Criticism of new special needs plan questioned

The National Council for Special Education says a new system of giving schools extra teachers for special needs pupils will help remove delays in supports.

The council questioned complaints by the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation that it will create more work for schools and hinder, rather than speed up, the extra help needed by children with learning difficulties.

In advice to Education Minister Ruairi Quinn on supports for children with special educational needs (SEN), the NCSE fell short of calling for full implementation of laws that would automatically entitle students to resources they are assessed as needing.

Instead, it says the 2004 legislation should be brought into full force as soon as resources allow, the estimated cost of which is at least €235m a year.

Mr Quinn has asked his department to report back on the recommendations and asked the council to develop its proposal for a revised model of allocating supports with SEN, based on further consultations.

He said yesterday there would be no cutbacks to the €1.3bn of his budget to support students with special needs, but the NCSE has had increased applications for resource teaching in secondary schools and for primary pupils with more complex needs.

This could mean schools get less than the 85% of recommended supports currently being provided because of a cap on resource teacher numbers.

The NCSE said some schools may not have enough learning support staff and others have more than they need under the general allocation model that provides a set number of learning support teachers based on the school size, and the social and gender mixes of its pupils.

It suggests schools’ requirements should in future be determined by factors like standardised test results.

However, the INTO said it will only make it harder for children to access support, claiming teachers would have to provide reports on every child with a learning difficulty, delaying access and taking from teaching time.

NCSE chief executive Teresa Griffin said the plan would mean parents would no longer have to wait months or years for assessments before getting resource teaching hours.

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