Will the Minister for Education and Science explain why it appears that within the next few days, the system is to lose 1,200 special needs assistants? This has not been denied or confirmed but can we have an indication that the report is wrong? Will Senator Dan Boyle tell us if it is wrong as his colleague, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, was on radio no more recently than at the weekend again emphasising the importance of education to the Green Party?
Will the issue be clarified to this House if it cannot be clarified on radio or to anybody else? Special needs assistance is one of the small number of things we have achieved in the past ten or 15 years of prosperity. It is a genuinely progressive step that has occurred in our schools. It would be a most serious backward step for people who are genuinely needed in the system, special needs assistants, to be made redundant at the end of this week or anytime soon. That appears to be what is contemplated by the Department.
The Department’s evaluation paper on these matters, submitted to the Department of Finance, stated in a rather prescient manner that there is a redundancy scheme in place. The document states:
However, removal of SNAs, even on a moderate scale, is likely to result in significant rearguard action by schools. It may result in schools refusing to continue to retain pupils with special needs and will undoubtedly attract significant adverse public and media reaction. Previous experience in the special needs area indicates that even where criteria are not met, removal of resources can be very contentious.
This is a genuinely contentious issue and it should be dealt with in this House.