35,000 pupils left without direct access to psychologists
Almost 200 schools are without the direct services of an educational psychologist due to massive staff shortages.
The National Education Psychological Service (NEPS) is currently trying to recruit new practitioners, but in the meantime schools are having to outsource the work.
The situation is affecting children's access to Resource Teaching Hours and Learning Supports, and according to Opposition politicians, "privileging households that have the resources to opt for private assessment".
Figures released by Education Minister Richard Bruton shows that 199 schools, with around 35,000 pupils, are not being directly serviced by NEPS.
"In the case of some schools, NEPS psychologists may no longer be assigned to those schools as a result of retirement, resignation or transfer to another NEPs region, and while every effort was made to recruit a replacement from the existing PAS panels, sometimes this is not successful," Mr Bruton said.
He noted that the schools affected are given access to the Scheme for Commissioning Psychological Assessments (SCPA), where they can have an assessment carried out by private psychologists approved by NEPS, and NEPS will pay the fees.
However, Fianna Fáil's education spokesman Thomas Byrne told the Irish Independent that in most instances it takes over a year for students to be publicly assessed.
"This is why, the recruitment of 100 new NEPS psychologists was a condition of the our Confidence and Supply Agreement with the Government.
"However, these figures reveal that the situation is a lot worse for many schools who do not have an educational psychologist assigned to take care of their pupil's needs," he said.
The Meath East TD said schools which do not have an assigned psychologist are "severely disadvantaged in terms of delays to assessments for special education needs or behavioural difficulties, as well as having more limited access to psychological supports and counselling for children when a crisis presents itself".
He said all schools are able to access full NEP supports in the event of a critical incident.
Mr Bruton also noted that a national recruitment competition was has been put in place by PAS to fill vacancies within all NEPS Regions.
Work is currently ongoing in relation to the examination of applications and short-listing of candidates for interview.
"It is envisaged, following interviews, that recruitment panels will be formed and active filling of vacancies will commence in the New Year," Mr Bruton said.