Written answers

Thursday, 4 July 2024

Department of Education and Skills

Special Educational Needs

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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279. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if she will provide additional supports for Irish as an additional subject for students with special educational needs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28707/24]

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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280. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if she will provide additional allocation of special education teachers in Irish-medium and Gaeltacht schools (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28708/24]

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 279 and 280 together.

I thank the Deputy for the question.

Enabling children with special educational needs to receive an education is a priority for this Government. The vast majority of children with special educational needs are supported to attend mainstream classes with their peers. Every mainstream school, including Irish-medium and Gaeltacht schools, has an allocation of special educational teachers to enable them to meet the identified needs of children.

The Special Education Teaching (SET) allocation model for 2024/25 is based on information from all 4,000 schools in the country. The model distributes the total available number of SET posts in line with each school’s profile of need. The data used to construct each school’s profile is derived from enrolment data, educational disadvantage and educational teaching need profile. The educational teaching need profile is compiled from the Standardised Test results submitted by schools for English and Mathematics. In the case of Irish Medium schools, it is the mean of the standardised English, Irish and Mathematics test results, which is used to create the individual school profiles.

Schools had the option of applying to the NCSE for an exceptional review of their SET allocations. A small number of Irish-medium schools applied for such reviews of their SET allocations for the 2024/25 school year and where the NCSE identified need, schools were given additional SET hours.

Schools must adhere to the guidance on the use of SET hours and support all children with additional teaching needs using the continuum of support framework.

The revised model seeks to ensure that the right resource is available at the right time to meet the needs of children with special educational needs. The model allows schools to better plan their staffing structures and gives them time to arrange clusters in areas where schools share an SET teacher.

Schools have autonomy to deploy those resources to meet the needs of their students. In doing so, schools are required to ensure that those pupils with the greatest level of need receive the greatest level of support.

Therefore, the profiles are directly correlated to, and focused on, pupils with the greatest level of need in the areas of literacy and numeracy.

There will be more Special Education Teachers in our schools in September 2024 than ever before – an increase of 1,000 from 2020/21 school year. This is in addition to a significant reduction in pupil teacher ratios at primary level over three budgets to where our PTR at primary level is now 23:1. This means, more than ever, children with special educational needs in our mainstream schools are best supported to meet those needs.

At present for the 2024/25 school year there is in excess of 14,600 SET teachers allocated to mainstream schools and this will increase to approx. 14,750, an increase of in excess of 51% on 2011 number, ahead of the start of the 2024/25 school year when the annual projected enrolments post process is complete.

It is important to note that SET hours are only one component of support for children in mainstream classes. The most important support is the mainstream class teacher.

Additionally, it is important to note that Irish remains a core subject in primary and post-primary schools, one which is undertaken by all pupils, other than those with exemptions from Irish.

In relation to Irish-medium schools, significant work is underway in my Department on the development of a new policy on Irish-medium education outside of the Gaeltacht. A comprehensive public consultation process has been conducted, along with a review of international research, to inform policy development. The consultation included a focus group looking at how best to meet the needs of pupils and students with special educational needs in an Irish-medium context, and bilateral meetings were also held to further examine this area.

Under the Policy on Gaeltacht Education, An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta (COGG) were tasked with providing guidance on support for the bilingual needs of children with special educational needs in Gaeltacht areas and disseminating that guidance. A significant body of work has been carried out by COGG to progress this, and guidelines for primary schools in the Gaeltacht are due to be published before the end of 2024, along with research commissioned by COGG which informed the development of that guidance.

Photo of Matt CarthyMatt Carthy (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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281. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the current status of the delivery of a special school in County Monaghan; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28719/24]

Photo of Matt CarthyMatt Carthy (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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282. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills in respect of the ongoing review into the potential delivery of a special school in County Monaghan, the form that review will take; the criteria that will be applied; the timeframe in which the review will be completed; the likely timeframe for the opening of a special school in Monaghan; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28720/24]

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 281 and 282 together.

Enabling children with special educational needs to receive an education is a priority for this Government. It is also a key priority for my Department and for the National Council for Special Education (NCSE).

The vast majority of children with special educational needs are supported to attend mainstream classes with their peers. Where children with more complex needs require additional supports, special classes and special school places are provided.

My Department and the NCSE continue to monitor and review the need for further new special schools and the expansion of existing special schools in all areas of the country including County Monaghan.

In planning for increased special school places, the Department and NCSE review all of the available data on the growing need for special school places across the country. This involves a detailed analysis of enrolment trends and the potential for existing special schools in a region to expand.

My Department and the NCSE are progressing this review work ahead of determining where additional capacity is required in existing special schools or in what regions a new special school may need to be established for the 2025/26 school year.

It is estimated that a further 300 new special school places may be required nationwide each year for the coming years. When looking to provide additional capacity the Department’s preferred option is to increase provision in existing special schools if possible.

An important consideration when deciding to establish or expand provision in an existing special school is the distances that some students are travelling in order to access a special school placement.

My Department and the NCSE are continually reviewing where additional capacity is required in existing special schools or in what regions a new special school may need to be established over the coming years.

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