A STUDENT with Down Syndrome was celebrating yesterday after receiving two As and three Bs in her Junior Certificate -- but her family fears for her future after she lost her Special Needs Assistant (SNA).
Eleanor Murray (17), from Readstown, Trim, Co Meath, has dreams of attending the country's most prestigious university when she completes her Leaving Certificate in three years' time.
However, her father is worried his daughter's remarkable achievement may not be replicated in her Leaving Cert as she no longer has access to her own SNA due to cutbacks.
Eleanor, who attends a mainstream school, Scoil Mhuire, Trim, was delighted with her her results, which included an A in foundation maths and home economics.
But her achievement was overshadowed by the news that her SNA -- who has worked with her exclusively for three years -- has lost her job due to cutbacks in special education.
Eleanor hopes to attend Trinity College Dublin to undertake a certificate course in Contemporary Living.
Her father, Tom Murray, said: "Eleanor did brilliantly. She is absolutely thrilled. It was an unbelievable result for a kid with Down Syndrome. She has exceeded all expectation.
"Sadly, however, she has now lost her SNA. I can say what was achieved here just would not have been possible without this assistance. There is no way a kid with Down Syndrome would hack it in a mainstream school and achieve that result without a high level of support."
Eleanor will now have to share three other SNAs employed by the school with the other special needs children on a rotational basis.
"It is such a struggle for these kids to cut the grade in mainstream schools. The big worry now is while this is a tremendous achievement for Eleanor and a tremendous example of what can be done, the likelihood is if this trend of cutbacks in special education continues she will be both the first and the last of her breed," said Mr Murray.
Her SNA, Lithuanian national Jurate Lomajeviene, said: "This is devastating for Eleanor and for me. You get very attached to the person you are assisting and they come to rely on you.
"We did so much hard work and watching it pay off has been so rewarding. I would have loved to see her continue on and complete her Leaving Cert and so on, but it was not to be. I was last in, so I am first out.
"It is very sad for me to leave Eleanor now. People who do not know her might think this is the girl with Down Syndrome and she can't do anything, but people who know her realise how amazing she is and how capable she is. The only thing she needs is guidance."
Meanwhile, parents, teachers and other activists gathered at Leinster House yesterday in protest at special needs cuts.
They want the Government to reverse cuts to the number of SNAs available in classrooms.
The demonstration was organised by the Alliance Against Cuts in Education.