Teachers who do not support students with special needs may be in breach of law

Department of Education issues warning to secondary teachers’ unions

In advice to members late last year, both the ASTI and the TUI told members not to implement individual education plans. Photograph: Getty Images

In advice to members late last year, both the ASTI and the TUI told members not to implement individual education plans. Photograph: Getty Images

 

The Department of Education has warned secondary school teachers’ unions that any move to cease co-operating with education support plans for vulnerable students could amount to a breach of the law.

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

AsIAm, Ireland’s largest autism charity, has previously described the move as “truly shocking discrimination” against students with disabilities, while the Special Needs Parents’ Association has voiced concern that vulnerable young people risk being “held to ransom”.

A letter from the Department of Education to the ASTI in recent weeks states that schools are under “statutory obligations to provide education to students which is appropriate to their ability and needs”.

It adds that the Education Act (1998) requires that educational needs of all pupils, including those with a disability or other special educational needs, are identified and provided for.

In advice to members late last year, both the ASTI and the TUI told members not to implement individual education plans or equivalents such as student support files.

An ASTI spokeswoman said the union has since clarified that the advice does “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 it was disappointed that the union’s advice does not appear to have changed and said vulnerable children were still at risk of losing out in the classroom.

“We’re talking about a fundamental right of access to education set out in the education Act,” said Adam Harris, founder of AsIAm.

“We’d like to hear a clear statement that the unions will ensure members meet their obligations under the Teaching Council’s professional code of conduct and ensure that the educational needs of young people with autism will be met.”

The ASTI has maintained that while the Education for Persons with Special Education Needs Act (2004) includes a requirement for schools to provide an individual education plan for students with special needs, this section of the legislation has not been commenced.

The union said teachers’ professionalism and commitment to inclusive education was not being supported by the necessary resources and training.

It said plans that required subject teachers to collaborate with parents, external agencies and other teachers for each student with a special education need were “impractical”.

“The wider issue of teacher workload and initiative overload is not being addressed,” it added.

The TUI has issued similar advice to members.

However, the Department of Education letter states that the level of special education teachers allocated to schools has been greatly increased, with almost a fifth of the entire education budget now going on special education.

It says provision has been made within this allocation for planning and co-ordination activities.

It further notes that student support plans are a key tool in assisting teachers to record what steps are being taken to support teaching and learning for students with special needs.