I thank the Chairman for the invitation to speak here today. As members are aware, I served as chairperson of the NCSE for the past three years, since January 2013. As members are also aware, the council is the organisation's governing body and has an oversight role in leading and approving the NCSE's strategic policy and direction. The executive of the NCSE has a separate and complementary role, which is to oversee the achievement of the organisation's strategic goals and the day to day management of its functions. As the Chairman stated, last week, Sé Goulding and Mary Byrne, principal officers, were before the committee dealing with organisational matters.
The NCSE wants all children and adults with special educational needs to achieve their potential. An appropriate education is essential to achieving this goal. I welcome the opportunity to play my part in making this vision a reality. I wish to speak about three areas, namely, the past three years as chairperson of the NCSE, the next three years, and my personal commitment to the role of chairperson.
Three years ago I told this joint committee that my focus would be on ensuring delivery of the NCSE's five strategic objectives, which are set out in the Statement of Strategy 2012-2016. I will highlight briefly five aspects of that strategy, the first of which is policy advice. The NCSE published a comprehensive strategic review of special education in 2013, which was the first major review of special education in Ireland in 20 years. We also published a report of the NCSE working group in 2014, which proposed a new model for the allocating of additional teaching supports. More recently, this September we provided the Minister with a pre-publication copy of policy advice on educational provision for students with autism spectrum disorders. Members will appreciate that I am unable to discuss the detail of our policy advice on autism until such time as it has been published.
The NCSE policy advice is informed by widespread consultation with education partners and a comprehensive examination of relevant and international literature. Our consultation groups consistently acknowledge that the State's ongoing and significant investment in special education has brought about improvements in how students are supported in schools. There is considerable consensus that the right supports are in place.
As the committee is aware, the previous Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, requested that the NCSE establish a working group to develop a proposal for a new allocation model, and I agreed to chair that group. The working group reported in March 2014 and we presented the proposals to this joint committee in June 2014. The main recommendations, in summary, are that available additional teaching resources should be allocated in line with the educational profile of a school and deployed in accordance with students' identified educational needs, and that one coherent support service is needed to improve the capacity of schools to meet the needs of students with additional learning needs. I am pleased that last February the Minister, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, announced the establishment of the inclusion support service within the NCSE with immediate effect and that the Department of Education and Skills is now conducting a pilot exercise to test the new model in 47 primary and post-primary schools.
An extensive research programme underpins our policy advice and informs the good practice information that we disseminate to schools, parents and the education sector. During the last term, the NCSE published eight research reports addressing important issues in special education. I am very pleased to advise members that the NCSE is about to publish two new studies that have helped to inform our policy advice on autism spectrum disorders, ASD. One considers the literature between 2008 and 2013 on national and international research on education for persons with ASD. The second publication is an evaluation of State-funded educational provision for students with ASD in Ireland. These reports will be published on the same day as the policy advice on ASD is launched by the Minister.
I am very proud of our new programme of locally delivered information sessions for parents of young children with special educational needs. We initiated these seminars in 2014 because, as a council, we were very pleased to respond to parental requests for more comprehensive and objective information concerning their children with special educational needs. More than 1,000 parents have now attended these seminars and have been very satisfied with their content and the literature provided. We have published nine information pamphlets and two booklets for parents to explain how the education system supports students with different types of disability, and we have an information booklet on post-school education and training options for adults and school leavers with disabilities.
With regard to operational matters, I am satisfied that the NCSE has allocated available teaching and special needs assistant, SNA, supports in accordance with departmental policy. I am very pleased to be able to report that the level of additional supports for students with special educational needs, including resource teachers, SNAs and special classes, is now higher than ever. We now have almost 26,000 adults supporting special education and learning difficulties in our schools, comprising 14,151 teachers and 11,820 SNAs. With regard to corporate governance, the NCSE has conducted its business in compliance with the code of practice for the governance of State bodies, as well as complying with the normal legislative requirements governing our work. At a meeting two weeks ago with the Comptroller and Auditor General, I was pleased to be told that all issues raised at audit were dealt with to the satisfaction of the auditor and no letter needed to be issued to the NCSE on any audit manner.
What lies ahead if I am ratified as chairman for the next three years? Over the next three years, the core activity of the NCSE – research, policy advice and operations – will continue and I will ensure that it continues to be effective. In that context, I will support the NCSE executive in continuing to develop our services and deliver essential supports for schools and children. Next year we will work on the development of the new NCSE statement of strategy that will guide our work between 2017 and 2021. This work will include the roll-out of the new model for allocating special educational teachers to schools. The NCSE will continue to support both the Department and the education partners to ensure its successful implementation. The new inclusion support service needs to be developed and embedded within the NCSE in the near future. Our research programme will be focusing on teacher education, as good teaching is crucial to successful educational outcomes. So much research is under way about what comprises good and effective teaching for children with special educational needs, and our research will help inform future policy developments. This morning in Croke Park I opened the seventh NCSE research conference for 2015, which deals with teacher education for inclusion. On completion of this meeting, I will be returning to Croke Park. That is not because I am a Kerryman and I like Croke Park, but rather because the research programme is there.
We will be publishing further information and guidance for parents and schools on the transition of students with special educational needs. These guidelines will cover all stages of education, including preschool to primary school, primary to post-primary school, special to mainstream settings, and onwards from post-primary school to further and higher education or training programmes or the world of work. These are all elements in the process of a learning curve for young people. There are also new frontiers to be explored. The NCSE now works closely with the Department of Health and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and their agencies at both national and local level. I hope to see further co-operation in the coming years, particularly around the inclusion of young children with disabilities in preschool education and the further development and review of post-school options for young people with special educational needs.
With regard to my personal commitment, as the committee knows, while I was the chief inspector in the Department of Education and Skills - for 12 years - I initiated major structural change, reform and expansion of the inspectorate, including the introduction of whole-school evaluation for all schools. Before that, I was the founding principal of a large co-educational post-primary school in Limerick for 14 years, and I was fortunate to be able to bring the school from 90 students in its first year to more than 1,000 students within ten years. Prior to becoming principal, I was a post-primary teacher of business studies for six years. I am also the author of many books and articles on business and economics.
If reappointed as chairperson of the NCSE, I will use my expertise to lead the NCSE so that it continues to function effectively and to provide appropriate strategic guidance in accordance with the highest ethical standards. I will continue to work closely with council members, the chief executive officer and her senior management team to achieve this. I would consider it a tremendous privilege to lead the NCSE through its next phase of development. The workload is challenging but I am personally committed to this work and the role of chairperson. I thank the committee for its patience in listening to me.