'Considerable change' needed for students with special educational needs in mainstream schools

'Considerable change' needed for students with special educational needs in mainstream schools

While the full inclusion of students with special educational needs into mainstream schools here can be achieved, it will require “considerable change” to the current system.

That is according to one of the preliminary findings from a consultation carried out by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE).

Published this week, the consultation formed part of the NCSE's current review of the policy advice for special schools and classes. More than 30 different stakeholder groups and 19 special schools, mainstream primary and post-primary schools were asked their views on a fully inclusive school system.

Today, approximately 98% of students, with and without special educational needs, attend mainstream primary and post-primary classes, according to the NCSE. "While generally these students are supported well in schools, many schools encounter challenges and structural deficits."

While the majority of those consulted as part of its review believed that all students ideally could be educated together, most found it difficult to imagine how the remaining 2% could ever be included in mainstream schooling given the complexity of their difficulties.

"In particular, they considered that specialised provision would always be required for those with the most complex medical, intellectual and behavioural difficulties."

In order to achieve this, considerable change would be required, the report proposed.

"A fundamental change of school culture and mindset would be required whereby teachers and parents reimagined school as a place where every child in the community is educated, irrespective of need or ability.

"Teachers would have to accept that it was every teacher’s responsibility to teach all students. Flexible subject choices and timetables would need to be provided. This would require strong leadership in schools in order to bring about and sustain the vision of schools for all students."

Parents would also need to feel confident that their children would be fully accepted in mainstream schools, and teacher-pupil ratios would need to be reduced. The design of school buildings would also have to be considered and access to therapy supports improved, according to the report.

The NCSE has now launched further public consultations with parents, students, people with disabilities and educators. The final report by the NCSE is expected to be completed and forwarded to the Minister by June 2020.

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