Last month I attended a meeting in St Brigid’s NS, Castleknock, with parents and teachers from local schools concerned about possible cuts in special education resources in Dublin 15. Following on from my letter to the Department of Education earlier in the month on the subject , I have received a response from the Minister for Education. The response is vague and gives little information on the pilot scheme that is being used under the new arrangements for the allocation of special needs teachers.
I will follow up the issue with whoever is the Education Minister after the election, as this response will do little to allay fears in the Dublin 15 area that resources will be cut.
Response from NTA to me confirming commitment to consult with residents in event of new proposals to close level crossings
I am delighted to have received confirmation from the National Transport Authority (NTA) that, if there are future proposals to close level crossings in the Dublin 15 area, the NTA will engage in genuine consultation with affected local communities, beyond any consultation that is required under legislation.
This confirmation was contained in a letter to me from Anne Graham, the Chief Executive of the NTA. This forms an important guarantee for Dublin 15 residents which will ensure that their views are not ignored in any future changes.
The attempt to close the Porterstown Road level crossing a number of years ago was badly mishandled and was a top-down attempt to impose a decision on a local community. Vigorous activism by local residents blocked the proposal, but the entire episode undermined confidence in the NTA. Since then, I have been working to ensure that a new approach is taken by the organisation, in the event that it seeks to make changes to the level crossings in the future.
Within Fingal County Council, I successfully submitted an amendment to the draft Fingal Development Plan to ensure that the Council officials accept the principle of prior consultation regarding the future of the level crossings. Now, I have also secured acceptance of this principle form the National Transport Authority.
Last week I attended a meeting with parent and teacher representatives from Castleknock Educate Together National School, Castleknock National School and St. Brigid’s National School, regarding potential threats to special education resources. I have written to the Minister for Education seeking a guarantee that the rollout of new procedures for the allocation of such resources for students with special educational needs will not lead to current services being undermined.
The current system for the allocation of teaching resources for children with special needs is not working, as it is heavily dependent on parents having to pay privately to obtain a diagnosis of special educational need. While this needs to change, the new model for allocation of special education teachers, which is based on broad categories such as the schools “socio-demographic catchment area” and its standardised test results, will undermine the resources already allocated in many schools in Dublin 15.
The new allocation rules are set out in a document produced by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) – Delivery for Students with Special Educational Needs. This is currently being piloted in a number of schools across the country. However, there is major uncertainty as to when the Government will determine whether to implement the new system or not. While the NCSE document speaks of a two or three year transition phase, the implication seems to be that after this, schools that have built up special educational teaching resources over the years, could lose these if they did not fit with the new guidelines. In many local schools in Dublin 15, this could result in the undermining of existing one-on-one or small class teaching that is provided to pupils with moderate special educational needs.
I’ve written to the Minister for Education on this issue. It is absolutely vital that the Minister clarifies what results are being obtained from the schools where the new rules are being piloted. Further, the Minister needs to reassure parents that existing special educational resources will not be undermined. While many schools currently have insufficient special educational teaching hours, the solution to this cannot be to take these resources away from other schools. Further investment in the education system can address the needs of all children with specific educational needs.