Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 5 March 2024

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills

Allocations of Special Education Teachers: Discussion

Photo of Pauline O'ReillyPauline O'Reilly (Green Party)
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I thank the witnesses for coming in. It is heartbreaking to hear that people are losing trust - "losing" is the wrong word – have lost trust throughout this process. I am thinking of siblings, where parents now have to make the difficult decision that they do not feel confident their child can go to a mainstream school with their siblings. That is heartbreaking.

Ms McDonagh made the point about this no child left behind model being followed elsewhere. It is not the model we want here. It is about meeting each individual person where they are and meeting those needs. That is what has been good about the education system. Reading through everything, that overemphasis on literacy and numeracy is to the detriment of our education system. I firmly believe that a school is a training ground for life and it is to set children up for life. As Dr. Brady said, the life expectancy for someone with Down’s syndrome is up to 60 now. We are not seeing an education system taking that into account and getting the best for everyone.

I canvass a lot and the number one issue that comes up across canvasses, whether rural or urban, is special needs provision not just in school but generally. We hear all the time about this massive investment with a quarter of the education budget is going into special needs. However, I know and every parent I speak to knows that outcomes do not match that. It is big for the witnesses to say exactly what needs to happen but it is clear that massive mistakes have been made by the Department of Education in this process. Usually I would say that once trust has broken down, it is impossible to rebuild it, but I think it is possible to rebuild it. We need to now see what the concrete steps are to rebuild that trust. Perhaps it is to change some of the decisions that have been made. We do not like the term “complex needs” but it has served a purpose up to this point to get the resources. Let us change the terminology but let us keep the underlying principle that it meets each of those children’s needs.

I ask the witnesses to expand on the following. A first meeting happened yesterday. What more now can happen to build that trust from this point on? That is my fundamental question.