Any special needs teacher losses ‘must be phased in’

Schools that lose special needs teachers under a new allocation system must have any cuts phased in, a principals’ leader warned.

Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan has yet to say if, and when, the revised model of deciding each primary school’s special teacher numbers is to be adopted.

The system, recommended last summer by the National Council for Special Education, would see the resources provided based on numbers of pupils with complex special needs, those scoring significantly below average on tests, the social context of families in the school, and gender mix.

A move away from the current system, where children must have a professional assessment of disability before resource teaching hours are allocated to their school, has been welcomed by all education groups.

But with the possibility of some schools having their allocation of resource and learning support teachers reduced under any new model, the Irish Primary Principals’ Network believes changes must be introduced carefully.

It's president, Brendan McCabe, said: “Where there is an indication that a school will lose teacher numbers, it should be done over time rather than arbitrarily.

“We can’t have a situation where a child has extra support on a Friday but it’s gone on Monday.”

Mr McCabe said he sees no reason why a new system could not be in place for the next school year in September, but that it must first be properly explained to parents.

“It’s vital that parents are given the information about the new model, maybe by (National Council for Special Education) staff. They need to communicate the rationale and the criteria, particularly for the families of children who might lose resources,” Mr McCabe said.

He will raise the issue today at the Irish Primary Principals’ Network’s annual conference, which will be addressed by Ms O’Sullivan tomorrow.

She said this week that the Government has not decided if the new system can be implemented for September, as she wants to ensure first that the system is right and fair.

Her officials met education stakeholders last week and a decision on whether, and if so when, to adopt the changes is likely in the next month.

Ms O’Sullivan acknowledged concerns raised in the Dáil by Fianna Fáil education spokesman Charlie McConalogue that schools had to best-guess families’ financial circumstances, as principals were not comfortable asking for such sensitive information.

Ms O’Sullivan said that schools were asked to do so in good faith, but more accurate information would be available on numbers with complex needs and who have lower reading or maths scores.


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