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HomeNewsHundreds of schools appeal ‘cuts’ to learning support hours

Hundreds of schools appeal ‘cuts’ to learning support hours

Hundreds of schools have appealed controversial “cuts” to the allocation of special education teaching hours for vulnerable children in their schools.

It follows concerns over how resources will be provided to thousands of students with learning disabilities attending mainstream schools from next September.

About 230 primary and secondary schools appealed on the basis that they would lose out on special education teaching hours for students with additional needs.

New figures provided by officials at the office of Minister of State with responsibility for special education Hildegarde Naughton show that, following a review, 119 schools will get a total of 1,000 additional hours in September. This is equivalent to 50 full-time special needs teaching posts.

Earlier this year the Department of Education published a revised special education teacher allocation model which determines how resources are provided to thousands of students with disabilities.

Until recently, the level of support for students with disabilities in mainstream schools was based on indicators such as enrolment, the proportion of pupils with “complex needs”, gender and outcomes of standardised assessments. However, the revised model removed “complex needs” as a criterion for the allocation of special education teaching hours.

The department estimated at the time that about one in three schools would lose out on teaching hours, while two out of three would either hold on to what they have or gain under the new model.

Campaign groups such as the autism charity AsIAm were critical of the changes on the basis that people with disability and their advocates were excluded from discussion around the reforms. They have said uncertainty over the future support for children is leading to “huge distress” among families.

In an interview with The Irish Times, Ms Naughton said there was “no perfect model” in relation to providing special education teaching hours.

However, she said the review process by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) was aimed at identifying schools where they had particular complex needs or needed extra resources to meet pupils’ needs.

“Every year this is going to be reviewed, and the data will be improving as we go along,” she said.

On the question of the availability of school places for children with additional needs in September, Ms Naughton said this was “the priority issue” and acknowledged there were pressure points around the Dublin area and other counties.

She said 320 additional special classes – with six pupils per class – are being established for next September, with funding available to expand that to 400 special classes if needed.

“I’m confident, based on the information that the NCSE has given the department, that we have the capacity to accommodate all children in September,” Ms Naughton said. “I want to sort of reassure parents that I am doing everything that I can; I’m putting huge pressure on to make sure that we’re not in this position again in September 2025.”

Ms Naughton said the appointment of additional staff to the NCSE over the coming week will help improve supports for schools and parents on the ground over the coming year.

She acknowledged that the service, in particular the number of special education needs organisers to support parents, has been underfunded.

“They were under-resourced and didn’t have the manpower on the ground, but now they do. We need to make sure that works.”

She also said plans to expand a new in-school therapy model – where a team of therapists with clusters of schools provide easier access to support than the traditional HSE model – have been hampered by staff shortages.

Many of the 39 therapist posts that are key to delivering this expansion remain vacant.

Ms Naughton said the feedback was that the posts were not attractive to therapists because they were not permanent contracts. “So, let’s fix that,” she said. “I want to see them in place as quickly as possible.”

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