Dáil Éireann - Volume 646 - 12 February, 2008

Written Answers. - Special Educational Needs.

Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Minister for Education and Science the status of the Post Primary Policy Document on Second Level Education for People with Autism; if she will publish this document; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4505/08]

  Deputy Mary Hanafin: The Deputy will be aware that my Department’s policy is to support the inclusive education of students with special educational needs across the schools system. In this context, a range of supports are provided to second level schools to enable them cater for pupils with special educational needs, including the needs of pupils with autism. The supports available include additional teaching support, special needs assistant support, school transport and grants for the purchase of teaching materials and specialised equipment.

As the Deputy is aware enormous progress has been made over the past number of years in relation to increasing the number of teachers who are specifically dedicated to providing education for children with special educational needs. At second level, approximately 1,990 whole time equivalent additional teachers are in place to support pupils with special educational needs. In addition, there are 561 whole time equivalent learning support teachers and approximately 1,700 whole time equivalent special needs assistants (SNAs) in our second level schools.

Comprehensive guidance has recently been provided to schools on best practice for inclusion of students with special educational needs. The guideline document “Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs: Post-Primary Guidelines” was published by my Department’s Inspectorate in June 2007 and is a significant step to further support second level schools in the inclusion of students with special educational needs. The guidelines advocate a whole-school approach to effectively meet the educational needs of students with special educational needs. Practical advice is provided to schools on the organisation and co-ordination of resources so as to maximise the support to each individual student.

[1041] The Deputy may also wish to note that the availability of continuing professional development for personnel working with children with special educational needs has been greatly expanded through a range of post-graduate professional training programmes and the ongoing development of the Special Education Support Service (SESS) to support school staff locally.

Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Minister for Education and Science her Department’s involvement to date with a facility (details supplied); the financial contribution of the Government to date to this facility. [4506/08]

  Deputy Mary Hanafin: The Middletown Centre for Autism project is a joint initiative between the Department of Education in Northern Ireland and the Department of Education and Science aimed at supporting the promotion of excellence in the development and harmonisation of education and allied services to children and young people with autistic spectrum disorders. It has been agreed that the following four key services will be provided by the centre: learning support service (on a residential basis); an educational assessment service; training and advisory service and an autism research and information service.

I am pleased to inform the Deputy that officials from my Department and the Department of Education in Northern Ireland continue to work closely together to progress the development of the Middletown Centre for Autism. Members were appointed to a Board of Directors in 2007 and a small number of key staff has taken up positions facilitating the phasing in of service provision. However services associated with the intake of children will not commence until the building project is completed, which is scheduled for 2009. The financial information requested by the Deputy is not readily available and I have arranged for it to be forwarded to him directly.