Minister for Special Education and Inclusion, Josepha Madigan TD, today announced her key priorities for action to reform and develop special education provision in Ireland. Minister Madigan said: “I want to be an advocate for all our students with complex needs and their families, to ensure their needs are met and the voice of the child and young person is put at the heart of policy-making in this area. Over the past number of weeks, students, families, and school staff have worked hard to reopen schools safely, and now we need to start looking at the reforms needed to ensure our education system provides the best start in life for young people with special educational needs.
“As the first-ever Minister with responsibility for special education and inclusion, I am determined that the Department’s strategic vision for the sector will come with clear and actionable goals on how we will improve our supports to young people with special educational needs and their families.
“I have now held initial meetings with several groups of parents, teachers, advocates, and some of those who work to support our students with special educational needs.
“From these initial meetings, I am firmly convinced that we need a clear plan of priorities for action in the Department for the coming months and years in the area of special education and inclusion.”
These priorities for action for special education will be focused on –
- Staff Professional Training: Improving initial teacher education and training, and continuous professional development, in order to ensure that teachers and SNAs are supported to receive training and ongoing guidance in the area of inclusion and special educational needs provision.
- School Inclusion: Providing a wrap-around support service in schools for young people, including occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, behavioural practitioners, and crisis support in schools by progressing and expanding the pre-school and in-school therapy demonstration project and the school inclusion model.
- School Places: Improved long-term planning for the provision and development of special school and special class places in future years to ensure that no one is excluded; supporting both special schools and pupils with special educational needs in mainstream education by ensuring that schools have the appropriate accommodation and facilities.
- Listening and Learning, Empowering Students: Ensuring that the student voice is at the core of planning and providing education through regular engagement with young people and their families.
- Updating our Laws: Reviewing and updating the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs (EPSEN) Act.
- Wellbeing: Expanding the capacity of the National Educational Psychological Services (NEPS) to support the wellbeing of young people in special education.
- Improving Supports: Reviewing and improving the Assistive Technology Support scheme and the Home Tuition scheme.
- Gifted and Talented: Supporting exceptionally able students within the education system.
- SNAs: Providing for the continued recruitment of special needs assistants (SNA), a new SNA training programme, and a new model for allocating SNAs to schools.
- Irish Sign Language: Ensuring support for ISL to reflect the recognition by the State of the right of ISL users to use ISL as their native language.
- Summer Provision: Reforming the Summer Provision programme for students with complex needs.
The Department of Education and Skills currently spends approximately €1.9 billion, or almost 20 per cent of its total educational budget, annually on making additional provision for children with special educational needs. Minister Madigan added: “These actions will be developed based on continuous engagement and consultation with groups in the sector, and will also include clear implementation targets as well as mechanisms for feedback, regular review, and amendment where necessary. I will continue to consult with those who are closest to these important issues, to ensure that we are concentrating our efforts on the key issues that will make the most difference and have an impact on the education and the lives of our children with special educational needs.
“We will continue to invest in the area of inclusion and special educational needs provision.
“However, it is also important that in addition to this investment, that we also review our policies to ensure necessary improvements can be made.
“In developing the actions I am grateful for the input of sectoral groups and research organisations, as well as children with complex needs and their families. I am also grateful to the National Council for Special Education and the important work it undertakes in providing independent policy advice to my Department. I will continue to have a close engagement with all stakeholders in the area of special education. I will work closely with other Government Departments and agencies to advance policy change that will have a positive impact of the educational and life outcomes for children with special educational needs.”