Thursday, 7 February 2019
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Leas-Chathaoirleach is neither uninterested nor disinterested in what Senator Leyden has just said. No doubt he will give a very good account of himself in due course if the debate takes place. I pay tribute to local radio, including Radio Kerry, which does so much good work. It does cover issues in a way that mainstream Dublin-based media fail to do.
In a schoolroom setting, different children have different needs and our education system strives to tailor teaching to the needs of children as well as possible. I am chair of a school board of management in east Galway and I am aware of the issues that can arise. Children with Down's syndrome are loved and cherished by their families, school friends and teachers and they have particular needs that we have to ensure are addressed. Last week, Down Syndrome Ireland gave an interesting presentation to Oireachtas Members about educational resources for children with Down's syndrome. It provided detail on the latest research into new educational approaches which can allow Down's syndrome children to get the education they need within streamlined classrooms alongside their friends and peers. Down Syndrome Ireland and their friends are looking for the Government to adequately resource and roll out a national training programme for teachers in mainstream schools. They outlined a number of teaching approaches, including the use of specialised materials, varying the pace of lessons and learning, creating classroom groups according to the abilities of the various students and lessons that are differentiated based on the needs of the students involved.
The July provision scheme, operated by the Department of Education and Skills, provides for an extension of the school year for children with a severe or profound learning disability or autism, either in the school or in the home. We can all understand how an excessively long summer holiday can impact on the ability of children with particular needs to retain what they have learned but the vast majority of children with Down's syndrome do not qualify for the scheme at present. They all should qualify because that would allow them to have additional structure on their education and help them keep up with their friends and peers.
Individual education plans outline the specific learning goals to be achieved by a student with special needs and can be achieved through resourcing and teaching methods to create a better learning environment. According to Down Syndrome Ireland, the ASTI and the TUI have advised their members to stop providing these plans due to inadequate resourcing, which is a very worrying development. I ask the Leader to agree that these are issues which deserve support from this House and from Government and I ask him to facilitate an early debate on this very important area.