Wednesday, 13 January 2016
Department of Education and Skills
Special Educational Needs Service Provision
748. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills on behalf of a school (details supplied) in County Kerry, if the new model for allocating resource teachers to special education needs schools could affect the resources of other schools; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46505/15]
The Deputy will be aware that the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has a statutory role under the Education of Persons with Special Educational Needs Act to provide me with policy advice in relation to matters concerning the education of persons with special educational needs.
The NCSE published policy advice in 2013 which identified that the current model for allocating resource teachers to schools is potentially inequitable and recommended the development of a new allocation model.
In developing its policy advice the NCSE consulted widely with education partners, representatives from the school sector, parents, and disability representative bodies.
The NCSE recommended that a new model based on the profiled needs of each school, rather than on the diagnosed disability of individual children be developed. It is intended that this new model will reduce the inequities in the current system, and also ensure that we are not unnecessarily labelling children from a young age.
Although there was widespread support for the implementation of the new model, there was not time to address all of the issues in relation to the proposed new model in time to allow for it to be implemented this year.
I therefore established a pilot of the new model, which is currently underway in 47 schools, and which will run for the duration of the current school year.
The pilot will test the practical impacts of the new model prior to full implementation. It will also review the experiences of the schools who participated in the pilot, which will assist us further in developing the model.
I can also confirm that consultation will continue to take place with education partners and stakeholders prior to the implementation of any new model.
As the new model has yet to be completed it is not possible to predict the impact, if any, it will have on staffing levels in all schools including the school to which the deputy has referred.
I wish to advise the Deputy that some €1.37 billion will be spent in support of children with Special Educational Needs this year, which represents approximately 15% of my Department's budget.
This provides for a range of supports and services including additional learning and resource teaching support, Special Needs Assistant (SNA) support, special transport arrangements, building adaptations, enhanced capitation, funding for the purchase of specialised equipment, services of the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS), enhanced levels of capitation in Special schools and Special Classes and additional teacher training.
The policy of my Department is that children with special educational needs should be included where possible and appropriate in mainstream placements with additional supports provided. In circumstances where children with special educational need require more specialised interventions, special school or special class places are also available.
A range of supports have been provided for schools which have enrolled pupils with special educational needs in order to ensure that, wherever a child is enrolled, they will have access to an appropriate education.
We now have a higher level of Resource Teaching and SNA support than ever before.
In July last, I announced that an additional 610 Special Needs Assistant posts are being provided for this year. From September, there are 11,820 whole time equivalent SNA posts available in Primary, Post Primary and Special schools to support children with special educational needs with assessed care needs. This is the highest level of SNA allocation that we have ever had. In total there has been an increase of 11.7% in SNA posts available for allocation to schools since this Government came to office. These extra posts will ensure that the Government's policy of ensuring that every child who is assessed as needing SNA support will receive access to such support.
In addition, the NCSE has established over 150 new Special Classes in the 2015/16 school year, which means there are now over 1,000 special classes attached to mainstream schools catering for children with special educational needs.
I also announced provision for an additional 480 Resource Teachers, to take into account increased demand and demographic growth and to ensure that children can continue to have access to additional supports in school.
The Deputy will be aware that I have also established a pilot of a new model for allocating resource teachers to schools, which is currently underway in 47 schools with widespread support. The NCSE had recommended that a new model be developed based on the profiled needs of each school, rather than on the diagnosed disability of individual children. It is intended that this new model will reduce the inequities in the current system and also ensure that we are not unnecessarily labelling children from a young age.
The pilot, which will run for the duration of the current school year, will test the practical impacts of the new model prior to full implementation. It will also review the experiences of the schools who participated and assist us further in developing the model. Consultation will continue to take place with education partners and stakeholders prior to the implementation of any new model.
This Government's continued investment in education will ensure that children with special educational needs can continue to participate in education and be supported in a manner appropriate to their needs. We have been resolutely committed to protecting, and in some instances increasing, the level of investment being made to support children with special educational needs at a time when there has been a requirement to make expenditure reductions across a range of areas. It is an area of spending which has been prioritised above most other areas by this Government, despite the enormous pressures on all areas of public spending.
The Deputy will be aware that students with a special educational needs, including those with Down syndrome, have a range of options available to them in the higher and further education sectors. Some students choose to participate in educational programmes through further adult educational programmes or in adult settings.
While the Department of Health and Children/Health Service Executive assumes direct responsibility for young adults with special educational needs who are over 18 years, my Department may allocate funding towards an educational component of such provision.
This is generally transacted through the co-operation hours scheme operated by Education and Training Boards (ETBs) where the local service provider makes application to the relevant ETB for tuition hours. Funding is also provided to the National Learning Network for this purpose.
Young adults with disabilities are eligible to access Specialist Training Provision for persons with a disability organised through the ETB Sector who contract with Specialist Training Providers nationwide to deliver training to people with disabilities who require more intensive support than would be available in non-specialist training provision. A range of specialist courses is available at two levels of training, Introductory Skills Training (IST) and Skill Specific Training (SST) and includes in-centre, employer based and blended learning approaches to accommodate learners' training needs. These training courses lead to awards at levels 3-5 on the National Framework of Qualifications. Entry to specialist training is open to all persons with disabilities over 16 years of age.
Specialist training offers additional supports to learners, including individualised training and progression plans, literacy and numeracy support, longer training duration, adapted equipment, transport arrangements, enhanced programme content and lower trainer/learner ratio.
The Disability Access Route to Education (DARE) scheme also provides a third level admissions scheme for school leavers who have a disability or specific learning difficulty. Students who are considered to be DARE eligible may secure a college.
The main support for students with disabilities in higher and further education is provided by the Fund for Students with Disabilities, which is available to any full-time student in HE or FE with a verifiable disability.
In relation to higher education options for persons with intellectual disabilities, courses are provided for people with intellectual disabilities in the following higher education institutions: Trinity College Dublin, University College Cork, Mary Immaculate College, Limerick, St. Angela's College, Sligo, Dundalk Institute of Technology, Waterford Institute of Technology and Institute of Technology, Tralee. Course details are available on the websites of the relevant institutions.