Staffing system failing children in poorer areas

A STAFFING system designed to give schools in poorer areas greater access to supports for pupils with literacy and numeracy problems has left disadvantaged children with less help in maths than before it was introduced.

The general allocation model (GAM) was set up in 2005 to allow primary schools deploy learning support and resource teachers themselves without having to wait months or years for assessments for each pupil with more common learning difficulties, particularly those who needed extra teaching in literacy or maths.

Each school was given a set number of special educational needs (SEN) teachers based on pupil numbers, but because of the higher incidence of these issues among pupils in disadvantaged schools, they were allowed to appoint greater numbers of such staff. The kind of supports involved include one-to-one or small group teaching of pupils withdrawn from class for a short period each day, or in-class support during maths or English classes.

However, expert research suggests that pupils with difficulties in maths enrolled in non-disadvantaged schools are more likely to have their needs addressed. Almost 140 special education teachers responded to a questionnaire from Dr Joseph Travers, director of special education at St Patrick’s College in Dublin, and 38 of the 100 who answered questions about pupils receiving maths support worked in disadvantaged schools.

The results show that just 8.5% – that’s 2,712 out of 31,732 pupils – in all 100 schools were getting extra help in maths, compared with 12.4% in 2004, according to previous research.

Although there are lower levels of maths achievement in disadvantaged schools, the 12.3% of pupils in these schools found to be getting extra support compared with 7% in other schools, was just a slight improvement on 2004.

Dr Travers also found that 8.9% of disadvantaged schools did not provide any learning support in maths, compared with 7.6% of other schools.

“This again represents a differential negative impact on designated schools given the extent of low achievement levels in these schools,” he wrote in an article on his research in the Department of Education academic journal, Oideas.

The department said it notes the content of the report but it did not wish to comment on the findings.

The study shows that, while just over half of primary schools had increased maths support teaching, one-in-eight experienced a fall in maths support and the number of disadvantaged schools where it has decreased is one-in-five.

“It is clear that there has been a disproportionately negative impact on support teaching for maths in schools in designated disadvantaged areas. Consequently, schools in non-designated areas... seem to have benefited far more from the policy changes in relation to support teaching for maths,” Dr Travers wrote.

Because disadvantaged schools have more pupils with more serious difficulties – such as mild general learning disabilities (MGLD), which are not covered by the GAM – they previously had more staff who could also provide literacy and maths supports. But disadvantaged schools lost proportionately more of these teachers, who in some cases were not offset by teachers appointed under the 2005 staffing system.

“Children now taken in groups of 4/5 with wider ability range – [I] don’t feel their individual needs are met, especially MGLD children relating to mathematics – they now receive no maths in our school,” one teacher wrote in a questionnaire response.

Almost three-quarters of teachers said there is not enough time in their schools for learning support in maths because of the level of needs in literacy, with more than a third believing schools should focus on literacy difficulties before turning to maths.


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