New system will share out special needs resources
NEW proposals that promise a fairer system of allocating learning support and resource teachers to schools have been welcomed by parents and teachers.
They follow a review that found that current arrangements can work to the advantage of better-off parents, who can afford to pay for a diagnosis to support their child's case for extra help in the classroom.
There are 11,000 resource and learning support teachers in Irish classrooms, providing extra assistance to children with a range of special educational needs.
A National Council for Special Education (NCSE) working group has drawn up the new model for allocating both groups of teachers.
It is being considered by the Department of Education, which is also consulting with parents, teaching unions and school managers before implementing any changes.
Among the key NCSE recommendations is the removal of the need for medical assessments before a resource teacher is allocated.
Under the 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.
In the interests of promoting inclusivity and countering the practice found in some schools of discouraging enrolments of 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 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.
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.