Belfast Telegraph

Teachers’ union criticises minister over special needs enrolments

Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh has come under fire from INTO.

Education Minister Joe McHugh has been criticised over special needs enrolments. (Niall Carson/ PA Wire)
Education Minister Joe McHugh has been criticised over special needs enrolments. (Niall Carson/ PA Wire)

By Aoife Moore, PA

A leading teachers’ union has accused the Education Minister of “putting the cart before the horse” on enrolments for children with special needs.

Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh said on Tuesday that within the next two years, he intends to prohibit schools from asking parents who wish to enrol a pupil whether their child has special educational needs.

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) recommended the move to the minister in a report published on Tuesday.

The change is to be included in legislation which has not yet commenced.

However, the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) says some schools are not funded adequately to take on every special needs child who enrols, and have asked for an immediate meeting with the minister to discuss their concerns.

The Department of Education and Skills has a long history of abject neglect when it comes to delivering special education. INTO

The union added that if schools are unable to ascertain the needs of a particular pupil, they will be unable to ensure adequate provision is put in place.

“Once again, the minister has put the cart before the horse, unilaterally announcing a major policy change without any consultation with teachers who will ultimately bear the brunt of this ill-conceived approach,” a statement from the union said on Wednesday.

“Without sufficient resources schools simply can’t deliver inclusive education, which our members overwhelmingly support.

“INTO fully supports inclusion which works, where schools are properly resourced with appropriate accommodation, staffing, professional development training and services such as the psychological service and other therapeutic provisions for pupils.”

The union says that without such basic resources, real inclusion is not possible.

“The Department of Education and Skills has a long history of abject neglect when it comes to delivering special education,” the statement continues.

“Primary schools have routinely, without adequate resources and with ever dwindling access to services, delivered inclusive education for thousands of pupils with special needs.

“At every turn, this department has erected barriers to full inclusion.”

The statement goes on to list a number of cuts to resource teaching hours for children with special educational needs, and what the union calls “a dearth of therapeutic services for children” and “lack of appropriate accommodation for special classes”.

INTO general secretary John Boyle said: “INTO seeks an urgent meeting with the minister to secure assurances that meaningful consultation will take place and that necessary resources will be provided before any change to enrolment policy takes place.

“It is the right of every parent to enrol their child in a local school that can cater for their children’s needs.

“Children with additional needs require intensive supports, nurturing and wrap around care in primary schools. Until such time as the department gets serious about supporting diversity, the rights of children who need the most help in our schools will not be vindicated.

“In the absence of appropriate supports, their parents will see little point in sharing information with local schools, because they will know that these schools will be unable to give their children their entitlement to an appropriate education.”

The Department of Education has been contacted for comment.

A spokesman for Mr McHugh said: “The department has been in consultation with education partners in relation to the preparation of regulations that are required alongside commencement of this section of the act ahead of applications for enrolment for the 2021/22 school year.

“The minister and department engages regularly with education partners/stakeholders on a variety of issues.”

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