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Government must significantly increase number of educational psychologists – O’Toole

15 March, 2007

Speaking this morning as it was revealed that almost 18 per cent of Irish children have special educational needs, Sinn Féin's Dublin North East general election candidate Councillor Larry O'Toole said, "These figures should be a wake up call to the Government to significantly increase the number of educational psychologists, reduce assessment waiting times, and ensure that all children receive the right to a full and fair education."

Councillor O'Toole said today, "The provision of education for children with special needs is a high priority for Sinn Féin. On an all-Ireland level Martin McGuinness was instrumental in initiating the Middletown centre of excellence for Autism, which unfortunately is still not up and running due to bureaucracy and government heal-dragging. My late colleague Michael Ferguson worked tirelessly to attempt to ensure the rights of all those with autistic spectrum disorder to full education was protected, as is the case with progressive legislation in Sweden.

"There is a special educational needs wave rising through the school system and the government is failing to rise up to the challenge. For instance there are too few professionals trained or available to carry out assessments, resulting in long waiting lists, making a mockery of so-called early intervention. Young children have to wait over a year and a half for speech and language therapists. Some parents with children with special needs are having to fork out high legal costs to take the Department of Education through court to secure their child's right to a full education. The Department of Education and Science has actually admitted that around 70 per cent of teachers working with children have no autism specific training.

"While Sinn Féin welcomed the announcement at the start of this year of an extra 31 educational psychologists, it is totally inadequate and is unlikely to have any major impact on provision in the short term. Individual psychologists are overworked; with some schools not even having access to a psychologist. Children are having to wait a year plus on waiting lists so they can receive support. While there are 180 Autism units attached to mainstream schools in the 26 counties, the majority of these schools have to fundraise to ensure they remain open.

"The Government must provide funding for a significant increase in the number of educational psychologists in order to reduce assessment waiting times and ensure that all children receive the right to a full and fair education." Críoch

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