Friday, January 05, 2007

Hanafin’s bluff won’t disguise educational psychological services mess – Enright

51% of primary schools still not covered by NEPS
When will target for educational psychologists - set in 1999 - be met?

Olwyn Enright TD, Fine Gael Spokesperson on Education and Science has today (Thursday) said that Minister Mary Hanafin cannot bluff her way out of the current mess surrounding access to educational psychological services for children and young people.

'Speaking on RTE Morning Ireland today, Minister Mary Hanafin stated that Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats are constantly expanding the services offered by the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS). In many homes, this statement will have been greeted with a hollow laugh.

'Between February 2005 and December 2006, the number of primary schools without access to the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) increased by 160. Information released to me by the Department of Education and Science confirms that whilst 1,522 primary schools were not covered by NEPS in February 2005, this figure was up to 1,682 schools last month.

'In her latest damage limitation exercise, the Minister has also announced the recruitment this year of an additional 31 educational psychologists. This means that by 2008 the target of 184 educational psychologists needed by NEPS - which was set in 1999 and should have been met by 2004 - will still be little more than a 'noble aspiration', an increasingly apt phrase when looking at this Government's record in education.

'With considerable understatement, Minister Hanafin did concede that not every school in the country was covered by NEPS - well, that's one way of acknowledging that 51% of primary schools are still outside the system, eights years after it was first established.

'Minister Hanafin is still just playing 'catch-up' on this issue, and has not even begun to consider the demands that are coming down the track for Ireland's education system. Department of Education figures show that the number of children in primary education will increase by at least 58,000, but where is the planning now to ensure that these children will have access to a proper, working service by the time they are in the system?

'Minister Hanafin also referred - repeatedly - to the scheme for commissioning private psychological assessments which is available to schools. She did not acknowledge, though she knows full well, that many schools have far more students who require assessment than they are allowed to commission privately. The scheme for commissioning private assessments is in no way an alternative to the full roll out of NEPS services.

'Finally, Minister Hanafin seemed to suggest that the St Vincent de Paul charity were in some way misguided in spending their money commissioning psychological assessments for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. The St Vincent de Paul can certainly speak for themselves, but given the facts - the appalling access to the service, the considerable regional imbalances in access to NEPS, and the restrictions on the number of private assessments that can be commissioned - I believe that the Minister is on thin ice here as well.'

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