New proposals for allocating learning support and resource teachers in schools, published today
New proposals for allocating learning support and resource teachers in schools, published today, promise to be fairer and target children who are most in need.
It follows a major review of the current system, which was found, in some cases, to work to the advantage of better-off parents, who could afford to pay for a diagnosis to support their child’s case for extra help in the classroom.
Currently, there are 11,000 resource and learning support teachers in Irish classrooms, providing extra assistance to children with a range of special educational needs.
Resource teachers are allocated on the basis of individual need to provide additional teaching capacity to pupils with the most complex special needs.
Learning support teachers assist those who have a learning difficulty, such as dyslexia., and are currently linked to a school’s enrolment figures.
It means that a school of 250 students with 10 qualifying for learning support, gets the same allocation as another 250-pupil sized school with 75 students qualifying for learning support.
A National Council for Special Education (NCSE) working group has drawn up a new model for allocating both groups of teachers, which are now being considered by the Department of Education.
Among the working group’s key recommendations is the removal of the need for medical assessments before a resource teacher is allocated.
Under the NCSE proposals, the provision of additional teachers - both learning support and resource - would be based on the educational profile of individual schools.
The profile would take account of the number of students with complex special educational needs, the percentage of pupils performing below a certain academic level and the social context of the school, including levels of disadvantage.
Once the additional teachers were allocated, it would be up to the school to decided how best to use them.
In the interests of promoting inclusivity and countering the practice found in some schools of discouraging enrolments by children with disabilities, every school would have a baseline allocation.
It has been claimed that some schools put up “soft barriers” to children with special needs by telling their parents that another school in the area was better equipped to deal with the child.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn pointed that proposed new legislation on school admissions policies would make it illegal for a school to refuse a child on the basis of intellectual disability..
He said that his department was immediately beginning the task of gathering whatever extra information it needed about individual school to develop the new allocation model.
There will also be consultations with parents, and other educational parents such as teacher unions and school mangers, about the proposal in advance of any changes.
Mr Quinn said while it would be desirable to introduce changes for the 2015 school year, he was more interested in “getting it right” .
The working group was chaired by Eamon Stack, a former chief inspector in the Department of Education, who said the recommendations were based on national and international research, which identified a set of clear criteria that indicate a school’s need for additional teaching resources.
He said the NCSE found that the current learning support teacher scheme allocated additional teaching support irrespective of the need for support in a school. It also found that the current resource teacher allocation scheme relies on an individual diagnosis, which can lead to some students waiting much longer than others to receive additional help in school.