Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 25 November 2015
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Social Protection
National Council for Special Education: Chairperson Designate
Our first item is an engagement with Mr. Eamon Stack, chairperson designate of the National Council for Special Education.
By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they are to give this committee. However, if witnesses are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence in relation to a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. Witnesses are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. The opening statement submitted to the committee will be published on the committee website after this meeting. Members are reminded of a long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or any official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I ask everybody to either switch off their mobile telephones or put them on safe or airplane mode.
By way of background, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, recently approved the reappointment of Mr. Stack as chairperson of the National Council for Special Education, NCSE. The joint committee has considered issues relating to special education on a number of occasions. As recently as last week we examined the issue of second level education, and we have been assisted on many occasions by the officials from the NCSE in that regard. We are pleased to have an opportunity to engage with Mr. Stack today. I welcome Mr. Stack and invite him to make his presentation to the committee.
Mr. Eamon Stack:
I thank the Chairman for the invitation to speak here today. As members are aware, I served as chairperson of the NCSE for the past three years, since January 2013. As members are also aware, the council is the organisation's governing body and has an oversight role in leading and approving the NCSE's strategic policy and direction. The executive of the NCSE has a separate and complementary role, which is to oversee the achievement of the organisation's strategic goals and the day to day management of its functions. As the Chairman stated, last week, Sé Goulding and Mary Byrne, principal officers, were before the committee dealing with organisational matters.
The NCSE wants all children and adults with special educational needs to achieve their potential. An appropriate education is essential to achieving this goal. I welcome the opportunity to play my part in making this vision a reality. I wish to speak about three areas, namely, the past three years as chairperson of the NCSE, the next three years, and my personal commitment to the role of chairperson.
Three years ago I told this joint committee that my focus would be on ensuring delivery of the NCSE's five strategic objectives, which are set out in the Strategy Statement 2012-2016. I will highlight briefly five aspects of that strategy, the first of which is policy advice. The NCSE published a comprehensive strategic review of special education in 2013, which was the first major review of special education in Ireland in 20 years. We also published a report of the NCSE working group in 2014, which proposed a new model for the allocating of additional teaching supports. More recently, this September we provided the Minister with a pre-publication copy of policy advice on educational provision for students with autism spectrum disorders. Members will appreciate that I am unable to discuss the detail of our policy advice on autism until such time as it has been published.
The NCSE policy advice is informed by widespread consultation with education partners and a comprehensive examination of relevant and international literature. Our consultation groups consistently acknowledge that the State's ongoing and significant investment in special education has brought about improvements in how students are supported in schools. There is considerable consensus that the right supports are in place.
As the committee is aware, the previous Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, requested that the NCSE establish a working group to develop a proposal for a new allocation model, and I agreed to chair that group. The working group reported in March 2014 and we presented the proposals to this joint committee in June 2014. The main recommendations, in summary, are that available additional teaching resources should be allocated in line with the educational profile of a school and deployed in accordance with students' identified educational needs, and that one coherent support service is needed to improve the capacity of schools to meet the needs of students with additional learning needs. I am pleased that last February the Minister, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, announced the establishment of the inclusion support service within the NCSE with immediate effect and that the Department of Education and Skills is now conducting a pilot exercise to test the new model in 47 primary and post-primary schools.
An extensive research programme underpins our policy advice and informs the good practice information that we disseminate to schools, parents and the education sector. During the last term, the NCSE published eight research reports addressing important issues in special education. I am very pleased to advise members that the NCSE is about to publish two new studies that have helped to inform our policy advice on autism spectrum disorders, ASD. One considers the literature between 2008 and 2013 on national and international research on education for persons with ASD. The second publication is an evaluation of State-funded educational provision for students with ASD in Ireland. These reports will be published on the same day as the policy advice on ASD is launched by the Minister.
I am very proud of our new programme of locally delivered information sessions for parents of young children with special educational needs. We initiated these seminars in 2014 because, as a council, we were very pleased to respond to parental requests for more comprehensive and objective information concerning their children with special educational needs. More than 1,000 parents have now attended these seminars and have been very satisfied with their content and the literature provided. We have published nine information pamphlets and two booklets for parents to explain how the education system supports students with different types of disability, and we have an information booklet on post-school education and training options for adults and school leavers with disabilities.
With regard to operational matters, I am satisfied that the NCSE has allocated available teaching and special needs assistant, SNA, supports in accordance with departmental policy. I am very pleased to be able to report that the level of additional supports for students with special educational needs, including resource teachers, SNAs and special classes, is now higher than ever. We now have almost 26,000 adults supporting special education and learning difficulties in our schools, comprising 14,151 teachers and 11,820 SNAs. With regard to corporate governance, the NCSE has conducted its business in compliance with the code of practice for the governance of State bodies, as well as complying with the normal legislative requirements governing our work. At a meeting two weeks ago with the Comptroller and Auditor General, I was pleased to be told that all issues raised at audit were dealt with to the satisfaction of the auditor and no letter needed to be issued to the NCSE on any audit manner.
What lies ahead if I am ratified as chairman for the next three years? Over the next three years, the core activity of the NCSE – research, policy advice and operations – will continue and I will ensure that it continues to be effective. In that context, I will support the NCSE executive in continuing to develop our services and deliver essential supports for schools and children. Next year we will work on the development of the new NCSE statement of strategy that will guide our work between 2017 and 2021. This work will include the roll-out of the new model for allocating special educational teachers to schools. The NCSE will continue to support both the Department and the education partners to ensure its successful implementation. The new inclusion support service needs to be developed and embedded within the NCSE in the near future. Our research programme will be focusing on teacher education, as good teaching is crucial to successful educational outcomes. So much research is under way about what comprises good and effective teaching for children with special educational needs, and our research will help inform future policy developments. This morning in Croke Park I opened the seventh NCSE research conference for 2015, which deals with teacher education for inclusion. On completion of the meeting, I will be returning to Croke Park. That is not because I am a Kerryman and I like Croke Park, but rather because the research programme is there.
We will be publishing further information and guidance for parents and schools on the transition of students with special educational needs. These guidelines will cover all stages of education, including preschool to primary school, primary to post-primary school, special to mainstream settings, and onwards from post-primary school to further and higher education or training programmes or the world of work. These are all elements in the process of a learning curve for young people. There are also new frontiers to be explored. The NCSE now works closely with the Department of Health and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and their agencies at both national and local level. I hope to see further co-operation in the coming years, particularly around the inclusion of young children with disabilities in preschool education and the further development and review of post-school options for young people with special educational needs.
With regard to my personal commitment, as the committee knows, while I was the chief inspector in the Department of Education and Skills - for 12 years - I initiated major structural change, reform and expansion of the inspectorate, including the introduction of whole-school evaluation for all schools. Before that, I was the founding principal of a large co-educational post-primary school in Limerick for 14 years, and I was fortunate to be able to bring the school from 90 students in its first year to more than 1,000 students within ten years. Prior to becoming principal, I was a post-primary teacher of business studies for six years. I am also the author of many books and articles on business and economics.
If reappointed as chairperson of the NCSE, I will use my expertise to lead the NCSE so that it continues to function effectively and to provide appropriate strategic guidance in accordance with the highest ethical standards. I will continue to work closely with council members, the chief executive officer and her senior management team to achieve this. I would consider it a tremendous privilege to lead the NCSE through its next phase of development. The workload is challenging but I am personally committed to this work and the role of chairperson. I thank the committee for its patience in listening to me.
I welcome Mr. Stack and his colleagues from the executive of the NCSE. I thank him for his ongoing commitment to his role and his work, along with the executive, over the past three years. I will support them, and I wish them well for the next three years.
There are some issues on which I would like Mr. Stack to comment and give his perspective. He mentioned the NCSE's plans over the coming period to assess the current position with regard to preschool special education provision. He also touched on further education and supports after secondary school. Will Mr. Stack comment further on the gaps in both of those systems? What challenges need to be addressed at preschool level? Could he comment on the challenges of post-secondary school education?
I understand that the NCSE does not handle this role directly in the same manner it does at secondary school level. This means it is a much more complicated, cumbersome and far less person-friendly experience for those with special needs once they leave secondary school. There is a real gap in our system. We have achieved much progress over recent years in mainstreaming students alongside their peers at primary level through to secondary school, but there is a gap once they leave secondary school in terms of the type of services and supports available to them in the form of a resource teaching facility and personal and special needs assistance.
Will Mr. Stack discuss the pilot exercise on the proposals of the working group as to how the allocation of resources to schools will be changed? I know the pilot is taking place in 47 schools but there is a great deal of concern in the educational community regarding how the pilot model will work and how it will impact on various schools. There is genuine concern among many schools that they may lose resources and concern about the level of commitment on the part of Government to increase resources. I know they were decreased significantly by about 15% four years ago. People genuinely believe that the model is a precursor to further reductions or certainly no increase to match increased demand in those services. I know the pilot is being carried out without impacting on the allocations to the schools that are taking part in it. Considering that one of the main concerns schools have is how it will impact on the level of allocation they will get, will Mr. Stack comment on how the pilot will be able to allay those concerns because it is not addressing them in its current format?
In respect of the role of the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, and its educational psychologists working with the NCSE in making diagnoses, will Mr. Stack comment on the current situation regarding the limit on the number of NEPS assessments schools have and how this is impacting on the council's ability to give students the resources they require? Is there a need for additional supports in NEPS to properly support schools in assessing students and their needs and supporting the work carried out by the NCSE? I believe there is a need.
I also welcome Mr. Stack and the officials from the NCSE. I have a couple of questions in addition to those asked by Deputy McConalogue. I know Mr. Stack cannot comment on the policy advice - the pre-publication that has been given to the Department - but he may be able at least to indicate whether we have looked at the use of restraints and seclusion rooms as part of that policy advice. I am not asking what advice has been given but perhaps Mr. Stack could tell me whether that has been incorporated into the pre-publication that has been given to the Minister.
In respect of the 28 recommendations, many of which are being implemented, will Mr. Stack give the committee an indication as to which ones are not being implemented, why they are not being implemented and if there are plans to commence their implementation? Deputy McConalogue spoke about the new model which is being introduced and is operating on a pilot basis. There is at least a degree of concern that the new model will be hampered by the 15% reduction in resource teaching hours. Will Mr. Stack comment on that? Is the new model fit for purpose given the resources that are available or do we need an increase in resources?
I agree that teacher education is a critical aspect that we need to look at, particularly in a mainstream setting when we are dealing with children with special educational needs. From my experience, it is a very hit-and-miss process with some teachers. Some teachers are excellent when it comes to students with dyslexia or dyspraxia and do a lot of continuing professional development, CPD. The teacher who was teaching my stepson, who is dyslexic and dyspraxic and has Asperger's syndrome, was excellent. The teacher introduced assistive technology into my stepson's education and because of her training and upskilling, she was able to relate to the student in particular. When a change in teacher occurred as my stepson progressed, we found that the teacher, through no fault of his own because he was an excellent teacher, did not have the same level of interaction with assistive technology in respect of how to deal with children with specific needs. Are we looking at CPD or actual degree courses in respect of teacher education or is it a combination of both? I know the Teaching Council of Ireland is undertaking some research on the inputs and outputs of teachers, but it will also focus on the processes in between and how CPD fits into those processes of upskilling. When one is dealing with children with special educational needs, it is critical that the teacher has more than the academic understanding because it is a completely different scenario when one goes into a classroom setting. One can read and learn as much as one wants around special educational needs but there is a personal interaction between students with those needs and teachers, and this is very difficult to teach. One only gets that in a classroom setting. How can we overcome that particular issue?
In respect of the transition between primary and post-primary education and on to further or higher education, I am a firm believer that resources need to follow the child. This is only my opinion. It should follow that whatever resources are available in primary education should automatically follow the student into post-primary education. Obviously, there would be a review of those resources in light of how the child is progressing. There is no guarantee for students in primary education, especially those with severe dyslexia who may be using assistive technology as part of their educational process, that when they move into post-primary education, they will get the use of a scribe or a reader for State examinations. We need to look at this area. If a student has a recommendation to start using assistive technology at an early stage in primary school and goes into secondary school, one issue that arises is that their laptops do not transfer to the post-primary setting when they should transfer. Aside from that, there is no guarantee that the student will be given access to a scribe or reader. We need to look at the transition model going right through rather than resources stopping at primary level and the student having to apply for new resources at post-primary level. I do not know if we are looking at research into whether it would be more beneficial for resources to follow the child through.
Mr. Stack is very welcome. Many areas have been covered by the other two Deputies. A great deal of good work is being done in respect of looking at the impact of education on children with special needs, including those with various forms of autism. It is a societal issue because as a society we said we would bring these children into mainstream education. Therefore, we must ensure they get that support all along the way.
I was approached by the parents of a boy who was only diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome at 17, having gone through the entire primary and post-primary system. The boy and his family are finding it very difficult to cope with the diagnosis and are finding access to services extremely problematic. How do we ensure that such children get the support of the various disability services and mental health services? I was stunned to hear that diagnosis at such a late stage could happen, even though I am aware that resources have been withdrawn from our schools. I ask Mr. Stack to give his views on the point made by earlier contributors about resources following the child. Is that being examined by the NCSE at present? The same conversation is going on with regard the health service, with many arguing that the money should follow the patient.
Mr. Stack said that a pre-publication copy of policy advice for students with autism spectrum disorders will be available. When will that be published? I also ask Mr. Stack to elaborate on the pilot project for the proposed new model in 47 primary and post-primary schools. Is that going to be continuously revised or will the NCSE reach a point where it determines that the model could work, with some tweaking further down the line?
The Minister introduced legislation recently which provides that every school will have access to the NEPS but that does not mean every child will have such access. What is Mr. Stack's view in that regard?
I welcome Mr. Stack and apologise for being late. On the question of the role of the NCSE with respect to the Department, I presume everything done by the NCSE is done through departmental circulars. I ask Mr. Stack to outline the type of engagement his organisation has with the Department before such circulars are issued and, if issues arise with circulars, the type of engagement that happens post their issuance. This is very important in the context of a very fluid and fast changing environment in the context of resource allocation to schools for children with special needs. Can circulars constrain the work that the NCSE does in terms of a lack of flexibility? The issue of resource constraints is a whole different ball game. I am interested to hear if the NCSE is constrained by departmental circulars.
A few members raised the issue of the pilot project. When we had a meeting about that new scheme, I detected broad support for it from the witnesses who attended that day and from committee members. Most were supportive, although some concerns were expressed that day. Is there a broad geographical spread in terms of the 47 schools that are involved? When does the NCSE expect that pilot to finish?
Mr. Eamon Stack:
In general, I welcome all of the questions posed which are valuable and are signposting issues for the NCSE. They are not tricky but are legitimate questions about the challenges for special needs. I will start with the new model and the pilot project, which several members raised. The purpose of the pilot project was to test out all of the documentation prepared by the Department of Education and Skills to see what elements needed to be amended or changed. As we all know, change can be difficult for people. The idea of a pilot is to introduce change and to learn from that change before it is formally implemented. There will be changes to the changes, so to speak, based on the experience of the pilot project. The schools involved are located all over the country and are of different sizes. The pilot includes a representative sample of schools and none of the education partners have any problem with the selection of the schools. The selection process was fair and honourable. Hopefully, we will know the outcome of the pilot by the end of the school cycle in 2016. It will take a full school year cycle to get a good understanding of what is happening.
I will tie that into the questions posed on resources related to that. We were very clear in the working group report that we were resource free in designing that plan. There was no precondition about resources. I had long discussions with the Minister at the time, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, to clarify that point. I told him that if he tied my hands behind my back and asked me to produce a report with current resources, it would not work. That said, it will present resource challenges. The NCSE is happy that the report has been accepted by the Minister, the Department and all of the education partners and the next step is the implementation. There is no resource condition attached to its implementation. That is as much as I can say on the matter. The Department will have to address that issue. In terms of the issues that emerged, resources were never raised by the Department with me. I was never told that will cost too much. That kind of dialogue never took place, formally or informally. The whole purpose of this, as we put on the front of the document, is "delivery for students". Those three words remain in our head as our main purpose. It falls where it falls and if the need is justified, it will be met.
Deputy O'Brien asked about transferring resources from primary to post-primary and there was food for thought in his question. I cannot give him a short answer but I accept his question as legitimate and one which is worth reflecting on. He also made reference to examinations. The challenge there is that the State Examinations Commission is in charge of that area but that does not prevent us from having a dialogue with the commission so that we understand the totality of the situation. At the end of the day, whatever section or agency we are dealing with, we are dealing with people, with children who will become adults. They have special needs and we must be aware of all aspects of those needs. I would approach that issue from an open perspective. I like to have open discussions, with no limitation to people's thoughts. Then it is a question of working things out.
Reference was made to gaps in the system and to the role of the NEPS. I was responsible for the establishment of the NEPS. In the early days, the NEPS was part of the inspectorate, before it was called the NEPS. That was a working group with which I was involved way back in the last century. I understand the role of the NEPS but we have more work to do with that service, in co-operation with it. We can all be in separate boxes at one level but we must get out of those boxes because we are providing a service to children. It does not matter if it is box A, the NCSE or box B, the NEPS, or whatever. Part of the inclusion support service that has emerged and is being put together is about joining the boxes and providing supports for teachers as well as for children. All of them will be under the NCSE in the future which will give us a better basis for working out, more logically and fairly, the provision of special needs support.
A question was posed about teachers and their qualifications. Continuous professional development is vital in this area. We are working with the Teaching Council on the proposed new framework, Cosán. We are part of that and have included the Teaching Council in our group, so that we can inform each other and stay connected. Reference was also made to assistive technology. As we speak, session 2 of the conference in Croke Park is discussing "Assistive Technology for Students with Special Educational Needs". Who is attending that session? Parents and students are there, talking about their experience of using assistive technologies. It is not about theory but about practice, how it works, what is positive or negative and so forth. That is happening as we speak.
We have eight different speakers on the topic, led by Dr. Chris Abbott from King's College in London. He is an expert on the role assistive technology can play. If we have technology everywhere in our lives, it is only appropriate that we get the right fit for students with special educational needs.
No doubt I have left out answers to some questions. I am not avoiding them on purpose. It is simply that there were many questions. We have a note of all of them. There was a question on resources and the new model as well as a specific question on the 28 recommendations. All those recommendations will be implemented. I cannot give an indication of where we are on the list, but they are all on track under the Department of Education and Skills and they will be put into operation in the fullness of time. If I am before the committee this time next year, I will come back with the list done and all 28 boxes ticked. None of them is being dismissed or ruled out. It is a question of getting to them.
I am encouraged by what I am hearing, in particular in respect of assistive technology. There are some dangers with an over-reliance on assistive technology and sometimes people lose sight of that. That is the last thing we want in dealing with a child who uses assistive technology. We cannot be over-reliant on it. We must to try to develop the child's potential in reading and writing as much as possible while understanding that there is a need to complement some educational aspects of a child's development with assistive technology. I agree completely and I am pleased to see this question on the agenda for today. I am pleased to see that we are going to look at real-life experiences. In theory, assistive technology sounds great but there are also drawbacks and they need to be acknowledged.
I am encouraged because Mr. Stack has an open mind on the transition of resources. One of my bugbears at the moment arises when a student transitions from primary to post-primary education. If a student has the use of a laptop, the laptop does not transition with him or her. The laptop itself becomes obsolete because it has been used for so long by the student in question. We cannot simply recycle it or give it to another student. I see no reason these laptops cannot transition. If there is a cost involved, that is well and good. I imagine parents would be more than willing to purchase them if they were in a position to do so. It is like anything in the sense that the laptop becomes part of the learning and thinking of the student. It is a tool for revising and looking back to see where they have progressed.
The use of online applications for assistive technology is something schools need to consider. There are many online applications, for example, Reading Eggs, that can have a significant positive impact on children's education. This does not apply only to children with special educational needs. The way we teach is changing because technology is changing. I am glad to hear that we are open to looking at the role of assistive technology and transitioning resources. As Mr. Stack said that at the end of the day, we are dealing with children. It is a question of what is best for them. We should start from that point and consider how much it will cost and the resources that need to be put in place. They represent a separate issue. However, if we have what is best for children as the primary object, then we are doing well.
Continuing professional development is critical but not only for special educational needs. I imagine teachers recognise as much themselves. When it comes to children with special educational needs, we have to get to a point where continuing professional development incorporates well-being, relationships and how teachers interact with students. It cannot simply be about upskilling academically. It has to be about upskilling their social skills and social interactions with students. This is a major challenge because every teacher is different and every child is different. An element of this must be included and we must have an interrelationship between student and teacher, not only at an academic level but at the basic social interaction level as well.
I welcome Mr. Stack. Historically, many children were lost, not only to the educational system but also during their entire adult lives to employment and being able to meet the ordinary needs of living because of lack of literacy. I was involved in teaching for 35 years. In that time there were no appropriate interventions designed or provided for. Teachers would go to Eason & Son Limited and buy books or cardboard and make up what they wanted to teach because there were no other resources. All that has changed. I realise the NCSE has played a major part in the provision of adequate resources. Its name is well established as an innovator in this area. Things have changed so much. I pay tribute to the foresight and years of hard work of the NCSE in this regard.
Certainly there is more to do. However, a firm platform has been established. Teachers can be ambitious about the levels of support. There have been big changes. The NCSE and many teachers have been very much to the fore. If we lose a child at an early age, the child is lost for life, perhaps not literally but metaphorically. We have to prevent human loss in all its forms and we must tackle what contributes to it.
I thank Mr. Stack for his response on the pilot model. He mentioned that the working group operated in the spirit of being resource free in terms of the implications. Will Mr. Stack elaborate on what that meant? My understanding is that Mr. Stack took a model that was in place but proposed another way to allocate whatever level of resources were available. Were there any advice or implications from the working group on the new model proposed? What was the expected impact on resources, either positive or negative, in terms of an increase or decrease? Will Mr. Stack comment on that and explain what was meant by resource-free?
The inclusion support service was referred to. Will Mr. Stack elaborate on what exactly is involved, how it is moving along and what exactly its role will be when it is fully up and running?
Mr. Stack did not go into the issue of how the current pilot model for the new allocation system will allay concerns over a change in resources for particular schools. Some will gain and some will lose. This is a key concern for certain schools and parents. I do not see how the pilot model is going to address that. I would appreciate if Mr. Stack could elaborate on any way of addressing it.
The other side of the question was raised by some members in this committee. Some had the view that the old system was not working and that some people were able to use it to their advantage more than others. In that sense, the people who had been advantaged by the old system might have concerns, although those concerns may not be legitimate. That effectively is what I am saying. At the same time, other people may have concerns but perhaps those fears can be allayed when they see the outcome. That is my view on it.
Mr. Eamon Stack:
I can respond in respect of the NCSE working group. One very useful document is the guide for parents and guardians on the new model.
It compares, in a few pages, the new model with the old model. It explains the current system and why it is unfair. In addition to having a comprehensive report, we wanted it to be understood by people as best as possible. The book helps that but the next step in helping to understand it is the pilot scheme because we will have evidence from 47 schools that can speak publicly about it when it is done.
What will emerge from the pilot is more information relevant to the success of the new model when it is introduced. When I made reference to the pilot being resource-free, I was thinking about all the meetings of the working group that I chaired. I only needed to repeat it once or twice - at no stage did we make a decision based on resources and neither did our terms of reference, which was only one paragraph. We know that in future there will be a resources issues but addressing it was not part of our terms of reference so we did not address it. We might have left a challenge for the next Minister of Education and Skills and the Department in the implementation aspect. Perhaps it will not be a challenge but no predetermined line has been drawn about resources. The present system is not fair for a number of reasons and the only claim we made for this was that it was a better and more equitable way to proceed. There is nothing equitable about cutting money and that is not what it was about. That is why I spoke about it being resource-free. The challenge we examined was whether it was more equitable to do it this way or the present way. The dominant question, before one looks for the cheque book, is if it is more equitable. More is not always better.
The only issue with there is that everyone agrees that the old model was inequitable and the new proposed model is more equitable. One of the criticisms of the pilot project is that under the new model, some schools will lose resources and some will gain, yet during the pilot project no school lost resources. I am sure Deputy McConalogue will agree with me. The question that will be asked is whether the outcome of the pilot model is reflective of the reality for schools on the ground. If 47 schools are involved in a project and none of them are losing resources while trying to implement the new model, does it give an accurate picture of how it will be rolled out and implemented? That is the concern.
Mr. Eamon Stack:
I accept that. I have not addressed it but I will now in so far as I can. The pilot is being operated by the Department of Education and Skills, not by the NCSE so the NCSE has stayed away from it apart from giving the co-operation that has been requested of it. We are not operating the pilot. As with everyone else, I am waiting with interest for the result of the pilot and to find out where we go from there. It is better to have information before one makes a decision than after making it. The Deputy is right to say that resources were taken off the agenda for the pilot so that they would not upset the apple cart. That is acceptable because the purpose of the pilot was to establish the operational aspect of it. The focus of the new model is to ensure that students who need resources have them. If a school has the students, it should have the resources; if it does not have the students, why would it keep the resources? That is a question and not a point of view.
In the new model, the resources are designed to be where they are needed. We have said very clearly that in the new model, assessment should not be required to receive resources. Every school should have a baseline of resources and there is a baseline in place. Whether that is too big or too small will become apparent with experience. Hopefully, the resource problem will work itself out but there could be schools that will lose resources. As chairperson, I am concerned that a school with students with special educational needs will lose resources. That is the real question. The question is as important as the answer. That is why it is resource-free, it was not designed to take resources away from schools that genuinely need them.
We have had a very good engagement and the NCSE will be back for further meetings so we will end at this point. I commend the NCSE and Mr. Stack for their work.
The next meeting is with the National Adult Literacy Agency. We will suspend briefly for the witness to be brought in.