‘Special needs allocations misused’

‘Special needs allocations misused’
Education Minister Joe McHugh

The Department of Education has received 79 reports of possible misuse of special education teaching resources, with half still under review.

It comes amid increased scrutiny of special education provision, at both primary and secondary level.

Families are scrambling to secure school places not just for the next school year, which starts in September, but also the 2020/21 school year.

Last year, 432 Section 29 appeals — where parents bring a case over the failure of a school to provide their child with a place — were lodged, according to the Department of Education

Over the past year, the number of applications for home tuition — often a stopgap measure when a child cannot get a school place — has almost doubled.

Parents have called for Education Minister Joe McHugh to use new powers available to him since last December to order a school to open a special ASD class — which typically caters for six students — if there is a demonstrable need.

So far, that power has not been utilised.

Since the introduction, in September 2017, of the new model for allocating special education teachers to schools, 79 reports of a potentially inappropriate use of special education teaching resources have been made to the department, at 64 primary schools and 15 post primary schools.

A spokesperson for the department said: “Where the department has written to the schools to request the schools review their provision and confirm that the school is utilising its allocation, in accordance with guidelines, and provide copies of timetables, 30 schools have now confirmed that they are now utilising their allocation in accordance with the guidelines, 38 schools have replied and are being reviewed, replies are awaited from six schools, while the department are continuing to engage with five schools who have not yet been in a position to demonstrate compliance.”

Solicitor Gareth Noble, of KOD Lyons, said the misuse of special teaching resources and lack of ASD classes and special education supports had emerged at every one of the 20 legal workshops the firm has held around the country recently.

He said the Department of Education had effectively “stepped off the field of play” in the last decade, with the National Council for Special Education key in providing resources, but with no teeth in enforcement.

Mr Noble said the new authority for the minister to order schools to provide special classes means “the penny has slowly dropped”, and added that constitutional responsibility to provide education rests with the Department of Education.

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