State bid to take over autism schools

THE Department of Education has written to the boards of management of 12 schools teaching children with autism offering to take over the long-term funding of their schools.

It’s expected there will be much controversy among boards of management and parents as they decide whether to accept the new structure, which while guaranteeing future funding, is likely to dilute the role of Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) programmes in the pilot project schools.

It is believed the department, as part of its offer, wants to replace the ABA tutors with primary school teachers and have suggested providing a certain level of ABA training to special needs assistants (SNAs).

The Department of Education confirmed last night the Tánaiste and Education Minister Mary Coughlan has granted recognition to two organisations – Saplings School Ltd and Autism Ireland – to become patrons of these special schools. COPE Foundation has already been granted recognition to potentially take over the Cork ABA School on Boreenmanna Road in the city.

Last night, the Tánaiste said she “welcomed this development” and noted “permanent funding arrangements, including funding for the recruitment of principal teachers and teachers, will now be put in place for the new special schools”.

Negotiations between the 12 schools and the department on their future have been under way since 2007 as the long-term funding of these pilot projects formed part of the Programme for Government.

Up to now these schools, which were all running ABA programmes, only had pilot project status and their future was uncertain. However, the department has long been wary of schools where ABA is the only teaching method used.

It has sought to have fully qualified primary school teachers teaching ABA. In general, ABA tutors, while trained in ABA and holding degrees, do not have a primary or secondary school teaching qualification.

Last night, Irish Autism Action said the schools have a “window of time” within which they can make up their minds whether to accept the offer. Irish Autism Action were behind the successful Autism Ireland bid for patronage. The IAA said the new schools would “have a strong ethos based around evidence-based approaches inclusive of ABA”.

“These letters outline how those schools would transition from being pilot projects to becoming Special Schools for Children with Autism and Highly Complex Needs. We can also confirm two patron bodies have been established through which the schools would be administered should they choose to adopt the offer being made. The decision on whether to accept the offer will be made by the individual boards of management of the schools,” a spokesman said.


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