Services for local children with special education needs are in crisis and causing concern for many parents.
An acute shortage of Special Education teachers and SNAs in one local school has left staff over stretched and children’s learning impacted.
Both parents and staff at Firhouse Educate Together National School are so concerned they have come together to work on a joint campaign.
Niamh Neville, a parent of a boy in the school who has autism, told Dublin Gazette local parents are angry, upset and fearful proposed new changes will impact further.
“There is an acute shortage of special education teachers and SNAs in our school,” Niamh said.
“There are just three Special Ed teachers and seven SNAs for 77 children with additional needs. We have two Special Autism classes, the only ones in the local area.
“Firhouse Educate Together National School has become massively over subscribed for additional needs children, the majority of whom have autism, and is now at crisis point.
“All children’s learning outcomes are being impacted, as the amazing staff who are doing their best, are just completely over-stretched.
“There is also a health and safety issue bringing children to and from yard and classrooms, on stairs, evacuating classrooms, as the staff are not always available to support children during a meltdown.”
“There isn’t even one SNA per mainstream classroom.
“Children in the special classes are not getting the full opportunity to integrate with their mainstream peers, to develop social skills and progress, due to the resource issue.”
Niamh said the very concerned parents and school staff held a well attended public meeting recently with local General Election candidates in the school hall.
“Last Tuesday (28th) night over 150 members of the local community turned up, with 11 local representatives attending,” she said.
“Myself, Collette Dunne (Principal), Heather O’Doherty (Acting Deputy Principal & Special Education Co-ordinator) and Francis Fullen (Chairperson, Board of Management), addressed the audience.
“At the meeting the campaign called for: “Special Education resources to be allocated based on the number of children with needs to take exceptional circumstances like FETNS into account.
“Other special class places to be made available in the D16 and D24 area to offer choice to families and alleviate the over subscription in any school with a special class in place
“For the new Government to place Special Needs Education as a high priority topic on its agenda as the current system is failing our children.”
Niamh says The Department of Education and NCSE (National Council for Special Education) have responded “at a generic level” without taking into account the exceptional circumstances in Firhouse ETNS.
“This is very concerning as the NCSE is proposing a Full Inclusion Model, where children of all abilities will be educated in one classroom, with special classes and special schools closing.
“We favour inclusion but firmly believe that inclusion can only work for all, if meaningful, proper resources and supports are put in place – and in the current system this is certainly not the case.
“We are part of a national campaign called Meet the Kids Behind the Cuts, who also addressed the crowd on Tuesday night.
“This campaign now has 200+ schools onboard, all campaigning for improved Special Education Resources across the country.
“Since the meeting we have had amazing responses across social media, local press, and support from many local representatives – but we won’t stop here.
“With 700+ signatures on our Petition we are building strength in numbers to take this campaign further.”
Dublin Gazette contacted the NCSE to ask them about Niamh Neville’s comments and how they plan to address the concerns of the parents from Firhouse Educate Together National School.
A spokesperson told us:
“Regarding special class provision in Dublin 16 and 24 and the greater South Dublin area, the NCSE recognise the contribution made by schools with special class provision.
“We can appreciate fully the concerns of schools and parents when seeking the best outcomes for children and will continue to work within DES policy and Building Unit to improve the range of provisions available.
“The NCSE cannot oblige a school to open a special class, we are dependent on schools agreeing to open special classes, and we would agree that all schools should open special classes where required by the needs of children in their community.
“The work of the NCSE both in its operations and in its advice to the Minister always has as its aim the provision of the right inclusive model to meet the needs of students.”