The announcement by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) during the week that support for pupils with special educational needs (SEN) is to be further reduced, to a cumulative 25% over the past three years, was met with dismay by most observers in the educational community. As Simon Lewis reported, the NCSE put a positive spin on the announcement, with the NCTE CEO, Teresa Griffin, welcoming “the fact that the number of teaching and SNA supports remains at the same levels as last year despite the difficult economic times”.
One cannot but be suspicious about the timing of the announcement of the so-called “adjustment” of provision for pupils with SEN, with The Examinier reporting that the Minister for Education and Skills Ruairí Quinn had signed off on the cuts three weeks ago but officials were ordered to keep the announcement quiet until this week. Announcing the cuts this week also left schools with very little time to either respond to the cuts or to make adequate provision for their pupils for the next school year. It also feels like a cynical decision by the government not to announce the cuts prior to the ballot by teachers on the Haddington Road proposals, with the government obviously fearing that such an announcement might affect the result of the ballot and, consequently, industrial relations in the forthcoming school year.
Brendan O’ Connor writes in today’s Sunday Independent that, because of these cuts, pupils with SEN are not considered as important as other pupils by the government. He says that by using the logic promoted by the NCSE and the government, then surely we should also be saying that because there are more unemployed people, they should just share the same pot of money and get 25% less in their benefits. So, what else should be reduced by 25% in the current climate following this same logic:
- Lets’s cap the pot of money allowed to TDs for expenses and reduce individual claims by 25%
- Let’s cap the number of teachers, even though the school population is increasing, reduce ALL pupils class contact time by 25% and see how well that goes down with the public
- Let’s reduce hospital admissions by 25% and let people be sick at home
- Let’s reduce government department opening hours by 25% and see how the service is affected
- Let’s reduce Garda working hours by 25% and let the criminals have a field day
- Let’s cap the money allowed to pensioners and let them take a 25% cut in benefits – the government won’t rattle the pensioners cage after what happened the last time
The list could go on and on – the point is that the government has chosen the weakest of society, pupils with SEN, to bear an unfair brunt of cuts (not “adjustments”). With very little time to mobilise, parents and teachers will protest against these cuts this week in different venues across the country. A list of demonstrations is available and anyone living near these venues should make every effort possible to attend and to show the government that pupils with SEN do matter and that they deserve better.