Sunday 25 February 2018

Special needs appeal board fails to hear a single case

Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

There is uproar among parents about the reduction in the number of special needs assistants in schools

AN independent appeals board set up to deal with children with special educational needs has not been allowed to hear a single case -- even though the Department of Education has already spent more than €300,000 on it.

The board was set up in April 2007 and its three-year term comes to an end next month, without the legislation necessary to allow it to start its work being put in place.

It means there is no working independent body to challenge a refusal by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) to arrange an assessment of a child with special educational needs or to prepare an individual education plan for the child.

The board was promised under the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act (EPSEN), full enactment of which has fallen victim to government cuts. Its inactivity was highlighted yesterday at a meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on Education and Science discussing the loss of hundreds of school assistants for children with special educational needs.

There is uproar among parents and schools about the reduction of an estimated 300 special needs assistants (SNAs) in schools arising from a Department of Education review, which started last March.

The Oireachtas committee heard that decision to cut an SNA were being taken on the basis of a 15-minute observation of the child by a Special Education Needs Organiser (SENO), employed by the NCSE.

An appeals system set up a few weeks ago, to allow schools challenge a cut, is not independent. A colleague of the official who took the original decision reconsiders the case.

School principals appearing before the committee complained of a lack of transparency and proper consultation before a SENO takes a decision.

Fine Gael TD David Stanton, asked why did the Education Minister and the Government allow for decisions with such severe consequences to be made by the NCSE, without putting in place an appeals process.

Mr Stanton also asked why the EPSEN appeals board had not heard a single appeal and where had all the money been spent.

Irish Independent

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