies and tools. Overall there is good engagement by the schools in CHO7. Planning for an expansion is under way. The Department is consulting with relevant Departments including the Department of An Taoiseach, Department of Health and the Department of  Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth.


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