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Sunday, February 15, 2009

O’Keeffe’s special needs cuts hit the vulnerable again

A cut is not a cut if it’s indefensible decision. It seems that this government have given cuts such a bad name that now they deny that they are cutting. All they do is merely allocate scarce resources in a more equitable way! Nonsense, this is not about improving a child’s life chances, it’s about accountancy. Such an indefensible cut is the decision announced by Education Minister to remove some special needs education assistance from primary pupils using as bogus cover advice that the pupils benefit more by being in an ordinary class, even one that will be more over crowded from next September. It reminds me of the excuse offered by Minister Hanafin to justify her removal of disability allowance from 17 & 18 year olds. She said it prevented their entry into the workforce and claimed she was acting on the recommendation of voluntary groups.
Batt O’Keeffe has asked people not to cloud the issue with emotion. I agree so let’s deal with facts not ministerial spin. He rubbished the suggestion of his decision as being a cut. The pupils concerned are described by the Minister’s term “mild”. The type of child the minister is thinking about can have slow speech and language development, poor memory, limited attention span, emotional disturbance and visual or auditory impairment. Minister O’Keeffe finds it hard to believe that the INTO could want a teacher for just 3 or 4 such children. What he clearly doesn’t understand is that a teacher has a choice in classroom, either ignore these children and teach the class in which case they make no progress or else spend as much time with these children as possible and as a consequence the work and development of the class slows down.
The department already allocates funds through the General Allocation Model for each school with pupils who need learning support. The suggestion of schools being all the same and all doing the same thing is wide of the mark. Schools cannot be all things to all people, schools are encouraged by the Minister to specialise and provide services in their community. Indeed some schools who wanted to provide for pupils with either learning difficulties or for those who are gifted, experienced their own difficulties and were refused by the department citing duplication as some schools already provided that service in the community, some ironically now on the list released on Friday for a reduction in staff. Many of the schools on the list are schools that would be well known for their focus on helping pupils with a learning disability. I particularly note St Senans NS in Enniscorthy. This school has a fine tradition of providing for pupils with learning difficulties. Schools like this don’t need the Minister’s folksy potted logic on possible learning outcomes in already overcrowded classes. They need the Minister’s support. In reality these schools could have avoided these cuts if they ignored the needs of their pupils in the first place. In short they’re being shafted because they achieved and the Minister doesn’t want to pay the price and he’s hiding behind a report, just as Minister Hanafin hid behind the voluntary groups.
If a school can fill a class with 11 such pupils then the funding will remain in place. In total there’s 128 classes nationally with number below 11 with over 800 pupils involved and 128 teachers facing dismissal. Minister O’Keeffe denies that this cut is due to budgetary reasons, a claim backed up by Minister Willie O’Dea on radio over the week-end. This claim is mere spin and an insult to the parents, teachers but most of the children involved. In fact the bar, set at 9 by the Department of Education, has now been raised by the Minister to 11.The schools that identified the need for teaching pupils in a targeted approach must retain these supports.
Minister O’Keeffe has not published the advice on which he claims he’s working on. Minster O’Keeffe should explain why it is that classes of less than 11 are not in the pupil’s interest while those of 11 or more remain of benefit and schools with such will keep their allocation. He should also explain what will happen at second level schools that similarly target resources for pupils with mild learning difficulties. Will he now move against learning support and Special Needs Assistants in these schools too?
This cut is indefensible, the Minister must reverse it.


Catherine said...

I heard something about him doing a bit of a climbdown by saying schools in proximity to each other could maybe pool resources - I don't know if this is feasible as I don't know how it works in practice.
Seems like Batty (good name) shoots from the lip and then engages his brain a few days later when the public wrath becomes too overwhelming and might affect his popularity such as it is.
Roll on some common sense and a Labour government in this benighted land of ours. Every day brings something new to despair over.
Up to Dublin tomorrow to let off some steam!

Unknown said...

Firstly good luck in Dublin tomorrow, I hope there's a huge crowd. I'm not able to go, I was up in October and December on educaion demo's and I beleive there's another organised for May. I happen to have children who have the habit of looking for their father now and again, so I can't go this time even though they came with me on the other 2 occasions!
Batt O'Keeffe's compromise of twining schoos may work in some counties but inot in Wexford as there's only one school affected.