2 Years free pre-schooling for children with special needs?

THE GOVERNMENT has said it will consider providing two years of free pre-schooling for children with special needs under its early childcare and education scheme.

Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald told an Oireachtas committee yesterday she wanted to extend the scheme from one year to two years for children with special needs. However, she said no Government decision had yet been made on the proposal, which would have financial implications.

“Developmentally, many children would benefit from it,” she told The Irish Times after her first appearance before the Oireachtas health committee. “The kind of needs they have would become clearer in the course of the second year and they would be better prepared for primary school.”

Under the existing scheme, all children aged three years and three months to four years and six months on September 1st each year are eligible for a year of pre-schooling paid for by the State.

The scheme is expected to cost €166 million in 2011, with 95 per cent of all children of qualifying age currently taking part.

Estimates from the department suggest extending the scheme for children with special needs could cost an extra €15 million a year. This is based on forecasts that up to 10 per cent of all children in the State have special needs.

Ms Fitzgerald said extending the free pre-school year for children with special needs was part of her vision for developing the early childcare and education scheme. She said she would like to see all children benefit from two years of free pre-school.

Parents with special needs children recently protested against what they believe are plans to cut the number of special needs assistants. A Department of Education value-for-money report on special needs assistants recently found there was an “over-allocation” of 27 per cent in primary and post primary schools, and 10 per cent in special needs schools.

Ms Fitzgerald said she would publish new child-protection guidelines for all bodies working with children after publication of the Cloyne report into handling of clerical child sex abuse allegations.


JAMIE SMYTH, Social Affairs Correspondent

 Irish Time 7th July 2011

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