Youthreach without special needs support

Youthreach, the programme for training early school-leavers, receives none of the special education-needs services that primary and post-primary schools do, yet 70 per cent of the people they deal with have special education needs.

Youthreach provides training to unemployed people from the ages of 15 to 20. Dermot Stokes, national coordinator of Youthreach, says that up to 70 per cent of the people they train have special educational needs. At present they cater for 6,000 people. A majority of these are under 19.

All primary and post-primary schools are meant to have access to additional teacher resources for special needs and access to the National Education Psychological Programme which assesses children for special educational needs. Youthreach cannot avail of either of these provisions. Additionally, Youthreach does not come under the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 (EPSEN). Under it the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) was set up in January 2005 and this assesses needs for special-needs assistants, transport and technology assistance, and provides a personal Education Plan for each child with special needs. The NCSE will not provide special-needs services to Youthreach services until all aspects of the EPSEN are implemented.

By denying special education services to Youthreach the Minister for Education and Science, Mary Hanafin, is breaking her obligations under the Education Act 1998.

Under the Section 7.1 of the 1998 Education Act it says the minister is to ensure "there is made available to each person resident in the State, including a person with a disability or who has other special educational needs, support services and a level and quality of education appropriate to meeting the needs and abilities of that person".

In 2000 there was the equivalent of 2,000 learning and support teachers in primary schools. There are now 5,000. In 2001/2002 there were 559 additional teachers to cater for special educational needs in secondary schools. For the year 2005/2006 there are 1,654 special educational needs teachers.

Emma Browne