Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Education and Skills Thomas Byrne TD has said he is deeply concerned by the spending review being conducted by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform into the provision of special education needs.

Deputy Byrne said that the situation is reminiscent of former Minister Ruairi Quinn’s assault on the foundations of special education in 2012.

Speaking today after the publication of the spending review by DEPER in advance of budget discussions, Deputy Byrne commented, “While spending reviews are essential for improving policy planning, the language in this review is alarming and demonstrates the contempt that this Government has for special needs education.

“From reading the report, it’s clear that the guiding ambition is to limit future budgetary exposure. There is no emphasis on improving educational outcomes for children with special education needs or with a disability. The review questions the fundamental policy principals of ‘automatic response’ put in place in 1998 by Fianna Fáil and enshrined in the EPSEN Act 2004. These provisions guarantee each child with a special educational need the right to additional teaching or care supports in a school.

“This policy principal ensures that the special education needs budget is demand led, rather than being determined by cold budgetary arithmetic. While it is hardly surprising that the Minister Donohoe is promoting the re-imposition of hard budgetary caps on special education, the silence of the Minister Bruton on this issue is deafening.

“The central ideas in the review echo those that guided previous assaults on automatic entitlements to special needs supports which were led by former Minister Quinn in 2012 and 2013. The impacts of these changes are still being felt by students.

“While significant improvements have been made to special education provision in the past 15 years, the historical reality of under-provision in this area means that even today we were still playing catch-up. This is particularly true of educational supports for children with autism, which in the recent past has been both under-provided for and under-diagnosed.

“As this review identifies, increased autism diagnosis is one of the key reasons for the increase in the number of SNAs. The increase in the special needs budget over the last 20 years should therefore be seen as success story. The aim should not be to set an arbitrary cap on this budget. Rather it should be to better fulfil the demands posed by the policy of automatic response,” concluded Deputy Byrne.