Written answers

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Department of Education and Skills

Disability Support Services

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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235. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills his views on a project by a person (details supplied) in relation to outcomes in respect of the deaf community and a proposal on the measures to help create a more integrated society. [6150/20]

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal, Fine Gael)
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Very significant levels of financial provision are made to ensure that all children with special educational needs, including children who are deaf/hard of hearing, can be provided with an education appropriate to their needs. 

My Department currently spends approximately €1.9 Billion - almost a fifth - of its annual educational and training budget  on making additional provision for children with special educational needs.

This represents an increase of over 50% in total expenditure since 2011, at which point €1.247 Billion per annum was provided.

Included in this provision is an extensive range of supports to assist students who are deaf or hard of hearing, which is referenced in the findings and recommendations contained in the politics and society research project of the 6th year student, referred to my the Deputy. 

In line with my Department's policy that children with special educational needs access appropriate education intervention in mainstream settings where possible, many deaf or hard of hearing pupils are integrated into mainstream classes at primary and post-primary level, while other children who are deaf or hard of hearing and have more complex needs may attend special schools or classes, which have lower pupil teacher ratios.

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) provides additional special educational needs teaching supports to mainstream schools, and provides for special class and special school placements and Special Needs Assistant (SNA) support to all schools.

In the 2019/20 school year, there are 1,618 special classes in mainstream schools, of which 17 are for students who are deaf. Three of these classes are new classes, opened in September 2019.

Of the 124 special schools nationally, there are two special schools for the deaf.

The NCSE’s Support Service includes Visiting Teachers, who are qualified teachers with particular skills and knowledge of the development and education of children with varying degrees of hearing loss and/or visual impairment. They offer longitudinal support to children, their families and schools from the time of referral through to the end of post-primary education.

Each visiting teacher (VT) is responsible for a particular region and is allocated a caseload of students. The VT supports children/young people, parents, guardians, teachers and other professionals involved with the child. 

The frequency and nature of support takes into account a range of factors based on the individual’s needs. The work of the VT involves liaising with other professionals and agencies such as audiological scientists, ophthalmology services, speech and language therapists, low vision specialists, psychologists, early intervention teams, school staffs, and with parents.

Included in the brief of the Support Service is to enhance the quality of learning and teaching of students with special educational needs through the provision of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and support for teachers.

The NCSE provide direct support to schools and individual teachers in as flexible a way as possible, offering telephone advice, a school visit from a member of the team, an in-service course for individual teachers, or whole-school training. Whole-school training will ensure that all teachers are equipped to cater for the pupils’ educational needs, as they progress through primary and post primary school.

Among the courses towards which funding is provided to schools are courses in Irish Sign Language, which are available throughout the country through a variety of providers.

Additional supports provided by my Department include funding to schools for assistive technology such as radio aids and Soundfield systems, special transport arrangements for pupils, and enhanced levels of capitation in special classes and special schools.

Funding is also provided by my Department for a weekly home tuition service whereby tutors visit the homes of deaf and hard of hearing pre-school children and school-going pupils to provide training in Irish Sign Language (ISL) for these children, their siblings and parents. My Department grants the funding to parents in order that they can pay the tutors directly.

Reasonable accommodations and supports are made available to support children with special educational needs, inlcuidng students who are deaf/hard of hearing, to participate in state exams. 

The NCSE published Policy Advice on the Education of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children in Ireland which makes a number of recommendations for the improvement of educational provision for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children, including recommendations relating to ISL provision.  

Separately, the Comprehensive review of the SNA Scheme made a number of recommendations relating to students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Relating specifically to students who are deaf, the NCSE recommends Irish Sign Language qualified assistants in schools, to support profoundly deaf students whose primary language is ISL and that this provision should be aligned to the requirements of the Irish Sign Language Act 2017.

In line with the recommendations of this review and the requirements of the Irish Sign Language Act 2017, a scheme will be developed to provide Irish Sign Language support for students attending recognised schools, whose primary language is Irish Sign Language.

The Fund for Students with Disabilities supports students at third level to participate fully in their academic programmes and aims to ensure that students are not disadvantaged by reason of a disability.

A new undergraduate programme in Dublin City University (DCU), launched in 2019, enables deaf and hard of hearing people who use Irish Sign Language (ISL) to enter primary teaching.

Specialised Training for people with disabilities is funded by the National Training Fund, which targets unemployed people with disabilities.

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