Statement from Disability Groups Meeting with Minister Quinn 26th June

This morning disability groups comprising Inclusion Ireland, Special Needs Parents Association, Irish Autism Action, Irish Society for Autism, Dyspraxia Association, Irish National Council of ADHD Support Groups and the National Parents Council welcomed the opportunity to meet with Minister Quinn.
The Minister acknowledged that the decision in relation to the reduction in the allocation of Resource Hours for children with Special Educational Needs had been reversed which everyone agreed was the appropriate course of action. At our meeting this morning the Minister and his officials asserted the following:
• 10,575 SNA positions exist and that number will be retained.
• In relation to this year’s allocation the Minister and his officials confirmed that 53% of schools received no adjustment in SNA allocation, 23% received an increase and 24% a decrease.
• Furthermore it was stated that a further 80 posts remain to be allocated from September onwards.
• With regard to the 10% increase in numbers of children presenting with additional needs qualifying for SNA support, the Minister stated that this only equates to a 2% increase in terms of whole-time SNA posts and falls within the overall cap on SNA numbers. This means that the 2% increase would have to be met within the budgetary allocation of 10,575 posts.
The representative groups responded expressing concerns as follows:
• The notion that shared access by children to SNA support does not in itself address the needs of those children in an appropriate manner. This is further evidenced by trying to meet the needs of 2,000 extra children within the current allocation with the inevitable outcome that shared access to SNAs by children with additional needs will become much more prevalent, leading to a reduction on the quality of support for all children with identified needs.
Furthermore it was highlighted that such an approach can only result in increased costs in the future to support these children as they become young adults, due to insufficient and appropriate support in earlier years to enable them to access education in a meaningful way.
• Significant anxiety on the part of families with regard to July Provision issues was highlighted and various examples given in this regard.
• The non-implementation of the EPSEN Act 2004 was raised. The Minister stated that ‘we simply cannot implement it’ with estimated costs of implementation calculated by the Departments of Health and of Education of €775 million.
• Increase in suspensions and expulsions driven by schools lack of capacity to respond to complex and/or challenging needs was identified to the Minister as an issue which has not been addressed in a meaningful way. This issue will be further exacerbated in a policy of shared access to SNA support due to complexity of needs and lack of training. Alongside this is the issue of children being given restricted hours of access to the whole school day. It was brought to the Ministers attention that there were cases of Principals and School Boards of Management arbitrarily deciding to reduce hours of attendance to 1 hour a day due to their inability to manage the child’s needs under the current allocation of supports.
Outcomes from the meeting
• The group gave a press briefing to RTE after the meeting and was represented by Paddy Connolly, CEO, Inclusion Ireland.
• In relation to the SNA issues the Minister invited the group to contribute to the working committee, chaired by Eamonn Stack, where
one of the focus areas of that review would be the review of the allocation model for SNA support.
• Our group is absolute in seeking representation on the committee as opposed to just contributing to the committee and will be writing to advise the Minister accordingly.
• July Provision. A commitment to a meeting has been secured for this week to address home-based July Provision for families where more than 1 child requires support. Kevin Whelan, CEO, Irish Autism Action, Paddy Connolly, CEO, Inclusion Ireland, have been nominated as the representatives for this meeting.
• The groups will advise their members of the outcome of that meeting.
• In relation to suspensions and expulsions the groups will write to the Department seeking statistics for the last 3 years as there is a firmly held belief on behalf of the groups that the frequency of suspensions and expulsions has increased.
• In thanking the Minister for the meeting, the groups asserted that they would continue to lobby for the implementation of the EPSEN Act and reversal of cuts in the disability sector across all government departments and to defend and protect the allocations that currently exist.