Tuesday 15 October 2019

New school scheme to deliver better supports to pupils with additional needs to be trialled from September

Stock photo
Stock photo
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

A NEW scheme to deliver better supports during the school day to pupils with additional care needs is being trialled from next September.

It is designed for pupils who, because of medical, physical, sensory, social or emotional needs, use the services of a special needs assistant (SNA).

Currently about 35,000 pupils avail of an SNA, who provide assistance with, for example, toileting, eating or mobility or where a pupil has complex medical or behavioural needs.

Last year, the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) proposed a better model of support for these pupils, delivering "the right support at the right time, provided by a range of personnel with relevant qualifications and skill-sets."

Minister Joe McHugh
Minister Joe McHugh

The pilot scheme will involve in-school access to speech and language therapists, occupational therapists and behaviour support practitioners on a regional basis.

The new School Inclusion Model also includes a school nursing service for children with complex medical needs.

The roll-out of the scheme will see a front-loading of SNA allocations to schools based on a school’s profile, breaking the link with the need for a diagnosis to argue for support.

A national up-skilling programme for SNAs to ensure they all have the same basic level of training as well as tailored training for specific circumstances is also among the measures.

Education Minister Joe McHugh set out the ambition for the School Inclusion Model today as he announced the pilot scheme, which will run in 75 schools in south west Dublin, Kildare and west Wicklow in the 2019/20 year.

Some €4.75m was allocated in the Budget for the scheme, which builds on an existing trial taking place in the current school year.

The existing trial focused on access to in-school therapy, while the new pilot will include psychology, front-loading of SNA allocations, plans for nursing services, consultation with teachers, schools, and unions and training for SNAs.

The project has been developed by the departments of education, children and youth affairs, health, and the Health Service Executive (HSE) and is being managed and co-ordinated by the NCSE.

Minister McHugh said inclusion and access were a core value of the education system and the trial would "test and evaluate broader and more holistic education and health supports for children with special and additional care needs."

He said quality outcomes and meaningful inclusion for children with additional needs were achieved by having quality school staff, including teachers and special needs assistants, effective leadership, parental involvement and well developed policy and practice. 

The minister said he was pleased that the model did not require a formal diagnosis for access to SNA support.

"This is an important step towards a needs-based model, similar to what we have in the allocation of special education teachers."

Minister of State for Disability Issues Finian McGrath said it would "complement community provision for children with additional needs and allow health care professionals to work with schools and teachers in a setting familiar to children."

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone said she was extremely supportive of the new model and believed that “its findings will be useful in determining the best path forward for inclusive support.”

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