Only 21 more resource teachers can be appointed to schools between now and June to work with children with disabilities.
Despite a Department of Education increase this year to the limit on resource teacher numbers — by 480 to 6,225 — the total now allocated to schools has passed 6,200.
The National Council for Special Education yesterday notified hundreds of schools of the allocation of resource teaching hours adding up to a total of 302 full-time posts, in addition to the 5,902 posts allocated before the summer holidays on foot of earlier applications. Although the total is 15% more than two years ago, the 939 extra resource teacher posts in the system in that time are only enough to keep pace with rising demand, in line with overall pupil number increases.
The NCSE said it had a small number of posts left to deal with emergency applications during the year — the substantial majority of eligible students having been catered for in the June allocation — and this latest round would cater for those whose assessments were not ready in time.
“The NCSE retains a small number of posts to deal with other situations, for example, where a child may present with a diagnosis but there are no resource teaching supports in the school,” said a spokesperson. “The NCSE expects to be able to respond to any such demand during the coming school year.”
It is unclear, however, how schools that already have resource teaching allocations must cater for children who receive a diagnosis during the school year — or receive one since the deadline to apply passed in mid-September. Pat Goff, principal of Coolcotts National School in Wexford and an Irish Primary Principals Network ex-president, said most pupils were dealt with by the two rounds of allocations. “But most schools would be asked to cater for any newly diagnosed pupils out of our existing resources for the rest of the year,” he said.
The NCSE said further allocations may also be made if more resources were freed up due to students leaving a school, for example, and it approved 50 further resource teaching posts last January based on applications from schools after the October allocation.
The cap on resource teacher numbers, although it has been increased to meet rising demand, has meant that, for the last two years, pupils with disabilities are only allocated 85% of weekly hours set out in the Department of Education’s 2005 rules.
A new scheme that would give a school special needs teachers based on a wider profile — to include pupils’ social background, levels of complex needs, and scores in maths and reading — will eliminate the need for a diagnosis. However, it is unlikely to be in place until 2016 and, unless the Department of Education alters its policy, schools will still be beholden to the allowed number of posts.
Special Needs Parents’ Association chair Lorraine Dempsey called last week for the full allocation of resources in line with children’s needs, in accordance with the 2004 Education for People with Special Educational Needs Act.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved