Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Ceisteanna (31)

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire


31. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Education and Skills if the special education teacher allocation model still gives an additional weighting to gender on the basis of on the number of boys attending each school; if so, the evidence to support this approach; and his views on whether it is appropriate and necessary. [47618/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Education)

Táim ag tógáil na ceiste seo toisc nach bhfuil an Teachta Ó Laoghaire le fáil. The issue of special needs allocations affects a large number of schools and many of them feel they are not getting adequate allocations for students with additional needs. It is allowed for under circular 008/2019, as issued by the Department. Many girls' schools are concerned about this matter and I am seeking a clear explanation of the rationale for the situation.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta as ucht a cheiste. A new model for allocating special education teachers was introduced for mainstream primary and post-primary schools from September 2017. It is designed to distribute special education teaching resources fairly to schools, taking into account the profiled needs of each school. The total number of special education teachers has increased by 38% since 2011, from 9,740 in 2011 to more than 13,500 now. The manner in which the updated profiles have been developed since September is set out in the Department of Education and Skills' circulars 007/2019 and 008/2019.

The school profiles take account of a number of components, including a baseline component provided to every mainstream school to support inclusion and early intervention, and which is based on school enrolment numbers. Also taken into account is the number of pupils with complex needs enrolled into the school, the learning support needs of pupils in the school, as evidenced by standardised test results, and the social context of the school including disadvantage and gender.

The National Council for Special Education, NCSE, working group report, ‘ A New Model for Allocating Additional Teaching Resources for Students with Special Educational Needs’, published in 2014, recommended the new profiled allocation model. The report noted that international research has shown that there is a significantly higher incidence of the overall male-to-female ratio in special education. The report cites a range of research evidence which indicates that boys predominate in most disability categories. This is particularly the case with behavioural needs. For this reason, the NCSE recommended that schools' profiles should take some account of a school's gender breakdown.

The percentage of the overall allocation for gender currently represents 4.35% of the profiled allocation for primary schools and 2.15% of the allocation for post primary schools. I am satisfied that the NCSE recommendation is valid.  Should new research on differentials prevalent between boys and girls be published in future, this can be taken into account for the next review of the allocations.

I appreciate what the Minister is saying. However, the circular specifically states, "the special education teacher allocation model continues to take account of gender differentials by giving a small additional weighting for gender based on the number of boys attending each school. The weighting for each school will therefore take account of the gender profile, [that is] the number of boys attending". From talking to principals of girls' schools, as well as teachers, they are not, generally, convinced of the basis for this policy. The reality is that girls are every bit as disadvantaged as boys and this appears to be a black and white case of discrimination. Will the Minister put forward the evidence supporting these criteria and make that evidence available for us to look at? There still seems to be confusion and the circular is adding to it.

I am happy to ask my officials to look at this issue and identify what is the most recent and up-to-date research. This evidence is based on international research dating back to 2014. If we look at the trajectory here regarding special needs provision from 2011 to this year, there has been an increase in special needs assistants, SNAs, from 10,000 up to 17,000 next September. There has been an enormous impact in the context of meeting increased demand and dealing with those capacity issues as they arise. The NCSE constantly monitors international best practice as well. As I speak, a major conference at which practices in places such as New Brunswick in Canada and Portugal are being examined is under way. The NCSE is very open to exploring what is happening at international level. If new evidence shows more of an equilibrium between boys and girls, we will be open to taking it on board.

Discrimination in schools that is not deemed to be positive discrimination is simply wrong and unacceptable. Is there any substantial evidence to show that this discrimination is necessary? It seems archaic and not in line with modern standards. If there is proper supporting evidence, can we see it? The Minister stated that he will send the evidence to us. Could it be sent to the Joint Committee on Education and Skills and to Deputy Ó Laoghaire? This is something the Minister and his Department should review. Will he commit to holding such a review here today? This approach seems completely inappropriate and unfair to girls' schools. I noticed the Minister mentioned that the number of SNAs will be increased from 10,000 to 17,000. If that is correct, it is a substantial increase and is welcome. I still feel, however, that it is not clear to many people, particularly in the girls' schools, why this discrimination is still on the books.

All international evidence is pointing to this approach. I would be happy to forward supporting information to the joint committee. I have no problem doing that. I alluded to the report from 2014, which stated:

Clear international evidence exists of a gender imbalance in the incidence of disabilities, special education enrolments and academic achievement (OECD, 2003, Mitchell, 2010, Banks & McCoy, 2011). Since the 1960s, the overall male to female ratio in special education has been 2:1 to 3:1. Reviews of US literature show boys predominating in every disability category except for deaf/blindness.

Times change, things change and statistics change. However, I am happy to go back to the NCSE to see if there is any evidence pointing to changes in the incidence in the context of boys and girls. At the moment, it is definitely pointing towards more incidence among boys than girls.