Reverse cuts to disability teaching hours, demands union

Sheila Nunan: System currently being trialled must not be used to cut back resources for children with special needs.

Schools should have a 15% cut to extra teaching for pupils with disabilities reversed while they wait for a new system of allocating special needs staff, a union has claimed.

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation made the claim as Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan gave details of the 47 primary and second-level schools that are piloting a new system to decide how many additional teachers are given to cater for pupils with a range of special educational needs.

It should mean schools no longer need a child to have a diagnosed disability before being provided with set weekly hours of resource teaching, as currently happens. However, the new model, first proposed 15 months ago, is not guaranteed to be in place for September 2016.

In the meantime, children continue to receive 15% less resource teaching time than what they would have had up to 2011. Since that year, pupils with disabilities have had upper limits placed by the Department of Education on the number of staff that could be allocated to work with them.

A child with hearing impairment, for example, who previously would have been allocated four hours a week, now gets 22 hours less resource teaching a year. While resource teacher numbers in place this term are up by 554 (or 9%) on a year ago, this is only to cope with rising numbers of pupils with disabilities in mainstream primary schools.

“Any attempt to use the new system to cut back resources to children with special needs will be firmly resisted,” INTO general secretary Sheila Nunan said.

“In the first place, schools will want to see a reversal of the 15% cut in special education teaching hours in recent years, and a lifting of the ban on promotions in schools,” she said.

Ms Nunan said the current system is not perfect but is transparent and has parents’ and teachers’ support.

The 28 primary and 19 second-level schools in the pilot have had their special needs teachers allocated based on the system proposed last year by the National Council for Special Education. But while factors like gender mix and numbers with the lowest level in reading and maths scores have been accounted for, not all elements of how the revised model would work have been finalised.

“While there has been broad support for the proposed new allocation model among the school sector and parental and disability representative organisations, there had not been time to address all of the outstanding issues in time to fully implement the new model for 2015,” Ms O’Sullivan said.

A key issue will be the extent to which the complex needs of a minority of pupils with severe or multiple disabilities or learning difficulties would influence a school’s allocation. It is understood this is currently being worked on by the HSE.

The minister said the pilot will allow for the new model’s practical effect to be gauged, and will take account of schools’, principals’ and pupils’ experiences, and parents’ views.


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