Quinn defers decision on extra resources for pupils with Down’s syndrome

Dozens of children with Down’s syndrome will fall further behind after Ruairi Quinn, the education minister, deferred any decision that would give them automatic entitlement to additional teaching, a campaign group claims.

The minister agreed in June to consider the case raised on behalf of children with Down’s syndrome who have a mild general learning disability, but no other disability.

They depend on a share of their school’s general allocation of resource teaching hours for all children with common learning difficulties. But those who have Down’s syndrome and a moderate general learning disability, or who have another disability, qualify automatically for a set weekly level of one-to-one resource teaching.

In a highly critical report in May, Children’s Ombudsman Emily Logan said Mr Quinn’s department had significantly delayed any response after concerns on this point were raised in 2010. She also found there was no monitoring of the progress of children with Down’s syndrome who were catered for by the general allocation model, who number around 24 of the 80 children with the syndrome starting primary school every year.

But the same week, a report of the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) told Mr Quinn that Down’s syndrome on its own should not be re-classified as making pupils automatically eligible for individual resource teaching. It found no research concluding that a child with Down’s syndrome with a mild general learning disability should be given more supports than others in the same range of intellectual disabilities.

Down Syndrome Ireland (DSI) discussed the issues with the minister at a meeting in June, but he has now written to tell them now is not an appropriate time to reclassify certain disabilities. He has decided to await the report due by next Easter of an NCSE working group appointed to develop a new system for allocating special needs teaching resources to schools.

Pat Clarke, chief executive of DSI, said the minister’s refusal to provide vital teaching hours to all children with Down’s syndrome starting school next month is devastating.

“Children with Down’s syndrome who fall within the mild disability range will now be left languishing for yet another year with inadequate resources. These children remain in a situation whereby they have to fail further in order to qualify,” he said.

Mr Quinn wrote that he accepts there may be perceptions of discrimination between children depending on their IQ level, but he sees no merit in making immediate changes in the absence of evidence pointing to unequal or unfair treatment.

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