Government under fire over special needs education
Fianna Fáil leader condemns spending cuts during attack in Dáil
Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore answers questions in the Dail this morning. Photograph: Oireachtas
The Government has been accused of restricting access to education for children with special needs.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin made the claim in the Dail this morning as he highlighted the case of a five-year-old girl, Kate Crowley, who had been refused a special needs assistant, despite being in a wheelchair, having spinal rods and severe respiratory conditions and hearing problems.
“She was ultimately told that she could have access with five other children to a special needs assistant,” he said. “There is something fundamentally wrong with the system when a girl like Kate Crowley is refused a special needs assistant.”
He asked why the system now seemed to be about restricting access to education, “making parents fight- to struggle all along the way”.
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said he and Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn were unaware of the case, but Mr Gilmore said the Minister would examine the case and respond to it very quickly. Where someone has a need that need should be addressed, the Tánaiste said.
He stressed that the Government had protected the budget for special education of €1.3 billion.
Government policy has focussed on ensuring all children have access to an education appropriate to their needs, preferably in mainstream schools.
Mr Gilmore said there were 10,575 special needs assistants in the system and 5,265 resource teachers. He said 118 new special classes were opening this month to cater for 700 children at primary and post-primary level.
Mr Martin said he was surprised Mr Quinn was not aware of the case because he had written to him about it, some weeks ago.
He added that the case was well known within the Department of Education and in the special education review council.
The problem was that “the message on the ground from parents, teachers and children is very different to what we’re being told officially and to what people are hearing”.
Mr Gilmore said “the question does arise, as to why will you find an individual case or a particular problem in an individual school where you have a child who clearly needs special needs provision and why that isn’t being addressed”.
The Tánaiste said an interim report will be issued next month, following an assessment of the allocation model for special needs as to why “protection of resources does not appear in some cases to be translated on the ground”.