Wednesday, 20 October 2021

Questions (137)

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

137. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd asked the Minister for Education if she will address the concerns raised in correspondence (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [51575/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

The correspondence referred to raises many issues on education provision and the needs of schools and teachers in responding.  

My Department aims to ensure that all children with special educational needs are provided with an education appropriate to their needs.

My Department’s policy is that students with additional needs should be included where possible and appropriate in mainstream placements with additional supports provided. Where students require more specialised interventions, a continuum of education provision extends to include access to special school or special class places, where appropriate.

This continuum extends from fulltime placement in mainstream classes to full time enrolment in special schools with a number of options in between including access to a range of additional supports and for those children whose assessment of need includes a recommendation, access to special class provision. This is to ensure that wherever a child is enrolled, s/he will have access to an appropriate education.

My Department supports this continuum through a range of dedicated supports in line with the needs of the child.   These supports include the provision of teachers, special needs assistants and psychological support from the National Psychological Service. 

In addition, there are specialist supports provided by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE).  The Council has published Guidelines for Setting Up and Organising Special Classes for Primary and Post-Primary Schools. The guidelines advise that students enrolled in special classes should be included in mainstream classes, to the greatest extent possible, in line with their abilities. The Council provides extensive professional development programmes for teachers and advice for schools, parents and families.

Currently, my Department’s budget for special education exceeds €2bn which funds the costs of over 14,000 special education teachers and over 19,000 SNAs which supports a broad continuum of education for children with special needs. 

ASD early intervention special classes are intended to provide early support for children with ASD before they start school. Following early intervention, children will attend a mainstream class unless there is professional guidance that they require a special class or a placement in a special school.

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) published transitional guidelines for children with special needs. These wide-ranging and comprehensive guidelines provide advice and tips for parents, students and schools covering the transitions between all stages of education, these Guidelines are available at www.ncse.ie

In relation to the allocation of SNAs, the NCSE has responsibility for planning and coordinating school supports for children with special educational needs and for advising on the education provision for children nationwide, including the allocation of SNAs and reviews.

It is a matter for schools to allocate support as required, and on the basis of individual need, which allows schools flexibility in how the SNA support is utilised. SNAs should be deployed by the school in a manner which best meets the care support requirements of the children enrolled in the school for whom SNA support has been allocated. 

Where circumstances change during the course of the 2021/22 school year that materially increase the level of care need in a school to the extent that the school can clearly demonstrate that it cannot be met within the existing SNA allocation, the school may apply to the NCSE for a review. Detailed information on the NCSE exceptional review process is published on the NCSE website ncse.ie/for-schools  

Initial Teacher Education (ITE) programmes are subject to review and accreditation by the Teaching Council, for registration purposes as set out Section 38 of the Teaching Council Act.

The Teaching Council reviewed its policy on standards of ITE programmes and published an updated document Céim: Standards for Initial Teacher Education in November 2020. As part of the review, the previous sixteen mandatory elements for all programmes of ITE have been updated and amalgamated into seven core elements, one of which is: Inclusive Education.

Inclusive Education has been strengthened in Céim and is described as ‘any aspect of teachers’ learning aimed at improving their capacity to address and respond to the diversity of learners’ needs.

All new Primary and Post-primary programmes submitted to the Council for accreditation must now be in alignment with Céim. Existing programmes of ITE shall be realigned in accordance with Céim for commencement in September 2022 for first year student teachers.

The NCSE provides a range of professional development programmes for teachers and advisory supports for schools in the area of supporting children with special educational needs.  Information on these is available directly from the NCSE.