Vacant SENO Position in East Clare.

March 4th, 2010 - Pat Breen

 Dail Adjournment Debate

 

Thursday, 4th March 2010.

 

Deputy Pat Breen T.D.

 

The situation regarding the non filling of a SENO Position in County Clare, the implications which this is having for the processing of Applications from Schools for Resource Teacher Supports and SNA’s positions.  The Minister for Education and Science must clarify the matter immediately and outline what measures he is taking to address the matter.

 

 

 Deputy Pat Breen: I am the last man standing this evening.  I take this opportunity to thank the Ceann Comhairle for facilitating me in raising in an Adjournment debate what is an important matter for parents in east County Clare.  The position of a special educational needs organiser, SENO, has been vacant in that area since September 2009 and the non-filling of the vacancy is having a significant impact on the area’s most vulnerable children.  The National Council for Special Education, NCSE, employs SENOs to be responsible for allocating additional teaching and other resource to support children with special needs at local level. The failure, for the past six months, to appoint a special educational needs organiser, SENO, for the east Clare area, which includes all the secondary schools in Ennis, means that applications for children who have been identified, assessed and recommended for resource teaching support or special needs assistance are not being processed since the school year began last September.

  Heretofore there were three SENOs employed in County Clare.  One dealt with east Clare, including parts of north Tipperary, one with the west Clare area and the third with cases in the south west and south east areas of the county, including parts of west Limerick.  Since the vacancy for a SENO in east Clare arose, the area has been left without service.  The two existing SENOs support schools in their own areas and are already overloaded with cases.  In the past six months they were expected to deal with an additional workload from east Clare.  As result, envelopes containing applications for help for children in the east Clare area have not been opened and files are piling up.

  The provision of special needs assistants, SNAs, and resource teachers has proved a lifeline for many children.  A mother of a special needs child from Mount Shannon in east Clare recently spoke on the local radio station, Clare FM, about her experience and how her daughter had benefited from the SNA scheme.  She said: “It has made such a difference to my daughter’s life.  She is now accepted by other children in the school and she is reaching her full potential.”  These are very touching words.

  Early education is a key step in a child’s development and early intervention is vital.  These children in east Clare desperately require assistance and are being discriminated against on the basis of the geographical location of their schools.  They have been left sitting in their classrooms without the additional support they require since last September.  The situation is deplorable and cannot be allowed to continue. 

The provision of resource teacher supports and special needs assistants has played a pivotal role in the integration of children with special needs in mainstream classrooms and is helping to break the cycle of stigma. 

  Parents of special needs children must battle against many obstacles in the fight to get a fair deal for their children.  The father of a child from east Clare expressed his frustration at the current situation when I met him last week.  He said: “I have no one to talk to about my daughter’s case.  When I rang Limerick I was told it was not in my area.”

  As Henry Van Dyke said: “Teach your students to use what talents they have.  The woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those who sing best.”  Thankfully, parents and teachers are breaking the silence to speak up for these children.  They are extremely concerned that these children will never reach their potential and will be left behind to spend their lives trying to catch up.  A threat is already hanging over many of these parents with the uncertainty regarding the number of special needs assistants who may receive P45s shortly. 

  The National Council for Special Education is currently reviewing the allocation of these posts, on foot of a request from the Department.  The criteria for this review is too restrictive.  It does not take into consideration the child’s needs to access the curriculum and there is no appeals mechanism for schools and parents.  If these SNAs are lost to our schools, it will be a backward step in the education of our children with special needs.

  I appeal to the Minister of State to bring this matter to the attention of the Minister and ask him to reconsider his position on this matter.  I want a commitment that the vacant position for a special educational needs organiser will be filled immediately.  I understand the position has been advertised.  I want priority given to the special needs of these children.  I want to see the backlog of cases in east Clare dealt with and I do not want to see more delays.  Further delays in appointing an organiser will be a further disadvantage to these children.  I hope the Minister of State will have good news this evening.

 

Minister’s Response

 

   Deputy Barry Andrews: I am replying to this Adjournment matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe.

  I thank the Deputy for raising this issue as it gives me an opportunity to clarify the position in relation to the matter raised by him.  An important feature of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 was the setting up of the National Council for Special Education, NCSE. The council was formally established on 1 October 2005 and was set up to improve the delivery of education services to persons with special educational needs arising from disabilities, with particular emphasis on children.

  The council’s remit includes the provision of a range of educational services at local and national level for students with special educational needs. In particular, its network of 89 special education needs organisers, SENOs, including 12 senior SENO positions based in over 40 NCSE offices throughout the State, co-ordinates special needs education provision at local level and arranges for the delivery of special educational services.  They act as single points of contact for parents of students with special educational needs, schools and the health sector where appropriate. The responsibility for the deployment of the SENOs rests with the council.

The NCSE is responsible, through its SENOs, for allocating special education supports, including resource teachers and SNAs to schools to support children with special educational needs. 

The council operates within the Department’s criteria in allocating such support.  It has advised the Department that a SENO post in the council’s Ennis office, covering east County Clare and north County Tipperary became vacant unexpectedly during the current academic year.

  Having regard to the priority importance of front line SENO services, the council sought derogation from the moratorium on the filling of posts in the public service.  I am pleased to advise the Deputy that this has been approved by the Departments of Education and Science and Finance.  I understand that arrangements are now being made by the council to fill the post in question through the Public Appointments Service.  It is expected that the appointment will be made shortly.

  I assure the House that when temporary SENO vacancies arise from time to time, for a variety of reasons, the council seeks to provide such cover from within existing resources.  The council has advised the Department that temporary SENO cover is being provided in relation to the district to which he refers.

  I am also pleased to advise the House that in the context of enhancing the capacity of the council to co-ordinate the provision of services to children with special needs, approval has been given to the council for a further two new SENO posts.  The council is also making arrangements for the deployment and filling of these posts.  I thank the Deputy for raising the matter.

 

   Deputy Pat Breen: I thank the Minister of State for that reply.