Fears for allocation of special needs teachers

Potential difficulties with a new way of allocating special needs teachers will have to be closely monitored, Education Minister Richard Bruton has been warned.

While the system being rolled out from September removes the need for children to wait for professional assessments of more complex learning needs, Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools (ACCS) president, Antoinette Nic Gearailt, said it is crucial that any issues which arise must be overcome.

She said that the biggest requirement will be to allow schools to appoint a staff member to co-ordinate, plan, and deploy SEN (special educational needs) resources without reducing the total time available for teaching.

Rather than some children being allocated a strict number of hours’ extra teaching support they should receive, as happened up to now for those diagnosed with certain disabilities, schools will now have to decide how their total allocation of SEN teachers is deployed.

Ms Nic Gearailt told the ACCS annual conference that it and other management bodies have made detailed proposals for the appointment of a SEN co-ordinator in schools, with a time allocation proportionate to the allocation of SEN hours.

She asked Mr Bruton that his department urgently engages with schools bodies on the proposal.

She also flagged concerns that 20% of special needs teachers will be provided as a baseline to all schools, divided largely in line with pupil numbers.

“While accepting the need to facilitate SEN enrolment in all schools, the 20% baseline allocation would seem too high and inevitably reduces the hours available for distribution to schools with greater SEN needs,” she said.

Parents no longer have an entitlement to appeal special teaching resources, as there are no longer teaching allocations to individual children. But Department of Education officials told the Public Accounts Committee this week that schools can appeal if they feel their allocation is inadequate.

Other factors used to determine each school’s total allocation will include numbers of students identified with the assistance of health authorities as having disabilities that require more specific support.

But Ms Nic Gearailt said some mechanism other than Junior Certificate English and maths results should be used to determine literacy and numeracy levels in a school, as they do not reflect standards of students as they enter second level.

The association represents the country’s 96 community and comprehensive (C&C) schools, all but four of which were forced to close when members of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland held two strikes last October and November.

Almost one third closed or were partially closed when the union withdrew from supervision and substitution duties on November 7, as C&C schools have a mix of ASTI and Teachers’ Union of Ireland members.

The ASTI is continuing its industrial action opposing junior cycle reforms, but recently advised members to co-operate with an assessment task worth 10% of marks in Junior Certificate English that was done in December by students taught by non-ASTI teachers.

Schools were told this week that the timeframe for this to be done is being extended by a further week, meaning students who have yet to do the assessment task must now do it between May 2 and 8.

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