Dáil debates

Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Special Educational Needs

9:42 am

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin Bay North, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I am grateful to the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for allowing this matter to be taken. I congratulate the Minister of State on the progress that has been made on special education, which is truly transformative. We now have four times as many special classes and twice as many special needs assistants, SNAs. We have moved from individual models of assessment and expensive gateways to support to one that is much more of a whole-school approach.

The final game changer for me is the proposal developed by the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, of what is called the school inclusion model. That brings a range of therapeutic supports to an extended number of schools and preschools. It has been piloted very successfully. A pilot was adopted because at the time, there were constrained resources and it needed to be road-tested to ensure it was the best approach. I would strongly argue that this is far better than the previous health-based approach involving referral to the health system. It is accessible. There are no appointments and no risk of no-shows. It is a team approach, integrating the resource teacher or the special needs teacher and the SNA. It encourages learning and growth within the school as to how to adopt proper therapeutic approaches to supporting children who need it. For pupils, it is delivered in a familiar setting and addresses real constraints that teaching and SNA support alone cannot achieve.

We need to move swiftly and I would like to know about the evaluation. What are the criteria and outcomes of assessment? How long will it take? Will the NCSE be at the heart of that evaluation? What approach will be taken to extending to new areas? This is urgently needed and will help address what all of us know is a crisis in early intervention access because people will have access to therapeutic services within the familiar school-based system.


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