Wednesday, 17 February 2021

Questions (357)

Michael Lowry


357. Deputy Michael Lowry asked the Minister for Education when section 5 of the Irish Sign Language Act, 2017 will be implemented to provide Irish sign language support for children and young persons attending recognised schools; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7880/21]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The Department of Education provides for an extensive range of resources to support the inclusion of pupils who are deaf or hard of hearing. Enabling children with special educational needs to receive an education appropriate to their needs is a priority of the Department. In budget 2021, more than 20% of the total Education Budget or €2bn will be invested in supporting children with special needs, an increase from €1.9bn last year.

The Department's policy is that children with special educational needs access appropriate education intervention in mainstream settings where possible. Many deaf or hard of hearing pupils are included in mainstream classes at primary and post-primary level. Whilst 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.

Funding is provided by the Department for a weekly home tuition service whereby tutors visit the homes of deaf and hard of hearing preschool children and school-going pupils to provide training in ISL for these children and their families including their grandparents.

Many students who are deaf/hard of hearing learn ISL to support their communication needs but ISL isn’t their primary language. These students and their families can also avail of the ISL Tuition Scheme.

The total cost of this ISL tuition scheme is in the region of € 310,000 annually, with approximately 240 children and their families supported under the scheme by approximately 72 tutors.

The scheme is available to deaf / hard of hearing children from diagnosis to leaving post primary school, details on how to apply can be found on the Department’s website through the following link:

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) published the Comprehensive Review of the SNA Scheme on 30th May 2018 and the Department has noted the contents of the report. The report recommends that ISL qualified assistants should be put in place to support deaf students whose primary language is ISL and that this should be aligned to the requirements of the Irish Sign Language Act 2017. This recommendation is under consideration at present for the introduction of this ISL scheme.

In the interim, these posts are filled, on a case by case basis by the NCSE who allocate a post with similar conditions as SNAs to enable the school to employ someone with an appropriate level of ISL proficiency to meet the needs of the child..

The Department also provides funding for assistive technology for pupils who are deaf or hard of hearing, equipment is provided under this scheme to enable students attend school and engage with the curriculum.

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 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 visiting teachers offer guidance in matters pertaining to the child’s education and overall development and in helping the children to derive maximum benefit from the educational opportunities available.

The NCSE also provides funding for individual teachers and whole school staff in mainstream schools, primary and post-primary, special schools, and special classes to undertake courses in ISL, which are available throughout the country through a variety of providers. The NCSE also provide continual professional development to teachers to enhance the quality of learning and teaching of students who are deaf or hard of hearing.

A new undergraduate programme, Bachelor of Education (Irish Sign Language), commenced in 2019 in Dublin City University (DCU) which 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 could not 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.

The Teaching Council has approved accreditation of the Bachelor of Education (Irish Sign Language) programme. This allowed the B.Ed. to accept ISL as an alternative to Irish for primary teaching from DCU.