Deputy Eugene Murphy.
The scale of the crisis facing the psychological services in schools is far worse than initially feared, with the Department of Education stating that there are 397 schools in Ireland left without a psychologist service, as opposed to 299 schools previously highlighted.
Included in this number are four primary schools in Co Longford, including Naomh Earnain NS, Killashee; Scoil Mhuire in Clondra; Scoil Naomh Mhuire in Newtowncashel; and Fermoyle NS in Lanesboro.
“We don’t have our own psychologist. The list is still there, so we got someone off the list and she came and did assessments for us,” said Martina Chapman, Principal of Killashee NS.
“And she had very little time to spend in the school because she had a huge spread of schools to cater for. And I think she could only give about half a day to each school. And that’s really not much good either.”
Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton TD announced in January that a new model for allocating Special Education Teaching Resources to mainstream primary and post primary schools would be introduced from September 2017.
The Resource Allocation Model is designed to allocate special education resources as needed in schools and will be based on the profiled special educational need of each school.
But to gain access to additional resource teaching, a child must be assessed for learning difficulty by a psychiatrist, which can be done publicly by the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) or by a private consultant.
“It is generally only better-off parents that can afford a private diagnosis of learning difficulty for their child when they see a problem arise,” Fianna Fáil TD for Roscommon/Galway Eugene Murphy commented.
“The costs for private assessment can be upward of €1,000 - a fee that many parents simply cannot afford. By contrast, it often takes a year (and often much longer) for students to be publicly assessed for learning difficulties by NEPS.
“We have sought a firm commitment from Minister Bruton that no child will be deprived under the new allocation system and we will not stand for any child with special education needs losing resource teaching hours as a result of these changes.”
Schools that don’t have an assigned psychologist are severely disadvantaged in terms of delays to assessments for special educational needs or behavioural difficulties, according to Deputy Murphy, and, overall, children in these schools will be very limited in terms of support and counselling services when crisis presents.
“Now they’ve changed the whole system and we get a certain amount of hours, the school needs to decide who gets the help from learning support resources and who gets the hours, so I don’t know if the assessment label is even important any more.
"In the past, you got a child assessed and if they had a special need or a difficulty, you could apply for resource hours, but that seems to be gone at the momen; I suppose we’ll just wait and see how this system rolls out,” Miss Chapman concluded.