Most schools that appeal for more learning support hours are turned down

Parents lack ‘reassurance’ over allocation of special education resources under new model of provision, says campaign group

A large majority of schools which submit they do not have enough special education teaching hours to meet the needs of their students have their appeals for more resources turned down, new figures show.

The figures come amid controversy over reforms to how resources will be provided to thousands of students with disabilities attending mainstream schools, with one lobby group saying parents lacked “reassurance” over the fairness of process.

Latest figures, disclosed during an Oireachtas committee meeting, show that about 86 per cent of appeals from schools in relation to their allocation of special education teachers are unsuccessful. The remaining 14 per cent went on to secure additional hours.

Last month the Department of Education published a revised special education teacher allocation model which will determine how resources are provided to thousands of students with disabilities attending mainstream schools from next September.


The department estimates that about one in three schools will lose out on teaching hours, while two out of three will hold on to what they have or gain under the new model.

The Department of Education has insisted that schools which feel they do not receive their fair share of teaching hours will be able to appeal their allocation.

However, the new approach has been criticised by advocacy groups and hundreds of school principals who fear children could lose out.

Adam Harris, chief executive of autism charity AsIAm, said uncertainty over the allocation model has caused “huge distress” to families.

“Since parents began to express their concerns we’ve been reassured by the department that a review process would address this. However, the past performance of the appeals process, the absence of parent voices and the lack of a clear budget for appeals does not give parents any reassurance,” he said.

In addition to pausing the new model, he called for an independent appeals mechanism with ring-fenced funding to ensure children do not lose out.

Until now the level of support for students with disabilities in mainstream schools was based on indicators such as enrolment, the proportion of pupils with “complex needs”, gender and outcomes of standardised assessments.

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

Minister for Education Norma Foley said this week that the new approach followed feedback from schools that existing criteria did not meet the needs of schools.

She said data on children with complex needs, supplied by local HSE services, was “erratic” in some cases which raised significant equity issues.

Ms Foley said claims that complex needs of children would be disregarded under the system were “categorically untrue”.

Instead, she said the outcome of standardised assessments will feature in school-based data. Where a child cannot take this assessment or is exempt their needs will be given the maximum weighting.

“It is a new system. I absolutely understand that change is not comfortable. That will bring its own difficulties and challenges. But I am asking people to work with us. We’ve given a significant number of months of advance notice for this. We’re asking schools to come on board, to work with us,” she said.

However, Mr Harris said using standardised tests to provide resources simply measured children’s literacy and numeracy skills, and did not take into account other issues facing children such as social or emotional challenges.

In a statement on Thursday evening, the Department of Education said it acknowledged that schools can experience unique circumstances that may be difficult to reflect in any standardised method.

“It is for this reason that the Department, working with the NCSE [National Council for Special Education] has streamlined the review process for special education teaching hours and schools who have any concerns can engage with the NCSE on their allocation,” it said.

It said reviews will be conducted by the NCSE, between March and May each year, who will consider if a school has “clearly evidenced” that the overall level of special education teaching allocation does not have capacity to meet its additional identified need.

It said “additional resources will be provided to schools in cases where the NCSE have identified that this is required”.

Meanwhile, more than 700 primary school principals have signed a petition to reverse changes to how special education teachers are allocated amid fears some children could lose out under new rules.

The National Principals’ Forum – which describes itself as a grassroots lobby group of primary school principals – has gathered the signatures and comments of 719 principals who are opposed to the changes. It said three our of four principals currently do not have enough hours to support children with additional needs in their schools and fear more could lose out.

The petition demands that the removal of “complex needs” as a criterion for the allocation of special education teaching hours is reversed. It also calls on the department to “trust principals” to input their requirements on an annual basis to ascertain the level of special educational needs.

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