Big changes in special needs supports due in September

Parents will no longer need to secure a diagnosis to access supports in schools

Minister for Education Richard Bruton: a “fairer” model for allocation of supports will deliver earlier intervention and better outcomes for children with special needs. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Minister for Education Richard Bruton: a “fairer” model for allocation of supports will deliver earlier intervention and better outcomes for children with special needs. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

Major changes to the way teaching supports are provided to more than 100,000 children with special needs in primary and secondary school are due to come into force this September.

Under the new system, parents will no longer need to secure a diagnosis or assessment for their child in order to secure special education teaching supports.

Instead, a “fairer” model for allocation of supports will deliver earlier intervention and better outcomes for all children with special needs, according to Minister for Education Richard Bruton.

At present, about one in five students at primary and secondary level have some form of learning difficulty.

An additional 900 extra resource teachers will be provided to schools from September under the new model. In all, Mr Bruton says no school will lose out on its allocation of resources, while an additional 1,000 schools will receive additional supports.

However, it is possible schools will receive fewer supports in the longer term if they are found to have fewer children who require support.

The new resource allocation model has been developed by the National Council for Special Education over several years in collaboration with parents, teachers and disability groups.

Profiled need

Under the system, resource teachers and support will be provided automatically to individual schools on the basis on their profiled need.

This is based on factors such as whether the school is in a disadvantaged area where needs are typically higher, the proportion of boys (who are statistically more likely to have special needs) and the outcomes of standardised tests.

This, the Department of Education says, will end the unfairness which exists under the current system, where parents have often been unable to access assessments needed to quality for educational resources.

This impacted particularly on children from disadvantaged areas, where parents often could not afford private assessments, according to officials.

Mr Bruton said the new model will allow resources to be provided based on children’s needs without having to wait for a diagnosis.

Schools will also have much greater flexibility to allocate resources based on the needs they see in the classroom.

Teachers and special needs groups gave the new model a cautious welcome.

Lorraine Dempsey of the Special Needs Parents’ Association said it would help ensure children received faster access to support.

Resources vs rhetoric

In addition, it would move away from the unnecessary labelling of children in order to secure resources. The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation said the “jury was out on the new model” and its success would depend on resource provision to match the rhetoric.

School management bodies such as the Education and Training Boards Ireland and the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools welcomed what they said was a “more equitable” system for meeting students’ needs.

The National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals welcomed the greater involvement of staff in meeting students’ needs.

“Teachers know their students best,” said Clive Byrne, the association’s director. “This new model of allocating resources, based on educational needs and the opinion of those at the coal-face of teaching, will ensure that a pupil can access resources immediately.”