A survey of almost 1,000 primary school principals throughout Ireland has shown that the vast majority have no confidence in the Government body “set up to improve the delivery of education services to persons with special educational needs with particular emphasis on children”.
The vote of no confidence in the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) comes from the National Principals Forum (NPF).
The NPF is a registered lobby group representing Irish primary school principals, its survey found that a majority of principals feel “wholly unsupported when advocating for pupils with additional educational needs (AEN)”.
Over the past four years the NPF have built a comprehensive profile of the challenges facing primary principals with much attention given to supports available to pupils with AEN in a bid to highlight the “deep systemic failures within the system that work against providing all pupils with an equitable education”. T
In the survey of 921 Primary School Principals in the past two weeks the following data was uncovered:
- The vast majority of schools have pupils with additional educational needs but are awaiting diagnosis (due to chronic waiting lists with both public and private practitioners).
- Over one third of schools have had periods where there was no Special Educational Needs Officer (SENO) appointed to their schools
- Fifty-five per cent of the schools surveyed stated that their AEN profile does not meet the needs of their pupils.
- Of the principals who appealed their Special Education Teacher (SET) allocations in the past two years, 93 per cent of schools were unsuccessful in these appeals.
- Forty-nine per cent of schools stated they do not have a sufficient quota of SNAs.
- Of the principals surveyed who appealed their SNA allocations in the past two years, 58 per cent of schools were unsuccessful in their appeals.
- Thirty-eight per cent of schools have gone through periods in the last three years without access to an assigned NEPS psychologist.
The Department of Education’s claims to have invested additional funding in special education resources are not reflected in the experience of schools, according to the NPF.
The NPF also said claims schools were reluctant to open special classes were unfair.
They said 11 per cent of respondents had declined such a request, for the following reasons:
- Not enough space.
- Staff unqualified to meet the specific needs.
- No classroom accommodation.
- Lack of meaningful support from the NCSE/DES.
- The arduous process involved.
- Witnessing how supports are promised to schools then reneged on once the process begins.
Principals have little confidence in the NCSE. Experiences of schools over the last three years in National Principal Forum studies who opened special classes included the following:
- Ninety-nine per cent of respondents reported that when the teacher is absent from their class, there is no proper provision to cover the class and in the majority of cases, a SET teacher or the principal themselves covers this class. (NPF, 2021).
- 50 per cent of principals reported that special classes are not currently suitable to children with moderate or severe needs (NPF, 2021).
- Sixty-six per cent said there was inadequate funding for the classes (NPF, 2021).
- Thirty-six per cent reported that the classes have increased their own workload (NPF, 2019).
- Forty-seven per cent agreed that special classes are great but cannot work optimally without improved NCSE supports and DoE supports (NPF, 2019).