Richard Bruton: Extra resource will help SEN students reach their potential
I want to give every child the opportunity to fulfil their potential.
In the worst years of the crash, when 300,000 jobs were lost, and when emigration had returned, investment in special education was not only rightly protected, but it was significantly increased.
It is essential that we continue to provide for children and young adults with special educational needs (SEN) so they can reach their full potential.
I measure success in this area by looking at the number of children with SEN that are fully participating and progressing through the school system and we are investing more than ever before to support this.
There are 700 more students with a disability entering third level now than two years ago, an increase of 31pc. I believe we can do better still.
This year my Department invested €1.5bn in special education, almost one fifth of the entire education budget.
Special needs assistants have continued to play a key role in helping children to participate and progress in education. The number of special needs assistants (SNAs) has increased by 22pc, from 10,575 to 12,900 since 2011.
At the beginning of this school year I announced an extra 860 SNAs would be hired to support increased numbers of children with special educational needs, who benefit hugely from this support.
The Government recently decided to provide for another 115 additional SNAs next year. These posts will be allocated to schools over the period January to June 2017.
These increases reflect our commitment as a Government to help children with special educational needs to fulfil their potential. The 115 new posts will bring the total number of SNAs to over 13,000 - the highest ever level. We are investing €429 million in this programme.
As minister, I want to provide better outcomes for students with special educational needs. We have to ensure we are making the best form of additional investment to ensure these children reach their potential.
That is why last June I announced a comprehensive assessment of the SNA Scheme, to be carried out by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE). Significant progress is being made, and I have asked the NCSE to provide me with regular updates.
We have also made significant progress in increasing the number of special classes with over 600 new special classes opened since 2011, bringing the total number of such classes to over 1,100.
I will improve how the school admissions system deals with children with special needs. In the School Admissions Bill, which I am bringing through the Dáil, I intend to give the NCSE the power to designate a school place for a child with special needs, where that child can't otherwise find a place. This will be an important reform which will give great assistance to parents who are finding it difficult to enrol their daughter or son.
Resource teachers provide a fantastic service. However, we must make sure that the model we have provides the best possible outcomes for children and their parents.
While we have greatly increased the number of resource teachers since 2011 to over 7,500 (a 41pc increase), the NCSE has identified the current model for allocating resource teachers to schools is potentially unfair.
This is because access to the range of professional assessments required for the diagnosis of certain disabilities is not always readily available to those who cannot afford to access them privately. The NCSE has also advised that the current model can lead to unnecessary labelling of children from a young age.
A new model has been successfully piloted in a number of schools, and our plan is to roll it out nationally in September 2017. I have allocated €18m to provide 900 new resource teaching posts to support this. I will announce details of the new model early in the new year.
The basic aim of this Government is to sustain our economic progress and use it to build a fair and compassionate society. No area is more important to this vision than education.
I am fully committed to providing the best possible results for the children and students with special needs, and this process is the best way of ensuring that we deliver on that.
Fine Gael TD Richard Bruton is Education Minister