Tuesday, 7 July 2015
Is trua nach bhfuil an tAire Oideachais agus Scileanna anseo ach cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit ag an Roinn Ealaíon, Oidhreachta agus Gaeltachta, Deputy Joe McHugh. I tabled this matter to ask the Minister for Education and Skills to facilitate the continuation of restricted recognition for graduates in Montessori education, as currently permitted under regulation 3 of the Teaching Council Acts. This affects approximately 100 graduates per year between St. Nicholas Montessori College and Cork Institute of Technology. As the regulation has been in place since 2005, up to 1,000 of these graduates have level 8 degrees. Graduates with level 8 qualifications in Montessori education are currently afforded restricted recognition. They may be appointed to teaching positions in special education settings in primary schools and special schools. The numbers registering under this provision amount to 1% of annual registrants, or approximately 110 teachers.
If the proposed removal of regulation 3 is allowed they will not be able to secure any form of recognition from the Teaching Council because in the absence of a Teaching Council registration number, a graduate with a four-year, level 8 degree cannot be appointed to a primary school or a special school. These graduates are in the Minister of State's county of Donegal as well as my county of Galway. The Department of Education and Skills will not pay any person in a teaching capacity who does not have a Teaching Council registration number. I understand the Teaching Council is advising the Minister to sign an order that will withdraw registration for these Montessori teaching graduates.If the proposed removal of regulation 3 is allowed, the only current role within the education setting available to level 8 graduates would then be as special needs assistants. There is a big difference between being a teacher and being a special needs assistant in a special school. As the Minister of State knows that is in a particular care setting. The opportunity for Montessori graduates to practise the pedagogical foundations acquired under the four years of higher education could not then be exercised. It is an appalling vista for people who have invested in a four-year degree. Furthermore, it is a downgrading of early years education and the Minister should not do this.
Graduates and providers of level 8 Montessori programmes are seeking the retention of the existing registration process. In other words they want it left alone. The Montessori pedagogy is recognised as having a unique role in assisting children with special needs. The 141 special schools would bear the brunt of this decision if it proceeds, which is fairly serious. The children would lose access to teaching resources, human resources with a set of skills designed to assist their personal and educational development.
I recently met a qualified second level teacher who has Teaching Council registration. However, it was her Montessori qualification that gave her an opportunity to get a particular role working with three children with extreme needs.
Research by Banks et al.in 2014 suggests that up to 25% of children in the educational system have special educational needs. While the spectrum of the resources to address their needs will vary, statistics available from the NCSE and the Department of Education and Skills confirm that over recent years the allocation of resources has increased by an average of 6.5% annually. Importantly there has been no evidence that the low-entry requirement, which is often cited as a basis for differentiation for Montessori graduates, has impacted on the quality of the provision for pupils with special educational needs - if anything it has improved them.
The Minister has made a very strong commitment to the early years sector, which has been backed up by very positive action. Montessori graduates want to play their part in helping the Minister to realise her vision. However, if the Teaching Council proposal is allowed to proceed in its current format, it will send a message to those teachers and educators in early years settings that they are not part of the education profession. Rather than building on her initiative it will detract and demotivate the very persons we rely on for the continuum of education from birth to six years and into the special needs sector as well.
Knowing the Minister's commitment to early years education, the Minister should not be the Minister to sign off on this regulation. The required amendments allow for the implementation of Part 5 of the Teaching Council Acts 2001 to 2012 to proceed without abolishing the current provision under regulation 3. I accept the role of the Teaching Council inter aliais to provide advice and guidance to the Minister, but in this instance the Minister has the authority to reject this. I am asking the Minister of State to convey this concern to the Minister for Education and Skills so that the qualifications and standing of our Montessori teachers, who have restricted access and restricted recognition to teach in our primary schools in special education and the early years setting, are not affected.
Go raibh maith agat as an gcuireadh bheith anseo. Dúirt an Seanadóir Healy Eames go bhfuil brón uirthi nach bhfuil Aire sinsearach, an Teachta Jan O'Sullivan, i láthair. Ba mhaith liom a rá go bhfuil caidreamh maith idir mo Roinn agus an Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna i dtaobh an tumoideachais atá ar siúl idir an chéad agus an dara bliain. Tá comhairliúchán cuimsitheach ar siúl fosta.
Déanfaidh mé mo dhícheall scairt a chur agus an t-eolas a sheoladh chuig an Aire sinsearach inniu. Ba mhaith liom mo mhíle buíochas a ghabháil leis an Seanadóir arís.
I thank the Senator for raising this issue and I welcome the opportunity to address the Seanad on the topic. As the Senator may be aware, the Teaching Council is the independent statutory regulator for the teaching profession. The council sets standards for all elements of the continuum of teacher education including initial teacher education programmes, induction and continuous professional development.
The Teaching Council's regulations for the registration of teachers were first published in 2009 and set out the standards that teachers must meet if they wish to be registered members of the profession in Ireland.Regulation 3, covering special education needs and Montessori, was put in place in accordance with the relevant circulars issued by the Department prior to the council's establishment in 2006, whereby such teachers are eligible for employment in restricted school settings, that is, in certain categories of special schools and in certain classes in mainstream schools where Irish is not a curricular requirement.
The council has been engaged in a review of the regulations for some time, and has consulted with a number of stakeholders, including a provider of Montessori teacher education. The review has been necessitated by the extension and reconceptualisation of all programmes of initial teacher education. New regulations will also be necessary in light of the Bill to amend the Teaching Council Acts that is currently completing its passage through the Houses.
The developments are part of a significant programme of reform of teacher education in which the council has been engaged in recent years, informed in part by the Department's literacy and numeracy strategy of 2011. It is important to remember that the primary focus of the reform programme is to enhance the quality of teaching and learning experience for all children and young people. In any discussions we have about teaching and learning, including inclusive education, the learner must be the focus.
As the statutory professional standards body for teaching in Ireland, the Teaching Council is of the view that all teachers should be first and foremost qualified and registered as teachers in their given sector whether primary or post-primary, before they specialise in particular areas of teaching and learning. Special education needs, SEN, is now mandatory in all programmes of initial teacher education under the council's criteria and guidelines, so the landscape has evolved significantly since regulation 3 was put in place.
That said, the council itself acknowledges that no one phase of teachers' learning will be sufficient to address all the needs of the pupils they will teach throughout their careers. The very concepts of continuous professional development, CPD, and the draft national framework for teachers' learning, Cosán, bear that out. Specialist provision will continue to have its place in teachers' learning. Once teachers are fully qualified and registered, it is hoped they will continue to have a keen interest in finding quality programmes that will enable and empower them to adapt their practice to the needs of children in their care.
Recent changes in the teacher education landscape have been designed to ensure that inclusive education, incorporating the education of learners with special education needs, is given the appropriate professional space and time. In summary, the advice of the council that regulation 3 is no longer required has been accepted. I thank the Senator for raising this important matter.
I would be very disappointed if the Minister were to sign the regulation. I urge her not to do so. I accept that the Teaching Council is very busy. At times, I am in close contact with the Teaching Council and it has said it has no interest in early years graduates. It does not acknowledge the very specific pedagogy that Maria Montessori afforded us all, and that has informed teacher education formation for all. What impresses me about Montessori graduates is that they have very specific hands-on knowledge of how to work with children in special education needs settings. I was a teacher educator and I know how squashed the programmes are.
While I am pleased that special needs education is a part of all programmes, I do not believe any current teacher education programme has an adequate focus on special education and the range and complexity of needs facing teachers in the classroom. I urge the Minister to consider the matter again. I appreciate that it is not the Minister of State's brief. Thank you very much, a Chathaoirligh, for the time. Does the Minister of State agree with the two-tier approach that is emerging between the 1,000 graduates that have gone through the system that had restricted recognition afforded to them and the new students who are in the system who will not be given any? Another form of discrimination is emerging. Does the Minister of State agree with that?
Every teacher embraces that philosophy. Senator Healy Eames is a former teacher and I am a former secondary schoolteacher. I worked in St. Mark's in Tallaght in 1992 and in the Loreto school in Letterkenny in 1993. The situation has changed dramatically since then. The focus is more pupil-centred. I accept there are challenges, especially in terms of the experience of Montessori teachers and the valuable input they have.My job today is to take back the Senator's message to the Minister and I certainly will do that.