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Teachers feel snubbed at lack of consultation on special needs changes

By Gary Grattan

Around 95% of teachers are coping with special needs children in their classes, yet they feel snubbed by the lack of consultation over changes to the ‘statementing’ process for these pupils, according to a local teaching union.

“A recent survey by the General Teaching Council showed that 95% of teachers had special needs children in their classes,” said Gillian Dunlop, President of the Ulster Teachers’ Union and a teacher at Donaghadee Primary School, Co Down.



She addressed the issue in her Presidential speech at the recent UTU annual conference in Newcastle, Co Down.



Statements of Special Educational Need guarantee extra help at school for pupils who need it but under new proposals children will receive Co-ordinated Support Plans (CSPs) instead.



The Education Minister’s announcement that the statements would be replaced caused outrage among parents earlier this year and teachers felt snubbed that their views had not been taken into account.



UTU General Secretary Avril Hall Callaghan said teachers needed reassurance that any extra responsibility in coping with special needs children in so-called mainstream classes would will be adequately resourced and supported.



“Unless the Department looks at this issue holistically we risk some of the province’s most vulnerable children suffering when the ‘statementing’ system for special needs pupils changes,” she said.

“Teachers too will be placed under intolerable pressure unless they have help. This is a situation, if not a crisis, which has been gathering steadily since the changes to Special Educational Needs policy which has increased the number of SEN pupils in so-called mainstream classrooms.

“If a child with special needs has a one to one classroom assistant, their time in mainstream schools can work very well. Our fear is that cuts could affect that support, without which a teacher could struggle to give that child the support it needs – as well as the other 30 in the class.

“Without adequate support some of our most vulnerable children risk falling through the system – indeed, a report last year from the Education and Training Inspectorate stated that while Special Educational Needs units here were performing well, there was a need for better staff development and training.”



Ms Hall Callaghan said she feared any problems already present in the special needs sector would be transferred to the co-called ‘mainstream’ where staff were ill-prepared to cope.

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