This Ard Fhéis condemns the unacceptably slow processing of the claims by schools for special needs and resource teacher funding. Applications received by the Department of Education at the end of he school year should be processed and in place by the start of the new school year.
Seán Crowe, speaking in favour of Motion 39.
The issue of education for persons with special needs has been at the forefront of education policy for the last year, both because 2003 was the Year of the Disabled, though the Government paid little more than lip service to that fact, and because of the focus generated by the legislation introduced to change the education system for persons with a disability.
Of course the sad reality is that this Government is not implementing the legislation it already has inacted. One of the key delays in the processing of claims by the Department has been the chronic underfunding of the National Education Psychological Services, or NEPS. Huge sections of the country, predominantly in rural areas, are not covered by this service at all. 57% of schools in the north-west, even worse for the mid-west.
If a school is not covered by NEPs, it is allocated a certain amount of visits to a private psychologist. But the list of approved psychologists contained only 137 names, over a third of whom are based in Dublin. There are none from Cavan or Monaghan. None from Leitrim or Carlow. One for Kilkenny and one for Laois. In other counties a mere handful.
This is just one part of the assessment process the Department has in place and it is clearly not working. The Education Ministers solution?
A derisory increase of 1% in funding for this service.
When legislation to do with the issue of education for disabilities came before Leinster House late last year, we received over 50 submissions from individuals, support groups, unions and professional organisations, all of whom know the massive problems facing people on the ground trying to work with the system as it exists.
And yet this legislation is, like everything else to do with Education, and Health, and Transport, subject to the whim of the Finance Minister
There is no question of a rights based approach being taken to the education of people with special needs.
No sign of the administrative support school principals will need to enable them to implement the positive aspects of the plan such as individualised education plans for each child.
Yes the processing of claims is unacceptably slow. If this Fianna Fail PD Government is not willing to invest in this area, it will undoubtedly get worse.
Can I also make a brief comment on Motion 35.
Last year the Government received a bloody nose when it tried to bring in fees for third level education.
Students and their Union played a key role in inflicting one of the most serious U turns that the Fianna Fail/PD Coalition has suffered since coming back to office.
In the process the Union of Students in Ireland has nearly become bankrupt.
We commend them and Students throughout this Country and recommit this party and its activists to resist their reintrodution
I raised this with OECD experts carrying out a review of third level education this week. I also emphasised our opposition to the half baked proposals to privatise third level colleges and institutions in this state.
It is clear to me that fees, the privatisation of our universities and equity of access will dominate politics both on and off the campus in the nex 12 months.