Thursday, 12 May 2022
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Special Educational Needs
Last year, students with English as an additional language were specifically mentioned as a group in the pupil eligibility groups for the inclusion programmes. I do not understand why they have not been included in the guidelines in the same way this year. Eligibility has been changed since last year. If needs be, I can point out the differences.
The Minister and I were delighted to announce this year’s summer programme. It is anticipated that it will support up to 48,000 children with special educational needs and children at most risk of educational disadvantage. It is on the back of the supplementary programme and the Covid learning support scheme. We know that these children suffered significant regression during the pandemic so it is important that they get access to this programme. In 2021, the numbers availing of the summer programme increased by 60% from the previous year and we expect them to increase again this year.
It is not the case that English as an additional language for pupils has been dropped from the eligibility list for the primary inclusion programme. All students who are eligible for the programme last year will still be eligible this year. That includes migrant students who are availing of English as an additional language. The summer programme for all primary schools clearly states that it offers an opportunity for schools to address the needs of migrant students such as addressing English language skills and integration. This includes students who have recently arrived in Ireland from Ukraine. Some of those will be very interested in doing this programme and schools have expressed the wish to take in many Ukrainian students.
The inclusion programme is open to pupils who have complex needs, pupils who are at risk of educational disadvantage and pupils in mainstream education who are accessing the higher level of continuous support. That would include a small number of students with enduring needs that significantly affect their capacity to learn and function independently and to participate in education. The inclusion programme is also open to those students who require highly individualised and differentiated learning programmes that are significantly different from their peers.
I am glad the Minister of State mentioned the students from Ukraine seeking refuge here. When the summer programme was recently published in The Irish Times, following the Minister of State's announcement, the headline in the newspaper stated "'Summer school' plan to include thousands of Ukrainian students", but the reality is they were only being allocated the places left over after the other groups of students listed in the guidance document. Migrant students, including those recently arrived in Ireland from Ukraine, would only have an opportunity to take part in inclusion programmes or if schools themselves decide to prioritise this group, but the Department has not prioritised these students and to suggest otherwise is misleading. In fact, it has been taken down the pecking order from last year's programme to this year's programme. The Department has also failed to provide adequate time for school leaders to confirm they have enough teachers and SNAs available to run the school-based programme.
The summer programme is not about pitching one category against another and I know the Deputy is not saying it is, but it is important I say that for the record. This is not about the location of where children are or their backgrounds; this is about their levels of need. The schools have indicated they will be welcoming of Ukrainian and all migrant children and I accept their bona fides in that. The schools will be supported to include Ukrainian children in their programmes and they are focused on supporting the individual needs of those children. The flexibility at school level means schools can target those who they believe would most benefit from the intervention. On languages at primary level, the evidence would suggest that supporting migrant kids is best done through activity rather than through individual language classes. Post primary, more instruction can be given on language. I mention the English for speakers of other languages, ESOL, panels under the 16 education and training boards, ETBs, and they will help with that.
The Minister of State mentioned that schools will be supported. Will she specify for me how schools will be supported to ensure there are enough teachers or SNAs? How will that support manifest itself in real terms for schools that are already struggling to ensure they have enough teachers and SNAs to meet that need? Are all autistic children eligible for this year's summer programme and July provision?
They are. Children who have complex needs in mainstream education are eligible, as are special classes and schools. They are fully supported. First, is the funding of €40 million, which is important, and there is an extra week's pay for staff, so that represents double funding to incentivise them. There is also extra and enhanced funding for special schools and special classes above mainstream schools to get more of them involved. It is about €30 per pupil in a mainstream school, which comes to €60 per pupil for a special school or for special classes. Staff can now recruit final year students who are graduating this summer, undergraduates, and newly qualified teachers. Where a school has full capacity, a child can avail of a programme in another school once it has been agreed with all the people involved.