Speaking Notes for Brian Lenihan TD Minister for Children at Better Options
Friday, 24 November 2006 at 10.30am - The Mahony Hall, the Helix, Dublin City University
It is a pleasure to be here today at this important event and I congratulate Dublin City University, the Association for Higher Education Access and Disability (AHEAD) and the Disability Advisors Working Network (DAWN) for organising the day which is designed to provide information to students, their parents, guidance counsellors and other teaching personnel concerning access to colleges of higher education as well as the supports available for students with a disability.
This is the time of year when students throughout the country prepare to complete their CAO application and give serious consideration to the course options available to them in third level colleges across the country. For most students this is a stressful time as they not only have to choose from a wide range of possible course options, they also need to consider other issues such as the location of colleges or living away from home for the first time. For students with a disability, however, this stress is compounded by a number of other factors. Students with a disability also need to consider whether the college of their choice can offer the supports that are necessary to enable them to participate fully in the course they have selected and in college life, and to graduate with a qualification which reflects their efforts and ability.
As statistics on participation rates in third level education indicate, traditionally, very small numbers of people with a disability attended third level colleges in this country. In 1994, students with a disability constituted less that one percent of the student population. In 2006, this percentage has increased to approximately three percent. While this percentage is still short of that attained in some other European countries, the increase has been steady and is expected to improve further in the years ahead.
Legislation has been enacted in recent years to ensure that the rights of people with disabilities are upheld. However, the Government also recognises that, in addition to legislation, the provision of supports, including appropriate educational support, are crucially important in ensuring that people with a disability can participate fully in all aspects of life and in society generally.
A guaranteed allocation of resource teaching hours is now given to all schools, replacing the need for individual assessment for every single child and there is now a team of 80 local Special Needs Organisers (SENOs) working with teachers and parents helping them to get appropriate support for their children. This service, the delivery of which is a function of the National Council for Special Education, will ensure that children with disabilities get speedy, as well as appropriate, supports. Abilities, skills and talents are identified as well as needs and it is intended that all children with a disability receive an appropriate education, that they benefit from it, and that they are prepared for employment and participation in society generally. Minister Hanafin’s new measures, announced earlier this month, to reduce class-sizes and provide additional administrative support to schools where significant numbers of students with learning disabilities are enrolled, is a further indication of the government’s commitment in this area.
To assist schools to provide for the learning needs of young people with special educational needs, there has been a substantial increase in the resources provided for by the Department of Education and Science over the past number of years. In 1998, there were 200 additional teachers in second level schools to support students with special educational needs. In 2006, this figure is 1,836. In addition, there are now over 500 learning support teachers in place in second level schools. All of these increases are benefiting students with disabilities and they will benefit further from the significant increases announced by Minister Hanafin in last week’s Estimates for 2007. These range from a 30% increase in the capitation grant for children with certain disabilities, to a near doubling of the grant for children with physical disabilities.
The National Office for Equity of Access to Higher facilitates educational access and opportunity for groups, including those with disabilities, who are under-represented in higher education. The Office reviews and manages several funding programmes, including the Fund for Students with Disabilities. In the 2005-2006 academic year, this fund allocated over €8 million to support 2,032 students with a disability in further and higher education. This number is likely to be exceeded in the current year.
The experience of learning in second level education and the outcome of this experience by way of the qualification achieved are key factors in determining whether or not a student progresses to third level or further education. Access to Guidance in second level education is hugely important in assisting young people to develop self-management skills so that they can make informed choices about third level and further education options. Guidance programmes in schools should address the particular needs of students with a disability and play an important role in ensuring that they gain access to all available supports when they progress to third level education.
Recent guidelines on Guidance, issued to post-primary schools by the Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Science, highlight the need for schools to empower students with disabilities to explore the fullest range of options available and to acquire the skills necessary to reach individual goals. Recognising the need to provide a guidance service to all students in second level schools, including those with a disability, an additional 180 guidance posts have been created since 2001 by the Minister for Education and Science.
As there are many guidance counsellors here today, and the President of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC), Mr Frank Mulvihill, is hosting the event, I particularly want to acknowledge the work of the IGC and to thank it for its cooperation with AHEAD in providing workshops for guidance counsellors throughout the country. The Great Expectations project delivered sixteen workshops nationally. The workshops were delivered by graduates with disabilities and sought to demystify disability in an educational context, and provide awareness training in a highly interactive way. As part of the project, a handbook was developed by AHEAD for use by guidance counsellors when working with students with disabilities. The handbook contains important information which is designed to assist guidance counselors when providing guidance to students with different disabilities. As the handbook stresses, people with disabilities are all different. Each individual has needs which are specific to him or her and it is important, therefore, to focus on the person and his or her abilities, rather than on the disability. I believe that, for too long, this principle has been ignored in our society.
As the organisers of the event have stated, this fair will be an eye-opener to students, guidance counsellors and parents. Today you will have an opportunity to learn how to apply to the CAO as a student with a disability or specific learning disability; to obtain advice on funding and supports and to observe demonstrations on assistive technology. Most third level institutions now provide a range of services to students with disabilities through the Disability/Access Service. Individual colleges are represented here and will provide all the information required about their access routes and the support services they provide. I urge all students and parents to make the best possible use of the occasion and source the information available to assist you personally.
I know that all of the guidance counselors here are committed to providing the best possible service for their students and will avail of the opportunity to make contact with individual colleges and to obtain up-to-date information on access routes to third level institutions as well as on the range of supports available in each college.
Once again I would like to congratulate the organisers of the day and to thank them not just for today’s event but for all their work over the years which informs, encourages and inspires young people and adults with disabilities to aspire to achieving the same goals as other citizens and to demand their rightful place in education, in the economy, and in society.
I wish you all every success today and for the future.