Special education teachers (SETs) should not be used to cover mainstream classes when a teacher is absent, according to the Minister for Special Education.
Appearing at the Oireachtas education committee on Thursday morning, Josepha Madigan ruled out allowing schools to ‘bank’ lost hours of special education as they could last year.
Children with special educational needs are amongst those who missed out on the most when school buildings closed, according to Pauline Tully, Sinn Féin TD for Cavan-Monaghan. However, due to the substitution crisis, many SETs have been used to cover mainstream absences.
“I mean this is far from ideal but it’s the reality,” she said. Last year, schools could ‘bank’ those hours and use them at other times so that children with additional needs didn’t lose out. “I don't understand why that option is not being reintroduced.”
In response, the minister said that a number of families last year criticised the arrangement. “They felt that their children weren't getting the support when they actually needed it. There’s no withdrawal of provision, it just means that SETs will be used for the purpose that they should be used.
“As a last resort, schools were allowed to use [SETs] where there were substitution issues and where there were teacher absences. Hopefully now with the success of the vaccine rollout and the measures that [Norma Foley, the Minister for Education] has put in place, there shouldn't be the same need that there was in the past.”
Last week, a range of emergency measures were introduced to help primary schools deal with a staffing crisis as many are struggling to find cover for those who are sick or isolating. "We do acknowledge that there obviously was a substitution crisis and I hope that that has been resolved in the main," Ms Madigan said.