Currently, those who teach in special schools can only complete their probation period on a restricted basis and if they transfer to a mainstream school they must undergo the whole process again.
Sharon Kennedy, from Dublin, graduated from St Patrick’s College three years ago and started working in a special school for children with mild learning difficulties where she teaches the full mainstream curriculum.
“I quickly learned to cope with conditions such as autism, ADHD and global developmental delay. I coordinated speech and language therapists, psychiatrists, occupational therapists etc and I did so while teaching the full primary school curriculum, including Irish, and while completing my probation,” she said.
Though she has already completed her 100 days of probation, as a teacher in a special school Sharon now has to spend a further 50 days in a mainstream setting to achieve full recognition as a primary teacher.
“I work alongside other teachers doing the same job every day but I get less recognition and a lesser registration. This is outright discrimination,” she said.
“Parents and teachers of children with special educational needs are constantly fighting for equality in society. How can there ever be equality in education when the Teaching Council, the very body that sets the standards for teachers and teaching in Ireland, believe SEN teachers are in some way second rate?”
Members of the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) have called on their union to organise a meeting for all newly qualified teachers affected by restricted probations and negotiate with the Teaching Council, Department of Education and Skills and the Colleges of Further Education to allow probation to be undertaken in the fourth year of teacher training.
Joe McKeown, a member of the Central Executive Committee (CEC), said under the current system newly qualified teachers of children with special needs are treated as less able and less competent than teachers of other pupils.
“It is our professional opinion that a teacher who can teach a group of children with special needs can teach any group of children. Their ability to do this needs to be recognised by the department and the Teaching Council,” he said.
“Young teachers leaving college next year will be faced with years of uncertainty as they search for the required number of teaching days to acquire fully qualified status.
“This does not need to happen. They will have completed a longer course of four years duration. They will have more teaching experience than any other group of students in the history of the State. They will have been assessed more thoroughly, more frequently and in a wider variety of settings than any previous cohort. It should be possible to ensure that, at the end of the four years in college, they are recognised as the competent, capable teachers they are.”
Meanwhile, INTO members have called on the Department of Education and Skills to support the continued professional development of primary teachers by investing more money in upskilling.
A motion supporting increased professional development for teachers was passed at the union’s annual congress in Ennis yesterday.
Teresa Walsh, a teacher in Dublin, told the conference teachers need incentives to engage in professional development. She said masters courses cost up to €10,000 and yet allowances for additional qualifications has been abolished.
Mary O’Flaherty, a member of the union’s executive, said lifelong learning was “essential” in the constantly changing and evolving world of teaching.
“There should be a framework of professional development in which system, school and teachers’ needs are met. System needs such as curriculum implementation or child protection should take place during contracted school hours, and at no cost to the teacher,” she said.
Ms O’Flaherty called for the further development of e-learning and web-based learning, allowances for a range of accredited courses, a multi-annual budget for professional development and the allocation to all schools of a number of professional development days per annum.
She said high-quality professional development should be an integral part of teachers’ professional lives throughout their teaching careers, and all teachers should have the opportunity to engage in professional development.
Teachers also want professional development that relates to the education system to take place during school hours and called for incentives for those who elect to upskill in their own time.
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