Thomas Pringle TD

Ministers Norma Foley and Josepha Madigan should resign!

Full Speech:


I’m not going to beat around the bush here.  I think that Ministers Norma Foley and Josepha Madigan should resign.  To say that the handling of the re-opening of schools has been an omnishambles would be the understatement of the year.  I suppose it is still January but given how awful this Government is I’m sure there are more fiascos en route.

The press statement released by the Department earlier this week beggars belief.  The attempt at pitting parents against teachers, SNAs and unions is reprehensible Ministers, especially when we are hearing the absolute stress and distress that parents are under, particularly those who have children with additional needs. It is a blatant attempt to deflect from the fact that you have done nothing to plan for this since September, except to take advantage of the goodwill of all educational staff in facilitating the under resourced return to school, while repeating ad nauseum your fallacious mantra “Schools are safe”
Your statement opened in an overly -confrontational way stating: “a phased return for children with special educational needs to in-school learning on Thursday 21 January, will regrettably not be possible owing to a lack of co-operation by key staff unions in the primary sector.”

After blaming a lack of co-operation your statement then goes on to say that there was “unprecedented engagement with primary and special education stakeholders”.  Using language like ‘unprecedented engagement’ when speaking about unions and service providers is so disingenuous.  You’re either engaging with stakeholders and looking for co-operation or you’re not.

Minister, there is a bigger conversation here around students with additional needs.  Teachers are not Occupational Therapists (OTs) or Speech and Language Therapists (SLTs).  Teachers are educators.  This is a larger system failure with supports (or lack thereof) in general for children with additional needs and their families or carers.  The waiting lists for services are atrocious, the statutory timeframe for the HSE Assessment of Needs is constantly flouted (it should be within 6 months of referral) and the process of the Assessment of Need (AON) has reportedly been changed by the HSE.  What is the current state of the waiting lists within the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS)?  NEPS seem to have been mentioned in many Department press releases and statements up to the end of last year.  In November there were reports that the Department created an additional 17 NEPS posts.  Were these posts filled?  What support is NEPS providing to schools and teachers now?  How are assessments taking place during Covid and what reviews of the Service are taking place during this time?

The section of which has the “Wellbeing advice and resources during COVID-19” from NEPS contains a number of PDF documents about ‘calming your child’ and ‘managing stress and anxiety’.  The information page seems to have been published on the 27th of August 2020 and updated on the 20th of January 2021.  What co-operation is there between NEPS and the HSE?

Minister, have you read the informative twitter thread by Irwin Gill (@IrwinGill) at the start of this week.  Mr Gill lays out that previously the Assessment of Needs comprised a team of professionals – OTs, SLTs, Physio and Psychology – and would have been a comprehensive series of assessments, concluding with a detailed analysis and possible diagnosis.  Depending on the outcome of that Assessment of Needs, decisions would be made around what supports the child might be entitled to, such as classroom supports or financial supports.

It is reported that since January 2020 a new ‘Standard Operating Procedure’ for the Assessment of Needs has been in place, reducing the assessment to a single initial assessment of 90mins.  If further assessments are needed, they are carried out by overstretched community disability teams, who are not under the same legal statutory timeframe.  Children awaiting assessment of needs are just being moved from waiting list to waiting list and in the meantime the teachers are being blamed for highlighting the health and safety risks involved in re-opening schools in the midst of a global pandemic.

In January 2019, the Joint Committee on Health published its report on the New Standard Operating Procedure for Assessment of Need under the Disability Act 2005.  One of the recommendations of the Committee was “The Committee has concerns that the proposed Assessment does not prioritise the child’s best interests and may further delay access to services. The Committee recommends further consultation between the HSE, parent advocate groups and the therapists.”
Resign Ministers, because neither of you have prioritised the best interests of children and it is sickening to see you use children with additional needs to advance your frontline worker bashing agendas

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