Concern over autism schools’ status

TUTORS and parents at some of the country’s 13 ABA schools for children with autism have raised concerns about Department of Education proposals to give them full special school status, describing it as “the death of ABA schooling in Ireland”.

Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) teachers have also questioned how the existing pilot model could be rejected by the department when “whole school evaluations” never took place.

A number of parents and tutors have said they can’t understand why the department is set against ABA when there is a raft of international academic research highlighting how beneficial it is to children with autism.

“If these deals go ahead, staff will be demoted to SNA status even though many have fourth-level education, with masters degrees in ABA as well as other qualifications in psychology,” said Trish Carolan, an ABA supervisor in Dublin. “I am also greatly concerned that the newly-trained primary teachers who may be recruited to work in our schools will not be required to have any autism-specific qualifications,” she said.

Kieran Kennedy, chief executive of Autism charity Shine, has said he has serious concerns about highly-educated tutors not having any role in education of the children and their role being relegated to a “care model”.

According to the letters of offer from the department, anyone previously working as a tutor as the school will be re-deployed as an SNA and will work under the direction of the class teacher. The deal does not envisage that they will have any kind of special elevated SNA role due to a superior skill set.

ABA tutors have been told informally that they will have up to seven years within which to obtain a mainstream teaching qualification. Last night they said this clause should be included in the deal. The typical ABA tutor has a psychology degree and has attended ABA training courses or completed a masters degree in the discipline.

Letters of offer were sent to 12 of the 13 schools last week, outlining the terms of the deal. It is up to the schools’ boards of management to decide whether to accept the offer.


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