Autism charity, AsIAm, has condemned the Association of Second Level Teachers of Ireland (ASTI) for its advice to members to refuse to provide Individual Education Plans (IEP) for students with special needs.
The ASTI issued the advice yesterday because it is extremely concerned that there is "insufficient resourcing" and a lack of planning for the Education for Persons with Special Education Needs Act, 2004.
The Minister for Education and Skills, Joe McHugh, recently told the Dáil: “There is currently not a statutory requirement for schools to provide a mandatory Individual Education Plan for children with special needs”
Individual Education Plans are supposed to support students with disabilities in schools and they bring together teachers, the student and their parents/guardians, in agreeing goals and approaches to meeting the needs of students with special educational needs.
Adam Harris, founder and CEO of the autism advocacy group AsIAm, said: “For a teachers’ trade union to suggest discrimination in the classroom against students with disabilities is truly shocking.”
He said, however, that this does not remove the obligation of a school to provide an “appropriate education”.
The vast majority of schools put in place some form of IEP for students and, from January, all schools must have Student Support Files in place for any student receiving additional support such as a Special Needs Assistant or additional teaching hours.
Mr Harris said: “We are quite shocked that the ASTI would see IEPs / SSF as additionality or an “add-on” to their role. All teachers are meant to differentiate their teaching to meet the needs of the students in their class.
“As an organisation, we will support any call for additional resources to enable schools and their teachers to meet the needs of students with additional needs. However, we will not allow our students to be used as some kind of bargaining chip.
The group is to launch a petition today on its website calling on the ASTI to revise its advice and for individual teachers to refuse to heed it.
Mr Harris said: “To suggest that a teacher knowingly should refuse to implement measures which a child requires to learn is grossly unethical. IEPs often include recommendations such as permitting movement breaks, using clear communication or providing visual supports. These small changes can be the difference between a child remaining in school or otherwise.
"It is a principle enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities and provided for under EPSEN.”
“To see a trade union target a minority group in this fashion certainly seems out of step with the values of the Trade Union Movement – which was founded against a backdrop of solidarity and supporting the most vulnerable people in society. What we need to ask ourselves as a society now is that if we permit a Trade Union to decide to refuse to appropriately educate one minority group – where does this stop?”
In the advice it issued to members, the ASTI said: "Despite recent advances and improvements, schools and teachers remain grossly unsupported. For example, the new Resource Allocation Model, which is in place since September 2017, has not been accompanied by training for all teachers.
"Classroom teachers are extremely concerned that without the proper training, they do not have the skills to prepare and implement complex Individual Education Plans/ Student Support Files.
"The ASTI advice to its members - that they do not prepare and implement Individual Education Plans/ Student Support Files - seeks to ensure that the Government delivers on its responsibilities to students with special education needs by equipping schools and teachers with the training and supports needed to deliver a fully inclusive education service.
"Moreover it has the potential to undermine much of the excellent work going on in the classroom with students with special education needs.
"We note that the other second-level teachers’ union (TUI) has the same concerns and has issued similar advice to its members.
"Parents and students can be assured that teachers and schools will continue to provide a quality education to students with special education needs including differentiated teaching, feedback and assessment, assistance with communication, visual supports etc."