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 Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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There will be an opportunity to ask further questions. I will ask the witnesses a number of questions. I agree with Deputy O'Sullivan regarding the lack of dedicated post-primary schools to deal with this issue. In her submission, Ms Griffin said that research showed that when students were enrolled in special schools or classes, they rarely re-enrolled in mainstream education. I agree but I have found there are students who come through mainstream education and then there is no place for them and they have to return to a special school, which is wrong. I attended the 50th AGM of KARE last night which caters for young people with intellectual disability in Kildare and west Wicklow. It has two schools, St. Anne's and St. Marks. I spoke to Pauline Dempsey, who is the principal of St. Anne's, who presented to the committee previously on the challenges principals face dealing with these issues, particularly in Kildare where we have a growing population. She spoke about dealing with children who have come through mainstream primary education and do not have places at post-primary schools. There are 62 special classes in Kildare but there are only 18 at post-primary level. The conversation was about the fact they will have a new building because the present building is subsiding. There will be extra classrooms in it for the children coming from special classes in mainstream schools. There will be 18 teachers who will deal with post-primary subjects so why not try to develop a post-primary special school? It would be the first in the country but we could do it as a pilot scheme there. Children would take junior certificate subjects. It would be a great scheme to pilot. We would have a post-primary special school that would be an option for those coming from a mainstream school. The best option would be for students who have been in mainstream education to continue in mainstream education but that is proving to be a huge issue. I imagine it is the same in areas where there is high growth in population.

I agree with Deputy Martin on the whole-school evaluation. It should take on board the notion of inclusive education, which is important. Mr. Harris spoke about students continuing to experience soft barriers in accessing schools of their choice, which is also my experience. Will he elaborate further on those barriers?

How is the NCSE aware of emerging needs for special education classes or schools? Is it satisfied there are sufficient ASD class places to meet existing demand, particularly at post-primary level? In my experience in Kildare, it seems to be ad hoc.Twelve students were leaving Scoil na Naomh Uilig but nothing was in place for them. Luckily, something was put in place but protracted lobbying was required for that. We had the meeting in Tullamore with the Department. I raised the issue with the forward planning unit. I thank the Department for an excellent presentation but there was no sense of how it was planning for children with special needs, whether autism, Asperger's syndrome or any other special need. That was the missing piece of the jigsaw in terms of forward planning. It is something that needs to be implemented.

I agree with the recommendation of the joint managerial body that the Department should allocate a special needs co-ordinator to all post-primary schools with designated times for duties. It would enhance the school capacity. I am interested in the other stakeholders' views on how they think that would help.

Ms Griffin mentioned the working group comprising the NCSE and the Department which is considering school transport and how it should be centralised in the Department. We have an issue with the mobility allowance which for some of the older students is a problem in terms of placement. There was a commitment to resolve that but there is nothing on it at the moment.

The submissions refer to the problems we have at post-primary level for certain areas because private post-primary schools are not funded to cater for special needs. Could Ms Griffin explain how SENOs are challenging private schools? It is an important factor.

I acknowledge that the submissions refer to the fact there is an insufficient number of NEPS psychologists to support children to access the curriculum and the whole-school environment. I am interested in Ms Griffin's comment on the waiting system used by NEPS to allocate service times to schools and how it relates to the increases in numbers at primary and post-primary level.

Senator Ruane referred to the benefits of using the services of Middletown Centre for Autism. Only 17 children from the Republic of Ireland were enrolled in the programme by comparison with 66 from Northern Ireland so I am just not sure that stakeholders are aware of the programme. We need to consider that.

That is pretty much it. I will now hand over to the stakeholders. If there are further questions that members wish to put them, they may do so. The delegates should bear in mind what I said at the start, that is, that if there is anything else they feel they would like to send in by way of written submission afterwards, they should feel free to do so. There were a number of questions. I call on Mr. Harris first.