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12/03/2010 11:12 - Announcements
Education council says up to 300 special needs jobs may be cut
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JAMIE SMYTH, Social Affairs Correspondent

THE STATE body conducting a review into the allocation of special needs assistants to schools has said it estimates that 200 to 300 assistants will lose their jobs.

But the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) insisted yesterday that the review, ordered by Minister for Education Batt O’Keeffe, was not a cost-cutting exercise or a change in policy.

“In conducting the review there was absolutely no change in policy . . . an important factor in the allocation of resources, unlike other areas, is there is no cap on [assistant] numbers or financial cap,” Pat Curtin, council chief executive, told the Oireachtas committee on education and science.

He said Mr O’Keeffe ordered the council to undertake a national review of special needs assistants in February to ensure the existing criteria for allocating those posts were met.

He denied there was any direction made by Mr O’Keeffe to cut posts in spite of earlier claims made by the trade union Impact that 1,200 jobs would go.

Mr Curtin said that the reduction in the number of assistants in special schools could reflect a drop in enrolment in special schools for children with a mild general learning disability.

The principals of several schools, who have been told that they are losing assistants as part of the review, pleaded with TDs during a presentation to the committee to try to reverse the cuts.

“The severe cuts are an unfair and shameful attack on the most vulnerable in society and are unwarranted,” said Fiona Byrne, principal of St Anthony’s school in Castlebar, which faces losing three special needs assistants.

Sinéad McLaughlin, principal of Scoil Íosagáin in Buncrana, said she was concerned that removing assistants from the classroom could lead to increased levels of unmanageable behaviour in classrooms, leading to serious injury of children and staff.

Mr Curtin’s explanation for the review and his failure to give definitive numbers on the number of special needs assistants that will lose their jobs prompted an angry response from TDs and Senators.

Fine Gael TD Brian Hayes said he found it extraordinary that an organisation established by statute could not give a straight answer to an Oireachtas committee.

Green TD Paul Gogarty, who is chairman of the committee, said it beggared belief from a human point of view that the council was removing special needs assistants midway through the school year.

Fine Gael TD David Stanton said the situation was a farce considering the council had not set up an appeals mechanism before it began removing the assistants.

Mr Curtin said an internal review process – whereby another council staff member would review a decision made by their colleague – was set up in February.

About 20 appeals were received from schools in the past two weeks and a further 30 cases have been referred to the Ombudsman for Children. He said the council planned to set up an independent review panel in October 2011.

Mr Curtin said he did not want to give out an erroneous figure on the scale of the reduction in assistant posts before the review was completed later this month.

He said that the council’s board would review the figures shortly and a report would be submitted to Mr O’Keeffe.


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