Written answers

Thursday, 12 May 2022

Department of Education and Skills

Special Educational Needs

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)
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160. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the steps that she is taking to support children with hearing and visual impairment in mainstream schools; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22473/22]

Photo of Josepha MadiganJosepha Madigan (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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The Department's policy is that children with special educational needs access appropriate education intervention in mainstream settings where possible. Many deaf or hard of hearing pupils are included in mainstream classes at primary and post-primary level. Whilst other children who are deaf or hard of hearing and have more complex needs may attend special schools or classes, which have lower pupil teacher ratios.

The NCSE has responsibility for coordinating and advising on the education provision for children nationwide. The visiting teacher service forms part of the NCSE support service for schools, and visiting teachers are now recruited, deployed and managed by the NCSE.

The visiting teachers are qualified teachers with particular skills and knowledge of the development and education of children with varying degrees of hearing loss and/or visual impairment. They offer longitudinal support to children, their families and schools from the time of referral through to the end of post-primary education. They help children to develop tactile and sensory skills and give advice on self-help and other skills needed for independent living. They provide support in the development of pre-Braille skills, where necessary, and give instruction in mobility where appropriate.

Visiting teachers can refer children for assessment of low-vision aids and train the children in their use. They help children to develop tactile and sensory skills and give advice on self-help and other skills needed for independent living. They provide support in the development of pre-Braille skills, where necessary, and give instruction in mobility where appropriate. Teachers can refer the child for further mobility instruction where required.

Each visiting teacher operates in a particular region and manages a caseload of students. The visiting teacher supports children/young people, parents, guardians, teachers and other professionals involved with the child. Each visiting teacher works in partnership with parents to provide advice, and offer guidance, in matters pertaining to the child’s education and overall development. The frequency and nature of support takes into account a range of factors based on the individual’s needs.

Currently there are 43 visiting teachers posts allocated across the 10 NCSE regional teams, supported by teams of professionals and agencies such as audiological scientists, ophthalmology services, speech and language therapists, low vision specialists, psychologists, early intervention teams and school staff.

Under the Assistive Technology scheme, as set out in my Department’s Circular 0010/2013, funding is provided to schools towards the cost of computers and specialist equipment, which are required for educational purposes. All equipment provided under this scheme supports children who, in order to access the school curriculum, require essential specialist equipment.

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) through its network of local Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENOs) is responsible for processing applications from schools for special educational needs supports. SENOs also make recommendations to my Department where assistive technology/specialised equipment is required. The NCSE operates within my Department's criteria in making recommendations for support.

The Minister for Education and the Minister of State for Special Education and Inclusion announced on the 2nd March 2022 a new scheme to support students in both primary and post primary Schools whose primary Language is ISL

The newly introduced scheme will involve two key strands of support:

- Programme of intensive in-school support for individual students to enable them access teaching and learning and participate in school life

- Programme of training and support to build capacity among the school community including teachers, special needs assistants, other school staff and pupils on communication using Irish Sign Language

- The new scheme is targeted at children and young people attending primary, special and post-primary school, who were born without an auditory nerve or due to infection, disease, trauma, failed technology intervention (for example cochlear implants), their auditory nerve has ceased to function completely and whose primary means of communication is using Irish Sign Language.

- Under the scheme, a package of dedicated specialist ISL supports will be allocated to relevant schools so these students have a more inclusive school experience. This new scheme builds on current provision to ensure the needs of the children are met.

- Funding is also provided by the Department for a home tuition service whereby tutors visit the homes of deaf and hard of hearing preschool children and school-going pupils to provide training in ISL for these children and their families including their grandparents.

- The Department also provides funding for assistive technology for pupils who are deaf or hard of hearing, equipment is provided under this scheme to enable students attend school and engage with the curriculum.

- Reasonable accommodations and supports are made available to support children with special educational needs, including students who are deaf/hard of hearing, to participate in state exams.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
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161. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if her attention has been drawn to the serious concern among parents of children attending special schools that their children will not receive adequate summer provision; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that home-based programmes are considered the least effective means of delivering the scheme; if, 80% of children who attended special schools in 2021 received no in-school summer programme; if there was an underspend of only €15.5 million from a €40 million budget in 2021; the measures that she will take to ensure that in-school summer provision is available to all children attending special schools and that the budget available is used for the purpose for which it was intended; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23610/22]

Photo of Josepha MadiganJosepha Madigan (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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Earlier this month, the Government announced this year's Summer Programme to allow all primary and post-primary schools to offer a summer programme for students with complex special educational needs and those at greatest risk of educational disadvantage.

The total funding available to provide summer programmes this year is up to €40 million. The programme was developed following extensive engagement with education stakeholders, parent and disability advocacy groups.

The programme aims are to support pupils to maintain their connection with education, to build their confidence and increase their motivation, promote well-being and for those who are at key transition stages, helping to ensure they continue their education journey in September either in school or in further/higher education or training.

In 2021, due to the ongoing pandemic, the government announced a expansion to the summer programme. Under this expansion, students with complex special educational needs and those at greatest risk of educational disadvantage had access to an enhanced summer programme of education. The total provisional spend across the school and home-based elements for 2021 was €36m.

While, it is critically important to support a summer based programme in our special schools and special classes, it is also essential to ensure that the children with complex special educational needs (SEN) who are in our mainstream settings also have access to this critical support. At the time when the ‘July Provision’ was established, the concert of learning loss during school holidays was something which may have been considered to impact only those students in special schools and special classes. As our system has become more inclusive and many of these children with more complex needs now attend mainstream settings, it is recognised that they too will be impacted by school holidays and require that additional support to ensure they achieve their potential.

My Department held consultations with education stakeholders and advocacy groups, following this, steps were taken to encourage more schools to participate including the following: the provision of paid overseeing and preparation time for schools, a reduction in the administrative burden for schools, arrangements to pay staff sooner, greater guidance, an online payments portal for schools, and greater flexibility in the timing of the programme.

The complexities of organising a summer programme in special school environments is recognised and further enhanced funding for special schools is being provided this year including increase capitation and preparation to support these schools.

Concerns around availability of staff have been further addressed with the provision to recruit final year student teachers and student teachers registered with the Teaching Council under Route 5. To support and facilitate schools and principals with organising and running the programme, principals may delegate these functions to other members of staff through the Overseer role and preparation hours. Overseers, teachers and SNAs who work on the programme will be paid for this work based on what they are normally paid during the school year in addition to their normal salary.

In 2021 377 special schools and schools with special classes ran a programme, with in the region of 5,587 pupils attending. For context in 2011 there were 149 schools and 2,461 pupils attending the ‘July provision’ programme. The number of special schools running a programme under the ‘July provision’ scheme had fallen from 54 in 2011 to 34 in 2019. It is important to note that we have actually seen an increase in the number of special schools running a programme in both 2020 and 2021 with 39 special schools taking part in 2021.

While the number of special schools and classes taking part has risen over the last 2 years we want to continue this growth in participation further. The Department will continue to work with all stakeholders to support parents in accessing summer provision and with schools to ensure that they have the resources and supports necessary to successfully run these programmes.

It is acknowledged that not all schools will be in a position to provide a school-based programme, so a home-based programme continues to be available for students with complex needs where the school-based programme is unavailable. It is important that the home-based programme provides support for the education and/or care needs of students with complex needs during the summer break period.

Under the home-based programme grant funding is made available so that parents/legal guardians can engage the services of a teacher or an SNA to provide tuition or care support as appropriate in the child’s home. Schools are requested to provide parents with the contact details of a teacher/SNA where possible.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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162. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the status of the review of the July Provision programme which was commenced in 2019 but was paused due to Covid-19; if the review has been recommenced to date; the timeline for the completion of the review; the person or body that is carrying out the review; the terms of reference for the review; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23673/22]

Photo of Josepha MadiganJosepha Madigan (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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Earlier this month, the Government announced this year's Summer Programme to allow all primary and post-primary schools to offer a summer programme for students with complex special educational needs and those at greatest risk of educational disadvantage.

The programme aims are to support pupils to maintain their connection with education, to build their confidence and increase their motivation, promote well-being and for those who are at key transition stages, helping to ensure they continue their education journey in September either in school or in further/higher education or training.

Building on the 2021 programme, all primary and post primary schools can offer a summer programme and in line with last year’s funding, there is up to €40 million available to provide for this year’s programme. In 2021 nearly 38,000 children availed of the summer programme, an increase of 60% from the previous year.

A key objective of this year’s scheme is to increase the number of schools offering the summer programme to their students. Steps have been taken to afford schools as much flexibility as possible, and to ease administrative requirements. This year there is provision to recruit newly qualified teachers graduating this summer as well as undergraduate student teachers who have registered with the Teaching Council under Route 5.

To support and facilitate schools and principals with organising and running the programme, the 2022 Summer Programme allows principals to delegate these functions to other members of staff through the Overseer role and preparation hours. The Overseer and preparation roles provide an exciting personal opportunity for teachers to develop their leadership skills and experience with recognition at a whole-school level.

Enhanced measures have been put in place to encourage participation of schools. These include:

- A Centralised Application Process to reduce the administrative burden on schools.

- Provision of funding to schools towards preparation and overseeing of the programmes.

- Provision to recruit final year student teachers graduating this summer and Route 5 undergraduate student teachers.

- Guidance, information and support provided to schools to help design and deliver the programmes.

- Capitation Grant Funding provided to cover the running costs of the scheme, including enhanced capitation for special schools and classes.

This year, for the first time, there will be an online claims system for schools to submit payments details for those staff taking part in the school based summer programme. This will provide for faster and more streamlined payments to staff.

In addition, with the assistance of the National Association of Management Boards in Special Schools (NAMBSE), the Department and Inspectorate recently hosted a webinar for Special Schools and provided a presentation on the supports and benefits of running a school based summer programme. The presentation focused on the positive outcomes for students that participated in the 2021 programme.

While the number of special schools and classes taking part has risen over the last 2 years, we want to continue this growth in participation further. The Department will continue to work with all stakeholders to support parents in accessing summer provision and with schools to ensure that they have the resources and supports necessary to successfully run these programmes. Planning for the 2023 Summer Programme is due to commence shortly with a view to addressing items identified by the Deputy.

It is acknowledged that not all schools will be in a position to provide a school-based programme, so a home-based programme continues to be available for students with complex needs where the school-based programme is unavailable.

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