Schools still short of special needs assistants despite increase – union

Report shows rise in number of pupils with special needs in mainstream schools

There is still a shortage of special needs assistants in primary schools, despite a new Department of Education report showing a significant increase in their numbers, a teachers’ union has said.

The report, Education Indicators for Ireland, found that the number of children in special classes in mainstream primary schools rose from 3,816 in 2014 to 6,229 in 2018 with another 1,000 places to be added this year.

Up to 15,950 special needs assistants will be working in schools this year, an increase of 51 per cent since 2011, and the Government has budgeted for another 1,064 assistants by the end of next year.

Minister for Education Joe McHugh said the data – the first time statistics on the scale of school and third-level education and training had been made available in a single report – showed “how far we have come in recent years”.


Irish National Teachers’ Organisation spokesman David Geary said the figures show that schools are providing education to “an ever-increasing number of students with special needs in mainstream schools” but he pointed to significant shortcomings in the availability of supports for students.

“There are insufficient numbers of special education teachers and special needs assistants available in primary schools,” he said.

“Our members routinely share their difficulties in accessing such resources, alongside clinical therapy services such as speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, behavioural therapists and other counselling services.”

Mental health

Support for students with mental health difficulties were “practically non-existent”, while the National Educational Psychological Service, an agency of the department, was “under-resourced”.

Mr Geary said the report shows Irish primary schools remain crowded, four above the EU average. He called on the Government to meet the euro zone average of 20 pupils in a single class.

Diarmaid de Paor, deputy general secretary of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland, warned against complacency in the figures. He noted the “serious systemic problems” at second level, including chronic teacher shortages, a decline in the attractiveness of teaching as a profession and “grossly inadequate school infrastructure”.

“These factors result in difficulties recruiting school principals due to workload and completely inadequate in-school management posts,” he said.

The department’s report also shows the percentage of pupils taking the Leaving Cert established programme rising to 69 per cent in 2018 from 65.5 per cent in 2014. Almost three in four pupils now undertake transition year.

The report found that the percentage of pupils studying a foreign language other than French stood at 44.2 per cent in 2018, up from 38.8 per cent in 2014, while the percentage of post-primary schools offering at least two foreign languages stood at 74 per cent, up from 70 per cent.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times