Children with disabilities and their schools could be forced to continue with reduced support while they wait another two years for automatic access to special teachers.
Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan is expected to announce details this week of a pilot scheme in 50 schools to see how a planned new model for allocating special education teachers to schools would work.
The principles set to underpin the new system were set out last June by her predecessor, Ruairi Quinn, and the National Council for Special Education (NCSE). Each school would have a pre-determined number of extra teachers to cater for children with a range of special needs, eliminating the current requirement for those with disabilities to have professional assessments before supports are given to their schools.
However, Ms O’Sullivan said it could now be September 2017 before schools are allocated teaching supports under the model, which will also cover resources for pupils with more common learning difficulties.
While such a timeframe has been under discussion for some months, Ms O’Sullivan told the Irish Examiner she did not expect any change to the cut of 15% in resource-teaching hours in place since 2012.
Due to limits on special need staffing numbers and rising numbers of children qualifying for help, only 85% of the weekly one-to-one teaching recommended by the department since 2005 has been provided for schools.
Ms O’Sullivan said it was very unlikely that she would be making any change to that for the next school year.
“I would probably be misleading people if I gave any suggestion that there would be [an increase],” she said.
“We will have the same financial constraints that we always have and the increase in numbers that we expect to have as well.”
Although her 2015 budget allows for an increase in numbers of resource teachers, the allocations for next September will be notified to schools before the end of the month and will be supplemented by hours for late applicants in the autumn.
Ms O’Sullivan also announced in March that pupils with Down syndrome who did not previously qualify for individual resource teaching would receive 2.5 hours a week from September, requiring about 20 of any additional posts.
The pilot scheme will be run during the next school year at 30 primary and 20 second-level schools, which will be invited soon to take part. They will be selected based on analysis of available information by the Educational Research Centre at St Patrick’s College in Dublin.
“We want a variety of schools,” said Ms O’Sullivan. “We want urban, rural, large, small, advantaged, more advantaged, less advantaged, and so on.”
They would be allocated special education teachers based on the likely formula to be used when the new model eventually takes effect.
However, she said, a lot of work has yet to be done on determining the weighting to be attached to schools with pupils who have complex needs, which will be one of the main elements on which extra staffing numbers are decided.
One of the concerns around the new model is that, while it would end the need for professional assessments that can make it harder for some families or schools to access support, some schools could lose special education teachers.
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