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Changes to special education criteria supported by NPC

Two school principal organisations as well as the National Parents Council (NPC) have said they support controversial changes that the Department of Education has made to how additional teaching hours for children with special needs are allocated.

In a joint statement issued just days after disability organisations heavily criticised the changes at an Oireachtas hearing, the Irish Primary Principals Network (IPPN), the post-primary National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD), as well as the NPC have said they wish to address “inaccurate commentary” and “misconceptions” that have arisen since the changes were first communicated.

Almost a month ago, schools were informed that the number of pupils assessed by the HSE as having complex needs would, from September, no longer be considered for the purpose of calculating the amount of Special Education Teacher (SET) hours a school was entitled to.

Children with complex needs are typically pupils with autism or Down Syndrome who need a significant amount of support in order to learn.

The decision has proved highly controversial, with disability organisations and many primary school principals saying they fear those children will lose out as a result.

On Tuesday, the Oireachtas Committee on Education heard from a number of charities including Down Syndrome Ireland whose CEO Fidelma Brady said the changes “will have a potentially devastating effect on many pupils with Down Syndrome”.

Children with complex needs ‘not excluded’

In a joint statement issued yesterday evening, the two school principal organisations and the NPC say “it is important to be clear that children with complex needs have not been excluded from the allocation of hours that schools received”.

They say the purpose of their joint communication is to address and allay “misconceptions…that have caused significant concern and anxiety among parents and in schools”.

“We would not support or welcome any model that proposed a decrease in supports for children with complex needs,” they say.

The principal and parent organisations say that during consultation with the Department of Education they were “were given an opportunity to provide perspectives on the proposed model and account was taken of those perspectives in the circulars that issued to schools”.

Down Syndrome Ireland, Inclusion Ireland, and autism charity AsIAm have by contrast heavily criticised the Department of Education for failing to consult with organisations that represent the families of children with disabilities.

On Tuesday, they told the Oireachtas committee that this lack of consultation was in breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The IPPN, NAPD and the NPC have said that, as the professional organisations representing school leaders and students, “we have a shared commitment to ensure that the needs of the students are at the centre of every decision that is made and to deliver the most effective school experience for all”.

They say the Department of Education changed how it calculates complex needs “because there is no consistent, accurate and up-to-date external data across the country in relation to children with complex needs”.

“Children with complex needs should receive the greatest level of support from within the quantum of hours that the school was allocated – nothing has changed in this regard”, the three organisations say, adding that “the revised allocations model is now underpinned by more accurate data provided by schools”.

Revised model ‘beginning of process of reform’

The principal and parent organisation say the revised model is “certainly not perfect” but that it represents “the beginning of a process of reform”.

The changes apply to children entering schools for the first time from September. Schools have been told that allocations for current pupils based on the previous model will not be reduced.

There appears to be considerable division among primary school principals as to the potential impact of the revised model.

While the IPPN has expressed support for the new system, the NPF published a petition a week ago opposing the changes.

The NPF petition was signed by more than 700 primary school principals.

Responding the joint statement issued by the parents council and the IPPN and NAPD Adam Harris of autism charity AsIAm told RTÉ News that it was further evidence of how disabled people are excluded from decisions that affect them.

Mr Harris said it was “patronising” of school leaders to think “they know better than disabled people”.

He said his organisation had consulted widely with the parents of disabled children and he was particularly disappointed by the stance taken by the NPC.

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