Written answers

Tuesday, 8 September 2020

Department of Education and Skills

Special Educational Needs

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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576. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the measures her Department has taken to engage with families of children with disabilities; and the provisions in place to allow these families leeway in returning to school. [22063/20]

Photo of Josepha MadiganJosepha Madigan (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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My Department has conducted a very extensive series of engagements with education partners and parental representative organisations, including parents of children with special educational needs, in relation to the reopening of schools.

The Roadmap to the Full Reopening of schools has now been published and includes a dedicated package of additional supports for Special Educational Needs which is being made available to schools to implement their Covid-19 Response Plan and to operate in a sustainable way. Full details are available at:

The Roadmap provides details of a range of Additional Supports which are being made available to schools to implement their Covid-19 Response Plan and to operate in a sustainable way.

These supports include:

- An enhanced Minor Works Grant to support full implementation of COVID-19 response plans

- Employing an aide to help with the school re-opening logistics;

- Additional financial supports to provide for additional cleaning, hand hygiene and PPE costs under the COVID-19 response plans.

- Increased management support to primary schools;

- Extending the current pilot supply panel for substitute teachers on a nationwide basis; at primary school level

- 1,080 additional teaching posts at post primary school level including 120 guidance posts;

- Enhanced supervision supports for post primary schools

All of these measures will support the return of children with special educational needs toschools in August.

However, the Department is also making additional provision for special schools and special classes, in recognition of the particular challenges that these schools and classes will face dealing with children with complex medical and care needs.

Additional NEPS psychologists will be appointed to provide enhanced services to support the well-being of our school communities at this time, with a particular emphasis on the well-being of our special school communities.

Special schools will receive funding equivalent to 10 days, for the purposes of employing an aide to assist with the logistics for preparing for reopening.

The Minor Works Grant at Primary and Post Primary level include enhanced rates in respect of students in special classes and schools. This will facilitate preparatory works to be completed in schools to facilitate reopening such as refurbishment of toilets and reconfiguration of school spaces.

The additional per capita funding being provided for pupils in special schools and special classes recognises the additional needs that these pupils have and the additional measures that schools may be required to take to support them.

Special schools and schools with special classes where there is a teaching principal will receive one release day per week. Those schools with admin Deputy Principals will be provided with 16 release days.

The Department is also supporting the substitution of all absences of SNAs in school settings.

Enhanced COVID-19 rates are payable in respect of students attending special schools and special classes attached to mainstream schools to assist with the extra costs associated with the cleaning of classrooms with a small number of students, operating specialist provision.

The COVID-19 capitation grant will also be the mechanism through which additional funding will be provided to cater for costs related to hand hygiene measures and PPE requirements under the COVID-19 Response Plan. Additional provision for this purpose will be confirmed with the establishment of the drawdown framework of suppliers

For the Special Education Transport Service, funding supports will be made available to schools for the provision of masks or visors to School Bus Escorts where required, bearing in mind the SEN needs of the child/children on the service, and where physical distancing cannot be maintained.

It is also recognized that pupils with SEN will require particular support at the time of transition back to school including supporting their well-being, reducing potential anxiety and planning learning experiences that take account of the effect of school closures on their progress.

There are currently over 13,500 Special Education Teachers allocated to mainstream schools who will assist mainstream classroom teachers to provide additional learning support for children who have special education needs or additional learning needs in schools.

The DES also provided a significantly expanded summer education programme this year for children with complex special educational needs which aimed to re-establish the child’s relationships and connection with school and their peers as a basis for learning and participation and to help the child to re-engage in learning and social activities. The programme aimed to ensure, in so far as possible, that the child can reintegrate/transition into their planned education setting for the new school year and help to prevent regression among children with special needs.

It is also recognised that some children who have complex medical or special educational needs may not be able to return to school at the end of August because the relevant public health guidelines indicate they are at “very high risk”.

These students’ schools will provide additional supports for these students through designated teachers from within the staffing resources of the school

Schools will have discretion to manage and redistribute their teaching support resources in order to best meet the learning needs of their pupils/students, including pupils/students at ‘very high risk’ to COVID-19.

During the period of school closures the Department provided schools in the primary and special school sector and at post-primary level with a series of “Continuity of Schooling Guidance” documents to help education professionals and parents to support children learning in a remote environment. The events surrounding COVID-19 and the public health restrictions which resulted in the emergency closure of schools to learners has highlighted the absolute necessity for schools to be agile in how they can provide for continuity of teaching and learning in the future.

The continuity of teaching and learning during the emergency period was achieved with significant additional effort from all school staff working remotely to ensure students were supported during this time. Most schools put in place arrangements to communicate with students and parents demonstrating innovation and resilience by providing flexible local responses.

The Department has updated its Continuity of Schooling Guidance documents to support schools in responding in an agile way in the event of localised school closure or to continue to support pupils with medical or special educational needs who cannot attend school

Guidance will also provide for additional strategies to support children with ASD where it is likely that the impact of school closures will have been significant so that learning experiences, routines and sensory needs should be carefully planned.

The National Educational Psychological Services (NEPs) and the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) will also support the return of children with special educational needs to schools.

NEPS provides a psychological service designed to support the well-being, and academic, social and emotional development of all children and young people, having particular regard for those with special educational needs (SEN).

NEPS psychologists take a holistic, developmental perspective in all the work they undertake in schools, which considers the broad context of the needs of the student with the aim of supporting the school to identify how best to provide intervention and support.

NEPS psychologists use a consultative model to respond to needs in their assigned schools. They provide individual casework for students and capacity building support and development work for teachers to help schools meet the needs of all children and young people. This is achieved by supporting the implementation of the Continuum of Support, with particular regard for those students with Special Educational Needs.

NEPS has developed a range of resources for schools and parents to support the well-being of children and young people in line with the DES Wellbeing Framework and Policy for Practice.

As noted above, NEPS has developed Wellbeing Webinars and Wellbeing Toolkits for School Staff available here. These contain information, guidance, tips and advice for schools on how best to support the well-being of all children and young people, including those with SEN following the COVID 19 school closures.

NEPS has also produced a targeted well-being resource, Supporting the Wellbeing of Students with Special Educational Needs Returning to School, which is available on the gov.ie/backtoschool webpage here. NEPS psychologists have also developed advice and guidance documents for parents and students available here to support the return to school, including advice on transition, coping and relaxation strategies, and managing stress and anxiety. Other resources for schools include guidance and advice for teachers to support students in the areas of behavioural regulation, managing stress and anxiety, as well as supporting teacher well-being and self-care.

At local level NEPS psychologists will continue to work with their assigned schools to support them to meet the needs of children and young people with a particular focus on those with the highest level of need as they settle into the new school year.

The NCSE have published a series of resources to support children, parents and teachers re integrate back to school . NCSE services continue to operate as normal, although some services may be provided online to comply with public health restrictions.

NCSE contact details are available atand parents and schools should contact their local SENO or Visiting Teacher with any specific concerns.

The return to school package includes enhanced allocations to support children, including children with special educational needs, to be able to return safely for the forthcoming school year.


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