IE: Minister ‘Shamed’ Into Hiring School Psychologists

An extra 25 psychologists have been appointed to schools after the Irish Examiner revealed more than 1,000 child appraisals had to be paid for by the St Vincent de Paul charity last year.

Opposition parties said Education Minister Mary Hanafin had been “shamed” into the move after it was revealed that principals were forced to approach the country’s largest charity to fund pupil assessments.

The extra psychologists, coupled with six already announced, will take the number working for the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) to 158 — which is still 26 short of the figure the Government said would be in place by 2004.

Fine Gael education spokesperson Olwyn Enright insisted the schools were still dangerously under-resourced.

“The minister is welcome, if overdue, considering the number of times I have raised the matter in the Dáil.

“The recruitment of 25 more psychologists in 2007 is good news, but still well short of the number promised to be in place three years ago. The Government has been shamed into this action and it is still not enough.

“Just over half of primary schools are still not covered. Does Ms Hanafin really believe 25 psychologists can cover 51% of primary schools? It is unacceptable that vulnerable children are left to depend on charities” she said.

Ms Hanafin denied the announcement of extra resources was linked to the controversy caused by the Irish Examiner exposure.

The minister added that supporting children with special needs and tackling disadvantage were priorities for the Government.

“Poor attendance is a major factor in young people underperforming at school, and indeed dropping out early.

“Welfare officers visiting families are — along with all the extra supports given to schools in disadvantaged areas — a major resource in improving school attendance and completion,” she said.

Increased funding for the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB), meanwhile, will also allow the body to recruit 15 more staff. This will give the welfare board 109 staff to tackle school attendance and early school leaving, the minister said.

Irish National Teachers Organisation general secretary John Carr welcomed the moves. “It is vital that special needs are identified early and learning programmes developed so that these children can reach their full potential.