INTO and IPPN Joint Statement: Education partners condemn Minister’s spin on special education

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) and the Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN) condemn the politicised decision by the Department of Education to name a small number of Dublin primary schools who have raised reasonable concerns relating to a lack of resources required to deliver a quality education to students with special educational needs.

On Thursday (23 June), the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) convened a consultative meeting with education partners. This consultation was in keeping with the requirements set out under the Section 37A process, which sets out the legal process in place to engage with schools and representative bodies on the issue of special education provision. Representatives of teachers, principals and SNAs, school managerial authorities and school patrons attended the meeting.

Given the end of the school term is mere days away, both the INTO and IPPN called on the Department to ensure that no Section 37A notices would issue to schools before they reopen in September.

At the meeting, the NCSE confirmed that the Department intended to publish the names of a small number of Dublin primary schools, which it claims have spare accommodation, but have not yet agreed to open special classes for September.

The haphazard approach taken by the Minister to name schools on a national radio broadcast today (25 June) flies in the face of meaningful engagement, serving only to deflect blame and mislead the public and parents about the lack of resources and supports being made available in a timely manner to schools by Government.

Only this week, the Ombudsman reported significant deficiencies in the department’s planning and resourcing of special education.

Essentially the Department appears to be suggesting that the mere presence of spare capacity in a school is sufficient to host special education provision. It does not take account of the actions schools need to take in order to open a special education class, including:

• Making adaptations to their school building, playground and classroom space.
• Securing the provision of specialist indoor and outdoor play areas (e.g. nurture rooms).
• Purchasing sensory equipment, furniture, protective mats and assistive technology (such as touch screens, voice recognition software and visual displays).
• Recruiting teachers, special needs assistants and bus escorts.
• Engaging with children’s multi-disciplinary teams (including Speech and Language Therapists, Occupational Therapists, Psychiatrists and Nursing Staff) prior to the arrival of new students.
• Delivering training and professional development for newly-recruited staff.
• Amending the school enrolment and admission policies.

All education partners support the inclusion of pupils with special educational needs who deserve the appropriate resources, training and facilities to be in place to enable such inclusion within the local school community.

It is evident that many of the listed schools already have special classes and are working towards increased capacity, however they need to be afforded the time to do so. September 1 is not a realistic timeframe.

It was confirmed on Thursday that 43 new special education classes will open this September in Dublin, with the number of special classes in Dublin’s primary schools more than doubling in the last five years from 158 in June 2017 to the 340 which have been established for the coming school year.

Acting outside the established legal process upon which the delivery of special education is based – in an apparent effort to scapegoat schools and avoid political blame – risks eroding trust with the people who are working hard to deliver quality special education.

Both the INTO and the IPPN express our outrage at an ill-judged departure from a clearly defined process by a Minister who has failed to tackle the serious issues that limit the ability of schools to deliver quality inclusive education.

A speedy review of this irresponsible policy decision is urgently required.