Private Members’ Business: Motion re Special Educational Needs


Thank you for the opportunity to speak on this Motion.


Firstly, I have to say that I very much welcome the decision by the Minister for Education  to sanction the 500 additional posts needed to maintain the current level of resource support for children who need it.


This was a crucial decision, but the announcement which preceded it should never have happened in the first place, as it caused huge upset and anger among the most vulnerable and hardworking parents in our communities, parents who are already struggling on a daily basis to ensure the maximum level of support for their children who have special educational needs.


When I was first elected two years ago, I believed that the main objective of this Government was to ensure the return of economic sovereignty.  I no longer believe that and now believe that while we have to work hard and make extremely difficult decisions in relation to the economy, our core objective must be to ensure that the most vulnerable people in our society are protected through what will be a most difficult era in our history.



The welcome announcement by Minister Quinn must not be the end of this debate, rather it should be the beginning of a new and more focused debate on services available to children with special educational needs.


The first element of that debate must focus on what the level of resource requirements will be in ten or twenty years’ time and why we are experiencing such a huge surge in applications for resource hours. Is it because of a much improved understanding of educational difficulties and how they can be addressed on a one-to-one basis, or are other factors causing a huge increase in the number of children being diagnosed with conditions on the autism spectrum?


The next step in this debate will be to determine the other supports that these children will need, support such as speech therapy and occupational therapy; at the moment such services appear to vary in terms of availability across the country.


Money spent now on the education of children is money wisely spent, as it will stop them becoming frustrated and alienated and if school becomes unmanageable for them, it may prompt them to leave school early, which brings with it a new set of problems and challenges.


Another area which must be addressed is the issue of students with intellectual disabilities who are leaving school.  Every year we see parents under huge pressure trying to access services for their school-leaving son or daughter, at a time when providers of such places are struggling to maintain current services.


Last year we were assured that this would not be happening again this year, but once again I am being contacted by concerned parents seeking to secure a place for their son or daughter next September.  We need to establish clear mechanisms so that parents are not faced with this uncertainty year in, year out.


In conclusion, I welcome the provision of the 500 additional posts, while acknowledging that it will make budget decisions even more difficult.  However, we must never lose sight of the fact that these children have only a brief window of opportunity to address these educational difficulties and talk of banking collapses and financial crises will not be of any solace to them when they reach adulthood.


If there is to be a social dividend from this Government, it must always be targeted at the most vulnerable in our society, including children with special educational needs.