I propose to take Questions Nos. 315, 316 and 318 together.
I wish to advise the Deputy that my Department has recently been in contact with the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland and with the Teachers Union of Ireland and has reiterated to them the importance of planning to achieve good educational outcomes for pupils with special educational needs in schools.
Effective planning ensures that the school’s resources are deployed efficiently and that they achieve the desired outcomes.
Under the Education Act 1998, schools are under statutory obligations to “provide education to students which is appropriate to their abilities and needs” and to “ensure that the educational needs of all students, including those with a disability or other special educational needs, are identified and provided for”.
Planning is a normal part of a teacher’s work and planning tools, like the student support file, have been created as a resource to help schools provide for their students.
Circulars 0013 and 0014 2017, which introduced the model for allocating special education teachers to schools, noted the importance of educational planning. This is in the context of ensuring that the children with the greatest level of need receive the greatest level of support.
The Circulars note that educational planning is an essential element of a whole-school approach to meeting pupils’ needs.
Guidelines for schools on educational planning and monitoring of outcomes through the Student Support File, are contained in the Guidelines for Primary and Post primary Schools: Supporting Children and Young People with Special Educational Needs in Mainstream Schools.
All schools are therefore encouraged to use Education Plans or Student Support plans for children who are receiving additional teaching or care in schools.
Whereas there is not currently a statutory requirement for schools to provide a particular form of Individual Education Plan, it is evident that the majority of schools do use some form of education planning to plan and record the support that they provide for pupils with special educational needs. This is considered to be both beneficial for schools and children and is regarded as best practice.
The ongoing provision of planning will represent a continuation of the good practice that is occurring in the majority of schools.
In relation to training and support for teachers in the provision of special education needs support, the Department provides for a comprehensive system of continuing professional development (CPD) for teachers in the area of special educational needs
The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) Regional Support Service, which has incorporated the Special Education Support Service (SESS), the National Behavioural Support Service (NBSS) and the Visiting Teacher Service for the Visually Impaired and Hearing Impaired, provides advice and support to schools on the education and inclusion of students with special educational needs, providing in-school support for teachers and continuing professional development for teachers.
It is also enhancing the multi-disciplinary capacity of the education system through providing access to expert knowledge in areas such as autism, speech and language and challenging behaviour. The SESS, has a role to enhance the quality of learning and teaching of students with special educational needs through the provision of CPD and support for teachers in mainstream schools, primary and post-primary special schools, and special classes.
Through applications to NCSE’s Supports Service, schools and individual teachers can access support in all areas of special education, including support in relation to individualised educational planning.
The National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) also provides guidance for schools in supporting children with special educational needs.
NEPS works with schools through the Continuum of Support framework. NEPS psychologists can provide advice and guidance to Principals and teachers in relation to individual students needs and in the development of whole school approaches to support inclusion, participation and integration.
NEPS psychologists provide advice and support around the identification of needs, the use of evidence-informed interventions and the monitoring of outcomes for individuals and groups of children. Psychologists can also advise and assist schools on effective whole-school practices, early intervention approaches and good deployment of Special Education Teaching supports.
This Government is committed to helping every child, particularly those with special educational needs, to fulfil their potential.
In 2018 my Department invested over €1.75 Billion in this area - 1/5 of my Department's budget and up 42% since 2011, at which point €1.24 Billion was invested. This increased investment has allowed the Government to increase the number of:
SNAs by 42%, from 10,575 in 2011 to 15,000 at present.
Special classes by 160% to over 1,450 at present, compared to 548 special classes in 2011.
Special education teachers by 37%, from 9,740 in 2011, to over 13,400 at present.
This Government will continue to prioritise investment in the area of special education support and I am confident that ongoing investment and reform will continue to see improvements made in this area.