Saturday 18 January 2020

Teachers fear new special needs plans will be red-tape nightmare

Ruairi Quinn
Ruairi Quinn

Katherine Donnelly Education Editor

A NEW approach to catering for pupils with special education needs (SEN) is recommended in a major report – but primary teachers warn it could turn into a bureaucratic nightmare.

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has proposed changes in the basis for allocating extra supports for such students following the first comprehensive review of the system in more than 20 years.

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn is setting up a working group, which will include representatives of parents, to consider the report's findings.

About one in four pupils, with conditions ranging from dyslexia to autism, need extra support.

The NCSE report has been welcomed by some interest groups – but the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) warned it could "dismantle two decades of progress integrating special needs children in mainstream schools".

The review found that, in general, students with special needs were making good progress. However, it noted that some parents and schools found it difficult to get a diagnosis that would trigger additional support.

The NCSE wants to ensure fair and equitable access for all children with special educational needs.

Another key recommendation is a robust regulatory framework on enrolments to ensure every child with a special educational need can access a school place.

NCSE chief executive Teresa Griffin said while proposals for change could cause anxiety for parents and schools, pupil needs were at the centre of all their recommendations.

She said the intention was to use resources to maximum effect to drive improved educational outcomes for the children involved.

The Department of Education spends €1.3m a year – 15pc of its budget – on supporting pupils with SEN, including 10,000 resource teachers and 10,000 special needs assistants.

The system currently operates in two ways:

* Schools get an allocation of hours to share among pupils with high incidence conditions such as dyslexia.

* There are also individual allocations, for pupils with more complex disabilities.

The NCSE wants resources allocated on the basis of individual pupil need.

CUTBACK

However, the INTO warned the plan would increase bureaucracy and said parents "should view this report through the lens of another potential cutback".

Down Syndrome Ireland welcomed many of the report's recommendations but said any favourable outcomes for children with Down syndrome were dependent on further research, which could take months, or even years.

Early Childhood Ireland also welcomed the recommendations but chief operations officer Teresa Heeney said that "waiting to identify and support children with special educational needs at primary school is too late".

Irish Independent

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