Calls to pause rollout of controversial changes to teaching hours for vulnerable pupils

One in three schools will lose support for disabled children while most would keep or gain hours

Disability campaigners have called on the Department of Education to pause the roll-out of controversial changes to how additional teaching hours will be provided to thousands of children with special needs.

Under the changes it is estimated that two out of three schools will either have enhanced hours or the same teaching hours, while about one in three will lose out.

Autism charity AsIAm, Down Syndrome Ireland and Inclusion Ireland say the voices of children and their families were never sought over the changes and have written to the department to request that plans are paused until “meaningful consultation takes place for those most affected by the decision – students with additional educational needs, and their families”.

In a joint statement, the three groups said there is insufficient clarity on the basis of the model for them to provide any “meaningful reassurance to families that this approach is inclusive and equitable for students with the greatest level of support needs” attending school.


“In particular, we are concerned that the new circular appears to suggest that a ground for removing complex needs from the model is the growth of special classes and schools, which will be of concern to many parents who wish their child to attend mainstream school in an inclusive and accessible setting.

“Additionally, we have not seen detailed modelling to assure us that children will not be disadvantaged by the proposed changes.”

Earlier this month the Department published a revised special education teacher allocation model, which will determine how resources are provided to individual schools.

Until now, the level of special education teacher support given to schools was based on indicators such as enrolment, the proportion of pupils with “complex needs”, gender and outcomes of standardised tests.

However, a revised model has removed “complex needs” as a criterion for the allocation of special education teaching hours.

The Department has said it was removed on the basis of concern over the accuracy of HSE data on children with special needs.

To ensure schools are not negatively impacted by these issues, the department has pledged that existing hours assigned for complex needs will be maintained for each school.

Overall, it said the changes will “strengthen the capacity of the model to give a more sustainable allocation to schools, which recognises where there are significant learning needs”.

It said the new model will not lead to any reduction in the overall number of special education teachers. Instead, it said, it will allocate them to the schools with the greatest level of need.

Minister of State for special needs Josepha Madigan has told the Dáil that about 67 per cent of schools will have either enhanced hours or the same. Of the remainder who stand to lose hours, she said more than 70 per cent of those schools will lose no more than five hours.

However, many school principals have added their voice to concerns over the changes.

The National Principals’ Forum, which describes itself as a grassroots lobby group of primary school leaders, described the changes as “baffling” and warned that many schools will have “less capacity to meet the needs of our most vulnerable pupils”.

In addition, a group of 20 school principals in Co Clare has called for the allocation model to be “redrafted urgently to become a fully inclusive and comprehensive model where all pupils receive the supports that they deserve”.

“We constantly strive to help every child to reach their full potential and by following this new model we will fail those in our care if we do not receive adequate resources to enable each child to reach their full potential,” the principals said, in a joint statement.

AsIAm, Down syndrome Ireland and Inclusion Ireland, meanwhile, say they will launch a joint consultation to gather the views and experience of the wider community on the proposed changes.

It also called on the department to ensure it “never again excludes the voices of our communities from critical decisions which affect us”.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent