Crowe - Growing frustration and concern at provision for those with special needs
Speaking on the party's Private Members motion on Education for Special Needs in the Dáil today Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education, Seán Crowe TD while acknowledging the progress that has been made in the area of special needs education said there was "growing frustration and concern among parents, teachers and principals at the plans for future provision for those with special needs."
He said, "there is anger and dismay out there among broad sections of people in the education sector and especially the hard-pressed parents and other carers of children with special needs.
"There are three old chestnuts that keep coming up time and time again when talking to parents, the lack of and the inability to access psychological services, speech therapists and occupational therapists. The Minister must address the issues urgently. Let no one be under any doubt the situation is extremely serious."
Deputy Crowe was also highly critical of the proposed weighted system for the allocation of special needs saying, "more than a third of the country's disadvantaged schools were set to lose teachers" under the system.
"I want to reiterate that it would be scandalous for any school in a disadvantaged area to lose out under the new special needs allocation," he said.
Concluding he said, "This motion is about real people. It is about families and children who often struggle against the odds. It is about people with disabilities who demand their right to education. It is about parents whose lives revolve totally around their children and the struggle to allow them to reach their full potential. All they ask is the proper supports and rights that the Government and the State has promised them repeatedly."
Full text of speech follows....
The motion before the House acknowledges in its opening lines that progress
has been made in the area of special needs education, including the passage
of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004. I
think Deputies on all sides of the House would agree that the Act was a
positive step forward. The Minister herself acknowledged here last October
that the record of the State over decades in providing for children with
special needs had been poor. She said that in many ways they were playing
catch-up. We acknowledge that recent years have seen additional resources
put in place and that is most welcome, if long overdue.
That said, we had no hesitation in raising this issue here again and
devoting our Private Members Time to this important subject. The people
concerned deserve all the attention and support this Oireachtas can devote
to them. The period since we last debated this issue on the floor of the
Dáil has seen growing frustration and concern among parents, teachers and
principals at the plans for future provision for those with special needs.
My fellow Sinn Féin TDs and I have been in touch with many people and it is
no exaggeration to say that there is anger and dismay out there among broad
sections of people in the education sector and especially the hard-pressed
parents and other carers of children with special needs. There are three
old chestnuts that keep coming up time and time again when talking to
parents, the lack of and the inability to access psychological services,
speech therapists and occupational therapists. The Minister must address
the issues urgently. Let no one be under any doubt the situation is
The Irish Primary Principals Network, the Irish National Teachers
Organisation, the Irish Learning Support Teachers and many, many others
have expressed grave concern at the proposed weighted system for the
allocation of special needs teachers. The new system is due to be put in
place for the start of the next school year. That is only just over six
months away in September 2005. To plan properly schools need to know as
soon as possible what resources they will be allocated. Principals in
particular bear a heavy responsibility under the Act and as time passes the
pressure on them will undoubtedly increase. But far worse is the pressure
on children with special needs and their parents, many of whom face the
actual loss of services under the system as proposed.
In December last the INTO released the results of a survey of almost 300 of
the most disadvantaged schools. The survey was carried out in October and
November and replies were received from a total of 289 schools representing
over 3,600 teachers. The results point to major difficulties in the areas
of special needs and also in staffing, funding and attendance.
The INTO survey showed that under the new system of allocating special
needs teachers to schools proposed by the previous Minister for Education
and Science, more than a third of the country's disadvantaged schools were
set to lose teachers. The survey showed that 117 schools would lose
teachers compared to 102 that would gain. There was no change in provision
for the remainder of schools. This vindicates the view of Learning Support
teachers who described this as a quota system rather than a weighted
The Irish Primary Principals Network has also acknowledged the commitment
on the Government's part to provide a comprehensive and satisfactory system
of special needs education resource delivery. However, on the weighted
system, they have this to say:
"Circular 09/04 refers to a 'weighted system' of resource allocation for
SEN. This is actually a misnomer as it is more of a Quota System using
pupil ratios as a blunt instrument that does not address the many nuances
of disability. A true weighted system would address each individual
child's educational needs giving a points rating appropriate to their
learning disability or impairment. Each child would be individually rated
in terms of their additional teaching and learning needs and the challenge
they present in a mainstream classroom situation. Consequently the overall
points rating of the school would reflect each individual child's
educational needs and would ultimately determine the staffing level for the
year. This system would be both fair and transparent."
The Minister has stated that she would review the proposed new system and
was committed to ensuring that no child would lose resources to which they
are entitled. I welcome that commitment. One of the main reasons we tabled
this motion was to give the Minister an opportunity to outline the results
of the long awaited review and to set out a revised and improved system for
deployment of special needs teachers. As I have stated, there is a growing
urgency to do this. Schools need to plan in detail now, for September of
I hope the Minister will respond to other serious questions raised,
especially regarding the range of special needs, which will be addressed
under a new system. There is concern that children who have been identified
as having Mild General Learning Difficulties will no longer be entitled to
access resource teaching. These children were under the old system entitled
to two and half hours, one-to-one resource teaching per pupil per week. If
the Minister is to fulfil her commitment that no child with special needs
will lose out then this must be addressed.
What of the position of children with Severe Specific Learning
Difficulties, otherwise known as dyslexia, or children with Down's
Syndrome? Again there is concern that the move to a new system will
actually mean that many of these children will have to move back to special
schools and out of the mainstream, when the whole thrust of an enlightened
policy is to ensure that these children are educated with their peers and
with all the assistance they need.
Again, I hope the Minister has noted very carefully the view of the Irish
Primary Principals Network that Circular 09/04 would also appear to be in
conflict with the Education for Persons with Special Education Needs Act
and The Equal Status Act. The individual's person's entitlement to an
assessment of needs and an Individual Education Plan is emphasised in the
Act. As the IPPN states: "The provision of resources on a quota basis where
many schools' total resourcing will disimprove, does not appear to be
compatible with the thrust of the Act. The legal implications of this
situation need to be addressed urgently."
I want to cover now some of the other key issues raised in the motion. I
have mentioned the case of schools in disadvantaged areas. I have a number
of them in part my own constituency.
I want to reiterate that it would be scandalous for any school in a
disadvantaged area to lose out under the new special needs allocation. I
urge the Minister not to allow that to happen. But of course disadvantaged
schools have other needs, which are pressing. One of the main issues is the
high rate of turnover of teachers and the relatively high number of
inadequately teachers, including second-level teachers, working in these
schools. The INTO survey shows that over one in five pupils in
disadvantaged schools miss more than twenty school days in the year. This
is substantially higher than the State average in primary schools which is
roughly ten percent. In the most disadvantaged schools nearly a third of
all pupils miss more than twenty days.
There is another statistic which speaks volumes and which highlights what
people often call the myth of free education. In disadvantaged schools only
about 8% of income is from fund-raising and voluntary contributions from
parents whereas in non-disadvantaged schools over 30% of income on average
is from parents' contributions and fund-raising. That is a massive gap.
Apart from the access to extra paid grinds, it is another real indication
of inequality at the heart of our education system. Our primary schools
should be places of equality in our communities.
Instead, inadequate State support means that they reflect directly in the
classroom the social and economic divisions outside the school gate.
Our motion focuses on primary education but it is important also to point out that there is a huge shortfall in the provision of special needs education at second level. Applications for resources for second level schools have risen from 3000 in 2001/2002 to 12,500 in 2003/2004. In conclusion I want to say that this motion is about real people. It is about families and children who often struggle against the odds. It is about people with disabilities who demand their right to education. It is about parents whose lives revolve totally around their children and the struggle to allow them to reach their full potential. All they ask is the proper supports and rights that the Government and the State has promised