Q&A: How will changes to provision of disability supports affect my child at school?

Department of Education says new system will lead to better outcomes for children

A formal diagnosis will no longer be required to access special needs resources in schools. Photograph: Getty Images

A formal diagnosis will no longer be required to access special needs resources in schools. Photograph: Getty Images


Q. Will my son or daughter lose out under the new system for allocating supports?

The Department of Education insists existing resources provided to schools for special needs will be protected. No school will receive an allocation of less than they have in the current school year. In theory, then, no child should lose supports they already have, as long as they are in school.

In fact, more children should gain. About 900 additional resource teachers will be available from next September.

Overall, the Department insists supports will be available faster and based on children’s individual needs, leading to better outcomes.

However, schools receive their allocations for two years. This means that – despite political pledges to the contrary – there cannot be absolute certainty a child will always get the resources they need over the longer term.

Q. So, what’s wrong with the current system?

Students from poorer areas have had to wait long periods of time to get extra help. This is due to long waiting lists for a diagnosis and the fact that many parents could not afford a private diagnosis.

While every child is different, this isn’t reflected under the current system. Pupils tend to receive the same supports for the same diagnosis, even if their needs differ vastly.

For example, a child with autism may be able to perform well in their Leaving Cert, while another child with autism may be non-verbal and face steep learning difficulties; both may end up with the same supports.

As a result, there are concerns that substantial numbers of resource teaching posts are not always meeting students’ real needs.

Q. Will I need to get a diagnosis for my child in order to get supports in future?

Officials say the new system will remove the requirement for a diagnosis in order to secure resources. Instead, schools will have the flexibility to allocate supports based on the learning needs of individual students.

At present, many parents feel forced to secure a diagnosis privately because a diagnosis of disability automatically unlocks key supports,

Under the new system, however, schools will be front-loaded with resources to provide supports to students without delay, according to the Department.

Q. How can the Department accurately measure a school’s needs if children are not being diagnosed first?

Schools will automatically get an overall allocation of resources based on their individual profiles. These profiles are based on factors such as whether the school is in a disadvantaged area (where needs are typically higher), the gender breakdown (boys are statistically more likely to have special needs), the outcomes of standardised tests and the number of children with complex needs, as identified by the Health Service Executive.

Q. So, who decides what supports my son or daughter will get in the classroom?

Principals and teachers will have a big say on how much help individual children require. The Department insists teaching staff will be supported in doing this. Guidelines are being issued on how to identify children who need support, along with an “inclusion support service” to improve the capacity of schools and teachers to make these calls.

There will be an appeals process for parents if they feel their child is not getting the support they need.

Q. Will the system work?

The Department says the new model has been piloted in almost 50 schools during the past year.

A review published on Wednesday indicates that schools welcomed the flexibility of being able to allocate resources based on need. They found they could provide supports faster and move away from labelling children in order to secure supports.

However, the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) has warned that previous pledges that schools would be front-loaded with resources have fallen through.

“The reality is that resources didn’t match the rhetoric. The current claim remains to be proven and will be closely monitored,” a union spokesman said.