Government pauses cuts to services in special schools

Earlier this week, members of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO), gathering online at Congress 2021, called for further investment in special education to be at the heart of the sector’s post-Covid recovery. 

Congress delegates heard from members of the significant damage to special education provision arising from both the current pandemic and a prolonged period of inadequate investment, which was exacerbated by cuts to resource teaching hours a decade ago. 

INTO delegates demanded that – in light of the pandemic and the unavoidable disruption of education, especially for children with additional educational needs – no school would lose its current SET allocations for the next two years. Such a moratorium should not prevent schools from seeking additional support where that might be necessary, particularly in developing schools, new schools and schools whose cohort of pupils with complex needs increases significantly. 

Delegates deplored the lack of timely assessment and widespread unavailability of supports for children from HSE Primary Care, CAMHS, Assessment of Need, HSE Early Intervention Teams and HSE School Age Teams. 

In his response to Minister Foley’s address on Tuesday afternoon (6 April), INTO General Secretary John Boyle stated:

While the development of community-based children’s disability network teams is to be welcomed, the INTO is sceptical of any service that could potentially remove critical supports from special schools.

Heeding this union’s call, Anne Rabbitte TD, Junior Minister for Disability, has this week written to the HSE to stop the removal of specialists from special-needs schools, hitting pause on the planned rollout of the Progressing Disability Service programme in its current format. The INTO understands that the Department of Health and HSE will explore a new approach, which will ensure special schools do not lose these specialist roles. 

Reacting to this development, INTO General Secretary John Boyle said: 

I commend Deputy Rabbitte for taking swift action to halt the loss of these essential services from special-education schools. We look forward to working with the Department on a new approach. Special-education support services in schools have been stretched to unacceptable levels in recent years. The crisis has shone a light on this challenge. As we look towards recovery post-Covid, it’s important that government ensures no child is left behind. Increasing investment in special-education provision and delivering scaled up support services is the only approach that will work.