Special needs children face cut in support despite Government U-turn

Parents groups say children will be forced to share access to special needs assistants

Many children with special needs will end up with a reduction in education support despite the Government’s decision to reverse planned cuts, new figures indicate.

This week Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn rowed back on a decision to cut extra resource teaching hours by about half an hour for 42,000 children following a public backlash. The move, however, did not address the provision of special needs assistants (SNAs) for 22,000 children.

In a statement on the day of the reversal, the Department of Education insisted the number of applications for this kind of support had not increased since last year, “so it is incorrect to say there was a cut or that it hasn’t been reversed”.

However, the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has since confirmed that an extra 2,000 students will require special needs assistants over the coming year, a 10 per cent increase on last year. In contrast, the number of special needs assistant posts will rise by around 1.5 per cent.


The council said it was not correct to assume an increase in children requiring support would result in a proportionate increase in SNA posts as special needs assistants often provide support to a number of pupils.

However, it acknowledged that given the increase in children requiring support it was “reasonable to assume” that more children will end up sharing access to SNAs.

Yesterday, a spokeswoman for Mr Quinn insisted that no child who required "access" to SNA support would be deprived of this support .

Forced to share
The statement did not address whether more children will be forced to share special needs assistants."There has been no change to the eligibility criteria this year and all eligible children have been allocated SNA support by the NCSE for the coming school year," the spokeswoman added

However, groups representing children with disabilities say this amounts to a cut on the basis that children will receive reduced access to special needs support.

Inclusion Ireland, an umbrella group for people with disabilities, expressed concern that "shared access" to special needs support would mean that children would be robbed of a chance to reach their full potential. "This will lead to the inevitable outcome that shared access to SNAs by children with additional needs will become much more prevalent, leading to a reduction in the quality of support for all children with identified needs," said chief executive Paddy Connolly.

Fianna Fáil’s education spokesman Charlie McConalogue TD said the move represented a cut for children in need of special support.

"The 10 per cent cut to SNAs still stands. This means that the 22,000 children who need SNAs will still see a reduction in that support when schools resume in September."

Education plans
Disability groups have also called on the Government to fully implement the Education for Persons with Special Education Needs Act ( 2004). This legislation provides children with a disability to a statutory right to individual education plans and an independent appeals process.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent