Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills

Advanced Skills Teachers and Special Classes in Mainstream Schools: Discussion

3:30 pm

Photo of Catherine MartinCatherine Martin (Dublin Rathdown, Green Party)
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I thank everyone for their presentations and for sharing their experience and knowledge of this area.

The Education (Admission to Schools) Bill, which just passed through the Dáil and is now before the Seanad, gives the Minister the power to compel the school to open a special class in a school through a process that is begun by the NCSE. That is slightly different from the calls that we heard when we were dealing with the Bill at committee, namely that the NCSE should have the power to compel. Do the witnesses have an opinion on the Minister's amendment? Do it adequately provide for this? The amendment also refers to insufficient capacity in an area. I never understood how that would be defined. Would it be one pupil or two, or ten? Does the amendment still give a school an opportunity to say "No"? How is that defined?

I have often raised management, leadership and learning, MLL, evaluations at this committee. Schools undergo two and a half days of MLL evaluation and then the inspectorate reports back to the staff on the Friday, for example. I am aware of a school which has many children with special education needs and that celebrates diversity in a good way, that the inspector asked the staff, almost as a criticism, if they had ever asked themselves why they have so many children with special educational needs. Apart from being a shameful comment, has it come to the witnesses' attention that these questions are being asked in schools that embrace diversity and are doing their best for children with special education needs? More important, is the question being asked of the school down the road, for example, as to why they do not have children with special educational needs? This might be something that we can push here but is this something of which the witnesses are aware? Can they link in with the inspectorate and ensure that if one question is asked of one school that the other question is asked of the other school?

We all know of the schools that cherry-pick and that do not provide for children with special education needs. Has any assessment been done of these schools? Do they also not provide for leaving certificate applied, LCA? Do they follow the league tables rather than the needs of children in their community? Is there a correlation between schools that do not provide the LCA and does not have many, if any, children with special educational needs and schools that provide the LCA and has many children with special educational needs? Is this something that the Department should look at? How can it be addressed?

I am curious about whole-school training. Has Ms Corr thought about what it would look like?

Mr. Harris said that teachers have been trained to deal with children and the different types of special educational needs that might present in the classroom and that they do a good job but classmates do not have an understanding. He referred to the attitude and judgment but it may arise because they have not been educated on it. I was delighted to read that AsIAm is providing workshops to students at second level in many schools. It is something that should be rolled out nationwide so it is not sporadic. Has thought been given to that? Is it something the Department might consider in order that every child is educated and that we can truly celebrate diversity because we understand how to celebrate it?