I propose to take Questions Nos. 83 and 84 together.
My Department has very significantly increased the number of special education teachers provided to schools since 2011.
More than €1.75 billion, almost 19% of the overall spend in the sector, is dedicated to special education.
The additional provision which has been made in recent years includes an increase of 37% in the number of special education teachers allocated to schools, from 9,9740 in 2011, to over 13,300 at present.
Children can receive additional teaching support based on their learning needs, rather than on a diagnosis of disability. Parents of children who have Down syndrome have certainty that their children can receive as much additional teaching support as required in school, taking account of school based assessments of their learning needs.
There is no constraint on the amount of additional teaching time that may be allocated to pupils with Down syndrome, based on their diagnosis, or because they may previously have been in the mild general learning difficulty category.
With the increase in the allocation of special education teaching in schools, my Department has also ensured there is provision for planning and co-ordination.
DES Circulars 0013 and 0014/2017 note that provision is made within the total allocation of special education teachers to schools for planning and co-ordination activities to ensure the most effective use of the special educational needs hours provided to schools, for children with special educational needs, including children with Down syndrome.
Schools have a legal duty to provide an appropriate education to all students, including young people with special educational needs, and need to plan to ensure this happens.
Guidelines for schools on educational planning and monitoring of outcomes through the Student Support File, are contained in the Guidelines for Primary and Post primary Schools: Supporting Children and Young People with Special Educational Needs in Mainstream Schools.
Planning is a normal part of a teacher’s work and planning tools, like the student support file, have been created as a resource to help schools provide for their students.
It is the view of the Department that planning for the provision of education in schools should include planning for the provision of additional teaching support for pupils in schools, for which coordination and planning time is acknowledged in the allocation.
This would represent a continuation of the good practice that is occurring in the majority of schools.
My Department's July Provision Grant Scheme provides funding for an extended school year for students with severe or profound intellectual disabilities and students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).
The scheme was developed to reduce potential regression in learning associated with these specific categories of special education needs over the summer holidays. The scheme does not make provision for children with other categories of Special Education Needs.
The National Council for Special Education’s Policy Advice on Educational Provision for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders was published in July 2016.
The NCSE review found that in general parents value July provision because it provides daytime respite for families and a structured day for students.
However, the NCSE review found a number of problems with the scheme as currently organised.
These include concerns that the scheme may be inequitable because it is not provided to all students with complex special educational needs.
The Council recommended that the relevant Government Departments consider how an equitable national day activity scheme could be developed for all students with complex special educational needs.
The proposed scheme would provide a structured, safe, social environment for all students with complex special educational needs, which might include some children with Down syndrome.
The Department of Education and Skills has convened an Implementation Group with representatives of the NCSE, NEPS, the Inspectorate and representatives from other relevant Departments and agencies to ensure that the Report’s recommendations are fully and appropriately considered.
There are no plans to change the July provision scheme coverage until this work is complete.