There is no doubt that given the increasing number of children with special needs now availing of the opportunity of a mainstream second level education, there is a need to ensure sufficient training supports are in place to enable teachers to provide them with the best service possible. To this end, my Department has put in place a strategy to meet the needs of teachers working with pupils with special educational needs and to ensure that they get the training and ongoing support and advice that they need.
In terms of initial teacher education and development, pre-service primary teacher training courses in the colleges of education have been updated to ensure that they contain appropriate elements to assist the student teachers in recognising and dealing with children with special educational needs. At post-primary level, the higher diploma in education and education degree programmes include elements on the learning difficulties of pupils as part of a general alertness orientation programme. There has also been a major expansion of the range of postgraduate professional training programmes covering the special education area.
For serving teachers, the provision of in-service training on the area of dealing with special education needs students has been greatly enhanced by the establishment in 2003 and recent expansion of the special education support service, SESS. The SESS is charged with consolidating and co-ordinating in-service provision at local level for personnel working with children with special educational needs.
It also explores various models of in-service and support for teachers in the classroom and is working co-operatively with colleges of education and other agencies to maximise the effects of training and support across the spectrum. Support is also provided to other staff working in schools with special educational needs pupils.
The nature of special education and the changing needs of school personnel working in a variety of settings require the availability of flexible models of provision. The SESS is specifically designed to support teachers and schools in a flexible way to meet their educational and developmental needs, including the provision of e-learning and the existence of a wide geographical spread of trainers who work on a full-time and, especially, part-time basis. The training available to schools involves direct support to individual teachers, groups of teachers or whole school staffs; the provision of expertise on particular aspects of special needs; accessing appropriate training on request; and empowering schools to identify their own training needs and to provide ongoing support.
With these measures now in place, many of the recommendations in the OECD report, Teachers Matter, in relation to the area of special needs education are actually being met at this point.
I am satisfied that with the major improvements that I have just outlined, there is now a comprehensive system of training and other supports in place to ensure that the extra teachers that we have put into schools to assist children with special needs are getting the help they need to give each child the best service possible.