ASTI under fire for refusal to implement plans for students with disabilities

Teachers union’s move condemned as ‘truly shocking discrimination’

A union for secondary school teachers has been condemned for its refusal to implement individual education plans for students with disabilities. File photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

A union for secondary school teachers has been condemned for its refusal to implement individual education plans for students with disabilities.

This week the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland (ASTI) advised its members to refuse to implement individual education plans due to concerns over teachers' workloads.

Responding to the move, AsIAm, Ireland’s largest autism charity, said it amounted to “truly shocking discrimination” against students with disabilities.

Adam Harris, the group's founder and chief executive, said: "To suggest that a teacher knowingly should refuse to implement measures which a child requires to learn is grossly unethical.


“Individual education plans often include recommendations such as permitting movement breaks, using clear communication or providing visual supports.

"These small changes can be the difference between a child remaining in school or otherwise. The right to attend your local school is not the gift of the ASTI. It is a principle enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities and provided for under the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act."

The Special Needs Parents’ Association also said it was disappointed that children were being “held to ransom” by the union.

Gina Grant, a parent and association member, said: “While resources may be required to benefit the full school body, to bring a section of learners to the forefront like this is grossly unjust.”

However, the ASTI says that while the Act provides this requirement, the section of the legislation that relates to individual education plans has yet to be enacted.

The union said the new special education needs model “takes no account of the [model’s] time, workload and practical implications” for teachers and schools.

In a statement, the union said teachers’ professionalism and commitment to inclusive education was not being supported by the necessary resources and training.

It said plans that required subject teachers to collaborate with parents, external agencies and other teachers for each student with a special education need were “impractical”.

“The wider issue of teacher workload and initiative overload is not being addressed,” it added.

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland has similar advice for members in place, though they have not been publicised to date.

A spokesman for the Department of Education said schools were under statutory obligations to provide “an appropriate education to all, including young people with special educational needs”.

The department is writing to both ASTI and TUI highlighting that planning for the education of a young person with special needs is absolutely essential.

Internationally recognised

Mr Harris, meanwhile, said individual education plans were recognised internationally as a central tool in supporting students with disabilities.

Parent Jen Kane-Mason, whose son Tiernan (18) has a diagnosis of autism, says these education plans have been crucial in helping to fulfill his potential.

“He struggled in secondary school and spent almost a year out of school,” she says.

“It was only through the planning involved in putting together an individual education plan that we managed to keep him in school. It helped identify what his strengths were, want he enjoyed and built up a programme and support system around that. He’s now studying sound production in a college of further education.”

She said she feared the unions’ actions could lead to children being isolated at home or not being unable to participate fully in school and not realising their full potential.

“I believe the impact of removing individual education plans will be that many young people will not be unable to attend school or won’t be supported to meet their learning 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