Principals and teachers will play a key role in completing education assessments for vulnerable students under a new reporting process for all schools.
A previous attempt to roll out these education assessments was halted last October following concern among principals, teachers’ unions and campaigners over issues such as the legality of the system and the additional work involved.
In an information note sent to schools on Wednesday, the Department of Education and the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) said they have since revised the process to ensure it fulfils legal obligations and is “rooted in existing assessment practices in schools.”
Legal responsibility for the process will lie with the HSE rather than schools.
“What is being asked of schools is to transfer information already held in student support plans to the NCSE, which will complete the process by providing the relevant information to the HSE,” the information note states.
The move to provide education assessments follows a court ruling in October 2021 which found there is a legal obligation to provide an assessment of education needs as part of the HSE’s assessment of need process.
These assessments form a key part in the decision-making process for the provision of additional supports for vulnerable children.
In a statement, the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) said it has secured significant amendments such as time allocation, access to support and a review following a six-month trial of the new process.
The union advised members that these educational needs assessments are not clinical reports and will not be used as a replacement for assessments undertaken by educational psychologists and other health professionals.
The development has received a mixed response among some teachers who raised concerns in social media posts over the impact on teaching time for students with additional needs and the additional workload involved.
The INTO said time will be allocated from the school special education teaching resources for teachers nominated to assist with the completion of these forms.
Under the process, principals may nominate themselves, deputy principals or other teaching colleagues to complete the relevant parts of the report form.
During a trial period over recent months, the average time taken to complete a form ranged from 20-30 minutes at primary level and up to an hour at post-primary.
Where a school is requested to complete a large number of these forms and requires additional support beyond that provided in new guidance notes and videos, schools are advised to contact the Departmental of Education to access administrative or further specialist support.
The INTO said it has agreed to establish a monthly meeting to monitor the process, prior to a full review next June.
“We urge members to continue to send feedback on their experiences of the new approach, and we will seek further supports as may be required,” it said.
“While we welcome assurances received from the Department of Education that the new process for reporting of education needs will not be used as a replacement for assessments undertaken by educational psychologists and other health professionals, we once again highlight our members’ deep frustration at the inability of vulnerable children to access mental health and sensory supports in a timely manner.
The union said it was aware that there remains concern among members in respect of the new reporting process and will use new monthly monitoring meetings to continue to engage with the Department of Education and NCSE.