Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills

Training and Supports for Providers of Special Needs Education and Education in DEIS Schools: Discussion

4:00 pm

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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I remind members and witnesses to turn off their mobile phones or switch them to flight mode as they interfere with the sound system, make it difficult for parliamentary reporters to report and could adversely affect website streaming. I welcome the witnesses. The purpose of this part of the meeting is to discuss with a number of stakeholders the adequacy of training and supports available to providers of special needs education and education in DEIS schools. On behalf of the committee, I welcome Dr. Anne Ryan, senior lecturer in education, and Dr. Gene Mehigan, principal lecturer in education, Marino Institute of Education. I welcome Ms Breda Corr from the National Association of Boards of Management in Special Education, who is a regular visitor to our committee meetings. I also welcome Ms Noreen Duggan, principal of Scoil na Naomh Uilig in Newbridge, County Kildare, who has a lot of experience in dealing with inclusive education in the best possible way and is a good example of best practice on the ground. Our other witnesses include Ms Pauline Dempsey, principal of St. Anne's Special School in the Curragh in County Kildare. I thought it would be a good opportunity for community members to hear about the inclusive project between KARE and Scoil na Naomh Uilig. Ms Duggan and Ms Dempsey work quite closely together in respect of their students. Other witnesses include Ms Teresa Griffin, CEO, and Ms Madeline Hickey, director of the special education support services under the National Council for Special Education; Professor Áine Hyland, emeritus professor of education at University College Cork and a former lecturer of mine in Carysfort many years ago; and Ms Deirbhile Nic Craith, director of education and research at the Irish National Teachers Organisation. They are all very welcome.

I draw the attention of witnesses to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. The opening statements the witnesses have provided to the committee may be published on the committee's website after this meeting.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

We have a number of parents in the Visitors Gallery from Scoil na Naomh Uilig who have children with special needs within the system. They are facing an uncertain future for their children, who are at this point almost ready to leave the primary school system and for whom there are no places at second level at this stage. That is certainly a gap within the system which we need to identify. We need to make recommendations to the Minister and the Department in this regard. I welcome all the parents.

We will invite all our witnesses to make a statement of about three minutes. After the opening statements, members will have the opportunity to ask questions or make comments. I invite Dr. Anne Ryan from the Marino Institute of Education to make her opening remarks.

Dr. Anne Ryan:

I thank the Chairman and the committee members for the opportunity meet them today. I and my colleague, Dr. Gene Mehigan, are teacher educators in the Marino Institute of Education, MIE, a higher education institution in Dublin and an associated college of Trinity College Dublin, TCD. Currently, we have an enrolment of almost 1,000 students across a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degree programmes in education. However, the focus of our work is the education of future primary teachers, and almost 600 of our students are in this category. Practitioner preparation for teaching children with a variety of strengths and needs in mainstream schools, special education contexts and DEIS schools is a central element of our work in these programmes, as it is in our separate degree programme for those working or planning to work in the field of early childhood education. While provision of this nature permeates all our curricula, we also offer year-long core modules relevant to inclusive and special education, together with a range of school placement experiences in each of the school settings referred to. Our student teachers demonstrate a keen interest in this provision. They engage tremendously well with the courses and placements, and most elect to undertake their final dissertations on topics pertinent to the areas we are discussing today.

Nonetheless, as an academic staff, most of whom are also highly experienced classroom practitioners, we can empathise greatly with the very considerable challenges experienced and reported to us by these students as they take on the mantle of beginning as teachers in ever more diverse and complex classroom contexts. As has been well documented, the process of transitioning from committed student teacher to effective beginning teacher is a demanding undertaking. Learning to teach well is challenging. In today’s school contexts it can be overwhelming. As teacher educators, we recognise that we must respond appropriately to this situation, but we also know that teacher education alone is not a sufficient response. We suggest therefore, that school structures be equally addressed if our future teachers are not to resort to coping and survival strategies at the outset of their careers, to the detriment of their powerful potential as inclusive educators.

In 2016, MIE was granted significant funding under the EU Erasmus+ programme to lead a five-country study in exploring this issue. In light of European and national policies which promote mainstreaming over more specialised schooling provision, our three-year remit as a cross-sectoral, international project team of practising teachers and teacher educators is to identify best practice in inclusive education in our institutions and schools, and to recommend specific approaches that could advance such practice. Even at this early stage of the project, after study visits to schools and teacher education institutions in Finland and Belgium, the project team is unanimous about the significant potential of one particular strategy for advancing inclusion in schools, namely, that of co-teaching in both teacher education and school practice.

In schools, co-teaching entails two teachers teaching together, sharing responsibility for meeting the learning needs of pupils, and at the same time learning from each other. In the co-teaching model we observed in Finland, one of these teachers was an experienced mainstream teacher while the other was a qualified and experienced special needs teacher. As we observed, with such a co-teaching partnership in a mainstream class, all children in the class will have greater opportunity not only to be present for but also, in accordance with current policy, to participate in and benefit from mainstream education. In the teacher education context, the student teacher teaches alongside the host teacher rather than instead of him or her, and so is likely to be afforded greater opportunity at an early stage of professional development to learn about, and respond appropriately to, pupils’ diverse strengths and needs. In both contexts, the strategy entails planning together and sharing review and evaluation of teaching and pupil learning. An emerging body of research literature is pointing to the invaluable potential of such co-teaching approaches for advancing student teacher learning, experienced teacher learning and, above all, pupil learning in classroom contexts of considerable diversity.

On the basis of our own extensive experience in primary education, we would suggest that consideration be given to establishing a two-year pilot co-teaching for inclusion project at primary level. Such a project would see the introduction to the primary school system of trained co-teaching tutors who would also be in a position to serve as host co-teachers to our student teachers and others undertaking school placement experience. As outlined above, this initiative could have significant potential to advance educational provision for all primary schoolchildren in Ireland. Furthermore, our proposal supports a number of Government policies and priorities, namely, the Department of Education and Skills special education teaching allocation model as outlined in circular 0013/2017; the new primary language curriculum for English and Irish medium schools, as the suggested focus of this pilot project would be on literacy and language education; the policy on Gaeltacht education 2017 to 2022; the DEIS plan 2017; and the Department of Education and Skills literacy and numeracy strategy 2011.

We have outlined a proposed structure for such a pilot project in the documentation submitted to the committee. I thank the members.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Dr. Ryan. Does Dr. Mehigan wish to speak at this point?

Dr. Gene Mehigan:

I will speak in response to any questions.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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That is perfect. I invite Ms Breda Corr to make her opening remarks.

Ms Breda Corr:

I will shorten my statement. I had planned for five minutes. I will outline the issues. Our suggestions are laid out in our submission to the joint committee. I may discuss a few of them.

I thank the committee for affording us the opportunity to give the views of our members. The National Association of Boards of Management in Special Education, NABMSE, is the management voice of special education in Ireland and represents boards of management of special schools and mainstream primary and post-primary schools, usually with special classes.

In my statement, I will concentrate on the adequacy of training and supports for providers of special needs education. I will not touch on the DEIS issue as it is not our issue. The first matter I will address is training. While there is some training available for teachers at initial teacher education level, most training is undertaken as continuing professional development, CPD, and through induction. We have provided some detail of CPD in our submission, and while this is very welcome, teachers must have some experience of special education to undertake these certificate and diploma courses. Very often, it is the newer entrant to the school who may be asked to teach in the special class.

We acknowledge the huge range of supports available from the special education support service, SESS, in our submission. However, we have also detailed the lack of training for other members of staff involved in the support of pupils with special educational needs, SEN, in schools, namely, the special needs assistants, SNAs, and bus escorts. The issues we have identified in respect of the training needs and associated issues include a lack of essential whole-school training; the high costs of initial training of staff in a range of areas and the costs of regular renewal of this training, some areas of which we have identified in our submission; the high cost of positive behaviour, crisis intervention and health and safety training; and the need for training of bus escorts. Our suggestion is for an annual training fund for the training of whole-school staff, including the roll-out of bus escort training.

The second part of our written submission details the area of supports and their level of adequacy. The National Council for Special Education, NCSE, policy advice paper, Supporting Students with Special Education Needs in Schools, published in 2013, contains 28 recommendations in respect of training and CPD, early intervention, transition planning, etc. There are a huge range of recommendations there.

The findings and recommendations of the report should be examined and implemented without delay. One recommendation on the new allocation model of teaching resources to mainstream schools has been introduced recently, so there is some movement.

Our first issue is that of capitation funding. Special schools and classes receive enhanced capitation grants based on the special educational needs of their students. However, this grant has been reduced over the past seven years and does not adequately cover the needs in this setting. In these schools, capitation is required to cover the basic running costs, but in special education settings, these costs are higher due to the complex and additional needs of the students. In addition to the basic running costs and essential staff training, which are referred to in our submission, maintenance of specialised equipment and health and medical provisions are also funded from the capitation grant and very often from fund-raising as well. Some schools have experienced difficulties this year with the cost of insurance, and work has started on examining the issue. It is hoped a resolution can be found in the near future. Suggestions in our submission include an examination of capitation funding with a view to increasing the funding. I have also mentioned the introduction of a training fund which schools could, with guidelines, avail of and prioritise their training needs.

The second issue is staffing. I will refer again to the NCSE report. There is a need for a reduced pupil-teacher ratio. Recommendation 27.2 of the report regarding a reduced pupil-teacher ratio and provision of a school nurse reflects the complexity of needs in some special schools and settings.

Another issue we have identified is substitute cover for all teacher absences in special education settings and issues relating to posts of responsibility and the appointment of principals and deputy principals. I have mentioned the deputy principal issue in this forum before but I will refer to it again. NABMSE suggests a number of things. One is substitute cover for all teacher absences because a class of children with special educational needs cannot be divided. All staff should be included in the determination of posts of responsibility in special education settings.

We welcome all the recent curriculum developments, including levels 1 and 2. However, it is essential that special educational needs are included in all new curriculum developments in the primary and post-primary sector. This includes language and numeracy, which was mentioned by the previous speaker.

One of the issues identified is the provision of specialist subject teachers for pupils aged over 12. There has been no allocation from the Department for some years. That is causing some trouble in the introduction of these new programmes. Other issues are the provision of suitable learning materials and the provision of home, school, community liaison for special schools, which is recommendation 27.3 in this policy advice paper. I will mention one of the suggestions in our submission. A mechanism needs to be found to increase specialist teacher hours for special education settings. Another is the implementation of the home, school, community liaison service for schools without delay.

The fourth issue we have identified is on planning. A number of the issues identified are opportunities for inclusion, which should be planned for, and transition planning from various levels of schools, that is, primary mainstream to post-primary mainstream and back and forth between special schools and mainstream schools. A really important one, which the committee mentioned, is future planning for special educational needs provision, especially in the area of post-primary provision. It is clear that co-ordinated planning needs to take place around educational provision for special educational needs. It is essential there is early transition planning between health and education, planning for inclusion and planning for proper provision of special classes to ensure students with special educational needs are provided with an appropriate education.

The next issue is support staff. We all know here that the education of students with special educational needs can depend on their ability to access the curriculum. This is often dependent on the correct health related supports being available. We have identified the need for funding and governance of nursing staff as many special education providers are educating students with the most complex medical needs. Recommendation 27.3 of the NCSE report No. 4 should be implemented without delay. We also suggest that other therapies detailed in the submission could be provided on a cluster basis to schools and that the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, be available to all schools.

I am almost finished. Integration between health and education is an important issue. We feel substantial moneys are being spent in the education system. However, a more integrated approach throughout the system might yield better results. There needs to be more robust integration between health and education, particularly in the provision of therapies, services and nurses.

The last point is on ICT and assistive technology. The use of ICT and assistive technology is essential in the provision of education to pupils with special educational needs. The current ICT grant to schools awards €4 extra per pupil with special educational needs. However, as the numbers of pupils in special schools tend to be lower, this is inadequate to purchase the equipment. Some of the suggestions we will look at is the recognition that communications technologies are essential for access to the curriculum for some children, an increase in the funding for ICT to special education settings to reflect their specialist nature, and establishing funding for our schools for multisensory rooms or environments. Providing other methods of distributing the ICT grant should be explored. Suggestions have been made for a separate scheme for special education or a grant per classroom rather than per pupil.

I have probably gone over my time. I thank the committee for the opportunity today and we look forward to working with everyone. Members have probably seen my submission. There is a lot more in it.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Ms Corr. Her contribution was very valuable. I will ask Ms Noreen Duggan, principal of Scoil na Naomh Uilig to take the floor.

Ms Noreen Duggan:

I thank the committee for affording me the opportunity to speak. I am principal of Scoil na Naomh Uilig in Newbridge. It is a fully inclusive school with 565 pupils from 31 ethnic backgrounds. The school caters for children of all abilities, from children with severe and profound learning disabilities to gifted children. We have five special classes dotted throughout the school building: three for children with autism and two for children with severe and profound learning disabilities. Each child is integrated wherever possible with his or her peers in mainstream classrooms. We also have excellent facilities for meeting children's sensory needs. We also have a very large cohort of children with moderate and multiple disabilities enrolled in our mainstream classes. We have gained a reputation for dealing positively with children with special needs. As a result, we are receiving more enrolments of children presenting with challenging behaviour. That is our reality. Every child in our school is a valued member of our community and we all learn from each other. There are a number of issues I wish to address. However, I must preface this by saying I am only speaking from my experience as principal of Scoil na Naomh Uilig.

The issues are access to education for children with special educational needs, nursing and clinical support, training, challenging behaviour, and access to DEIS status. The most pressing issue for us is access to education for children with special needs. Inclusivity is the way to go. Everyone in our school community benefits from the model we are developing. Our model was set up ten years ago and it needs to be replicated throughout the country both at primary and secondary level. In our school, there are eight children in fifth class. Some of the parents are here today because they cannot find suitable places for their children in the secondary school system. There are simply not enough places. These parents embraced inclusive education seven years ago, and now they are caught in limbo, with limited places available in mainstream secondary schools and no capacity in the special schools because they already have their own cohort of children coming forward from the primary system. It is unfair on these parents that they should have to search for and spearhead campaigns to find places for their children. It is their constitutional right. The Department needs to adopt a proactive approach to providing education for children with special needs at all levels. These parents should, like me, be able to go to the local secondary schools and see which one best fits their children's education.

The next issue I will address is nursing and clinical support. Our nurse was employed initially for 26.5 hours per week to care for the complex medical needs of three children.

Ten years later, her hours have been reduced to 24 per week and her workload, including copious amounts of paperwork, has significantly increased. She now looks after 35 children, nine of whom have complex medical needs. She is unable to take a lunch break and works, on average, nine hours extra per week for which she is not paid. Mr. Jim Mulkerrins, from the Department of Education and Skills, is meeting special schools in Dublin to examine the standardisation of nursing support throughout the system but this really needs to be addressed urgently.

Our school is very lucky in that it has access to clinical care but it takes up to 18 months for an initial assessment to take place. This is particularly unfair when one has a child with challenging behaviour. In fairness to the child, classmates and the teacher, access to psychological services needs to be immediate in a case such as this.

On training, there are many aspects. I have addressed them in my written submission. More comprehensive training for special education needs to be provided at initial teacher training level and also at school level. I take Dr. Ryan's points. In Scoil na Naomh Uilig, our more pressing issue is that substitute cover needs to be provided for peer training prior to a mainstream teacher taking a special class. Comprehensive training, which is currently available only on a limited basis for teachers in severe and profound autism classes, should be mandatory for every teacher taking such classes. A similar course is also necessary for dealing with challenging behaviour. A minimum qualification for bus escort and special needs assistance should be a FETAC level 6 qualification in child care and special needs. Teachers need training on the management of SNA staff. In an inclusive school, whole staff training is essential. The Department needs to give us clear guidelines, directions and training on restrictive practice in school. It is essential that training for dealing with special educational needs be mandatory and paid for by the Department and that substitute cover be provided.

The last point I would like to address is access to DEIS status. As I stated in my written submission, we do not have DEIS status. Our school has a very mixed population but more than 200 pupils in our school are from a socially disadvantaged background. If they were in a smaller school, they would qualify for DEIS status. The number of children with significant special educational needs should be a factor in the allocation of DEIS status. When we visited schools in Boston to examine their model for dealing with children with special needs, we found each child with special needs was counted as two children in the mainstream class. This meant the pupil-teacher ratio was immediately lowered. In a school like ours, the teachers' workload would be somewhat reduced. Surely some kind of sliding scale could be used to roll out the benefits of DEIS to all who need them. I thank members and will answer any questions they have afterwards.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Ms Duggan. It is important that all members have the opportunity to hear from those on the ground working with students on a day-to-day basis. If members want to see inclusivity in action, they will find that Scoil na Naomh Uilig is really a great school to visit. I call on Ms Pauline Dempsey, the principal of St. Anne's School in the Curragh.

Ms Pauline Dempsey:

I thank the Chairman. I feel very privileged to be allowed to talk today. We always feel very marginalised being a special school. People do not know what to do with us. I am the principal of St. Anne's special school in the Curragh, County Kildare. We currently have 80 pupils enrolled. We have 14 teachers and 30 special needs assistants. I have had the privilege of having worked in special education for 39 years, 20 as a principal. I have witnessed many positive innovations, instigated by the Department of Education and Skills over the years, up to and including inclusivity and this wondrous thing, the new junior cycle programme. It is so innovative it is wonderful.

I have also witnessed the evolution of the special school model over this period. It occurred without any definition or statement by the Department regarding what a special school is and should be, what it should offer, what its pupils should or could achieve by the time they leave at 18 years of age. There is actually no written description of a special school except a vague reference in the special education review committee, SERC, report of 1993. This only outlines a staffing ratio, which exists to this very day. This lack of definition created a vacuum that was rapidly filled by the patrons of special schools, which were typically voluntary bodies that had provided to their schools funding and, in many cases, additional staff. It was logical, therefore, that the vision created for special schools would be determined by their patrons. With increases in capitation and funding, particularly for building projects and visionary aspects of the curriculum and organisational matters, this support of the patrons has been much diminished. Aspects of this legacy remain, however.

If I were to describe our school, I would say it is successful but struggling. Resources and supports have not increased in line with the complex needs or the numbers of children enrolled. My concerns are representative of special schools all over Ireland but for the purpose of this meeting, I am reflecting the views of my school. My submission was quite lengthy and I was trying to reduce it to five minutes. I hope members will give it a good read-through.

Special schools are under tremendous pressure to enrol any child who applies as there seems to be a shortage of places. This is regardless of the fact that the school might be full, whether the class is suitable or whether the child's needs can be met. This is particularly relevant if the child develops behaviours that pose a challenge. The more challenging the child, the more quickly he or she is filtered down through the system to us. Our school, I am told, is considered the last resort. If not here, then where? It can be quite offensive to hear this as a school.

Segregation exists and discriminates against children with different needs from those who were discriminated against 20 or 30 years ago. It seems that certain children are not suitable for inclusion, regardless of their academic ability. It appears that, in many instances, the only suitable place is a special school, without a statement or even knowledge of why that is the case.

We have to ask what it is about the special school teacher that makes him or her suitable and competent to teach children with these needs, yet somehow mainstream teachers are not. Why is it more acceptable for staff in special schools to sustain injuries and for children to miss out on their educational experience than in a mainstream setting? Let me give statistics on injuries reported since the start of this year. There were 189 incidents against staff and 59 against other pupils.

It is important to consider some facts on this. Autism units in mainstream schools have access to the same grants to set the class up, the same staffing ratio, the same capitation, the same access to training and the same support, in Kildare at least, from the network disability teams as our school. We, however, are obliged to take the most challenging from these classes without additional supports or resources and, often, to place them with several others who display challenging behaviours in the same class. This is unrealistic and is not working. It is also the worst model of education provision and can result in an appalling learning environment.

What does a special school offer that others cannot? Dr. Jean Ware, in her report on the role of the special schools and classes in Ireland, examined this briefly but it still was not definitive. The reality is quite persuasive: there is nothing that a special school teacher or, indeed, a special school can do that cannot be done anywhere else. We are finding that psychologists are making the decisions as to who enrols in our schools through section 29 appeals. Many of these professionals have never visited our school. We are full and we will continue to be full for the next few years. Already pressure is mounting for September 2018. On one hand, our own clinical team is condemning our old buildings as being unsuitable for children with sensory processing difficulties but on the other, another psychologist is supporting a section 29 appeal that ensured we had to put an extra child into an already overcrowded room, simply because it was perceived that the child had no other choice. We know from listening to our colleagues here that this is not the case.

We are finding it impossible to attract teachers to our school. We do not have access to qualified substitute teachers like most schools in the area but splitting classes in our school is extremely problematic. Let me give a few more statistics. This year, we lost 172 days to teacher absence without any substitute cover. There were 46 days within that where we had two teachers absent. There were 22 days within that period on which there were three teachers absent, 12 on which there were four absent, seven on which there were five absent, one on which there were six absent, and one on which there were seven absent.

That is 50% of our staff. We had between one and three substitutes, two of whom were not even qualified.

In my professional opinion, if the current model of special educational needs, SEN, provision is not reviewed with particular emphasis on the role of the special school within the system, this will not succeed. It cannot be sustained. We cannot sustain what we are doing in St. Anne's Special School. What must be addressed as a matter of urgency? If inclusion does not work, and I would be a supporter of it in spite of being a principal of a special school, then a definition as to what a special school must be has to be described. It has to be described in conjunction with the relevant people who are in a position to do that. We must be resourced appropriately within that description. There is a move away from moderate general learning disabilities or assessments of severe or profound general learning disabilities to more of a needs assessment. If that is the case, then the school has to be resourced appropriately according to those needs. I am not sure how that will be done. The staffing ratio will have to be increased if there is a role for special schools in the future. Class sizes will have to be reduced. Behaviours that challenge must be investigated.

Interestingly enough, continuing professional development, CPD, which is the model that is put forward, rather than initial teacher training, is not compulsory, but we have 60 staff, including nurses, who have to have management of actual or potential aggression, MAPA, training and training in person moving and handling. That is very expensive and it is unsustainable. On teacher training involving SEN, we get many teachers interested in placement in our school and it is a really positive experience. However, we still find it difficult to attract teachers. They are not flooding to our doors because we have a reputation of being the challenging school.

Nursing cover has already been mentioned. At the moment, we are lucky. We have two nurses on site, but that depends very much on the vagaries of our patron body. We had three nurses with 50% fewer pupils eight years ago. We now have two nurses. On children with complex needs, there has to be some acknowledgement that, within the special schools system, there are children for whom, for whatever reason, whether medical or mental health issues, the school may not be suitable. There is a distinct need to look at some sort of alternative provision for these children.

I would like to see a common approach to resourcing. We in special schools throughout the country get frustrated when we meet, because depending on where a school is located in the country, one might be able to get more staffing and resources. That is very frustrating. Health and education need to negotiate and work together, particularly on the role of the therapists who support our schools. The therapists see themselves as consultants, and the role of the teacher in that is very much compromised because the teacher ends up doing the assessments, the graphs and the charts, and these are assessed off site. It is not a good model.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Ms Dempsey. There will be an opportunity for questions afterwards. I ask Ms Teresa Griffin, the CEO of the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, to speak.

Ms Teresa Griffin:

I thank the committee for the invitation to attend. I want to introduce my colleague, Ms Madeline Hickey, who is the director of the special education support service, SESS, which is one of the three support services currently transitioning to the NCSE. They have transferred over from the Department since March, so we are having a very interesting time trying to develop a new support structure. I assure the committee that we wish to be as helpful as we possibly can to assist it with its work in examining the adequacy of training and supports available to providers of special needs education. Support for special education is, as I think we all know, a key Government priority. Some €1.7 billion, which is over 17% of the total Department of Education and Skills budget, is spent on supporting special education.

All students with special educational needs are taught primarily by the class or subject teachers. This additional funding provides for 13,000 additional teachers to be allocated specifically to give extra support to students with additional learning and special needs. That is in mainstream schools. There are reduced pupil-teacher ratios in special schools. There is one special education teacher for every five class or subject teachers. The funding also provides for 13,000 special needs assistant posts, assistive technology, specialist equipment, special school transport arrangements and so on.

I know that the committee has already seen the written submission, so the purpose of my opening statement is to focus on teacher education, because research is clear that the quality of teachers and their teaching are the most important factors in determining student outcomes. This is especially important for students with special educational needs.

One of the strengths of the education system at the moment is that all teachers are required to be fully qualified and registered with the Teaching Council. However, initial teacher education on its own can be insufficient to prepare newly qualified teachers properly for some students with more complex needs. These students require qualified teachers who are trained and equipped with the additional knowledge and skills necessary to meet their specific educational and care needs. The skills learned through initial teacher education and more generalised professional development need to be further refined and adapted to meet diverse and sometimes very complex needs.

It is for these reasons that the Department of Education and Skills established the SESS in 2003 and the national behaviour support service, NBSS, in 2006 to complement the work of the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, which was established in 1999. Last year, the SESS provided in excess of 20,000 training days to more than 18,000 teachers. However, through our research and consultation, we are aware that many principals and teachers still do not feel equipped and confident to teach some students with more complex needs.

There have been good recent developments aimed at improving the knowledge, skills and competencies of teachers in the area. These developments include the Teaching Council’s framework for continuing development, with inclusion as a core learning area. We think this is a very good move because we believe that additional learning for teachers should be mandatory in this area of special education. The inclusion of the study of special education as a compulsory module in initial teacher education was very good. The decision to establish one NCSE support service, incorporating the SESS, NBSS and the Visiting Teacher Service, will reduce fragmentation and allow us to put a more coherent support structure in place which can support teachers and children.

The issue of training and supports is much wider than teacher education. Students can benefit when all staff in schools and people with whom they interact have been trained in whole-school approaches to inclusion. For example, when the NCSE was preparing our policy advice to the Minister on the education of students with autism, the need for autism awareness training for bus drivers and escorts was repeatedly raised, because inadvertent actions on the bus to or from school can trigger anxiety and behaviour issues.

We are currently carrying out a review of the special needs assistant, SNA, scheme. This is a very significant support scheme which costs €428 million, but it enables SNAs to meet the care needs of 30,000 students. The need to improve the effectiveness of these posts with the provision of general and bespoke training for SNAs has been raised as an issue of concern by many consulted, including school management, parents and SNAs themselves.

These are just some of the gaps in the current system. The focus of my presentation has been on the need to improve teacher education, but I am happy to answer any questions committee members may have on my much more extensive submission.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Ms Griffin and ask Professor Áine Hyland to give her presentation.

Professor Áine Hyland:

I thank the committee for inviting me. I am honoured and pleased to be here at this stage to add my voice to the voices of my colleagues here. I am here in a personal capacity. I have been in education for a very long time. I was a civil servant in the Department of Education 56 years ago. I had to retire because of the marriage ban, but since then I have been a teacher, a teacher trainer, a university professor and, above all else, I am a mother, and I am a grandmother of a boy with autism, which puts me very much in sympathy with what I have heard here today. I am very impressed by what Ms Noreen Duggan has to say, because much of it is what I have in my own submission and also what I believe. I am utterly convinced of the importance of an inclusive school. My grandson, who is now 12, has been lucky. He has been in St. Clare's primary school in Harold's Cross, where Ms Maria Spring runs a wonderful school, but unfortunately he is hitting exactly the same problem as these parents here and the parents with whom other witnesses work.

I welcome the report of the Oireachtas joint committee on the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill, which I read before I came in, especially its recommendation that the NCSE be given the statutory power to compel schools to establish special classes for children with autism or other disabilities where such classes are required.

As the recommendation has already been made, it might be repeated as it is very helpful.

I note in the report that the Department of Education and Skills denies there is a chronic shortage of specialised school places for children with autism and, in fairness, I recognise the considerable advance that has been made in this and other special needs areas, particularly at primary level. It is a really major issue at post-primary level. Some members may have seen the campaign from the area in which my grandson lives, as we spoke about campaigns, and my daughter and her husband are spearheading it. We do not apologise for it. In Dublin 2, Dublin 4, Dublin 6, Dublin 6W and Dublin 8, or the entirety of the southern Dublin city region, there are no special classes at all at post-primary level. There are nine at primary level, going on the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, website, but none at post-primary level. The solution the National Educational Welfare Board, NEWB, might formulate for some of those children would be home tuition. It is a disastrous idea and not a solution.

This is a very urgent matter and, ironically, it arises because we have been relatively successful at primary school level. I was a member of the special education review committee in 1993, as was my colleague, Dr. Mehigan, and I was also chair of the educational disadvantage committee. I really welcome what I have heard here. I do not like to see DEIS and special needs education separated. I am pleased with the new assistant secretary, Mr. Dalton Tattan, and I hoped he would be here today. At least he has an overview and is the assistant secretary with responsibility for both areas. It is a very positive development. There are a number of other positive developments but of course they are slow and we need them now. I will not sing the song of the campaign but the words are "two, four, six, eight, ASD kids just can't wait".

I will not speak about teacher training as we have had much good input in that regard. I spent most of my more recent years, until I retired, in teacher training. There are changes and I would be the first to put my hands up and say that in the past we gave no training to our young teachers, especially our post-primary teachers, on including children with special needs in mainstream classes. That is changing thanks to the Teaching Council and the two-year programme for all teachers. There is a compulsory element to the training that will at least provide some awareness of the approach they should take in including children with special needs and those from a variety of different backgrounds in mainstream classes.

I am not looking at educational disadvantage separately but as a sort of overall continuum, and there is a separate heading in the submission. I am very aware of the improvements. When I was leaving the Department of Education 52 years ago to get married, we had just finished a report pointing out that more than 50% of 14 year olds had dropped out of school. That is more than half, so things have come on dramatically, as I would be first to recognise. However, we want a really good and inclusive system for every child. We do not want 3,500 children leaving school without a qualification, which is the currently the case.

I agree with Ms Duggan that the focus should be on the pupil rather than the school. I will not bore the committee with a report I brought with me that is from 1965 and indicates a need for special assistance for needy pupils. This was a pupil-centred approach rather than just a school-centred approach, although of course the school needs support. There should be a continuum rather than a big bang or stop. I chaired the educational disadvantage committee that reported 12 years and we were abolished very quickly. I will come to that momentarily. We would have made the point that at least half the children from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds are not in what are now called DEIS schools. They are in other schools and they need support. Currently, it is either a "Yes" or "No" and a pupil is either in or out. The school is in DEIS band 1 or 2. That will change a little.

There is a need for a whole-school and whole community approach, and the focus on the child and family has been highlighted so much. We highlighted that very much in the report of the educational disadvantage committee. We recommended a rights-based approach to equality and inclusion of diversity - we used the term a lot - as well as integration of strategies, structures and systems. We recommended coherence overall of provision, highlighting the importance of interdepartmental and interagency links, with a view to ensuring greater cohesion. We pointed out that half the children who require additional support were never in what are now called DEIS schools. We are all saying that things have of course improved and the new literacy and numeracy strategy has led to improved outcomes for all our pupils, including those in DEIS schools, but there is still a gap, which is a big challenge. We also recognise the increase of the year in teacher training will be helpful. We must try to ensure there is full inclusivity in all our schools, and we have a much more diverse school population than we used to have. The diversity is across social, cultural, ethnic and linguistic lines, along with children with disabilities and various special needs.

I query the transfer of responsibility for the school completion programme, the home, school, community liaison scheme and the National Educational Welfare Board to Tusla in 2014. I was concerned about it and put my name forward, whether wisely or unwisely, to go on the Tusla board. I was appointed to the board earlier this year. I am concerned that the focus of Tusla is more on social care and there is almost no one on the board with an educational background as such. I would still prefer if the school completion programme and the home, school, community liaison scheme had stayed with the Department of Education and Skills, but perhaps some members understand the process better. There is further fragmentation, as we said there would be 12 years ago, and we must reduce that fragmentation in the delivery of services. Sometimes when this happens, one wonders about coherence or the reasons behind it. There may have been good reasons. I am on the board now and, whether wisely or unwisely, I am taking some responsibility for it.

As I mentioned earlier I am disappointed the educational disadvantage committee was not replaced in 2005 after we reported. It was a fairly radical and critical report but at least it existed as part of the Education Act 1998. In 2012, that section of the Act was deleted. I do not know why that happened but some of the witnesses or members may know. It was great to have an educational disadvantage committee. We had people from the formal system and the non-formal system. I brought in part of the report but I will not waste the committee's time reading it. Dr. Ann Louise Gilligan died only last week and she made a huge contribution. As my colleague said, there are some young people who for various reasons will not fit into the school system. That is recognised in the international literature and there must be other options available.

I express my concern about the ongoing high level of suspensions and expulsions, especially of young boys aged 12 to 16. A parliamentary question was recently replied to by the Minister, Deputy Zappone, who now has responsibility for the area, and it indicated there were 13,000 suspensions last year. It is a huge number. Every time a young person is suspended for three, four or five days - it is usually a minimum of three days - the continuity of education is finished. Those students will lose all standing in most cases when that happens and why would they bother after that? There were 145 expulsions, which is a small number, but there is a large number of especially behaviourally challenged children, especially boys, in that age group who are on a limited or reduced school day, or worse again, in receipt of home tuition.

I have very grave concerns about home tuition. While the NCSE has asked to have authority to place a child and the NEWB has no authority, it appears that no one has authority to ensure a child who is excluded from mainstream schooling has a school place as opposed to getting some kind of tuition. I feel passionate and have done for many years on these issues. While I recognise that there have been improvements, I am not going to give up until I am down under.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Professor Hyland for that. She is a very welcome addition to the board of Tusla. We have been querying the division in responsibilities. It does not make sense to us. I have put down parliamentary questions on it myself. At least with someone like Professor Hyland on the board, we might make a little headway.

Professor Áine Hyland:

This time next year, I will be blamed for everything.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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Professor Hyland referred to the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill, which we will be going through this time tomorrow. There are 45 pages of amendments at this point. It is something the committee feels very strongly about, which is why one of the main recommendations in our report was that the NCSE should be able to make those recommendations. The school should then get the appropriate resources straight away. It is hugely important.

Our final witness is Dr. Deirbhile Nic Craith, director of education and research with the INTO.

Dr. Deirbhile Nic Craith:

Is mise Deirbhile Nic Craith, Ard Rúnaí Cúnta le Cumann Múinteoirí Éireann. Táim freagrach as cúrsaí oideachais agus taighde in ard oifig an Chumainn.

While all newly qualified teachers have completed modules in special education and inclusion as part of the reconfigured initial teacher education courses, teachers will always need to build on their professional and pedagogical knowledge throughout their careers. The postgraduate diploma courses in special education offered by the colleges of education as per circulars are of high quality and in demand. These courses are supported by the Department of Education and Skills for teachers in special education posts. In the context of a policy of inclusion, all teachers should have the opportunity to benefit from postgraduate courses in special education which are State funded and supported.

The special education support service, SESS, established and funded by the Department of Education and Skills has provided professional development opportunities to teachers. The SESS is currently staffed by teachers on secondment. The recently established inclusion support service within the National Council for Special Education will include the SESS and the visiting teacher service for children with hearing or visual impairment. It is essential that experienced teachers continue to be recruited as part of the inclusion support service. Therefore, the terms and conditions of future employees of the inclusion support service must be attractive to experienced teachers with specialist knowledge in special education.

In addition to courses in special education, tailored professional support and advice should be available to schools where they have identified particular needs within their own community. The provision of therapy related services, such as speech therapy, emotional counselling and mental health support, is currently inadequate and causing a lot of frustration for both teachers and pupils. Primary schools do not have access at present to behaviour support even though this is an area where primary schools need increasing support. Having access to professional development and support is essential to teacher well-being as the complexity of needs in classrooms grows. A sabbatical leave scheme for teachers, as promised in DEIS, must be acted on. While local projects supported by philanthropic funding enabled disadvantaged schools to enhance educational provision to the school community, reliance on philanthropic funding is not sustainable long term. The Department of Education and Skills must take responsibility for all funding of DEIS support programmes.

Regular professional development has been lacking in recent years for the home-school community liaison programme, the school completion programme and Early Start and needs to be restored. Early intervention is crucial for both children with special educational needs and children at risk of social and educational disadvantage. Early Start is a high-quality, intensive, early intervention educational programme for children most at risk of educational disadvantage and it should be expanded to all DEIS band 1 schools. We also need more support for Traveller pupils. The loss of the visiting teacher service for Travellers has left a lacuna in the system. The Educational Welfare Service should be given additional resources to support Traveller families and schools with a high concentration of Traveller families should have additional home-school community liaison teachers. Support for Traveller pupils should also be more explicit in the new allocation model for special education posts.

I turn finally to class size. Almost all primary school classrooms now include children with special education needs. It is unacceptable that we still have primary classes with more than 30 pupils, including children with special educational needs. Smaller class sizes are essential to support inclusion. The pupil-teacher ratio in special schools and classes must be revisited in the context that they now include pupils with far more complex needs than was envisaged in 1993. DEIS band 1 schools have a more favourable teacher-pupil ratio than non-DEIS schools but DEIS band 2 schools do not. It is the view of the INTO that the pupil-teacher ratio that applied in Breaking the Cycle of 15:1 in junior classes should continue to apply to the most disadvantaged schools. The current DEIS band 1 ratio of 20:1 in junior classes and 24:1 in senior classes should apply to all other DEIS schools. This is only bringing us closer to the European norm. I note that I agree with many of the comments previous speakers today have made.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the witnesses for their contributions. It has been incredibly interesting. There has been a great deal of common ground in the views expressed, namely that there is a need for more teachers, a need for more appropriately trained teachers and the need for proper resources to support our pupils. The main point in the mission statement of the Department of Education and Skills is on the provision of high quality education to enable all individuals to achieve their full potential and participate fully as members of society. That is the reason we are all here. After that, it is about the promotion of equality and inclusion. The children with special needs who need extra support in an educational setting and, as was rightly pointed out, in the provision of appropriate health services. Dr. Nic Craith referred to the programmes non-DEIS schools are losing out on to reduce their pupil-teacher ratios. They also lose out on social and emotional behavioural programmes, which is very wrong. There is an inequity in the way children in non-DEIS schools are losing out in that regard.

Before I pose my questions, I will open the floor to members for their questions and comments.

Photo of Lynn RuaneLynn Ruane (Independent)
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I thank the witnesses for their contributions which I found interesting and invaluable, in particular the contribution of Ms Noreen Duggan. The focus for me in this area is always DEIS and disadvantage. Many of the contributions today focused on special education but I note that there are many similarities with these complex needs and what is necessary for a school to address them. I will focus on disadvantage and teacher training to which Dr. Ryan and Ms Griffin might refer. I am delighted also to have Professor Áine Hyland here today. If I ever feel I am steering wrong, I go back to her disadvantage report of 12 years ago to remind myself of what it is I am doing.

I am very critical in relation to secondary schools which sometimes does not come across well. I understand that teachers work in very stressful environments. However, as the parent of a child going through DEIS schools and as a past pupil of DEIS schools, it is hard not to be critical of the way the system works within schools.

Primary schools are a little bit different from secondary schools in DEIS areas because pupils have the same teacher for all subjects, which creates greater continuity and works better. At second level, school becomes a little chaotic for students, with children from different primary schools bunched together. The entrance examination for second level schools creates an immediate division as children are categorised into separate groups of those who can and those who cannot learn a language. At the age of 12 years, students are told they are not capable of learning French or Spanish and are graded into lower and higher classes. This categorisation, which is based on an entrance examination, is done at a very young age. Children are separated on that basis on their first day at school. Do the witnesses wish to comment on how to tackle this issue? This approach is not taken in all schools but the practice is common in areas of disadvantage.

Teacher training courses include modules on inclusive education. I have been working with Dr. Fiona O'Reilly to create an approach to teacher education based on the model used for doctors. Doctors who work in areas of deprivation are trained to understand the social context in which they are working. This type of social medicine allows them to understand the complex needs of patients in deprived areas which may be slightly different from the needs of patients in more affluent areas. The model has some valuable features. Perhaps Dr. Ryan will consider piloting the programme Dr. O'Reilly and I have pulled together to see if it could help in teacher training. We could offer teachers the type of training provided for doctors. If teachers are to work in areas of disadvantage where addiction, domestic violence and intergenerational poverty are prominent features, they must be equipped to do so. Teachers would have to do placements in youth clubs and domestic violence centres and would not go to a DEIS school to be taught how these schools work. Instead, they would have placements in community groups in order that they learn to understand the individual. New teachers learn from teachers who have been in the secondary school system for a long time have been a little bit battered by the system. We could do something a little different in the area of inclusive education.

Students in disadvantaged areas do not have access to the funding and resources needed to obtain an educational psychologist's report. People living in Cushlawn, west Tallaght and Jobstown cannot afford to have their children tested for dyspraxia, dyslexia, dyscalculia and so forth. If parents could obtain a diagnosis, they could then access resources to address their child's needs. How will this be addressed?

We are due to discuss reform of the leaving certificate in a few weeks. Reform of the leaving certificate will be extremely important in DEIS areas because the leaving certificate does not serve people who attend DEIS schools. The aspirations, ambitions and determination of teachers in some second level schools are focused only on school completion. They have not accepted that they are part of the bigger picture in the transition to third level and aspirations have dropped. DEIS schools have children who are extremely determined and would do well and also children who display extreme behaviour. Teachers must try to teach children of widely differing ability, which drags children who would normally progress to third level down to a certain standard. Teachers are telling sixth year pupils who probably would be capable of taking a higher level paper to sit ordinary level examinations because they have not taught the higher level curriculum. As a result, children believe they are not capable when the issue is the inability of the school to teach the higher paper because the needs in the classroom are so complex and mixed. This ties into the issue of transforming teacher education to ensure teachers are equipped to work in DEIS schools.

Professor Hyland told me once about the community development style of education in place in either New York or Boston where schools have youth clubs at night and the system is much more integrated into the community. Perhaps we should look towards that model.

I support the view that we should examine the reason Tusla has been given certain educational briefs and perhaps recommend that these briefs come back into the education system. Tusla's main priority will never be education. If it becomes involved in education in areas of deprivation, parents and families will have a negative relationship with the agency or may fear it a little. If Tusla were to assume control of a certain element of schooling, this negative relationship could tip over into the educational process.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senator Ruane. As she stated, it takes a village to rear a child.

Photo of Carol NolanCarol Nolan (Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh na finnéithe go léir go dtí an cruinniú. I welcome in particular Dr. Gene Mehigan from the Marino Institute of Education who was one of my senior lecturers many years ago. It is lovely to see him again. A range of issues have been highlighted and I have been nodding in agreement with all the contributions because I spent 12 years as a teacher, seven of them as a learning support teacher. I can honestly say that there are major issues that must be tackled head on. Investment is needed in education because things have gone radically wrong as a result of the cuts and so on.

It does a complete disservice to a child when he or she cannot access speech or occupational therapy. It is also at odds with the Education Act which states that every child is entitled to a high-quality education. This is a major issue and one with which we in County Offaly and north Tipperary have been struggling for some time. While the position in many areas is just as bad as in Laois-Offaly, it is certainly more pronounced in our particular area. This is unfair on children when we are trying to strive for equality. Education opens doors for children and gives them opportunities. It is unacceptable that children who are already disadvantaged are being placed at greater disadvantage through a failure to provide services. I have raised this issue a number of times because I am passionate about it as a result of personal experience. I hope the problem will be resolved at some stage

Class size is also a major issue for teachers and has a serious impact on pupils. Newly qualified teachers are being asked to differentiate the content of lesson, but this is not achievable in a class of 35 pupils. Teachers are told to set objectives that are achievable, attainable, measurable and specific, but how can we set objectives and honestly differentiate to a high standard when so many children are in the classroom and teachers must engage in crowd control? These issues need to be tackled head on.

Professor Hyland referred to the educational disadvantage, on which I introduced a Bill in March last.

Professor Áine Hyland:


Photo of Carol NolanCarol Nolan (Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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I was nodding in agreement when she spoke on this issue. She is correct that this is doing a greater disservice to pupils from disadvantaged communities. The committee must get up and running again and be placed on a statutory footing in accordance with the Education Act. I will continue to make this call and I commend Professor Hyland on raising the issue.

I was particularly interested in the comments on the practice of co-teaching. Finland is one of the countries where co-teaching occurs. Is this practice applied anywhere else in Europe? How would co-teaching tie in with our new resource allocation model?

I fully concur with Ms Corr on the issue of capitation. It is unacceptable that many schools are forced to raise funds and depend on the goodwill of the local community. This is not good enough. It is also unacceptable that capitation has been linked to other school outcomes because it is a separate issue and one which the Minister must address. What would be an acceptable level of capitation in Ms Corr's opinion?

To address Ms Dempsey, it is shocking to hear about the high levels of injuries being sustained by teachers as a result of assaults. Will she elaborate on the prevalence of the problem? What immediate measures could be introduced to try to curb this unacceptable behaviour? I am glad the INTO referred to the well-being of teachers and so forth, which is of the utmost importance because staff find themselves in dangerous and stressful circumstances.

Photo of Catherine MartinCatherine Martin (Dublin Rathdown, Green Party)
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I am very interested in this issue. I taught for 16 years in a DEIS school which had a huge cohort of children with varied special educational needs. I am completely aware of where resources are lacking. The issue is, therefore, very close to my heart. I have a couple of questions which I will not field to anybody in particular.

On the workload of educational welfare officer, is there a maximum number of schools an officer can look after? Is it a problem? Can up to 30 or 40 schools be assigned to one officer? How can an officer possibly track non-attendance if he or she has such a vast number of schools to look after?

In respect of reduced and limited timetables which may have been mentioned by Dr. Ryan, are there specific guidelines or structures for schools or is the issue managed on a school-by-school basis? Is it the case that school A could be doing it one way, while school B down the road might be using a different way altogether?

I was interested in the suggestion of co-teaching. I did some as part of the Droichead scheme about four years ago when a student teacher came and it worked very well. There were also two SNAs in the room with 18 students. I thought it was fantastic and it happened to work very well as the student teacher and I happened to work well together. How are teachers chosen? It is important to make sure they can work with another teacher. Even 14 years ago, some teachers did not know how they would cope with an SNA in the room. How would having a co-teacher and a few SNAs work when it comes to inspection, for example? How will the experienced teacher be trained to co-teach?

I have heard anecdotal evidence that resource teaching hours are sometimes used as a timetable filler to have a teacher work a certain period of hours, rather than choosing the best teacher to do the resource teaching hours. Is that something that happens and how can the practice be tackled?

In respect of students who do not take Irish, there is an issue that presents after the junior certificate examinations. There are students with special educational needs and those for whom English is not their first language, as well as others who, for various reasons, have an exemption. At leaving certificate level Irish is taught every day. In some schools there are more students in a class who are not doing Irish. A school can end up with 32 to 34 17 year-olds who are exempt from the class. I do not think there is any guideline for dealing with this issue. It seems to be about classroom control where the teacher tries to keep the students quiet for 40 minutes. Could we tap into this resource to do something powerful to help students for whom English is not their first language or who have special educational needs? A lot of the time there are no SNAs assigned to that group.

I am curious about the numbers at level 2 and the provision of proper training and how the strike affected the position. Just before the strike started, I sat the level 2 examination in English and at that stage there were no guidelines for it. When I asked the question at the end of the day, I was only taught to level 3. I do not know what has happened since.

On the applied leaving certificate programme, I believe that for a lot of children with special educational needs, it is about getting them through the junior certificate examinations and then they opt to take the applied leaving certificate programme. Does it serve them well? The programme has been in place a long time without being reviewed. If one takes the level 2 or level 1 programme, as suggested, can one progress to the applied leaving certificate programme or will it stop a student from progressing beyond third year?

Photo of Robbie GallagherRobbie Gallagher (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the delegates and thank them for their presence. I have found all of the contributions very informative but also quite disturbing, particularly those of the two principals. Some of the problems they highlighted are a sad indictment of the education sector, specifically those who have decisions to make and are tasked with looking after the education of children.

Dr. Anne Ryan talked about the co-teaching model. One problem I have is that I constantly hear about young teachers who receive training and then jump on an aeroplane to Dubai or wherever else. It must be very frustrating for Dr. Ryan and her colleagues, as well as for society, that we spend so much on the education of teachers only for them to move away. Why is that the case? What can we do to stem that awful waste of resources?

Ms Breda Corr talked about capitation grants and the need for them to be increased. She also talked about the lack of planning for pupils with special needs, particularly at second level. My heart goes out to the parents in the Visitors Gallery. I can only imagine how stressful it must be in trying to find a school that will take one's child to give him or her the best chance in life. It is very depressing and the matter needs to be addressed urgently.

The contributions of Ms Duggan and Ms Dempsey were very striking. Ms Dempsey talked about the lack of subject teachers and the many days on which she had no teachers. Do we need to incentivise teachers to move into that area? How could this be done?

The issue of support for Travellers was mentioned by Ms Nic Craith. It is one that definitely needs attention.

I will finish by putting Dr. Áine Hyland completely on the spot because of her experience across a wide range of sectors. If she was sitting in the Minister's seat, what measures would she introduce that would require some investment and what measures would she introduce that would not require investment but which would have an immediate effect?

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Senator. I will add a few comments. The delegates can certainly take the opportunity to answer, but, if they wish, they may also take some time to reflect and look for more information and provide us with a written answer at a future stage. The clerk and I will ensure any follow-up information is circulated to committee members. I thank everybody for the incredible debate we have had.

My first comment is to Dr. Anne Ryan. On the hugely iimportant issue of teacher training in Marino, if there is over-subscription, is there a selection process and, if so, what criteria are used? How long is the assessment period for each student teacher? I think Dr. Ryan mentioned that there was a two-week placement for student teachers. Is that period sufficient? I know from teaching and teaching practice that two weeks are really not enough to gauge all of the challenges within the system.

In respect of students who complete courses covering both mainstream and special education, is there a sense that they benefit more from focusing on both together rather than working in just one? It is important to recognise the challenge involved in promoting inclusive education. Does Dr. Ryan see something in that regard?

Does Ms Corr from NABMESE have proposals for more recognised training programmes at level 7 for SNAs who play an important role? Does she have a view on the opening up of courses available to teachers to accommodate SNAs and other staff?

We are talking about whole-staff initiatives. It is important that we recognise the role that all staff play in the success of schools and that includes caretakers, secretaries and SNAs. One must ensure that they are kept in the loop.

As Ms Dempsey mentioned, training in crisis intervention must be given. We must consider providing the appropriate funding for such an initiative. It should be possible to link training to SOLAS or the other training and apprenticeship programmes. Unfortunately, money is always an issue.

Dr. Nic Craith mentioned regional support services. Who is responsible for providing support services? I am interested in hearing the thoughts of the witnesses on the matter and on the proposal to provide in-school models of mental health support. Mental health services are very important. Who would manage the scheme? How would it be funded? Would the service be provided on a full-time or part-time basis?

In 2005, professional development support was provided in the DEIS plan. Can the witnesses recommend ways to improve professional development? Can the scheme be improved?

I thank Ms Duggan and Ms Dempsey for outlining the realities of dealing with students and teachers. They highlighted the difficult challenges experienced by many teachers. Without a shadow of a doubt, they have identified the need for extra nursing and clinical supports and additional resources in order to ensure that children and, indeed, staff embrace the idea of inclusion. Scoil Na Naomh Uilig is inclusive but St. Anne's school is not inclusive. The witnesses outlined in stark detail the challenging behaviours that teachers encounter at the latter school. I know because I visited the school recently. On that occasion, I had a long conversation with the teachers about the situation, including the need for extra supports to be provided to them.

It is wonderful that junior cycle level 1 has been introduced at St. Anne's. We should consider introducing junior cycle level 1 in mainstream schools as opposed to just special school. Such an initiative would encourage inclusivity. It would also afford an opportunity for students with special needs who have gone to a mainstream primary school to continue their education in a post-primary setting.

People have called for funding to be increased to fund the adaptation of school buildings in order that children with special needs can be accommodated. Should we consider more specialised centres or schools rather than altering classrooms? Adapting school accommodation would not be the most cost-effective way to do things.

The NCSE has made recommendations and a number of them have yet to be adopted. Can Ms Griffin tell us which recommendation or recommendations need to be addressed as a matter of urgency? She said that early contact with the home has proven beneficial and I ask her to elaborate. I have discussed the matter with parents and I have a brother with special needs. As a result, I sometimes feel there is not enough societal early intervention by the relevant services and agencies. Early intervention is hugely important.

The review of the SNA scheme was mentioned. When will it be concluded? I am sure the committee would like to get a copy of the review and examine its findings.

Professor Hyland was a visionary lecturer in Carysfort College. It is obvious that she has not lost her passion for education. I want to discuss how we can change and provide support to young people at risk for whatever reason, be it behavioural or people with special needs who are at risk of not getting the best possible education. I am interested in the final report of the educational disadvantage committee that she chaired. How many of the recommendations have been implemented? Will she please comment on the recommendations that have not been implemented? I suggest that she do so in writing. Interestingly, Dr. Hyland noted the number of children, particularly boys, that have been expelled because their schools did not have adequate resources. I ask Dr. Hyland to comment on the matter.

We could spend all night debating these matters but I shall return to the panel. I ask witnesses to indicate their wish to speak.

Dr. Gene Mehigan:

I shall respond to the questions asked by Deputies Nolan and Catherine Martin. Co-teaching is an interesting idea. Deputy Catherine Martin said that for many years the classroom has been the domain of the class teacher and some teachers would have found the arrival of an SNA challenging. That situation has changed somewhat with the advent of SNAs, resource teachers and co-operative parents in the classrooms.

In response to the question of training, we have thought about how best to approach the matter. One of the blockages is the notion of two teachers standing up and becoming a double act like Mutt and Jeff. That is not what we envisioned originally. We want a gradual release of responsibility to selected teachers in the same school. One might have different levels of teachers. For example, one might teach while the other observes or assists. One could have parallel teaching where the teachers divide the class in two. One could have alternative teaching, which is like station teaching but with different models of teaching. Ultimately, one would work towards two teachers co-teaching in the classroom.

The question on co-teaching is relevant to us because we have thought about the challenges. Let us say there are two teachers in the same school and one is a special teacher while the other is a classroom teacher. We envisage that our own students, during their initial pre-service teacher education period, would work on the scenario. That is the model that we envisage for such teacher training.

Dr. Anne Ryan:

Co-teaching is a model of choice. It is the choice of the teachers involved to engage in the scheme. Neither the principal nor anyone else imposes the model. We visited a school in Finland and saw how teachers opted to join the scheme. The special education teachers that we saw in Finland had worked in special education settings but found the system did not work for them and, more importantly, did not work for the children. As a result, they decided to do something about the problem and a scheme was developed from the ground upwards. We envisage a scheme that is run on an invitation only basis or, to put it simply, people who envisage the system working for them would be invited to participate. Personality, teaching style, curriculum, subject and a variety of different variables would be at work.

As Dr. Mehigan mentioned, training would involve an introduction to a variety of different models. I agree with him that there are many ways to co-teach. We are familiar with at least six established models. I recently spoke about this topic at the conference on special education for teachers that took place in Marino, Dublin. A very interested principal teacher seated in the audience asked the very same question but called for training. We do not want ad hoc training but a concerted approach.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Dr. Ryan for her comments.

Ms Breda Corr:

I shall answer the questions that were addressed to me. I shall also answer the question on educational psychological reports even though it was not specifically addressed to me. In terms of the cost, diagnosis and difference in provision, the National Educational Psychological Service should have more staff in order to ensure there is a similar provision everywhere and perhaps additional provision elsewhere. We definitely need more psychologists.

The second question was no addressed to me specifically. Deputy Nolan talked about access to therapies. We suggested in our submission that the therapies would be provided on a school cluster basis. Unfortunately, I am not so sure there are enough therapists of that nature in the country and there is probably a little training needs to be done.

Capitation was addressed by both. It is hard for me to suggest a limit but there are a couple of points that I would make. The capitation was €100 more per pupil when I started in this job in 2009 and that is a big difference. Say it was approximately €900. Roughly, it is within that range. I mentioned a training fund. The capitation is all right for heat, light etc., but I mentioned the cost of insurance. We need to encourage schools to get involved in more procurement. We need to make it easier for them which we are trying to do.

Linking it to school outcomes is very difficult. I do not know what the acceptable rate would be but it is an exercise that could be done. We did an exercise a number of years ago on linking it to the numbers. We undertook a comparison between mainstream and special schools and it was hard to come up with a figure. However, some examination could be done. On the previous occasion I was here I mentioned that it might be something that the financial services support unit, when it comes into being, might investigate. It might be a good idea. Perhaps it is a job for them in the future because they will have an idea of the costings.

The following was addressed to Ms Pauline Dempsey. We are very aware of the shocking high level of injuries. That is a question that I would get on a daily basis. As for the immediate measures, the Chairman talked about the training. We are trying to work with the Office of Government Procurement and the schools procurement agency to look at this issue of that map of training which is prevention. A teacher is trained, for example, in Pauline's school, and if he or she leaves that school then he or she has to train again. There are significant costs involved. We are looking at doing that in a different way. I am not sure how that can be addressed, but we are looking at it and the cost of insurance.

There are a lot of issues with regard to the capitation. Suffice it to say the reduction of €100 in that time makes a big difference.

An issue Deputy Catherine Martin addressed was the guidelines for the short school day. Unfortunately, there are no guidelines. We got legal advice on that. Really, it is very sticky because it is technically a suspension. Much of the time they do it with the agreement of the parents and they will not take a section 29 appeal in that regard. There is a little bit of that. I do not like that shortened school day. Often it is the only thing - related, usually, to behaviour - and there is no choice.

On the level 2 training, the National Association of Boards of Management in Special Education, NABMSE, as an organisation was involved in the level 2 training and launched it at conference a long time ago. It is one of the better pieces. It was a good investment for us, with the NCCA, at the time and a number of people were represented on the level 2 committee.

On the training itself, the strike did us a favour in special schools, I am sorry to say. I never raised this issue with anyone I knew in the other unions. In fact, all the teachers in special schools are in the INTO and they were not prevented from doing the training. We got a year of that training concentration which was marvellous. It does not happen too often. We were delighted to be involved. That is why we pushed the level 2 as well.

The level 2 training is probably prevalent enough in the schools whose staff are in one particular union - I will not mention which union here. There is some ongoing training. I am located in the Kildare Education Centre where a lot of the junior certificate training team come and I get regular informal updates. It is great to have that there. However, there are some mainstream schools that have the level 2 training in the school. They just introduce it as another element and it is not called level 2, but I think it is.

The training is very good. They have these so-called "critical friends" days to which people are invited where one looks at the training and can state, "No, that will not work." They are proactive with the training.

There is something I mentioned earlier that I would like to see. Some of the schools are trying to do level 2 training but they do not have enough specialist teacher hours, the post-primary teacher hours. I would like to see something being done with that, even in conjunction with the ETBs. The Department has not allocated any extra hours for a number of years but we would like to look at that.

Senator Gallagher mentioned the lack of planning at second level. I mentioned that. It would be a problem, to be honest with the Senator, in most parts of the country, where there is very little provision for post primary. I should have looked at the Monaghan matter if I knew the Senator had. One has all these units - I hate that word "units", the definition of which I was asked at one stage here - or classes in primary but one does not have the corresponding number of classes at post primary. That is difficult. There needs to be more incentives given to encourage post-primary schools to set up such classes. As I stated previously, they need a little more than merely being compelled. There was mention of getting the resources straightaway and getting teachers with experience, not those deployed. There is a need for incentives and more long-term planning in the Department.

As to more recognised training for special needs assistants, SNAs, there is a recognised training scheme. There used to be four training schemes that were funded by the Department and recognised through the various third-level colleges. The only one left, which is not funded by the Department, is in St. Angela's in Sligo and it is oversubscribed. There is a cost involved. The schemes need to be reintroduced and there needs to be standard training. Here I will plug our own training for bus escorts. Ms Duggan mentioned it. The Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, a former member of this committee, was the junior Minister when we ran a pilot scheme in Galway in 2013. We had an independent assessment done on that by Dr. Emer Ring in Mary Immaculate College and it was very positive. We chose Galway because there were different aspects, such as rural schools and the only special school as Gaeilge in the country. That actually worked well. We are talking to the Department again. It is proposed that St. Angela's may run with it this year but we would like to have recognition by the Department. We are engaging with them on that basis.

That is probably my lot unless anyone has any questions.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Ms Corr. That is fine. It is interesting Ms Corr mentions capitation. A number of members have. We will deal with that at one level tomorrow when we look at the legislation because it is being recommended that schools do not have any enrolment fee. We would certainly agree with that but it essentially would mean that capitation should go up 30% because schools cannot be left with the burden of those bills.

Ms Breda Corr:

For a small special school or a smallish school, especially schools in areas of economic disadvantage, there is not a fund-raising capacity. There are not the parent numbers. What should they do? Then one must try and roll out all these programmes to help the children. It is needed now. Thirty per cent is a lot.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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It is a big issue for small schools.

Ms Breda Corr:

It is a big issue across all schools.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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It is also a big issue for large schools. I only discovered recently in my own constituency that schools of over 500 pupils are not getting a capitation fee for any child over the 500. There was one school in Kilcullen with 660 pupils but it is not getting a capitation fee for the extra 160 pupils. It is not as if that amount of money is going to help support a smaller school. There is an inequity.

Ms Breda Corr:

It is the ancillary grant, but it is based on pupil attendance. Above 500 pupils, it is nothing. It is ridiculous.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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I will let Ms Dempsey in next.

Ms Pauline Dempsey:

I described our school as successful but struggling. I would like to focus for a moment on success in respect of injuries to staff. There is a high level of competence in dealing with challenging behaviour. Sometimes I think we take it to extremes and we deal with it for far too long. As for the network disability teams, we find that by the time we call them in to look for support, they often do not have suggestions; we have tried everything. There is a definite need for a behavioural analyst. We have found that to have worked in the past and it has been very successful. There need to be more such analysts in the network disability teams because anything a psychologist can tell us we already know and if we are calling a psychologist in, we are facing serious problems. We also believe in trying to keep as many children as possible in school. Sometime that costs and sometimes there are injuries. On occasion, we have reduced the day with a view to increasing it incrementally as behaviours are reduced, if we get that support.

It is a big thing but training is not the answer. We have looked at management of actual and potential aggression, MAPA, and have trained in it. By the time it gets to the stage we are at, one is talking about restrictive practices. When one is talking about reasonable force, most staff will back away and say that reasonable force is not a consideration in this. MAPA is a very grey area. We as a school go through strategies where one diverts and distracts and does all the nice things but we are not at all comfortable when it comes to restrictive practices and we tend not to do it which is also why there may be injuries. The network disability teams are crucial in this and they do not seem to have the level of expertise that we require in our school.

On the incentive for teachers, I can only look to my own experience. The reason I became passionate about special education was because I was exposed to it at quite a significant level in my initial teacher training. I did not realise that such a system existed and I found it wonderful and delightful and it was all I ever wanted to do. That is what has driven the passion of some of the teachers in our school who chose to go down that road. I know teachers on placement with us enjoy it. They have often substituted for us and we had two last year, who are two of the substitutes we listed, but it is not sustainable. I cannot offer any more suggestions.

The level 1 and level 2 learning programmes have been the most dynamic thing that has hit education. I cannot say that strongly enough and I was on the level 1 steering committee. I got the sense it was being considered a special schools programme and I argued quite positively about how it is a post-primary programme and therefore technically, it should be offered by post-primary teachers. We are in a very fortunate position where we were able to employ post-primary trained teachers even though we are a national school. They are the ones who offer our junior cycle. It is very dynamic and in the best-case scenario, they may go out to mainstream post-primary schools with that knowledge and perhaps will manage to effect better inclusion. It sounds as though I am trying to talk our own school out of a job but I know what high levels of expertise there are. We have four post-primary trained teachers. We have a very distinct separation. Even though we are a national school, we do eight years primary curriculum and five years post-primary. The post-primary teachers are the ones who offer our level 1 and level 2 learning programmes. Sadly, on my level 1 steering committee days, there was a suggestion that anyone can teach level 1. I know for a fact that all good teachers would be able to teach level 1 but I think it is discriminatory at a different level. It is a post-primary curriculum and should be offered by post-primary trained teachers. That opens massive floodgates for how special schools are defined. This is why the definition of what a special school should be is vital. There are special schools in Ireland today which offer nothing but the primary curriculum and that could go on for 14 years. That is not acceptable.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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Dr. Nic Craith wishes to come in.

Dr. Deirbhile Nic Craith:

I will respond to a couple of issues that were raised although some others related more to the post-primary educational system and I am not qualified to respond to those. The transition between primary and post-primary schools is a key area. It was particularly evident where there are children who do not have a strong tradition of continuing and pursuing education. There are some excellent projects on the ground but what we need is more co-ordination at national level. Work is being done in that area at the policy level to support schools with the transition.

Regarding the workload of educational welfare officers, schools have experienced a lack of personnel during the recession. When people retired, left or were on maternity leave, they were not replaced. That left gaps in the system. That probably created a workload for other educational welfare officers but it also created a gap from a schools perspective of not having someone in the area. That also applied to some of the other professional services on which schools rely such as NEPS, where there were no psychologists in an area or whether they were on maternity leave or long-term absence and were not replaced. That is a system issue that needs to be addressed in respect of how we continue with supports services that are required by schools for their pupils.

We have been waiting for some time for guidelines or a revised circular from the Department of Education and Skills on the whole area of the exemption from Irish. There is need for new up-to-date guidelines which reflect the current educational context in schools. That is another lacuna in our system that needs to be looked at.

Teacher absences is a great issue. The system issue is one of how we provide substitute teachers for teacher absences. The INTO supports the idea of returning to the supply panels approach in which one has a cohort of teachers available for substitute cover and that should also apply to the special schools. There should be teachers available for the regular substitute cover to fill in for teacher absences.

The inclusion support services, as I called it, has huge potential to be an excellent support service for schools, teachers and pupils. It is only just emerging. It has brought together three existing services and there are many issues to be resolved regarding how to capitalise on the advantage those three support services had, how they are brought together, continuing with the support but also having additional expert specialist teachers coming into the support services, particularly in the area of autism where there has been a gap and where teachers require additional support. There is potential there.

Another issue which must be dealt with at a system level is how to provide what we call the health or therapy related services for schools. The current system lacks consistency in that it varies depending on which part of the country someone lives in and what they can access. There have been pilot projects which worked very well, such as a pilot project in Tallaght on a school-based speech and language therapy service. The difficulty is they are often funded by philanthropic funding that may only be available for a short term but to sustain funding, it needs to come under the wing of the Department of Education and Skills or perhaps the NCSE might have a role in the future provision of the therapy services. From a schools perspective it is important that they are available when the children need them. At present, there are huge gaps and inconsistencies in those support services.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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Does anyone else wish to comment?

Ms Teresa Griffin:

I will work my way through some of the issues raised and will finish with my wish list. I may then ask Ms Hickey to talk about some of the matters relating to teacher training.

Senator Ruane raised the issue of disadvantage. There is a whole overlap between special needs and disadvantage. It was one reason for insisting that under the new model, which is allocating 13,000 additional teachers, the social context of the school would be a big determinant part of that because some of the issues are broadly very similar, in particular, the question of a child having a diagnosis or coming from a socio-economically disadvantaged background. There is a lot of research evidence that teacher expectation and parental expectation of what that child is capable of achieving automatically goes down. It is a very destructive thing. We are trying to move away from the whole issue of diagnosis and we also need to do something in respect of disadvantage.

The issue of lack of money and being unable to access a diagnosis was one of the motivations for changing the way that we allocate special education teachers in order that it is not linked to disability because for so many people, it is not simply a matter of funding.

It was driving people who had children who were not developing in line with normal goals and milestones to get a particular diagnosis so they could get additional resources, which was very destructive. There is now a recognition in the education system of disadvantage with a view to changing how these children are supported. Boston was mentioned. I visited a preschool there for children with autism. It is an integrated preschool. One of the big benefits was for children who do not have special educational needs and children who came from disadvantaged areas. Children are incredibly adaptable. What they found was that for children who were developing typically, their communications skills improved hugely because as normal communication was not working they had to come up with a way of communicating with a child who does not communicate back. When they were leaving the preschool their communications and interactive skills had developed hugely. It is hugely beneficial for children who had a disability and children who did not have a disability.

In regard to the workload of education welfare officers, I regret I cannot be helpful in that regard. In regard to resource teaching hours, members might recall that at a previous meeting we outlined that when we were doing our report in 2013 we found that primary resource teaching hours were being used by principals as timetable fillers, which is not their intended purpose. One person could be really good but another might not have any idea of a child's needs, especially at post-primary level. It is a really difficult area.

In regard to junior certificate level 1 and level 2, it is very important that these programmes would be rolled out in mainstream post-primary schools because this benefits all children. It is fantastic development. In regard to students not doing Irish, I am concerned that so many children are being relieved of the task of learning Irish or, more important, deprived of the opportunity of learning Irish. The new model provides huge opportunities for schools to be more innovative in how they use hours to support children who might have reduced timetables for various reasons and not simply because they are not doing Irish.

In regard to access to speech and language therapy, and occupational therapy, this is a major issue. I have noted with interest that the national behaviour support service, which currently only operates at post-primary level, has contracted in speech and language therapists and occupational therapists because it considers it so fundamental to improving the educational outcomes for students who have behavioural issues in post-primary. I am looking forward to learning more about it as a model.

In regard to co-teaching and how it works, co-teaching is part of the programme that is now available for continuing professional development, CPD. CPD is available through dedicated CPD courses, online e-learning and in-school support. Co-teaching will form part of the supports to schools around the roll-out of the new teacher model. We believe it is a big part of the solution. Everybody must be aware that teachers need to buy into it. People cannot be forced to work together. If we try to do that it could backfire. Teachers generally do buy in to initiatives that are working.

In regard to what are the most important recommendations that have not been implemented, the Department has been incredibly open and embracing of the recommendations we have made thus far in regard to roll-out of the new model. That will be in place from next year. In regard to the early intervention scheme that embraces preschool children, we identified a huge gap in the system in that children who had disabilities were being excluded from the ECCE schemes and mainstream preschools. The Department of Children and Youth Affairs took that on board and has now developed an access and inclusion model. We also made a recommendation on the schools admission scheme will I understand will be discussed tomorrow by the committee. It is important that schools are not allowed to put up soft barriers that prevent children accessing a special class placement or a mainstream class. Schools exist to provide an education for all children in their communities. We are very strong on that point and we are very grateful that the Department has taken on the admissions to school issue.

In terms of the priorities going forward, mindful that eaten bread is soon forgotten, the main issue is teacher education because the quality of teaching is important, especially around the area of challenging behaviour. We have made a recommendation that in every school there should be one teacher who is skilled in the area of the management of challenging behaviour but all teachers need additional CPD around child behaviour. In regard to the availability of clinical supports, children are only children once and if they need speech and language therapy, occupational therapy or physiotherapy they should not be left waiting for it. We believe that the expansion of NEPS is very important. There are a small number of children who have life threatening and complex needs who ten or 15 years ago would never have attended school. In fact, they would not have survived. We need to look at what are the right supports for these children in special schools. I am speaking in this regard about children who have had tracheotomies and other life-threatening conditions. We need to identify the rights supports to ensure their safety within the school environment. That is crucial.

In our 2013 paper we made a recommendation around the need for a new model of special school. Special schools are changing. They are now catering for children who have much more complex needs and equally children who are capable of doing the junior certificate and leaving examinations and therefore they need different rules and so on in that regard. We recommended in our challenging behaviour policy advice that for the tiny number of children whose behaviour is such that they need very intensive supports, we need to develop a model that supports them in the short term. I could go on forever but I will leave it at that.

Ms Madeline Hickey:

In regard to co-teaching, training is available to teachers. There is an online course, whole-staff training and training in education centres. The new teacher allocation model provides us with a great opportunity to look at the different models of support for schools and to work with teachers to ensure provision of a model that suits each child's needs, be that in-class support, small group support or one-to-one support. There are two circulars available in relation to the new model, Circular 13/17 and Circular 14/17. There are guidelines accompanying those circulars and there will be dedicated CPD for principals and staff in schools around the implementation of the new model and supporting children in schools.

In regard to the curriculum, I am encouraged by the developments around the level 1 and level 2 learning programmes and post-primary level and also the developments around the new primary curriculum. For the first time we now have dedicated CPD around the new primary curriculum for the special schools. I am pleased about that development.

On the question of whether a student at post-primary level doing level 1 can progress to LCA, that depends on the student and whether LCA is the appropriate programme for him or her. There is no reason he or she could not do so but, as I said, it would depend on whether the programme is appropriate.

With regard to CPD, there is very comprehensive collaboration between all of the services on the level 2 learning programmes, the junior cycle for schools programme, the Professional Development Service for Teachers, PDST, the Special Education Support Service, SESS, the National Behaviour Support Service, NBSS, and the new support service. I think it was mentioned that last year we provided more than 20,000 training days for teachers and in-school support to more than 1,200 schools. We are looking forward to continuing to enhance that provision going forward.

Ms Noreen Duggan:

We have benefited hugely from the support of the SESS through the years. We did the co-teaching module and use it a lot in schools. It works very well.

There are a few small issues. With regard to the initial teacher training, we have had people in observing in the special classes. It is worthwhile. However, we had a big argument about it last week. We have young teachers who do not have experience in the classroom, yet at times they are actually put into a special class when they come into a school even if they have only had the two weeks' training. They get involved with the teacher and all the rest, but it is a huge job. I believe it is a disservice to any young teacher to put them straight into a special class. Not only do they have to manage the children, but they also have to manage SNA staff. It can be very difficult and daunting for young teachers. However, there are young teachers who have done it and have done it so well.

We had a student teacher whose mother I knew well in our school. She was in and was very successful in her work. She was doing the learning support plus observation. However, she was in one of our classes and she said to her mother that she would hate to be doing teaching practice in our school because of the challenging behaviour that she experienced in mainstream classes, because she would definitely fail her teaching practice. That is what she observed.

As we were talking about the shortened day, I want to mention two children we have on a shortened day in our school at present. One child joined our school in October from another school because relationships had broken down completely with that school. The child has huge emotional behaviour issues. None of us has identified exactly where he is coming from but his parents are very co-operative and have worked very closely with us. When the honeymoon period ended, all hell broke loose. He has assaulted many members of staff and other children have been injured as well as a result of his actions. The child is totally caught up within himself and he is exhausted after one of these episodes.

We have to call in his parents when this happens. His father is doing night duty and his mother is a full-time student. Often, it involves a wait of an hour and a half. The child can do a lot of damage in that time. We tried to get him into a space in which he could either not hurt himself or others in that period. We then asked the father to stay with him in school because we thought it was very important that the child stay in school. The father has been trying his best, but when this happened two days in a row, he said that he could not continue to do it because he needed to get his sleep. We do not have the extra facilities. The child has not yet been assessed by a psychologist. We have no facilities for this child, so we are left with a shortened day. His mother and father now bring him to school in the morning and collect him one hour later. That is really sad, but we cannot answer the problem. I have been injured by him and so have many of the staff. That is one example.

Another example is two little children who joined our school last May. The are lovely children, both almost seven years of age. They immigrated to Ireland and do not have a word of English. They have never been in a school because in their country they do not start school until they are seven years old. In our school, it is not appropriate to put them into junior infants. Therefore, they joined a senior infants class with 29 children in it already. The little girl has been fabulous and has settled in just grand. She is able for it. They are twins. The little boy is totally not able for it. He has no English and we do not have Slovakian. We have tried to get some of his peers to translate for us. The other child finds it all too much. He is on a reduced day because he is not able for our classroom experience. We have one English as an additional language, EAL, teacher but we have probably 130 children with English as their second language. We cannot ignore those children. That is the reality. On the ground, we need more personnel and resources to answer those needs. I would love to have both of those children in school for a full day. However, that is just the reality.

We have great buy-in and our teachers work very hard to get things going and get things right. We do not put children on a shortened day lightly, but sometimes it is the only answer. That is a really emotional response, but I would not be truthful to the situation if I was not relating it. We have had children on reduced days and, bit by bit, the day has increased until they are doing a full day. We have had children in mainstream who totally did not cope. Eventually, we got a diagnosis for them and they moved into a special class. Now, at fifth or sixth class level, they are back in mainstream full-time, with the support of the special needs unit. It is so good when it works well, but we do need the resources. That is the big thing. Safety for children and for staff is a huge issue for us.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Ms Duggan. That is the experience on the ground. I will give the final word to Professor Áine Hyland.

Professor Áine Hyland:

I will be very quick. I was asked what I would do if I was the Minister. The first thing to remember is that the Minister and the Department have access to an enormous amount of money. Money is a great leverager. We know that it leverages change. Over the years, the various budgets the Department has had has given it much more power and authority to achieve change if it needs to. It is not acceptable that there are not special classes or special supports for children who receive very good support at primary level but, when they turn 12 or 13, have nowhere to go. The Department simply has to take action on that. That would be my number one priority at present. It is more than 100 years ago since places were available in schools for children who did not have difficulties. In fact, they would be prosecuted for not going to school. Here, we have children who want to go to school but cannot go. I feel very strongly about that issue. I am talking about 26 second level schools in Dublin 2, Dublin 4, Dublin 6, Dublin 6W and Dublin 8, where not a single one of them will agree to start a special class. I agree with the Chairman that it should be voluntary, there should be a lot of support for them and we should not be forcing them. However, if it comes to it, I am afraid we have to do it. That is my first point.

With regard to the financial side, I make the committee aware that there is €1.5 billion, as was pointed out, for special needs education. That has been a fantastic development in the past 20 years. That has all happened within a 20 to 25 year period. We make a lot of noise about DEIS. In its totality, including school completion and home-school community liaison, DEIS only has a budget of €125 million. That is one twelfth of what is available for special needs education. I am not comparing them, but I am just saying that there is a lot of sound and noise about DEIS as if there is a huge budget going to the 20% of schools it goes to. It is actually not a huge budget. It is quite a small amount of money. The point was made earlier on by a member of the committee that Ireland has a very low proportion of its overall budget going to education. I am sure that has come up at the committee on a number of occasions.

Senator Ruane's point about streaming in DEIS schools has been highlighted by the ESRI. It has highlighted that it is almost unique to DEIS schools now. I would simply withdraw money from the schools in the morning if they persist in streaming. They have had numerous circulars. Circulars can mean nothing or everything. If I were the Department, I would make it a condition of the funding that there is no streaming. Almost none of the non-DEIS schools stream now. However, we know that many of the DEIS schools are doing it. Ironically, exactly as the Senator said, they are discouraging students from doing higher level papers in the senior cycle. There are some DEIS schools in which no STEM subject is being offered at higher level. That is a huge insult to the pupils and the families in their area.

Photo of Lynn RuaneLynn Ruane (Independent)
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Just to add to that, they make those decisions based on a conversation with the student.

Professor Áine Hyland:

Not even the parents.

Photo of Lynn RuaneLynn Ruane (Independent)
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If students are coming home after dropping higher level on the day, there is no inclusion of the parents in actually making the decisions on LCA or on certain subjects.

Professor Áine Hyland:

It is totally unacceptable. With regard to the points we made earlier, from now on I would argue for starting where one is.

There are band 1 and band DEIS schools, which will be called something different under the new plan, but as extra money becomes available it should be focused on the pupils, wherever they are located. It should not matter if one does not have 20% or 40% of children from disadvantaged backgrounds. If there is X amount of money allocated to each pupil who requires additional support, it goes to the school. That is the way it is done in other countries. We are unique and we started with designated schools because there was not enough money to go around but now it has become like one of the ten commandments. One has to be a DEIS school or not be one but that was never the intention 15 or 20 years ago when it started.

I accept the point about school completion and Ms Duggan made a good point about the limited school day. Suspensions sometimes occur for those reasons but not 13,000 of them. Once a pupil is on the roll on 30 September, the school gets the capitation and everything else. If the pupil is gone by 5 November, the school still gets the grant. I would check this when a pupil is suspended. There is a very good inspectorate which checks these things. The schools with the highest suspension rates are those getting the most money under school completion. That is a total contradiction. One gets extra money to help children complete school but then suspends these children. We have to think about all these things.

I have brought in a summary of the recommendations of the disadvantage committee. I will send in a note to state which have been implemented and which have not.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Dr. Hyland. This has been a very lively discussion and incredibly informative. It has been inspirational and has shown us the reality on the ground, about what is and is not happening. I thank the witnesses Anne, Gene, Noreen, Pauline, Breda, Teresa, Madelaine, Áine and Deirbhile. I thank Éilis Dillon, chairperson of NABMSE, and Trevor and Deirdre from Marino Institute of Education. I also thank colleagues of mine who are parents who are concerned about places and opportunities for their own children, that is, Christine, Teresa, Claire, Ger, Sinead and Kevin.

We will now adjourn. Tomorrow, the select committee will deal with pre-legislative scrutiny relating to the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill.

The joint committee adjourned at 6.55 p.m. until 4 p.m. on Tuesday, 11 July 2017.