Written answers

Thursday, 12 May 2022

Department of Education and Skills

Special Educational Needs

Photo of Niamh SmythNiamh Smyth (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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109. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the steps that her Department is taking to ease the delays in assessment of need waiting times for children; her plans regarding the delivery of ASD units in counties Cavan and Monaghan and nationwide; and if SNA provision forms part of this plan. [23550/22]

Photo of Josepha MadiganJosepha Madigan (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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The Assessment of Need (AON) process is provided for under the Disability Act 2005. Assessment Officers under the remit of the HSE are charged with organising the Assessment of Need. The Assessment Officer makes the determination as to whether or not a child or young person meets the definition of disability contained in the act and coordinates and completes the Assessment Report.

Following a recent High Court ruling in October 2021 there is now a requirement on the education system to provide an assessment of Education Needs as part of the Assessment of Need Process. My Department is considering its implications. The Department are working with the Department of Health, the NCSE and the HSE and taking legal advice. I expect to receive a proposal on the matter shortly.

Enabling children with special educational needs to receive an education is a priority for this Government. This year, my Department will spend in excess of €2 Billion, or over 25% of the Department’s budget on providing a wide range of schemes and supports for children with special educational needs.

This includes additional teaching and care supports. As a result, the number of special education teachers, special needs assistants and special class and school places are at unprecedented levels. The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has responsibility for co-ordinating and advising on the education provision for children nationwide.

Throughout 2020 and 2021, my Department and the NCSE have worked closely on a more streamlined and joined up planning process which has ensured a targeted approach to meet demand for special needs placements ahead of each new school-year. I am satisfied that this more joined up approach is delivering. Through this intensive intervention, we have seen an additional 300 special classes, providing over 1,800 new places, opened nationwide for the 2021/22 school-year.

I also acknowledge that notwithstanding the extent of this investment, there are some parts of the country where increases in population and other issues have led to concerns regarding a shortage of school places.

The NCSE has well established structures in place for engaging with schools and parents and seeks to ensure that schools in an area can, between them, cater for all children who have been identified as needing special class placements.

In terms of Cavan and Monaghan, I can confirm that the NCSE is aware of an identified need for additional special classes for students with autism in primary and post-primary schools. Work has been underway with stakeholders for a number of years to meet the demand for places. We are always grateful to those schools that have responded, and continue to respond positively to meet the educational needs of children in their communities.

There is currently a network of 57 special classes for students requiring an autism class placement in counties Cavan and Monaghan of which 44 are primary (including 8 Early Intervention ASD classes) and 13 are post primary. These 57 classes include 6 new autism special classes (3 at primary and 3 at post primary level) which opened in September 2021 providing 36 additional places.

Budget 2022 provided for the creation of 287 additional special classes for the 2022/2023 school year. These additional classes will provide over 1,700 new places in 2022.

The NCSE is continuing to engage with primary and post-primary schools throughout Cavan and Monaghan regarding the establishment of additional special classes for 2022/23 and beyond. There are specific plans in place to open additional special classes and every support will be made available to progress their opening in the shortest possible timeframe with a particular focus on September next. It is of course open to any school to engage with the NCSE to establish a special class.

I want to reassure the Deputy that my Department will continue to support the NCSE and schools through the provision of the necessary funding and capital investment to ensure all children are successful in accessing an education.

Photo of Jennifer Carroll MacNeillJennifer Carroll MacNeill (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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110. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if she will address the concerns of a school (details supplied) in relation to the reduction of special education teaching support and difficulties being faced by schools particularly with the new special education teaching support allocation model; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23678/22]

Photo of Josepha MadiganJosepha Madigan (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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The Special Education Teaching allocation provides a single unified allocation for special educational support teaching needs to each school, based on each school’s educational profile.

Under the allocation model, schools have been provided with a total allocation for special education needs support based on their school profile.

The SET allocation model has been in place since 2017.The allocation model, which was recommended by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE), is designed to distribute the total available number of Special Education Teachers across primary and post primary schools based on the relative need of each school, as evidenced by a number of key indicators.

Special Education Teachers provide additional teaching support for students with special educational needs enrolled in mainstream classes in primary and post primary schools.

The SET model is a fairer and more transparent way of allocating teaching resources to schools.

The number of teaching posts to support the SET model continues to increase. Budget 2022 provided an additional 620 new SET posts for allocation to primary and post primary schools in 2022/23. This will bring the total number of SETs in the system to 14,385.

The SET Model represented a significant shift in the way that students with SEN are supported in mainstream classes. Previously, students needing additional teaching support required a diagnosis in order to access support which caused delays in providing the support and also imposed a burden on both schools and parents. The change in policy was welcomed by both schools and parents. The Model is based on the principle that those students with the greatest need receive the most support.

The model encourages schools to support students with SEN in mainstream classes alongside their peers. In fact most students with SEN are enrolled these classes. This approach is also consistent with the EPSEN Act

When the SET model was introduced it was designed to be updated on a regular basis so as to distribute the total available resources across the school system based on profiled need. Because the level of student need may change in a school over time, some schools will gain under this distribution, with these gains balanced by equivalent reductions in schools where the model indicates reduced need. Re-profiling is the means of ensuring that new or increasing need in schools is met by transfer/redistribution of teaching resources from other schools whose need has reduced as shown by the model.

Schools are front-loaded with resources, based on each school’s profile. The allocations to schools include provision to support all pupils in the schools, including where a child receives a diagnosis after the allocation is received by a school, or where there are newly enrolling pupils to the school.

Both the Department and the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) are committed to ensuring that all schools are treated equally and fairly in the manner in which their school profiles have been calculated.

Accordingly, a number of review processes have been put in place to support schools.

A process is in place to address circumstances where the school profile significantly changed following the allocation process e.g. a developing school where the net enrolment numbers significantly increased.

The criteria for qualification for mainstream school developing school posts are set out in the Primary and Post Primary School Staffing Schedule for the 2022/23 school year.

Schools who qualify for additional mainstream developing school posts in accordance with these criteria also qualify for additional Special Education Teaching Allocations to take account of this developing status.

It is also acknowledged that there are some circumstances, which may arise in schools, which fall outside the allocations for developing school status.

These relate to exceptional or emergency circumstances which could not have been anticipated e.g. where the school profile changes very significantly, or where other exceptional circumstances have arisen in a school and which may require a review of schools capacity to provide additional teaching support for all pupils who need it in the school, or of their utilisation of their allocations.

A process is available where schools can seek a review of their allocations by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE), including the utilisation of their allocations, in circumstances where a school considers that very exceptional circumstances have arisen subsequent to the development of the profile.

If a school wishes to make an exceptional needs review appeal they may do so at the following link: ncse.ie/for-schools

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