Thursday, 11 February 2021

Questions (150)

Kieran O'Donnell


150. Deputy Kieran O'Donnell asked the Minister for Education her current and proposed plans for the provision of services for Irish Sign Language (details supplied); if the deployment of Irish Sign Language teachers under the Irish Sign Language Act 2017 will be prioritised; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7645/21]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The Teaching Council is the independent regulatory body with statutory authority for the professional regulation of teachers in this State.

Registration with the Council is necessary in order to be recognized as a teacher for employment in a state funded teaching post. Registration ensures that standards of entry to the profession are maintained. Teachers may apply for registration in the primary, post-primary, further education and other sectors.

The registration of teachers is governed by Section 31 of the Teaching Council Acts 2001-2015 and the Council registers teachers under the Teaching Council Registration Regulations 2016. My Department is not directly involved in the registration of individual teachers.

Applicants wishing to register as a teacher in the Further Education sector must meet the requirements for registration under Route 3, as set out in the regulations, which are available on the Teaching Council’s website at

I would advise members of the Council of Irish Sign Language Teachers (CISLT) to liaise directly with the Teaching Council regarding their registration.

Very significant levels of financial provision are made to ensure that all children with special educational needs, including children who are deaf/hard of hearing, can be provided with an education appropriate to their needs.

The total education spend on special education is about €2 Billion - almost a fifth - of the the annual educational and training budget. This represents an increase of over 60% in total expenditure since 2011, at which point €1.247 Billion per annum was provided.

Included in this provision is an extensive range of supports to assist students who are deaf or hard of hearing. In line with my Department's policy that children with special educational needs access appropriate education intervention in mainstream settings where possible, many deaf or hard of hearing pupils are integrated into mainstream classes at primary and post-primary level, while other children who are deaf or hard of hearing and have more complex needs may attend special schools or classes, which have lower pupil teacher ratios.

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) Support Service includes Visiting Teachers, who are qualified teachers with particular skills and knowledge of the development and education of children with varying degrees of hearing loss and/or visual impairment. They offer longitudinal support to children, their families and schools from the time of referral through to the end of post-primary education.

Each visiting teacher (VT) is responsible for a particular region and is allocated a caseload of students. The VT supports children/young people, parents, guardians, teachers and other professionals involved with the child.

The frequency and nature of support takes into account a range of factors based on the individual’s needs.

The NCSE provide direct support to schools and individual teachers in as flexible a way as possible, offering telephone advice, a school visit from a member of the team, an in-service course for individual teachers, or whole-school training. Whole-school training will ensure that all teachers are equipped to cater for the pupils’ educational needs, as they progress through primary and post primary school.

Among the courses towards which funding is provided to schools are courses in Irish Sign Language, which are available throughout the country through a variety of providers.

Additional supports provided by my Department include funding to schools for assistive technology such as radio aids and Soundfield systems, special transport arrangements for pupils, and enhanced levels of capitation in special classes and special schools.

Funding is also provided by my Department for a weekly home tuition service whereby tutors visit the homes of deaf and hard of hearing pre-school children and school-going pupils to provide training in Irish Sign Language (ISL) for these children, their siblings, parents/guardians and grandparents.

Reasonable accommodations and supports are made available to support children with special educational needs, including students who are deaf/hard of hearing, to participate in state exams.

The NCSE published the Comprehensive Review of the SNA Scheme in May 2018. The report recommends that Irish Sign Language (ISL) qualified assistants should be put in place to support profoundly deaf students whose primary language is ISL and that this should be aligned to the requirements of the Irish Sign Language Act 2017..

In line with the recommendations of this review and the requirements of the Irish Sign Language Act 2017, a scheme will be developed to provide Irish Sign Language support for students attending recognised schools, whose primary language is Irish Sign Language. It will take some time to introduce and implement this ISL scheme. In the interim these posts are filled, on a case by case basis, through the NCSE to allocate an additional SNA post with appropriate ISL qualifications. They are employed on similar terms and conditions to SNAs. The purpose of these posts is to enable these students attend school and access the curriculum.

A new undergraduate programme, Bachelor of Education (Irish Sign Language), in Dublin City University (DCU), launched in 2019, enables deaf and hard of hearing people who use Irish Sign Language (ISL) to enter primary teaching.

Previously, there was no entry route to primary teacher education for someone who communicates through ISL and cannot meet the minimum entry requirement for Irish in Leaving Certificate. This B.Ed. allows ISL to be accepted as an alternative to Irish. It is an important step towards ensuring increased access and inclusion for all in the classroom.

It is envisaged that, when qualified, these students will teach in schools for the deaf or special classes in mainstream schools. These qualified teachers will have a high level of ability in ISL, in-depth knowledge of bilingual education and the ability to teach all of the curriculum subjects through ISL. It will further aid deaf children who use Irish Sign Language in primary school to fully access the curriculum by having teachers who are fluent ISL users.

This new Bachelor of Education (ISL) is approved by the Department of Education and accredited by the Teaching Council.

The duties of the Minister for Education in relation to the implementation of the ISL Act are set out in Section 5 of the Act and the Minister has no role in recognising representative bodies.

Under section 10(3) of the Act, the Minister for Justice shall ensure that persons or organisations that are representative of the interests of the members of the deaf community are consulted on the matters to be considered in a report prepared on the operation of the Act.

My Department does not have responsibility for the recognition of representative bodies under the ISL Act.