Written answers

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Department of Education and Skills

Special Educational Needs

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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321. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the status of the July provision scheme; and the arrangements in place for families and teachers that wish to avail of the scheme. [6567/20]

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal, Fine Gael)
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I am committed to running a summer Provision type programme for children with complex needs this year as soon as it is safe to do so and in accordance with public health advice. 

My Department is exploring a number of options for a summer education programme for children with complex special needs.

The primary aim of the proposed programme would be to limit potential regression in learning thereby ensuring in so far as possible that these children can reintegrate and transition into their planned education setting for next year with their peers.

This may be done through a targeted level of supports to address regression of social skills and re-establish tolerance of routines paving the way for reintegrating full time into education when schools reopen in the autumn.

Photo of Gino KennyGino Kenny (Dublin Mid West, People Before Profit Alliance)
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322. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if there will be an increase in the number of special education teachers and SNAs provided to all schools in the 2020/2021 school year in order to ameliorate the loss of in-school teaching time for these students in view of the fact that young persons in SEN and DEIS settings are most likely to have experienced difficulties engaging in remote learning; if class sizes will be reduced in DEIS schools, special schools and mainstream schools in line with the demands of unions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6583/20]

Photo of Gino KennyGino Kenny (Dublin Mid West, People Before Profit Alliance)
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327. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the way in which he plans to address the issues arising from the isolating of children required to reduce the spread of Covid-19; if the NCSE will facilitate additional supports to children and school communities; if the number of SNAs and SENs will be increased to meet demand; if his Department is liaising with the HSE to increase staffing and resources to the early intervention and school age assessment teams to clear the backlog of waiting lists in addition to the supports and therapies children will need to engage with once the services return to operation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6588/20]

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal, Fine Gael)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 322 and 327 together.

I wish to advise the Deputy that decisions in relation to schools re-opening and operating will be underpinned by the ongoing advice of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) and the Department of Health.

Engagement is underway with stakeholders in the education sector to develop contingency plans for the re-opening and operation of schools in an environment that may require social distancing and other public health requirements.

This work will be informed by the National Return to Work Safely Protocol as well as guidance and experience from other jurisdictions. A core objective of the contingency plans will be to ensure that schools and other education settings can re-open and operate in a safe manner that is consistent with public health advice.

The issues are also being considered by the Primary Education Forum which includes all stakeholders in the sector and it will also be addressed by the Advisory Group which involves representatives of stakeholders from the post-primary sector.

In the interim, my Department has provided a range of support and guidance for schools on how to provide for the continuing education for pupils over the current school closure period.

Supports are provided to schools and teachers engaged in distance learning and these are available at

In additional to the general guidance that has been provided for schools, additional support material has also been provided specifically on how schools should provide for the continuity of education for children with special educational needs. This guidance is available at:

The guidance notes that there is a particular need for pupils with special educational needs (SEN) to have regular, ongoing schooling. While all pupils need to be supported to maintain their engagement in learning, those with SEN are among those who need most support at this time. Examples of strategies and measures to ensure that the needs of pupils with SEN are catered for, are provided in the guidance documents and a range of resources are also identified for parents.

It sets out the role of schools and teachers in engaging with pupils with SEN and the role of teachers and school leaders to support such pupils. It advises schools as to how best to keep in touch with parents and guardians and how to keep pupils with SEN safe and engaged in the distance learning environment.

The guidance sets out the role of the special education teacher to support children with special educational needs at this time. It notes that the special education teacher’s knowledge of their pupils’ priority learning needs and agreed targets, as outlined in the pupil support file, will enable them to work with parents and guardians to choose appropriate supports in a remote learning environment.

Special Education Teachers (SETs) are asked to carefully examine how progress on the existing learning targets in student support plans can be reasonably extended by home learning. They are asked to use this knowledge to communicate with the pupils and their parents and guardians and to establish what methods will work best to achieve continuity of learning for the pupils.

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) is also providing a range of online resources for parents and teachers to support home learning for children with special educational needs during the Covid 19 restrictions.

In addition to the normal supports, the NCSE is providing online resources for children with Special Educational Needs who are at home as a result of the schools’ closure.

Supports provided include those relating to general learning and difficulties for pupils with SEN, Curriculum support, speech language and communication, occupational therapy support, guidance around behaviour, and learning and resources on ‘Visiting Teachers Support’ for a teacher who teaches children with sensory impairment

Details of the full range of supports that the NCSE provides for teachers and parents is available at:

The Department of Education and Skills’ NEPS psychologists have also developed advice and resources for young people to manage and stay well when schools are closed. The NEPS advice & resources for keeping children and young people well during Covid-19 are available at

Guidelines for continued provision of Guidance Counselling and resources available to support practice is available at

Guidance for parents of primary school pupils, which sets out what they should expect in relation to engagement in distance learning from schools, and how they can support their child in a home schooling environment is also available at:

I also recently announced that a special €10 million fund is being made available to support the purchase of technology and devices for disadvantaged students, including students with special educational needs.

This is additional to the latest round of funding for ICT under the Digital Strategy for Schools whereby €40m grant funding will be distributed in the coming weeks to eligible. €10m additional funding is also now issuing to schools to support children and young people who are at risk of educational disadvantage during the period of school closures.

There are currently no proposals to review the existing criteria for the allocation of Special Education Teachers or Special Needs Assistants for schools, or to adjust the current criteria of the allocation of DEIS supports, or school class sizes, due to matters arising from COVID 19. This matter, and matters in relation to social distancing, will be kept under review in the context of public health advice regarding schools re-opening and the ongoing advice of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET).

The DEIS programme allows for a reduced class size in Urban Band 1 primary schools with the application of a preferential staffing schedule to these schools of 20:1 at junior classes and 24:1 at senior classes to support those students at the highest risk of educational disadvantage. DEIS Plan acknowledges the allocation of teaching resources to DEIS primary schools with the highest concentrations of children at risk of educational disadvantage has served to improve learning outcomes. It also commits to the evaluation of the level of teaching resources for schools participating in DEIS to be undertaken to inform future policy in this area.

In order to facilitate this a Class Size Working Group was established comprising representatives from the Education Partners, the Educational Research Centre and the relevant Business Units in my Department.

A report on the work of this group is currently being finalised, and will take into consideration the feedback and observations of the working group members. When the report is finalised its findings will inform future policy direction in this area.

Questions in relation to the staffing of Health Service Executive (HSE) Assessment Teams and HSE Therapy services should be referred to Department of Health and the HSE, however, it should be noted that an assessment of a particular diagnosis of special educational need is no longer required for pupils to access special education teaching support in schools and is not required for access to the SNA scheme for the 2020/21 school year.

While recognising the difficulty that school closure has had for parents and pupils, particularly in relation to pupils with special educational needs, my Department will continue to support and encourage schools to provide as much continuity of education as possible for such pupils, while continuing to engage with public health officials and stakeholders in relation to when schools may re-open and operate in a safe manner that is consistent with public health advice.

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