National rollout of AON process paused following INTO call

Reflecting the concerns of school leaders in particular, the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) has called for a major rethink of the process laid out in Information Note SE 0002/2022 issued last week. This note set out proposed changes to the Assessment of Need (AON) process and the roles and responsibilities of the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) and schools.

The information note advised schools that they are now responsible for completing forms which will comprise part of a Report of Education Needs for the purpose of Assessment of Need (Disability Act 2005).

On foot of union protests, the Department of Education (DE) and the NCSE agreed to a special meeting this afternoon, during which the increased workload this process places on schools was acknowledged.

The INTO reiterated the concerns of our members, in particular:

  • The workload being imposed on principals and teachers by this process.
  • The lack of training for school staff to carry out this new task.
  • The pressure it will place on teachers who are doing their best to support children with additional needs.
  • The potential impact of the proposed reporting system on teaching and learning and, additionally, the potential impact on the time allocated to vulnerable pupils by special education teachers.

The union demanded that Government immediately clarify the purpose of the AON process and the rationale for the collection of personal data in this manner. An assurance was sought that school support plans, which cover a snapshot in time in a child’s life, will not be used as replacements for assessments undertaken by educational psychologists and other health professionals.

The Department of Education and the NCSE have agreed to extend the trial of the education component of the AON process, which was carried out in 17 schools last June to another 66 schools, where the process has commenced after parents had requested AONs. They have further agreed to revert to education stakeholders after the trial. The INTO received assurances that all of our concerns expressed today will be taken into account prior to any final decisions on any input from schools to the HSE led process. During the trial period, no more requests for AONs from the HSE will be actioned by the NCSE for the school system.

Following the meeting with officials from the Department of Education and the NCSE, INTO General Secretary John Boyle said:

We welcome today’s decision to pause the proposed new process and to review the findings from the work undertaken in the education component of the AONs in the 66 trial schools. Our teachers must be given the time, space and resources to do what they do best – to support the pupils in their care. Endless demands for written reports and an ever-growing level of red tape only serves to pull teachers away from their primary focus. At the heart of this problem, like so many others, is a lack of investment in the critical wraparound services our schools rely on. The HSE has a legal requirement to conduct assessments of need within six months. The NCSE must be given a green light to expedite the provision of necessary supports to schools to support children with additional educational needs. Passing the buck to school staff is a damning indictment of successive Governments that have failed to equip our health and education support services with the tools necessary to do their job.”

Raising the concerns of our members

Over the course of this week, INTO has actively engaged with governmental bodies to raise the concerns of our members. This matter was raised at the Teachers’ Conciliation Council (25 October) and at a meeting convened at the union’s request with the DE and the NCSE (27 October).

At the Teachers’ Conciliation Council (TCC), the INTO leadership team – alongside representatives of the other education unions – lambasted the department’s failure to include teacher unions in the working group established to review the implications of the June 2021 High Court decision and design a process for schools to input into the assessment of needs. The INTO remains of the view that the exclusion of teacher unions from the working group was a serious misjudgement and has contributed to the current hostility towards this development.

Furthermore, at the TCC, the INTO set out the considerable concerns of members in respect of the onerous nature of the requirements within the Report of Education Needs form. Principals’ concerns are informed by the bureaucratic and legalistic nature of interactions with the NCSE when engaging with the body in seeking support for their schools.

Reduced middle-management teams in schools, exacerbated by the challenges since substitute cover for approved absences was withdrawn, place an intolerable burden on primary and special schools.

Advice to members

INTO advises members that have been contacted to complete the educational component of an AON as part of the trial announced today, to take no further action at this time. The schools concerned will be contacted by a team of personnel nominated by the Department of Education, following the midterm break and they will be supported by this team in trialling the educational component of the AON process.

No further requests made by parents for AONs will be actioned in schools while this trial period is on-going in the 66 schools already involved in the process.

The Department of Education has committed to a full review of the trial with stakeholders and INTO remains committed to ensuring that all learning from the trial period will be actioned and fully resourced.

On this basis, the INTO advises any primary or special school that will be participating in the trial to contact the education section of INTO Head Office for advice and guidance.

Meeting of the Central Executive Committee

The next meeting of the INTO’s Central Executive Committee will give detailed consideration to the issue.