School bodies raise concern over special needs supports | #specialneeds | #kids

School management bodies have expressed serious concern at the low level of teaching support that will be offered to children with special education needs in the coming academic year. 

Four groups, including patron bodies Educate Together and An Forás Pátrúnachta, say a decision by the Department of Education to freeze current special education teacher levels at this year’s level will mean that children in schools that are expanding will see a reduction in support. 

They have written to Minister for Education Norma Foley to outline their concerns. 

They say the issue is all the more pressing given the stressful circumstances of the current pandemic for children, and the fact that children with additional needs have suffered significant interruption to their schooling.

Schools are normally given an allocation of Special Education Teachers based on a school profiling exercise. This profiling is done every two years, with schools’ allocations being updated based on their previous year’s enrolment numbers and other information.

However, last week the Department of Education informed schools that existing Special Education Teacher Allocations would be maintained for schools for the coming academic year “in order to minimise disruption for schools, and to provide for continuity”.

This means that there will be no fresh assessment of the needs of individual schools in relation to the numbers of children with additional needs that they are catering for. 

The Department of Education has told schools that additional allocations will “continue to be made for new schools, schools which achieve developing status, or for exceptional circumstances arising in schools”.

But school patron and management bodies representing many developing schools say that children in those schools are losing out and will have less support than they had this year. 

They believe that the school’s allocation will remain static, while the number of pupils it needs to be spread across will have grown.

The CEO of patron body Educate Together Emer Nowlan said: “This is an issue for developing schools in all parts of the country. Pupils need more supports this year, not less, and it is imperative that additional resources are allocated for this September so that all pupils with additional needs have the supports they need, regardless of the type of school they attend.”

The National Association of Boards of Management in Special Education (NABMSE), and the Muslim Primary Education Board have joined with Educate Together and An Foras Pátrúnachta to issue a joint statement on the issue today.

Their stance is being supported by the Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN).

The five organisations have called for increased resources to ensure that children with additional needs who attend developing schools receive the supports they need in what they say will be “a very challenging year” for schools. They say “the needs of the most vulnerable children in our school system must be met in an appropriate, effective and timely manner”.

The group is seeking a meeting with Department officials on the issue.

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