Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan has decided the scheme will not be ready for full rollout by September. Details have to be finalised for parts of the system, proposed last summer, to provide a fairer way of giving schools extra supports for pupils with special needs.
The principle of ensuring resources are available for children based on needs, replacing a need for children with disabilities to have a professional diagnosis before qualifying for support, has been welcomed by parents, teachers, and education groups.
Ms O’Sullivan said the working group, led by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE), which devised the proposals, needs time for further consultation with stakeholders before a new system is implemented.
Special Needs Parents’ Association chairwoman Lorraine Dempsey said there may be risks with bringing it in this year, but delaying for another year could also be problematic.
“Ultimately we would like as much training for teachers and information for parents as possible before a new model is rolled out. But a worry is that if we wait until September 2016, we’re getting into an election year and there might be other issues, or there could be unforeseen budgetary factors.”
The association also wants investment in special education to reverse the loss of 15% of resource teaching time for children with disabilities since 2011.
Ms O’Sullivan said that a robust mechanism for identifying children with complex special needs is a particular issue that has yet to be decided, and work will continue in the coming months to address concerns raised with the NCSE.
She has asked her department to design a pilot of the new model, which schools could opt into on a voluntary basis, an idea welcomed by the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation.
The model proposes a system of special teachers, to replace the roles of resource teachers and learning support teachers.
Every school’s allocation would be based on numbers of pupils with complex needs and children with low reading-test scores, the social mix of pupils, and the gender mix.
Ms O’Sullivan said a visiting teacher service for children with hearing and vision impairments will be part of a new Inclusion Support Service within the NCSE, along with special education and behavioural support services.