Fine Gael TD for Galway West & Mayo South

Special Education Resources – Update

Background

In Galway the number of Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) at primary school level increased from 387 in June 2014 to 397 in September 2014 and at secondary level from 132 in June to 140.5.

On top of this 145 SNAs  were available to the National Council for Special Education to allocate to schools in the last quarter of 2014 and a further 220 SNA posts are being made available to schools this year. Nationally this will bring the total number of SNAs to 11,330.

There are approximately 11,000 learning resource teachers across our schools and 480 additional resource teachers are being provided in 2015 to meet the growth in demographics. This represents a 27% increase in the number of resource teachers in our schools over a three year period.

However, the need for additional teaching support is growing. In just one year there was an increase in demand of over 10%.

As a result the system of allocating resource teaching hours is being reviewed and examined to ensure that maximum possible support can be provided to all pupils who require it. This is in addition to the extra investment as outlined above.

Review and Decisions

In May 2013, the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) published its Policy Advice on Supporting Students with Special Educational Needs in Schools. This policy advice paper found that the current model for allocating over 11,000 additional learning support and resource teacher posts to schools was inequitable and potentially confirmed social advantage and reinforced social disadvantage. The NCSE concluded that the current model needed to be changed. The Minister of Education and the Department began a consultation process with education partners and stakeholders in relation to the NCSE report and received 29 submissions. A number of consultation meetings were also held in October 2014 and January 2015 with stakeholders, education partners, and parent representative groups.

The Minister has now confirmed that she is not proposing to change the way teachers are allocated to schools for children with Special Educational Needs for the coming school year – September 2015. The Minister confirmed that she is being guided by the advice of the NCSE which recommended that sufficient time be allowed for further consultation.

The Minister writes:

“Through consultations which have already taken place, there was a broad welcome for the proposed new model from Parents, disability groups, schools and stakeholders. However, while there has been significant consultation in relation to the proposed new model, there has not been sufficient time to address fully all of the concerns which have been raised in advance the September 2015 school year. In particular, a robust mechanism for identifying children with complex special educational needs has yet to be finalised.

Work will continue in the coming months to develop the proposed model and to address the range of concerns which were identified through the consultations which have taken place so far.

I have asked my Department to design a pilot of the new model which schools could opt into on a voluntary basis. Continuing consultation with stakeholders will be a vital part of the ongoing work.

I also announced the establishment within the National Council for Special Education of a new Inclusion Support Service to assist schools in supporting children with special educational needs.

This change will mean that schools will receive a better and more integrated service from this new Inclusion Support Service. The Inclusion Support Service will build on the existing good work and support which NBSS, SESS and VTSVHI provide to children and their families as well as to teachers and schools and which will continue as normal as the new arrangements are put in place.”

 

Special Resource Teaching Allocations and Down Syndrome

Since 2005, when the current system was put in place, there have been difficulties experienced by parents and guardians of children with Down syndrome in accessing some supports.

On Tuesday, 24th March, the Minister for Education and Skills, Jan O’Sullivan secured agreement to allocate extra resources to schools as interim measures to support children with Down syndrome who are not already supported through the National Council for Special Education’s annual allocation process.

The Minister is introducing this measure now in recognition of the length of time it will take to introduce the new resource teacher model which was recommended by the NCSE. Under the interim measure schools will receive 2.5 resource teacher hours per week for each qualifying child.

These supports are being provided in recognition of the fact that children with Down syndrome experience different challenges and difficulties in addition to general learning difficulties, including speech and language developmental delays.

These interim allocations will remain in place until such time as the proposed new model for allocating teaching supports to children with special education needs comes into force.  In early February, it was announced that it had not been possible to address fully some of the concerns relating to that new model, in time for it to be implemented from September 2015. The Department of Education and Skills is currently working to devise a pilot of the new model, which schools could opt into on a voluntary basis.

 

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