Empowering Change: Insights and Challenges at the INTO Special Education Symposium 2024

Around 400 teachers gathered in Portlaoise on Saturday, 24 February, for the INTO Symposium on Special Education, engaging in discussions about the provision of special education in Ireland.

INTO President Dorothy McGinley welcomed attendees, emphasising their commitment to improving the Special Education landscape. She acknowledged teachers’ sacrifices in supporting children with SEN but highlighted the need for departmental support to fix a broken system.

The opening addresses covered a variety of topics, including the NCSE Social Inclusion Model, the experiences of a parent of a child with special educational needs, an overview of SEN provision in Northern Ireland and a discussion on dysregulation by autism consultant and former primary teacher, Mary McKenna. Following these sessions, discussion groups allowed delegates to prioritise questions, which were later addressed during a panel session.

Dr. Brian Fitzgerald of the NCSE provided a detailed overview of the School Inclusion Model (SIM) pilot scheme – the In-School Therapy Project and the enhancement of NCSE regional teams. INTO District 5 Secretary Niamh Harris received a standing ovation for sharing her experiences as a teacher and mother of an autistic child, highlighting the challenges and advocating for more support.

Caroline McCarthy, from the INTO Northern Committee, offered a comprehensive overview of SEN provision in Northern Ireland, stressing the importance of high quality provision for children with special educational needs.

The event also included a diverse range of discussion groups and a panel discussion featuring INTO Vice President Carmel Browne, John Kearney (NCSE), Carmel O’Shea (National Parents Council), Anne Tansey (NEPS) and Martina Mannion (Department of Education), chaired by INTO assistant general secretary Máirín Ní Chéileachair. Topics included the new SET allocation model, children with complex needs, workload concerns, counselling services and pilot schemes linking teachers with therapists. Member opinions and suggestions harvested during discussion groups at the Symposium will now be collated to inform an INTO policy document on the Future of Special Education.

INTO General Secretary John Boyle stressed the need for increased funding and resources for Special Education in his closing address. He acknowledged progress but set out the clear need for further support, condemning the lack of therapeutic services for children with SEN and the decades of neglect of special schools .The General Secretary assured delegates of INTO’s commitment to campaigning for better resources and raising awareness on the issues raised during the symposium.