I propose to take Questions Nos. 276 and 287 together.
The 1998 Education Act requires Boards of Management of each school to publish the policy of the school relating to participation by students with special educational needs, including students who are exceptionally able. The measures schools take in this regard are required to be stated in the school plan. It is the duty of the Board of Management to ensure that appropriate education services are made available to such students.
Schools at both primary and second level use strategies such as curriculum differentiation, curriculum enrichment and acceleration to facilitate the development of pupils who are exceptionally able.
Syllabi and curricula for second-level schools have been designed in such a way to enable teachers cater for the wide range of pupil ability. The revised primary curriculum, which has been supplied to every primary teacher, recognises the importance of developing the full potential of the child and caters for pupil diversity, including meeting the needs of exceptionally able pupils. Content is outlined in the curricula at both levels and process is also heavily emphasised. Enabling children to learn how to learn is stressed and facilitated. The development of language skills, investigatory and problem-solving skills, higher-order thinking skills and working individually, and as a member of a group, are all encouraged at both levels. While the use of information and communication technologies and the use of class and school libraries are of benefit in project work with all pupils, they have a special importance for pupils who are exceptionally able.
The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), in collaboration with its counterparts in Northern Ireland, the Council for Curriculum Examination and Assessment (CCEA), produced guidelines entitled "Exceptionally Able Students – Draft Guidelines for Teachers" which issued to all Primary and Post Primary schools in November 2007 along with a questionnaire for feedback.
The NCCA/CCEA guidelines are designed to raise awareness of the social, emotional and academic needs of exceptionally able students and to assist teachers in planning their teaching and learning. The guidelines provide advice to schools on identification of gifted children, set out profiles of students, and whole school and classroom strategies and case studies which demonstrate how schools can best meet the needs of such students. The general strategies include differentiated teaching, acceleration and enrichment approaches in the context of participation in mainstream schools.
The Special Education Support Service (SESS) is a service under the management of my Department which provides support for teachers to assist them in meeting the needs of all pupils with special educational needs, including those pupils who are exceptionally able. The service is available to schools who may be seeking advice or support relating to a specific special education issue in the school. More information on the range of programmes offered by the SESS is available on www.sess.ie.
In addition, the Professional Development Service for Teachers (PDST), also under the management of my Department, provides training in differentiation, in terms of differentiating for all pupils, whether less able/more able. Issues around exceptional ability and giftedness are addressed as part of the school planning process which is facilitated by the PDST.
Finally, I wish to advise the Deputy that this Government is committed, as set out in the Programme for Government, to examining supports in place for gifted students and specifically to the creation of improved links with third level institutions on a regional basis, to provide gifted students with access to new programmes or educational resources.