Year delay to respond to teaching concerns

The Department of Education took more than a year to properly follow up concerns about some children with Down’s syndrome being excluded from guaranteed resource teaching hours.

An investigation by Children’s ombudsman Emily Logan found the significant delay by the department taking any substantive action was contrary to fair and sound administration. Similar findings were made about the department’s failure to set timeframes for a three-year review of how more common special needs are catered for, and for not monitoring the progress of children with Down’s syndrome under that system or how well it met their special needs.

Ms Logan found that all three failings adversely affected children with Down’s syndrome. She said they unduly delayed steps to address the impact of the cluster of disabilities associated with the syndrome on their fullest possible educational inclusion.

Since 2005, children with Down’s syndrome must also have one of a list of less common or “low incidence” disabilities to automatically qualify for resource teaching hours. Most of the 80 Down’s syndrome pupils who begin mainstream school each year do so, but up to 30 who fall outside these categories must rely on a share of their schools’ special needs teaching given under the general allocation model (GAM) for pupils with a range of common learning difficulties.

The matters were raised with the department by Down Syndrome Ireland (DSI) in October 2010. But Ms Logan’s investigation found the issue was already brought up by two statutory bodies during the department’s GAM review from Mar 2008 to early 2011.

She received complaints from two parents on this issue in 2009 and 2010, prompting the investigation. She finalised the inquiry last December and her report has now been published.

It said the National Council for Special Education (NCSE), National Educational and Psychological Service (NEPS) and Irish Primary Principals’ Network questioned the approach to provision for children with Down’s syndrome during the GAM review.

“This office considers that a recommendation to embark on research after a review lasting three years, with no definitive action taken to progress the matter in the interim period, is a cause for serious concern,” Ms Logan wrote.

In Oct 2011, the department told her office it would seek the views of the NCSE, NEPS and its own inspectors about the DSI submission a year earlier, a time lapse Ms Logan said was significant.

Down Syndrome Ireland chief executive Pat Clarke said the report is a damning indictment of the Department of Education and how it treated the issue.

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn receives advice from the NCSE today on this.

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