Parents and schools should be very watchful about a VFM (Value for Money) Review into Special Needs Assistance Provision that is currently under way at the Department of Education and Science. This is the advice from Tramore Town Councillor Joe Conway, who views the present review with some concern.

“I do not want to be unnecessarily alarmist about this, but we have to have a look at the facts”, he said.

“Firstly, the trawl is underway and is due for completion in February. Secondly, the terms of reference would indicate a predisposed agenda to me, particularly where it is stated that – and this is a direct quotation – the review should: “evaluate the degree to which the objectives warrant the allocation of public funding on a current and ongoing basis and examine the scope for alternative policy or organizational approaches to achieving these objectives on a more efficient/effective basis and make appropriate recommendations for change, if necessary. A VFM review should not, as a general rule, recommend an increased resource allocation for the programme concerned.”

“If the allocation for children with disabilities is attacked, then how low is a government prepared to go. It is another notch on the tally-stick of inequality – class sizes, the pensioners, and now possibly children with disabilities will be the targets. These sectors bear no guilt for the current fiscal difficulties, but they are being made targets, while the reckless progenitors of much of our difficulties are getting massive support from ourselves, the taxpayers, whether we like it or not.

“Parents should be aware that there is a well-defined appeals mechanism, through the National Council for Special Education, if they are aggrieved by the level of provision for their child.”

There are 18,000 SNAs (Special Needs Assistants) working in the State and the scheme costs €300m annually. It is estimated that over 190,000 pupils have special educational needs, with approximately 2,000 in Waterford City and County.