More school details will decide special-needs supports

Reforms to how schools are allocated special education teachers will see changes to a system in place since 2005.

More school details will decide special-needs supports

Since then, children with a disability, a hearing or visual impairment, or a specified learning difficulty, only got resource teaching hours if they had a professional assessment confirming a special need.

This sees around 7,500 resource teachers allocated to schools, based on set weekly hours for each child.

Those hours have been cut by 15% since 2012 due to government restrictions, although resource teacher numbers have risen as more pupils had the necessary diagnosis.

In a separate system, more than 5,000 learning-support teachers are provided to primary schools for pupils with more common learning difficulties like dyslexia, or who need more help with reading, writing or maths.

Schools decide themselves which children get extra teaching from allocations based on their pupil profile in 2006, long outdated in many cases.

Schools should find out in weeks their allocation for the next school year under the revised system announced yesterday. This will allow staff time to plan who is supported and in what way, something they could not previously finalise until the summer holidays.

Children with more complex needs, who may previously have needed a diagnosis to get resource teaching, will be identified by the HSE before they start school.

Their details will be notified to the National Council for Special Education and extra teaching hours added to their schools’ allocations, but school staff will now decide what level of support they get based on analysis of their learning needs.

Crucially, much more detailed criteria will determine each school’s allocations. It is hoped these new profiles will help remove inequities, like schools with much different numbers who need extra help relying on the same levels of learning support.

Strong factors will be numbers of low- scoring pupils in English and maths tests in primary schools and, at second level, students’ Junior Certificate grades in those subjects.

As well as factors previously used, such as gender mix and disadvantage status, detailed 2014 social data collected from primary schools will be taken into account.

Second-level data, like numbers with waivers on State exam fees, will also be used. Every school will get a baseline allocation, as a share of around one-fifth of the total number of support teachers being distributed to the entire system.

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