Dáil Éireann - Volume 591 - 03 November, 2004

Written Answers. - Special Educational Needs.

  272. Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Education and Science her proposals to meet the concerns in regard to special needs teachers as outlined in correspondence (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27418/04]

  Ms Hanafin:As the Deputy will be aware, the proposed new system for resource teacher allocation involves a general weighted allocation for all primary schools to cater for pupils with higher incidence special educational needs, for example, borderline mild and mild general learning disability and specific learning disability, and those with learning support needs, that is functioning at or below the 10th percentile on a standardised test of reading and/or mathematics.

[1311] The proposed allocation mechanism is as follows: in the most disadvantaged schools, as per the urban dimension of Giving Children an Even Break, a teacher of pupils with special educational needs will be allocated for every 80 pupils to cater for the subset of pupils with higher incidence special needs; in all boys schools, the ratio will be one teacher for every 140 pupils; in mixed schools, or all girls schools with an enrolment of greater than 30% boys, the ratio will be one for every 150 pupils; and in all girls schools, including schools with mixed junior classes but with 30% or less boys overall, the ratio will be one for every 200 pupils. In addition, all schools will be able to apply for separate specific allocations in respect of pupils with lower incidence disabilities.

The rationale for a pupil teacher ratio of 150 pupils for every teacher in mixed schools to support pupils with higher incidence special educational needs and learning difficulties-delays is that the pupil teacher ratio for a learning support teacher was approximately 300 pupils; 10% of pupils would be expected to have learning difficulties in the fields of literacy and numeracy and, on that basis, approximately 15 out of a group of 150 pupils would be expected to have learning difficulties. This is considered half of a teacher’s caseload. A further 3%, or four or five pupils, in this cohort would be expected to have higher-incidence special educational needs and would expect to receive 2.5 resource teaching hours per week. This would account for the other half of a teacher’s caseload.

The rationale for the different pupil teacher ratios in boys’— 140:1 — and girls’— 200:1 — schools is twofold: international literature on the incidence of disability indicates that, across all disability types, there is a greater incidence in boys than in girls; and international and national surveys of literacy and numeracy have found that these difficulties are more common among boys than girls. The rationale for the level of support proposed for schools in areas of urban disadvantage is that evidence shows that there is a significantly higher incidence of literacy and numeracy difficulties in urban disadvantaged compared to other schools, including those in areas of rural disadvantage. It is important to emphasise that applications may be made for specific resource teacher allocations in respect of pupils with lower incidence special educational needs regardless of gender of pupil or status of school. I am conscious of difficulties that could arise in relation to the revised model, particularly for children in small and rural schools, if it were implemented as currently proposed. The proposed system is intended to improve and streamline the special education resource teacher allocation process. The model will obviate the need for cumbersome individual applications, while at the same time ensure that [1312] pupils currently in receipt of service continue to receive the level of support appropriate to their needs. In that context, the additional posts being put in place represent a very significant investment to ensure the success of the measure.

Nonetheless, I am conscious of difficulties that could arise in relation to the model, particularly for children in small and rural schools, if it were implemented as currently proposed. Accordingly, I will be reviewing the proposal to ensure that it provides an automatic response for pupils with common higher incidence special educational needs. The review will involve consultation with educational interests and the National Council for Special Education before it is implemented next year.