Planned new system for special needs resources is shelved

Reforms were aimed at combating ‘inequitable’ allocation of resources

Since late last year the Department of Education has working to implement a new system of allocating resources that would allow pupils with special educational needs gain access to extra teaching resources without having to get a diagnosis of disability.

Since late last year the Department of Education has working to implement a new system of allocating resources that would allow pupils with special educational needs gain access to extra teaching resources without having to get a diagnosis of disability.

 

Plans to reform the allocation of resources for special education needs have been shelved for this year despite concerns about unfairness with the current system.

Since late last year the Department of Education has working to implement a new system of allocating resources that would allow pupils with special educational needs gain access to extra teaching resources without having to get a diagnosis of disability.

However, Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan said she was not planning to change the system in September 2015, as had been originally proposed.

Instead, she has asked department officials to design a pilot of the new model which schools could opt into on a voluntary basis.

In making this decision, the Minister said she was guided by the advice of a working group of the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) that “ sufficient time” should be allowed for further consultation with the education stakeholders before the new model was implemented in schools.

The new system was aimed at combatting what the NCSE described as the “inequitable” situation where wealthier parents could gain access to resources through a private diagnosis of learning difficulty. The department also has long believed that some learning and support and resources teaching hours were being misdirected to other tasks in better-off schools.

Under the new system, almost 11,000 support posts – which cost €600 million a year – would be allocated under new criteria, including the school’s “educational profile”.

The department has encountered some difficulty in getting completed forms containing data for this profile returned from schools.

Ms O’Sullivan welcomed the fact that there had been “a broad welcome for the proposed new model from parents, disability groups, schools and stakeholders,” the department said, in a statement.

“However, she also said that, while there has been significant consultation in relation to the proposed new model, there had not been sufficient time to address fully the concerns which have been raised for the September 2015 school year.

“In particular, the Minister noted that a robust mechanism for identifying children with complex special educational needs had yet to be finalised.”

While consultations continue, the Minister has announced the development of a new Inclusion Support Service within the NCSE to assist schools in supporting children with special educational needs.

This service will include the Special Education Support Service (SESS), the National Behaviour Support Service (NBSS) and the Visiting Teacher Service for children who are deaf/hard of hearing and for children who are blind/visually impaired (VTSVHI) which until now had been managed by the department.

The department said the change would mean that schools would receive a better and more integrated service in managing special educational needs.

The department is also reviewing the roles, structures and optimal working arrangements for the NCSE, the Inclusion Support Service and National Educational Psychological Service. Submissions are sought from any interested stakeholders in relation to the issues by March 13th.

The NCSE said it was very pleased that the Minister was expanding its role. Its ceo Teresa Griffin said: “Bringing these support services together will, over time, help to improve outcomes for students with special needs.”

The agency also welcomed the Minister’s decision “to continue to develop the proposal for a better and more equitable way” of allocating additional special education teachers to schools.