Thursday, 1 April 2021

Questions (217)

Mary Lou McDonald


217. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Education if the National Council for Special Education has completed and submitted its policy advice on education provision in special classes and special schools first commissioned in September 2018; the advice provided on the provision of reading schools for children with dyslexia; and when she will publish the policy advice. [17793/21]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) is responsible for determining the appropriate staffing levels in relation to the support of pupils with special educational needs in special schools, in accordance with the policies of my Department.

Special school staffing allocations are reviewed and updated each year by the NCSE and special schools are staffed on the basis of each year’s current school enrolments.

Staffing arrangements for special schools are in line with policy advice provided by the NCSE in 2013, which did not recommend alteration to staffing ratios established under the Special Education Review Committee (SERC) Report in 1993.

Enhanced pupil teacher and SNA ratios are provided to special schools to support them in dealing with pupils' educational and care needs. These schools are staffed on the basis of individual pupil profile and the disability categorisations of those pupils, as opposed to being based primarily on school designation, in accordance with my Department's Circular 0032/2019 - Appointment of Administrative Deputy Principal and Staffing in Special Schools.

My Department also provides an extensive range of supports for pupils with Specific Speech and Language Disorder (SSLD). This includes provision for the establishment of special classes for pupils with SSLD in primary schools. A total of 63 SSLD special classes in mainstream primary schools have been provided for the 2020/2021 school year.

NCSE, through its network of local Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENOs), is responsible for processing applications from schools for special educational needs supports, including applications to establish special classes for SSLD. Applications meeting the criteria for establishment are approved by the NCSE.

The opening and retention of SSLD special classes is, however, contingent on the Health Service Executive (HSE) being in a position to provide speech and language therapy to the students in the class. The availability and provision of speech and language therapy is the responsibility of the HSE.

The enrolment of pupils in SSLD special classes is managed locally by an Admissions & Discharges Committee, comprising the Speech and Language Therapy Manager, Speech and Language Therapist, Class Teacher and Principal.

As outlined in Circular 0038/2007, eligible pupils may spend up to two years in SSLD classes.

Students who are not enrolled in a special class for SSLD and who meet the SSLD criteria, as outlined in Circular 0038/2007, may qualify for additional Special Education Teaching (SET) support; as may students with mild speech and language difficulties. The school referred to by the Deputy has an allocation of 136 SET hours per week. It is a matter for individual schools to use their professional judgement to identify pupils who will receive this support and to use the resources available to the school to intervene at the appropriate level with such students. My Department is not directly involved in these decisions.

The NCSE is currently developing Policy Advice on Special Classes and Special Schools. My Department, in conjunction with the NCSE is also considering the existing definition of Specific Speech and Language Disorder (SSLD).

There will be no change to the criteria for enrolment in special classes for pupils with speech and language difficulties, pending the outcome of these considerations and the finalisation of the Policy Advice.