Thank you to Alice O’ Donnell for alerting us to this letter in the Irish Times tod.
Sir, – I am a parent of two children with special needs, one with Down syndrome and another with autism spectrum disorder. I am also a teacher of three children with special needs in a mainstream class of 28 children in St Anne’s school in Shankill, Co Dublin. My children also attend this school. Most of the special educational needs (SEN) children in St Anne’s have behaviour modification programmes and individualised plans.
The Department of Education and Science recently published a circular (0030/2014) that will drastically reduce the level of support for children and teenagers with special needs. A shocking aspect of this circular is their intention to remove almost all access to specials needs assistants in secondary schools.
This withdrawal of specials needs assistant support in secondary schools comes at a crucial stage for both students and teachers. Secondary schools are only now having to cope with increasing numbers of children with special needs as they come up through the system. Many teachers are still in the early stages of working with children with special educational needs in an inclusive environment. Many of them have not been provided with relevant training to upskill to meet the challenging demands of working with children with SEN children.
This “inclusion policy” is negligent and finance driven. Under the guise of “value for money” it makes victims of our precious, vulnerable children by kicking away their specials needs assistant support.
Both of my children have access to a specials needs assistant as part of an individualised plan and appropriate interventions. Without their invaluable help, they would not be as productive and independent as they are.
My son is starting in mainstream secondary school in September. He suffers from extreme anxiety as part of his Asperger’s syndrome and requires access to a specials needs assistant to take him out of class for breaks to keep him calm.
He knows when he needs to go and get some time out and then he can return calmly to class without affecting his classmates.
If, as the circular suggests, he should be left until he has a meltdown, he would disrupt and upset all the other children and the teacher, embarrass himself and reduce his self-esteem.
Did these policy reviewers come into classrooms? Did they talk to teachers? Did they talk to parents?
This is not inclusive education. It is blatantly excluding children with special needs from reaching their full potential and is therefore denying them the right to access the same educational opportunities as their peers. By removing access to specials needs assistants, the rights of all children in these “inclusive classrooms” to an equal education will be denied.
Maybe these policy reviewers need to upskill themselves on what is really needed in our schools?
I invite them to come to our school any day of the week to see how invaluable the specials needs assistant are.
Is it not better practice if a specials needs assistant accompanies the child rather than a teacher out of the classroom? According to this circular, we should wait until the child or teenager displays violent behaviour or self-harms before we intervene.
I would ask all parents to raise this matter with their public representatives and all candidates in the upcoming local and European elections. – Yours, etc,