Consultation, planning and resourcing essential to Special Ed provision – INTO

Earlier this week the government, without stakeholder engagement, approved the text of a new bill which aims to shorten the current Section 37A process. The bill is now expected to swiftly progress through both Dáil Éireann and the Seanad.

This afternoon, the INTO along with other stakeholders, were invited to a briefing which was designed to share information on this bill.

At the briefing, this union condemned the government proposal to remove any legislative requirement for consultation with education stakeholders in the new bill, demanding that the Department of Education continue the long-standing collaborative approach with stakeholders when planning inclusive education.

Such a move further seeks to suggest that consultation and engagement are the roadblocks to delivering increased special education provision when a lack of planning and investment is the real problem.

The INTO reiterated our deep concern about the collateral damage arising from the strong-arm tactic of naming four schools in Dublin suggesting that they were refusing to engage with DE, when these schools have a long track record of inclusion. The politicised manner in which these schools were scapegoated for departmental failings, has eroded trust within the wider education sector, particularly with schools currently engaging with the NCSE.

Today once again we call on Minister Madigan to retract her comments and apologise to the four schools involved.

We further reiterated our call to the Department of Education for a future deadline of the 31st of March for the issuing of any Section 37A notices to schools in any year.

Yesterday, the INTO received a document listing supports that the Department of Education will make available to schools opening special classes. This list of resources includes building works, staffing resources, supports from NCSE and NEPS, funding towards running costs, funding of classroom fit outs and assistive technology.

While we welcome these supports, the INTO subsequently sought further clarity. This included:

  • Calling for a centralised system for procurement to be established by the Department of Education for building work, health, and safety matters and for setting up special classes.
  • Calling on the Department of Education to appoint an overseer for all building projects in schools.

The INTO is firmly of the view that in order to facilitate special education, key resources must be made available to schools, including:

  • Adequate SNA support to reflect the increasing complexity of enrolments.
  • Multi-disciplinary teams (including Speech and Language Therapists, Occupational Therapists, Psychiatrists and Nursing Staff) to be made available to all schools.
  • Mental health supports for pupils in schools and CAMHS fully staffed to meet the needs of all children with emotional and behavioural disorders.
  • Provision of play, art and music therapy where such therapies are of benefit to pupils.
  • Full-time qualified school secretaries in all schools.

Given the complexity of special educational needs presenting in schools, the INTO continues to insist that training and support should be provided prior to and following the opening of a special class, and this must include ongoing support from NCSE and NEPS.

INTO submits that there should be an increased provision of Educational Psychologists (NEPS) to schools, stating that the current average of one educational psychologist for every 18 schools is wholly inadequate.

Inclusive education works when it is supported and resourced properly. Children with special educational needs deserve no less.