Written answers

Thursday, 12 May 2022

Department of Education and Skills

Education Schemes

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin Bay North, Fine Gael)
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77. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the steps that are required in moving the successful pilot model of therapeutic support to preschools and schools to become available on a nationwide basis. [23748/22]

Photo of Josepha MadiganJosepha Madigan (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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The School Inclusion Model (SIM) is based on policy advice from the National Council for Special Education and is based on the principle of providing the right support at the right time delivered by a range of personnel with relevant qualifications and skill-sets. The purpose of SIM is to build the capacity of participating schools so they can support the inclusion of all children particularly those with special educational needs (SEN).

My Department recognises that the current range of supports in schools i.e. teaching and care does not, on their own, meet the needs of some children with SEN. This is particularly the case for children with complex needs in the areas of speech and language, communication, sensory impairments, self-regulation and behaviour. Its purpose is to help students achieve better outcomes.

The Model comprises a number of key elements in respect of building school capacity including the following:

- Provision of in-school therapies (speech and language, occupational)

- Allocation of SNAs on a front-loaded basis

- Additional professional supports for the school including psychology, behavioural and professional development

- Training of SNAs

The initial pilot of the Model took place in 75 schools and 75 early learning centres located in the HSE CH07 area in the 2018/19 school year and this was positively evaluated. The Model was then extended to facilitate further development and evaluation but this was disrupted by Covid-19 in March 2020 and the Pilot was then paused. At this time, the HSE withdrew the speech and language and occupational therapists and redeployed them to Covid related work. It was then extended to the 2020/21 school year which was also interrupted by Covid.

The Pilot has now recommenced in CHO7 and therapists are working within these schools and are providing ongoing support on a responsive basis to deliver therapy-based strategies and tools. Overall there is good engagement by the schools in CHO7. Where schools have provided feedback to the NCSE on the overall SIM project, they were positive about their experience and expectations of the supports.

Planning for an expansion is underway. My officials have consulted with relevant Departments including Taoiseach, Health and DCEDIY. There are a number of challenges to expanding SIM to other areas at this time. The single greatest constraint is insufficient supply of SLTs and OTs to meet health and education needs. The recruitment of therapists is also a significant issue for the Department of Health and the HSE.

Some of the issues can be more easily addressed than others but the expansion requires further consideration and planning work to identify and deliver appropriate solutions.

My officials are continuing to work through proposals to mitigate the challenges. Once these are finalised, it is intended that a Memo will be brought to Government with the plans for expansion and the approach which, over time, would allow for SIM to be extended to all schools.

The SIM model provides a framework of teaching, care, training and therapeutic supports to facilitate the optimal inclusion of children with special educational needs in education.

I am therefore committed to its development.

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