Special needs education cuts slammed by teachers union
The country's largest teaching union has accused the Government of enforcing savage cuts on pupils with special needs.
The Irish National Teachers' Organisation (Into) claimed that schools with more than 20 pupils who need resource classes or additional support face losing one of those dedicated teachers.
The cuts were unveiled by the National Council for Special Education which detailed the allocation of resource teachers and special needs assistants for the 2013/2014 school year.
Sheila Nunan, the union's general secretary, claimed the Government is undermining the principle of inclusive schools.
"No amount of smokescreen and spin can hide the extent of this cutback. A 25% cutback in resource hours is a significant policy failure that will have long-term implications," she said.
Ms Nunan said overall literacy and numeracy levels would ultimately pay the price of the cuts.
"Without resources schools cannot support the integration of special needs children," Ms Nunan said.
"Expecting special needs children to develop with three-quarters of the resources in some of the most overcrowded classrooms in the EU is preposterous."
Into claimed that 75% allocation on 2011 figures in effect means that a large school with 20 or more special needs pupils will lose one of their four special needs teachers and teaching time for the children will be cut by a quarter.
A child on the autistic spectrum who has an entitlement to five hours' support teaching a week will only get 3.75 hours, the union claimed.
Into this week backed the Haddington Road Agreement, the successor to Croke Park, which sets out how the Government will save 1 billion euro (£853.6 million) from the public sector pay bill over the next three years.
The number of special needs pupils in schools is at a record high, the NCSE said.
It claimed staffing levels of resource teachers and special needs assistants have been maintained to Celtic Tiger standards.
More than 42,500 students will receive additional teaching support from September, compared with 38,400 pupils last year, it said.
It includes 22,000 pupils who will be supported by SNAs, up from 20,000.
NCSE chief executive Teresa Griffin denied any cuts to staffing levels.
Some 5,265 resource teacher posts and 10,575 SNA posts will be allocated to 3,750 primary and secondary schools.
"The numbers have not been cut from the height of the Celtic Tiger, they have been retained since then," Ms Griffin said.
"It's important that that is appreciated because right across the public service there are actual cuts and people are being asked to do more with less.
"We have the same level of supports available to us but there is a significant increase in the number of students who have been diagnosed with having a special educational need that makes them eligible for resource teaching supports."
Ms Griffin confirmed that extra teaching support has been cut by 15 minutes per child per day, resulting in a 25% cut since 2010/2011 levels.
"A school with a child with multiple disabilities in September 2012 would have been allocated four hours and 15 minutes' additional teaching hours each week," the NCSE said.
"This year, the same school will be allocated three hours 45 minutes' additional teaching support per week."
Ms Griffin called on schools to plan how to use the extra resources while there is a cap on posts.
"What I'm asking schools to do to so is perhaps consider, instead of using one-to-one support, to use those hours to provide small group support so children can learn from each other as well as learning from the teacher," she added.
The Alliance Against Cutbacks in Education (Ace) said Labour and Fine Gael should be ashamed of themselves and urged parents to get ready to march against cuts.
Chair Tomas O Dulaing said: "Children with special needs are once again the sacrificed lambs just so we can pay those who were corrupt in Irish society.
"It's clear bias to the developers and bankers of corrupt Ireland and further evidence of stealing off the most vulnerable children in the system."
He disputed claims that maintaining staff levels who would be shared between more children could not be regarded as a cut.
"If three years ago you had one child with autism having one-to-one support and now to have three children with the one SNA, that's a cut," he said.
"Obviously their ability and potential will be massively compromised.
"If you impose a cap on SNAs and there huge growth in the number of children in the system who need support it will have massive implications.
"Any other description is disingenuous and dishones