“Within the education budget, my focus has been on protecting those who are most vulnerable. There will be no reductions in the overall number of Special Needs Assistants (SNA) or Resource Teachers in this budget.” Minister Ruairi Quinn Budget Statement December 2012.
Since 2010, there has been a decrease of 15% in the specialist teaching hours allocated to all children with more moderate to severe levels of special needs, with a further 10% cut to those essential teaching hours expected from September. “This is a direct attack on the educational provisions that are essential for children struggling through mainstream, in keeping with the Department of Education and NCSE’s policy of promoting Inclusion in education. You can’t have it both ways, either provide children with the essential supports in mainstream to fulfill their potential or admit that the policy of Inclusion in our education system is based on rhetoric and is aspirational but not a priority for Government” stated Lorraine Dempsey, Chairperson of the Special Needs Parents Association.
Putting this cut into context for a child with autism, in 2010 they would have received 5 hours of resource teaching every week which will be reduced to 3 hours 45 minutes this September. This also includes time getting to and from the classroom, so the actual teaching time is much less than prescribed by the NCSE.
For the past few years, we have had to listen to the Minister for Education telling parents how he has done everything to ring fence the budget for special needs. The reality is that we have an ever increasing population of children in mainstream schools who need a higher level of educational support particularly at secondary level and we have not prepared for the future and present needs of these children. Ms. Dempsey added “What we are creating is a bigger problem down the line for future governments and budgets when we pursue such shortsighted cuts. If you over-fill a passenger ferry, you risk sinking the whole ship”