Fears for Down Syndrome pupils

Parents of children with Down syndrome due to start school this year remain unclear if they will have access to one-to-one special teaching.

Fears for Down Syndrome pupils

Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan has been asked to rectify the situation for next September in which children with Down syndrome, who have a mild general learning disability, must depend on a portion of their school’s general allocation of learning support teaching hours.

This is different to most pupils with Down syndrome, who qualify for their own individual resource teaching allocation because they have a moderate general learning disability.

The different treatment of children with Down syndrome, depending on their diagnosis, has been in effect since 2005 under a system for allocating resource teaching hours to mainstream schools.

A replacement model being designed by the National Council for Special Education would end the differentiation between general allocation and individual hours, giving each school a set number of special teachers based on the overall profile of the pupil population.

Ms O’Sullivan said earlier this month that the plan would not be in place for the next school year, as she wants to ensure it is done properly.

But at a meeting with her this week, Down Syndrome Ireland (DSI) representatives and parents said they want the situation rectified urgently for pupils with Down syndrome who still do not qualify for resource teaching.

“They left disappointed because this is such a pressing issue, and she wasn’t able to give a timescale for it to be resolved. They are very anxious for it to be sorted out for pupils entering primary schools next September,” a DSI spokesperson said.

In response to questions, the Department of Education did not say if the situation would be revised for the coming school year.

A spokeswoman said that Ms O’Sullivan plans to meet in the coming week with other parents of children with Down syndrome.

“The minister will consider the issues that have been raised by DSI and will listen to the position that parents and representative organisations wish to put forward regarding this matter,” she said.

A number of families have brought judicial review proceedings to the High Court in relation to the 2005 scheme’s distinction between children with mild and moderate general learning disability.

Last June, two families secured an order for their children with Down syndrome who have a mild general learning disability to each get the same four hours and 15 minutes of weekly resource teaching as pupils with a moderate general learning disability.

Ms O’Sullivan told the Irish Examiner, following the decision this month to trial the new system for allocating teachers of special needs to schools, that she does want to see changes to the current model eventually.

“I think people were interested in having a pilot, and I was interested myself, just to see exactly how it would work,” she said.

“Because this is a very sensitive area, it’s extraordinarily important for individual parents who have a child with a special learning need and we want to make sure that we get it right.”

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