Written answers

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Department of Education and Skills

Special Educational Needs Staff

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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177. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills his views on whether a secondary school (details supplied) has sufficient special education supports for the intake of pupils for the 2020/21 school year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5720/20]

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal, Fine Gael)
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I wish to advise the Deputy that DES Circular 007/2019 for primary schools and 008/2019 for post primary schools set out the details of the model for allocating special education teachers to schools.

The Special Education Teaching allocation provides a single unified allocation for special educational support teaching needs to each school, based on each school’s educational profile.

Under the allocation model, schools have been provided with a total allocation for special education needs support based on their school profile.  

The provision of a profiled allocation is designed to give a fair allocation for each school which recognises that all schools need an allocation for special needs support, but which provides a graduated allocation which takes into account the level of need in each school.

Schools are frontloaded with resources, based on each school’s profile. The allocations to schools include provision to support all pupils in the schools, including where a child receives a diagnosis after the allocation is received by a school, or where there are newly enrolling pupils to the school.

Both my Department and the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) are committed to ensuring that all schools are treated equally and fairly in the manner in which their school profiles have been calculated.

Accordingly, a number of review processes have been put in place to support schools.

A process is in place to address circumstances where the school profile significantly changed following the allocation process e.g. a developing school where the net enrolment numbers significantly increased.

The criteria for qualification for mainstream school developing school posts are set out in the Primary and Post Primary School Staffing Schedule each year.

Schools who qualify for additional mainstream developing school posts in accordance with these criteria also qualify for additional Special Education Teaching Allocations to take account of this developing status.

The school referred to by the Deputy received an additional allocation for the 2019/20 school year to take account of the fact that the school had increased enrolments.

It is also acknowledged that there are some circumstances, which may arise in schools, which fall outside the allocations for developing school status.

These relate to exceptional or emergency circumstances which could not have been anticipated e.g. where the school profile changes very significantly, or where other exceptional circumstances have arisen in a school and which may require a review of schools capacity to provide additional teaching support for all pupils who need it in the school, or of their utilisation of their allocations.

A process is available where schools can seek a review of their allocations by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE), including the utilisation of their allocations, in circumstances where a school considers that very exceptional circumstances have arisen subsequent to the development of the profile.  

This school referred to in this question also made an application to the NCSE for a review of the schools allocation of special education teachers on the grounds of exceptional circumstances arising in the school.

The NCSE has completed the review of the school and has now made an additional allocation to the school.

This school currently has an allocation of 132 Special Education Teaching hours. This allocation equates to 6 full time Special Education Teaching posts in the school, which is in addition to the mainstream staffing allocation.

This is a very significant allocation for a school enrolment of 262 pupils (2019/20 school year) and includes the additional allocations which were made for developing enrolments and an for exceptional needs which was made following a review of the school.

The provision of 6 special education teachers creates a relativity of 1 special education teacher for every 43 pupils in the school, which is far greater than the national average allocation for schools.

Should the school enrolments continue to grow for September 2020, to the extent that the school achieves one or more developing mainstream posts, then a process is in place to further increase the special education teaching allocation for the school automatically and without recourse to a further exceptional needs review.

The allocations for all schools are also due to be updated in Spring 2021, for the 2021/22 school year based on updated school profile data.

I am satisfied that there are in place a number of processes which can review the special education teacher allocation for schools where necessary.

This Government is investing heavily in supporting our children with special educational needs, with €1.8bn being spent annually, about €1 in every 5 of the education budget.

There are currently over 13,500 special education teachers in schools, an increase of 37% since 2011.

There are therefore more special education teachers in schools now than we have ever had previously.

The very significant levels of additional provision we have made in recent years to provide additional Special Education Teachers means that all schools are resourced to provide for the special educational needs of children in their schools.

In relation to the establishment of special class places in the Cork area, the NCSE has responsibility for coordinating and advising on the education provision for children nationwide; has well established structures in place for engaging with schools and parents; and seeks to ensure that schools in an area can, between them, cater for all children who have been identified as needing special class placements. 

It is open to any school to make an application to the NCSE for the establishment of a specialised provision and where sanctioned, a range of supports, including capital funding, is made available to the school. 

The NCSE is planning a further expansion of special class and school places nationally to meet identified need for next year. This process is ongoing.

The NCSE's Local Special Education Needs Organisers (SENOs) are available to assist and advise both schools and the parents of children with special educational needs in relation to special class provision.

Schools who wish to open special classes should make an application to the NCSE to open such special classes. In considering these applications, however, the NSCE, in conjunction with the school buildings unit of my Department, will be required to take into account the capacity of a school to establish such a class, including the provision of sufficient accommodation space within the school. 

As the school referred to in this question is currently in temporary accommodation, a development plan for the school for future years will be required to address this issue. The school should therefore continue to engage with the NCSE in relation to this matter, and in the context of its capacity for ongoing development ,as the NSCE is currently considering the additional special class placements which will be required for the 2020/21 school year.

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