Written answers

Thursday, 18 February 2021

Department of Education and Skills

Special Educational Needs

Photo of Gary GannonGary Gannon (Dublin Central, Social Democrats)
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169. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if consideration will be given to an immediate increase in SET hours when school buildings reopen and for September 2021 to reflect the significant work needed to support young persons due to the extensive impact of Covid-19; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9014/21]

Photo of Josepha MadiganJosepha Madigan (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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I wish to advise the Deputy that Government is deeply conscious that closing schools has hugely adverse consequences at individual, family and societal level and that the effect on children with additional needs can be even greater. The early reopening of schools is a key priority for Government.

Government and my Department have invested heavily in schools to support them throughout this pandemic and has sought to plan for, and prioritise, the return to school for children with special educational needs, at the earliest possible time.

A framework has now been developed and agreed with all partners, including unions and management, in order to achieve a phased return to in-school provision for children with special educational needs.

Under the framework, the following phased return to in-school provision has been agreed:

Phase 1: Special schools have reopened from Thursday 11th February 2021. In accordance with this agreement pupils will attend on a 50 per cent basis to allow for attendance of reduced numbers within the school setting. This will be reviewed in line with public health advice.

Phase 2: Primary and Post Primary Special Classes will reopen from Monday 22nd February 2021.

Pupils with special educational needs who do not attend special schools or classes will continue to be supported remotely by their mainstream class teachers, and by Special Education Teachers, pending their return to school.

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 including support material has specifically on how schools should provide for the continuity of education for children with special educational needs.

This guidance is available at:

Guidance on Continuity of Schooling: Supporting Pupils with Special Educational Needs for Primary Schools

Guidance on Continuity of Schooling: Supporting Students with Special Educational Needs for post-primary schools

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 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.

I can also confirm, however, that in recognition of the fact that remote learning is particularly challenging for children with special educational needs, my Department is also putting in place a supplementary programme to support the education and/or care needs of pupils with complex needs.

An allocation of five hours per week of home-based teaching or care supports will be made available to eligible pupils.

This allocation is intended to supplement, and not replace, the remote teaching provided by the pupil’s school and can be provided by a teacher or SNA in a student’s home, at evenings and weekends. Participation in the programme is voluntary for families, teachers and SNAs and must be delivered in accordance with Public Health Advice.

It is intended that this programme would be supported by teachers and SNAs who may opt in to participate, on a paid basis, to help ensure a better learning experience for these pupils and to build on the learning taking place as part of the remote provision.

The pupils who will be eligible include -

All pupils enrolled in special schools and special classes

Pupils in mainstream schools who are accessing the highest level of the continuum of support (i.e. School Support Plus/for a Few). This will include pupils with Autism, Down syndrome, sensory impairments, and other disabilities who were identified for the summer programme of 2020.

Pupils identified by their school as requiring the highest level of support at any given time. This will ensure that pupils presenting with exceptional needs due to the current school closures can participate in the scheme.

My Department’s approach is intended to be flexible so as to maximise the number of pupils participating.

An allocation of a 5-hour per week home-based teaching or care support programme will be made available to eligible pupils. This allocation is intended to supplement (and not replace) the remote teaching provided by the pupil’s school.

It is intended that this programme will operate 4 weeks commencing 11th February

This scheme will provide an additional type of support for parents and families who may find it difficult to engage with remote learning.

I am therefore pleased to be able to advise that considerable progress has been made to ensure that children with special educational needs can begin to return to school.

I can also confirm that talks will continue with stakeholders, on further phases of return, so that a wider reopening can be delivered for children as soon as possible.

In the interim, there are no plans to change the current criteria by which Special Education Teachers are allocated to schools. There are currently over 13,600 Special Education Teachers allocated to mainstream schools, providing additional support for pupils with special educational needs or additional learning needs, representing an increase of almost 40% over the allocation in 2011, which was 9740 special edcuation teachers.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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170. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the analysis carried out by her Department into the estimated costs of fully implementing section 13 of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9036/21]

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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171. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the analysis carried out by her Department into the estimated costs of fully implementing sections 10 and 17 of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9037/21]

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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173. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the analysis carried out by her Department into the estimated costs of fully implementing section 8 of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9039/21]

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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174. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the analysis carried out by her Department into the estimated costs of fully implementing sections 3 to 7, inclusive, 9 and 18 of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9040/21]

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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175. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the analysis carried out by her Department into the estimated costs of fully implementing sections 11, 12, 15, 16 and 38 of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9041/21]

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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176. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the analysis carried out by her Department into the estimated costs of fully implementing section 39 of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9042/21]

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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177. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the analysis carried out by her Department into the estimated costs of fully implementing section 14 of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9043/21]

Photo of Josepha MadiganJosepha Madigan (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 170, 171 and 173 to 177, inclusive, together.

I wish to advise the Deputy that a number of sections of the Education for Persons with Special Needs (EPSEN) Act 2004 have been commenced. The commenced provisions include those establishing the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) and those providing for an inclusive approach to the education of children with special educational needs.

The following sections of the EPSEN Act were commenced in 2005.

Section 1 – Interpretation

Section 2 - providing for the inclusive education of children with Special Educational Needs

Section 14 – placing certain duties on schools

Sections 19 to 37 - placing the Council on a statutory footing.

Section 39 - placing certain duties on Health Boards

Sections 40 to 53 - amending the Education Act

Schedule 1 – providing for meetings and membership of the Council

Schedule 2 providing for the Chief Executive Officer of the Council.

The remaining sections of the Act have yet to be commenced. The Sections of the EPSEN Act which have not been implemented are those which would have conferred a statutory entitlement to –

- an educational assessment for all children with special educational needs.

- consequent development of a statutory individual educational plan (IEP).

- the delivery of detailed educational services on foot of this plan.

- an independent appeals process.

The NCSE estimated, in its Plan for the Implementation of the EPSEN Act Report, which was published in 2006, that additional investment over a period of years of up to €235m per annum, across the education and health sectors, would be required to fully implement the EPSEN Act.

The view of my Department, at the time, was that the level of investment required could be significantly greater than that envisaged in the NCSE report. Legal advice also indicated that the EPSEN Act, as it is currently constituted, may not be implemented on a phased, or age cohort, basis.

Revised estimates of the amount of additional expenditure required to fully implement the remaining sections of the EPSEN Act, including the individual sections of the Act referred to by the Deputy, have not recently been conducted. The estimated level of additional expenditure required to implement the outstanding sections of the Act would have to take into account annual demographic growth and service developments in the area of special educational needs, pricing adjustments and salary cost differentials on an ongoing basis. Estimates would also have to be made as to the number of pupils who may now currently qualify for the statutory service provisions envisaged by the EPSEN Act.

The Government is committed to helping every child, particularly those with special educational needs, to fulfil their potential.

In 2021 the Department of Education and Skills will invest approximately €2 Billion in the area of special educational needs support - 1/5 of the Department's budget and up over 42% since 2011.

The Government has committed to consulting with stakeholders on how best to progress aspects of the EPSEN Act on a non-statutory basis.

A range of consultations with Education Partners and Stakeholders took place in relation to the development of a new model for allocating special education teachers over the course of 2017. The new model was introduced for all schools from September 2017.

Further consultations took place with education partners and stakeholders in the context of the undertaking of a comprehensive review of the SNA scheme and will continue in relation to the implementation of recommendations contained in this report.

Additional powers have also been provided to the National Council for Special Educational to designate a school place for a person with special educational needs, which is now provided for in the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018.

While awaiting the full implementation of the EPSEN Act, the NCSE has also published a number of policy advice papers which make recommendations aimed at developing a better or more effective alternative to the current resource allocation model, and which aims to move the system towards ultimate implementation of the EPSEN Act.

It should also be noted, however, that since EPSEN was enacted, the Department’s policy on supporting children with special educational needs has changed and evolved on foot of evidence based policy advice from the NCSE which takes account of international perspectives.

Significantly, the focus of special needs education provision has changed from a model that is diagnosis led to one which is driven by the needs of the child. This is a substantially different view to the one underlying the EPSEN Act. The levels of investment by Government in special education has increased to facilitate the underlying reforms required to implement and embed the needs based approach.

This Government will continue to prioritise investment in the area of special education support. Ongoing investment and reform will continue to see improvements made in this area.

I have also indicated that one of my priorities as Minister for Special Education and Inclusion is:

Updating our Laws: Reviewing and updating the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs (EPSEN) Act.

Any review of the Act will take into account the extent of additional investment which has been made in special educational services since 2004, with some €2 Billion per year now being spent of special educational supports.

It will also take into account the range of reforms which have taken place in recent years including the development of new allocation models which are not based primarily on a response to assessment as policy advice has indicated that requirement of diagnosis can create a risk of children being diagnosed as having a special educational need for resource allocation purposes, rather than for health reasons. Also, that as there is a spectrum of ability and disability within every special education disability category, account must be taken of need, as well as diagnosis

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