Thousands of parents should no longer have to wait years or raise cash to get diagnosis that a child with disability needs for extra teaching support in schools.
Two thirds of schools could lose small levels of teaching supports for pupils with additional learning needs. However, a new system to take effect from September aims to better target resources at pupils who need them most.
Richard Bruton, the education minister, said 1,000 schools would get more special teachers in September, and no school will lose resources in the first year of implementing the new system.
Children already allocated resource teaching on foot of a diagnosed need will also retain those supports while they remain at school.
The Special Needs Parents Association (SNPA) said the system is a major step toward properly catering for educational needs of children with a disability. But, it said, access to many other education support schemes and special classes will still require a professional assessment.
“The most positive aspect is that kids on long waiting lists for assessment will now be able to access support from the next school year. This is usually the time of year when there is most pressure to get an assessment or find money for one,” said SNPA chair Lorraine Dempsey.
With some parents concerned that pupils who do not need support might be given extra teaching at the expense of their children with more complex needs, she said, schools should be kept accountable for how they deploy resources.
She said evidence should be kept on the impact, to see that pupils are getting enough help and that it is effective.
The new model is based on a system being developed since 2014 by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) and piloted at 47 primary and second-level schools last year. NCSE chairman Eamon Stack said students would no longer be given disability labels that can follow them for life.
While extra supports will be given to schools for those children with more complex needs, schools will decide how to deploy their total allocation of extra teaching supports.
Those will be decided mostly by a detailed profile of each school, expanding a general allocation model that provides learning support teachers for pupils with more common learning difficulties.
The freedom to decide what supports are given to all children is intended to help schools respond more directly to their learning needs, with guidelines and support promised from the NCSE and National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS).
The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation cautioned that the principal’s office may be in danger of becoming the battleground for resources, saying schools would not become “gatekeepers for the State’s failure to resource schools”.
It said about 600 of the 900 extra support teachers being provided for the next school year would have been needed just to match rising enrolments anyway.
National Parents’ Council -Primary chief executive Áine Lynch welcomed a model that will remove the need for labels, providing supports instead based on children’s needs.
The Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools said the new system should mean less cumbersome processes for schools, but further work will be needed to embed the model in the most equitable and effective way.