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NCAD ‘regrets’ protocol breach over student consent

The National College of Art and Design (NCAD) has advised students and staff that a breach of protocol has occurred in relation to consent on documents drawn up for students with additional needs.

The breach relates to Profile of Needs Statements (PONS) that map out the learning and other supports that individual students are deemed to require in order to study successfully at the college.

PONS statements are drawn up by psychologists in consultation with students at colleges across the country. A student’s PONS statement can contain sensitive personal information and is shared on a ‘need to know’ basis with teachers and other staff at NCAD.

The art college’s protocols state that the student “must give their consent before their PONS will be issued to their Department”.

However, in a letter to students on Wednesday the college said a “breach of protocol” had occurred that was “regrettable”.

It said while students registered with NCAD’s Learning Support services participated in the completion of their Profile of Needs Assessments, it had been “incorrectly assumed in some cases that their consent within this process also applied to their PONS statement”.

In a joint statement to RTÉ News, NCAD and the National Learning Network (NLN), which provides learning support services to the college, have said they have commenced “a comprehensive review, which is ongoing”.

They said in all cases the assessments of students learning needs were correctly carried out under the supervision of the NLN.”

RTÉ News understands that the breach relates to a section of the document called “Student Declaration”.

A paragraph in this section states; “I understand this agreement and am aware that I can withdraw my consent at any time”. It has a space underneath earmarked for the signature of the student.

RTÉ News has spoken to one student whose name was typed next to those words, in a font distinct from the rest of the document.

The student and their parents said that they did not sign the document or consent to it.

This student has an intellectual disability. Their parents told RTÉ News that the document is dated to a day in September of last year when they met the psychologist with their daughter.

The family said that they were surprised to be shown this PONS statement for their child at a meeting with the college last November. The meeting was convened because they were unhappy with what they felt was a lack of supports for their child. They told the college that their child had not signed the document or consented to it.

In a subsequent email to the family, seen by RTÉ News, the college confirmed that it had “acted in breach of the NCAD/NLN protocol in adding [the student’s] name to the PONS”.

“We apologise for this error,” the college wrote.

PONS statements are completed by students with a range of disabilities or needs, from dyslexia or ADHD, to hearing or visual impairments, or autism or intellectual disabilities.

NCAD did not respond to a question from RTÉ News as to how many students have been affected by the breach.

In their statement NCAD and the NLN said; “The assessment of students’ learning needs was in all cases, correctly undertaken and supervised by the National Learning Network”.

They said “the systems to respond to the individual needs of students have not been impacted”.

“NCAD and NLN take this matter seriously, are reviewing and will correct as appropriate. NCAD continues to prioritise access to education and remain committed to being an inclusive place of learning”, the statement said.

RTÉ News understands that all students with a PONS statement have been invited to liaise with Learning Support so that their signatures can be reviewed.

The letter sent by the college to students on Wednesday stated: “As a student registered with our learning support services we wanted to reach out regarding an issue we have identified in our internal processes”. It says that it wants to meet with all students in our service “to make sure all documents submitted to use are correctly signed off”.

It states that “a consistent and compliant approach to signing both documents was not in place post-Covid, when we moved from a fully online to a hybrid approach.

“In light of this inconsistency coming to our attention, we requested a comprehensive and full review of all student registrations with NCAD’s Learning Support Service from our service provider the National Learning Network.

“We are meeting with all students registered with the service to review their personal documentation and ensure everything is fully complete” it adds.

The college says it wants to reassure students “that all files are processed correctly henceforth”.

The joint NCAD/NLN statement said: “The assessment process is conducted with the explicit consent of the student. As part of the process the educational psychologist compiles a Profile of Needs Statement (PONS). This is a short summary containing only so much of the student’s information as is necessary to share with the relevant NCAD staff, in order for the identified support to be provided to that student”.

The mother of the student with an intellectual disability told RTÉ News; “Before [our child] went to NCAD we were very aware of NCAD’s public commitment to equality and diversity, but the fact that this happened is disappointing”.

RTÉ News contacted the college yesterday morning.

Yesterday evening, staff at NCAD received emails from Department heads informing them of the issue.

NCAD and the NLN have told RTÉ News that additional resources have been put in place “to ensure that [the review] is completed efficiently and without impact on the delivery of any of our Learning Support services for our students.

The two bodies said they would not be able to comment further until this process with students was complete.

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