Thursday, 9 November 2017
Special Educational Needs Service Provision
I thank the Cathaoirleach for selecting this Commencement matter. I am delighted the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills with responsibility for special educational needs, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, has come to the House to deal with this motion because often when we table Commencement notices, it is not possible for the Ministers with specific responsibility to come to the House to deal with them. It is a testament to the importance of this issue that the Minister of State is here today.
As a former school principal and teacher for many years she will be aware that this and previous Governments have invested substantially in providing supports for people with disabilities to attend mainstream secondary school. When I was in secondary school in the mid-1980s a visiting teacher came to me twice a year. There were no resource teachers or special needs assistants. I went to an integrated school and had to make do with what was there and do my very best. As they do today, teachers then went the extra mile to ensure that as much equality as possible was achieved. We have moved on, thankfully, and have achieved quite a lot. There is, however, frequent criticism of the amount of resources pumped into equality and disability services to ensure people with disabilities have adequate resources. The reality is there will never be enough but we have come a long way as a country since the mid-1980s. It is a credit to all successive Ministers for education that in spite of the difficult economic environment in which we found ourselves, we were able to keep a reasonable service and there are 10,000 or 11,000 special needs assistants and resource teachers in schools now.
While we provide many resources, young people sometimes may need extra resources in first and second year. As they become more accustomed to school, however, and create their own ways to overcome difficulty, as equipment is provided and so forth, they may not require as many hours as they did when they started secondary school. Sometimes a student may have hours they may not need. They could be channelled in a different way. A report in 2014 suggested an alternative model. The Government is committed to introducing that model in September 2018 or 2019 and the Minister of State will clarify that in her response today. It is only right and fair that schools should be told when and how it will happen and what the methodology and mechanics will be for assessing the need and providing the resources.Many teachers, principals and school administrators are happy that the report will be implemented and that there will be a new way of thinking in the allocation and provision of special needs assistants and resource hours and so forth. However, the time has come for schools to be told when, where, how and what the mechanisms will be in order that they can plan their budgets, human resources, academic calendars and approach. It is rather difficult to deal in a vacuum not knowing any of this information. I look forward to hearing the response of the Minister of State.
I thank the Senator for being a voice in the Seanad during the years for children with special educational needs. I congratulate him on his Darkness into Light event which was held recently. The purpose was to highlight the issues encountered by people who had problems with their vision.
I am the Minister of State with responsibility for the higher education sector, but I am delighted to take this Commencement matter. The Government is committed to ensuring all children with special educational needs can have access to an education appropriate to their needs. Under the new resource teacher allocation model which was introduced in the current school year, the allocation of additional special education teachers is based on each school's educational profile. The profile captures the school's overall requirement for additional teaching supports without the need to individually identify each student with special educational needs. One important element of the school's educational profile is the number of students with complex needs enrolled.
In its 2014 report, Delivery for Students with Special Educational Needs, the National Council for Special Education advised that students with complex needs were those who required additional teaching support because they needed highly individualised and differentiated learning programmes significantly different from those of their peers. The new allocation model commenced in September 2017. Following consultation with education partners and stakeholders, the NCSE’s low incidence allocations which had been made for each school during the preceding 2016-17 school year were used to establish the complex needs component of the profile for each school. This meant that on the introduction of the new allocation model and until allocations were reviewed, no school received an allocation for the support of pupils with complex needs that was less than the allocation it had received to support pupils with low incidence special educational needs during the 2016-17 school year.
In using the low incidence data from the NCSE to ensure children with complex needs were captured in the profiles of all schools, I am satisfied that no school has been disadvantaged by the allocation process. The Department of Education and Skills' Circulars 0013/2017 and 0014/2017 set out details of how the complex needs category of the profile was developed based on the existing low incidence allocations. They indicate that for the next re-profiling of the model, the complex needs category will take account of the existing low incidence allocations for schools less any leaver included in this category, plus additional allocations for any new complex needs category pupil in the period from when the first school profiles were developed to the point of the next re-profiling of the model.
A working group of officials, including officials of the Department, the NCSE, the National Educational Psychological Service and the HSE, continues to work to develop the complex needs component of the model. The work of the group is at an advanced stage. The working group will take account of the decision-making process and qualification criteria for the selection of children for access to HSE children disability network teams and how this information can be transferred from the HSE to the NCSE to inform future allocations following reviews. The working group will conclude its work on the identification of complex needs in advance of the review of allocations to schools which must be concluded by the end of 2018 in order that the allocations can be notified to schools in January 2019.
I thank the Minister of State for her kind words and comprehensive response. I would like the working group to conclude its work earlier than the end of 2018, if possible. We are still talking about a period of almost 14 months between now and the end of 2018. By the time schools are informed of their allocations it will be early 2019. Perhaps the Minister of State might have a word with the working group to see if it could conclude its deliberations sooner.