I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I was shocked at the announcement of the cuts to special education and while the Minister, Deputy Quinn, has reversed some of them, I call on him and on the Government to fully reverse the cutbacks. The Minister realised a mistake had been made but he did not remove the cap on the SNA posts, which is a most important issue to be addressed. I appeal to the Minister to reverse the SNA cuts.
I was struck by the number of letters I received from parents of children with disabilities, particularly from parents of children with Down’s syndrome. They made the point that their children should be recognised in their entirety and in their own right by the Department of Education and Skills. Many families in County Galway contacted me to say their children should have access to the maximum allocation of resource hours. These are families who believe there is inequality and discrimination in the current system, which requires children with Down’s syndrome to have a second disability to access vital resource hours. This should be changed immediately.
The figure I saw given as the number of children who need SNAs is of the order of 22,000. However, they will see a reduction in the support they should be getting when the schools resume in September as the increased number of pupils in our schools next year will have to make do with the same number of SNAs. This should not happen to children with special needs. If the Minister changes the pupil-teacher ratio to provide the resources for special needs, which has been mentioned, it would be a case of taking with one hand and giving with the other. We all know the great difficulties that have arisen, particularly in rural Ireland, with the changes in the pupil-teacher ratio up to now.
I welcome the fact an extra 500 resource teaching posts were announced by the Minister. I understand this will cost €20 million, which has to come from the existing education budget, but I have not heard yet what changes will be made to deal with that. There is a campaign that has to be fought, and it is going on even today outside the Dáil. I was a member of the INTO during my teaching days. I note the INTO has called a review of the current system and it obviously wants to reduce the waiting times for children who need extra help. The INTO responded to the National Council for Special Education review of special education, making the point that the report should be a wake-up call for parents of special needs children and advocacy groups. Bureaucracy should not become the barrier to children getting resources and there should not be additional paperwork for class teachers struggling with large classes, which is the case at present, as many young teachers have told me.
There is another issue, particularly in rural areas, where resource teachers are travelling between schools. With the cap on teachers and the increase in the number of pupils from 20,000 to 22,000, there will be more travelling involved for resource teachers. The INTO has also strongly criticised the large cuts in resources for special needs children. The union has accused the Department of Education and Skills and the National Council for Special Education of attempting to hide the extent of the cutbacks from parents. If we want to have inclusive schools, we have to provide resources to integrate the special needs children.
While on the subject of primary education, I note the Irish Primary Principals Network is also committed to the principle of inclusion. It has highlighted the chronic shortage of resources in primary education, particularly with the cap on SNAs. There is also the clustering of schools, which is causing the increased sharing of resources and staff travelling when they should be in the schools.
Concerns were also raised by the Joint Managerial Body and the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland. The ASTI made a very good point in regard to the consequences for students with special educational needs in an area where, for example, there is a primary school with a special class but there is not a special class in a corresponding post-primary school. I hope these points will be taken up by the Minister and that we will have a full reversal of the education cuts.