Teachers may face ‘fitness to teach’ complaints if they do not support special needs pupils

Autism charity issues warning following ASTI and TUI instructions to members

‘The ASTI has repeatedly refused to amend the wording of its advice, particularly in relation to teachers’ responsibilities to  provide for students with disabilities,’ said Adam Harris of the AsIAm charity. Photograph: iStock

‘The ASTI has repeatedly refused to amend the wording of its advice, particularly in relation to teachers’ responsibilities to provide for students with disabilities,’ said Adam Harris of the AsIAm charity. Photograph: iStock

 

Teachers who refuse to support children with special needs on foot of advice from their trade union could be subject to “fitness to teach” complaints.

The move follows advice issued by the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) and the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) to members to refuse to implement individual education plans for pupils with additional needs.

AsIAm, Ireland’s largest autism charity, has described this refusal as “truly shocking discrimination” against students with disabilities. And the charity says it will assist parents in making fitness to teach complaints to the Teaching Council, the regulatory body for the profession.

Fitness to practice sanctions can, ultimately, range from a written warning to an indefinite ban from the classroom.

Under an industrial relations grievance, both the ASTI and the TUI have told members not to implement individual education plans or equivalents such as student support files. These plans help to clarify the type of support needed for children with learning disables or additional needs.

Bureaucratic requirements

The unions argued that the moves were a response to bureaucratic requirements set out in a recent Department of Education circular linked to a new model of special education support. AsIAm, however, said the unions’ advice could be understood by some members as an opportunity to opt out of supporting students. While the charity said it has had very positive engagement with the TUI, its experience of the ASTI had been “sorely disappointing”.

“The ASTI has repeatedly refused to amend the wording of its advice, particularly in relation to teachers’ responsibilities to differentiate and provide for students with disabilities, despite recognising that it may go against the Teaching Council’s code of conduct,” said Adam Harris, the charity’s chief executive.

“We have met them, and they have repeatedly refused to outline their position to us in writing or to answer very simple questions in relation to their understanding of their own advice and the Department of Education circular it relates to.”

He added that the charity could only conclude from this that it was the ASTI’s intent to be “vague and to cause confusion”.

He said: “Despite our repeated pleas around the importance of clarity for child protection purposes, the union has simply opted to disengage. To that end, as a charity and advocacy organisation, AsIAm now feels obliged to take steps to ensure the rights of students with disabilities are protected in school.”

‘Current arrangements’

An ASTI spokeswoman said recently the union had since clarified that the advice did “not impinge on current arrangements in place for students with special educational needs or any adjustments that become necessary during the year”. She said the advice was a “strong reaction to the bureaucratic requirements” set out in a circular linked to a new model of special education support.

However, AsIAm said children’s educational needs in many cases changed regularly and new children attending schools in future could also lose out. The charity said its advice to families was, should any teacher refuse to engage with a child or implement any support on the basis of their union’s advice, parents should raise this with school management, citing the rights of their child under the Education Act 1998 and the Teaching Council’s professional code of conduct. In the event that school management cannot resolve the issue locally, it is advising parents to contact AsIAm, which will assist them in preparing a fitness to teach complaint.