Children with Down Syndrome to get extra support

Dozens of children with Down Syndrome who had not previously been eligible for one-to-one special needs teaching in mainstream schools will get extra support from September.

Children with Down Syndrome to get extra support

Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan got Cabinet approval yesterday for the move which could benefit up to 200 pupils, although they will not get the three hours a week for which most children with Down Syndrome qualify.

The majority of primary pupils with Down Syndrome qualify for resource teaching hours in mainstream primary schools because they also have a moderate general learning disability or other qualifying condition.

But more than 20 children who start primary school each year with a mild general learning disability must access extra teaching from within their school’s general allocation of learning support teachers, with no guarantee of one-to-one help.

While the distinction would no longer be relevant when a new model proposed to replace the need for a disability diagnosis takes effect, its introduction has been delayed until at least September 2016.

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After recent meetings with Down Syndrome Ireland (DSI) and families, the minister said the measure would be put in place until such time as the new system comes into effect.

“It has been clear to me that the cluster of difficulties which children with Down Syndrome face require that some additional teaching supports be made available,” she said.

The interim measure will not apply to children who have a mild general learning disability but who do not have Down Syndrome. More than 20 full-time teaching posts will be required, costing over €1 million a year, but the minister said additional costs in 2015 would be met from within her existing budget.

DSI chief executive Pat Clarke said that, although the 2.5 hours a week being made available is less than provided for other children, it was good to have specialist teaching time ring-fenced.

“We welcome this measure, pending the introduction of the new model for allocating special needs teaching to schools. It has been a long, hard fight over 10 years and we need to get this sorted out as soon as possible,” he said.

“We’re just a bit concerned that the minister is talking about it being implemented over a couple of years and not specifically in 2016,” Mr Clarke said.

The new model will mean all schools eventually get an allocation of special needs teachers to cater for children with a range of disabilities and learning difficulties, eliminating the need for pupils to have a diagnosis or label to get individual weekly teaching hours.

Since 2011, resource teaching hours allocated to children with disabilities have been cut because of Government-imposed limits on special needs teachers. Pupils now receive 85% of the support that had been available since the current system was introduced in 2005.

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