Dáil Éireann - Volume 477 - 08 April, 1997

Written Answers - Special Needs Education.

183. Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Education the supports, if any, which would be envisaged under the Programme for Government for a class of ten to 12 Down's Syndrome children with moderate learning difficulties; and if she will make a statement on the adequacy of one teacher with no classroom assistant support. [8965/97]

Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach): I assume that the Deputy is referring to developments envisaged under A Government of Renewal which sets out the agreed programme of the present Government.

In terms of educational provision for special needs children, a key element of that programme was the commitment to the completion and early publication of the White Paper on Education and the introduction of subsequent legislation. The Deputy will be aware of the very significant progress which has already been made in honouring this commitment.

The fundamental objective of the White Paper is to ensure to the maximum possible extent that all children with disabilities will have access to suitably resourced education services in their own areas and within the ordinary school system.

The White Paper sets out a range of proposed strategies for the achievement of this objective, including the establishment of a national data base to facilitate the planning of provision for all students with disabilities; the designation of a number of ordinary primary schools as centres where children with particular disabilities may be educated; an expanded role for existing special schools in dealing with a variety of disabilities; and the setting up of curriculum development projects for students with special educational needs.

The White Paper envisages that, following their establishment, education boards will have statutory responsibility to ensure that adequate educational provision is made for all students with disabilities in their areas.

Significant progress has already been made in the development of provision across the entire spectrum of special needs. In the particular area to which the Deputy refers I have already reduced the pupil-teacher ratio from 11:1 to 10:1 and am committed to further reductions as resources permit. I have also significantly improved the rate of special capitation funding payable in respect of children attending special schools and classes. In the case of children with moderate learning difficulties I have increased the capitation rate per child from £92.70 to £307 for children under 12 years and from £92.70 to £372 for children of 12 years or over.

[409] I have also increased the number of classroom assistant appointed to special schools and classes including those catering for children with moderate learning difficulties from 82 to 232 during my period in office and remain committed to further improvements in this area as resources permit.

As Minister for Education I have to determine priorities and seek to allocate available resources to best effect. I am satisfied that since my appointment I have achieved substantial advances across the entire spectrum of special needs. It is my intention to continue this process.

If the Deputy wishes to provide details of a specific case she has in mind I assure her that the needs of the children in question will be given every consideration when I am next in a position to provide additional classroom assistant support.