Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Questions (142)

Joe Higgins


142. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will report on his meeting with Down Syndrome Ireland on 25 June 2013; and if he will provide the resource hours to children with Down's syndrome as requested by Down Syndrome Ireland. [32536/13]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The Deputy will be aware of this Government's ongoing commitment to ensuring that all children with special educational needs, including children with Down's syndrome, can have access to an education appropriate to their needs. The policy of my Department is to secure the maximum possible level of inclusion of students with special educational needs in mainstream primary and post-primary schools, or where a special school or special class placement may be required to ensure such placements are provided for. Pupils with Down's syndrome attending mainstream schools may receive additional teaching support in primary schools, either under the terms of the General Allocation Model (GAM) of teaching supports, if the pupil's educational psychological assessment places the pupil in the mild general learning disability/high incidence disability category, or through an allocation of individual additional resource teaching hours which are allocated by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE), if the child is assessed as being within the low incidence category of special need, as defined by my Department's Circular Sp Ed 02/05. Pupils with Down's syndrome may be allocated resources under the category of mild general learning disability, or under the categories of moderate general learning difficulty or Assessed Syndrome, in conjunction with another Low Incidence disability. The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has a formal role under the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs (EPSEN) Act, 2004 in advising me in relation to any matter relating to the education of children and others with disabilities. My Department requested that the NCSE consider the issue of whether Down's syndrome should be reclassified as a low incidence disability in all instances, regardless of assessed cognitive ability, in the context of its preparation of comprehensive advice on how the educational system supports children with special educational needs in schools. The NCSE report on Supporting Children with Special Educational Needs in Schools has now been published and is available on the NCSE website The report recommends that under the new resource allocation model proposed by the NCSE in its report, children should be allocated additional resources in line with their level of need, rather than by disability category. The NCSE has recommended that in the short-term, pupils with Down's syndrome pupils who are in the Mild General Learning Difficulty (Mild GLD) category should continue to be supported by schools' Learning Support allocation in the same way as other pupils with a Mild GLD. The NCSE policy advice did not recommend that an exception should be made for children with Down's syndrome who are in the mild general learning difficulty range, over other children who are in the mild range and who also may have other co-morbid conditions. However, the NCSE report states that it is confident that the introduction of a new allocation model will overcome the difficulty posed by all children with mild general learning disabilities, including children with Down's syndrome, who have additional difficulties and who can be supported according to their level of need and in line with their learning plan process. In the meantime, schools are reminded that they can differentiate the level of learning support granted to ensure that available resources are used to support children in line with their needs. I have requested the NCSE to immediately proceed to establish a Working Group in order to develop a proposal for consideration for a new Tailored Allocation Model, which is set out as one of the principal recommendations of the report. In the course of my recent meeting with Down Syndrome Ireland a number of issues were raised which I consider merit further examination. Accordingly I have asked my officials to consider these issues further and to provide a full response to Down Syndrome Ireland on the issues raised as soon as possible.