Tuesday 21 November 2017

Cherry-picking fears over level of special needs pupils in schools

Concerns have been raised about the level of special needs pupils enrolled in some schools
Concerns have been raised about the level of special needs pupils enrolled in some schools
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

WIDE variations in the number of pupils with special educational needs enrolled in similar-sized schools is highlighted in a breakdown of allocations of Special Needs Assistants (SNA) for September.

There is ongoing concern that some schools put up "soft barriers" to enrolling children with special needs by telling their parents that another school in the area was better equipped to deal with the child.

Any cherry-picking of pupils on this, or a range of other grounds, is one of the areas that will be tackled in legislation on school admissions policies, which is at an advanced stage of preparation.

More than 260 extra SNAs will be employed in primary and post-primary schools, bringing the number to more than 10,900, the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has announced.

Almost one in three schools, 29pc, will have a greater level of SNA support, 51pc will see no change, while there is a reduced allocation in 20pc of cases.

Change in the level of SNA posts in individual schools happens because students leave or change school and new students enrol, while the need for SNA support can diminish as a student becomes more independent.

There is provision for a further allocation of SNAs in September when enrolments of students in mainstream schools are finalised.

Special Needs Parents' Association spokesperson Lorraine Dempsey welcomed the notable increase in allocations in post-primary schools, reflecting the rising population of children with diagnosed needs at second-level.

Schools and parents expressed concerns about the level of allocations in September arising from a recent Department of Education circular, which clarified the purpose for which an SNA could be employed.

Ms Dempsey said there may still be cause for concern, but that would not be evident until September.

SNA support is provided to assist pupils who have significant care needs arising from a medical need or a physical disability, such as incontinence or paralysis, a sensory disability or where their behaviour is a danger to themselves or others.

A school-by-school breakdown shows some significant differences in the number of SNAs between schools of broadly similar sizes.

Some large schools have no or very low SNA allocations, while in other cases the figures are in double digits.

The largest allocation at second-level is 17, at the Newpark Comprehensive School, Blackrock, south Dublin, which has about 850 pupils and a long-standing reputation for inclusivity.

Also in Dublin, other second-level schools with double-digit SNA allocations include St Tiernan's Community School and Ballinteer Community School on the southside and Mount Temple Comprehensive, Clontarf, on the northside.

IMPACT trade union, which represents over 6,000 special needs assistants (SNAs), has given a qualified welcome to the allocations.

IMPACT assistant general secretary, Dessie Robinson, said the reduced allocation in some schools could impact on services to some children.

He said that, despite the overall increase in posts, a number of counties had been given a reduced SNA allocation.

There are also 11,000 resource and learning support teachers in Irish classrooms, providing extra assistance to about 46,000 children with a range of special educational needs. Based on last year's allocations, about half of those will also need SNA support.

Irish Independent

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