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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 25 Jan 2022

Vol. 1016 No. 6

Education (Inspection of Individual Education Plans for Children with Special Needs) Bill 2021: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Education Act 1998 to grant additional functions to the Inspectorate to examine and report to the Minister on the prevalence and standard of individual educational plans for children with special educational needs on an annual basis; and to provide for related matters.

I am sharing time with Deputies Guirke and Ó Laoghaire. The Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs, EPSEN, Act was passed in 2004 to ensure that children with additional educational needs could be educated in an inclusive setting and that all children would have the right to be educated in a mainstream school unless it would not be in the best interest of the child or the effective provision of education for other children in mainstream education. Yet 17 years later, many sections of the Act have not been implemented and one such section is the requirement for individual education plans, IEPs. Under the Act each child assessed with a special educational need should have a personal education plan. However, there is currently no date for the implementation of IEPs. In many countries this is underpinned by law. I am aware many teachers prepare IEPs for their students but that is not compulsory and not inspected. There are guidelines on how to prepare a plan on the National Council for Special Education website. They have been there since 2004 when it was fully expected that the Act would be implemented.

An IEP is a written document prepared for a named student and it specifies the learning goals that are to be achieved by the student over a set period of time, as well as the teaching strategies, resources and supports necessary to achieve those goals. This should be prepared by the school in consultation with the student, if possible, and with the parents and other stakeholders such as a therapist the student may be attending. This Bill asks that this section of the EPSEN Act be implemented as soon as possible. We seek to amend the Education Act 1998 to grant additional functions to the inspectorate, to examine and report to the Minister on the prevalence and standard of IEPs for children with special educational needs annually, and to provide for related matters.

The EPSEN Act was passed in 2004. Almost 17 years later, we still do not have dates for when the implementation of the section relating to IEPs for children with disabilities will be implemented and made compulsory. In many schools where it has been implemented, it provides teachers and parents with the opportunity to have a practical and realistic dialogue about the student's needs and to develop creative ways to meet those needs. The IEP directs the student with special educational needs on his or her school journey. It also allows for a certain amount of structure that is essential to the students' families and educators who are dealing with learning disabilities.

Students know what to expect from their programme each day, how they will be taught and what milestones they should reach. If implemented, it would also help the individual in a post-secondary school context in the forms of training, employment, independent living skills and so on. We all know that students with special educational needs should be placed in the least restrictive environment, thus keeping them involved with general education and letting them prosper. We should not have to wait any longer for this part of the Act to be implemented and help these students to reach their full potential.

As the Taoiseach knows, the EPSEN Act came into law in July 2004. He was the Minister at the time. With its signing into law came great hope for children with special educational needs and their families. It contained many useful provisions but the reality is that in 2022 we are still waiting for the Act to be fully implemented. Children born in 2004 will turn 18 this year. Some of the supports they might have expected during their lifetime in school they will now not receive and they will have finished in the education system. It is a failure of the political system.

One of the key provisions that was not implemented relates to individual education plans. These play a vitally important role. They are being provided by many schools but there is no obligation on them. It is not mandatory and many schools do not provide them. The other element of this is that the quality of such plans varies significantly, as do the standards involved. It is a vitally important tool in these children's progression, in transition, and in being able to tailor their educational needs and the plans that are necessary over their lifetime.

The Government has a long way to go to heal the relationships between families of children with special educational needs in the State. When I speak to them it is always the case that they have to argue and fight for everything. They have to fight for an IEP as things stand; they have to fight for an assessment of need; and they have to fight for an adequate school place. Everything is a fight. Everything is a battle.

I urge the Government to support this Bill to provide children with special educational needs with a thorough and timely individual education plan and to go some say to healing these relationships and to make that uphill battle for educational resources a thing of the past.

Is the Bill being opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.