Written Answers. - Special Educational Needs.

Alan Shatter

Question:

861 Mr. Shatter asked the Minister for Education and Science the training each individual teacher receives concerning dyslexia in the primary and post-primary school system; the format such training takes; the minimum training given; the amount of the overall training devoted to dyslexia; the precise areas covered; and if he will specifically legislate for the rights of dyslexic children to receive an education equal to their needs. [1819/99]

Fully qualified primary school teachers learn, during their pre-service training, to deal with a variety of reading problems, including those specific difficulties, such as dyslexia, which are accompanied by perceptual deficits. Second level teachers are not, as a rule, trained in the teaching of the basic skills of reading and writing. However, classroom observation as well as the results of assessment tests administered by guidance counsellors and remedial teachers at that level will generally indictate the discrepancy between intellectual potential and academic attainments which indicates the possible existence of specific learning difficulty.

Those students with specific difficulties who are unable to make sufficient progress in the ordinary classroom may benefit from the additional resource of the remedial education service. This is provided by qualified teaachers, the vast majority of whom have followed a recognised course in remedial education. My Department has supported such courses for many years. Since 1994 there has been a national programme of training for remedial teachers directly funded by the in-career development unit. At present, post-graduate courses for teachers at primary and post-primary levels are held in six centres in universities and in colleges of education. Each year, over 150 primary and post-primary teachers attend these courses.

The programme is known as a sandwich course consisting of attendance for a total of five weeks of the academic year at the relevant college interspersed with supervised teaching practice in the participants' own schools. Primary and post-primary teachers follow a common core curriculum. The bulk of the syllabus addresses the diagnosis and identification of learning difficulties and appropriate techniques for remediation. Emphasis is placed on the assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of each student and on the consequent development of individualised remedial programmes. The whole programme therefore assists the participating teachers to help students with all types of learning difficutly, including the type of specific reading difficulty known as dyslexia, by developing their skills of differential diagnosis and appropriate pedagogy.
In addition the special training programme for remedial teachers includes a module on specific learning disability. The length of the module varies slightly from course to course but, in every case, is supplemented by case studies and by the supervision of the participants' course work on assessment, diagnosis and programme development. Lectures and workshops, delivered by experts in the field, deal with more detailed identification and diagnosis of perceptual deficits and on particualr techniques for dealing with such deficits. Emphasis is laid on the importance of choosing materials which are appropriate to the student's level of ability and interest while being sufficiently easy to read.
A substantial number of class and subject teachers have expressed interest in developing their skills in relation to specific learning difficulties. Many shorter courses, varying from a day to a week in duration, for such teachers have also been supported financially by my Department. They have been mainly provided through the network of education centres, through teachers' organisations and through the programme of summer courses for primary teachers. Practical guidelines for the classroom may be provided in the context of the training courses referred to.
The Education Act, 1998, which will shortly come into force, places a duty on me, which I welcome, to ensure that all persons in the State will have access to a level and quality of education appropriate to their needs. Persons with disabilities or other special educational needs are included in this provision, and there are references to them throughout the Act. The definition of disability used in the Act is wide, and includes any condition that results in a person learning differently from a person without that condition. The definition therefore includes those with specific learning difficulties. It will also be my duty under the Act to plan and co-ordinate the necessary support services for such students and to consult, wherever possible, people with relevant expertise in the area. In addition, each school will be obliged under the Act to state in its school plan its policy in relation to equal access to, and participation in, the school for all students, including those with disabilities, and the measures which the school proposes to take to achieve those objectives. The Act also provides that the composition of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment will include persons with experience in the area of special educational needs. The NCCA is to prepare specific recom mendations for me on the early identification of learning disability.