Minister for Education Norma Foley TD and Minister of State for Special Education and Inclusion Josepha Madigan TD today welcomed the publication of the National Council for Special Education (NCSE)’s policy advice paper ‘An Inclusive Education for an Inclusive Society.’
The policy advice was requested in 2018 by the then Minister for Education and NCSE. The advice was requested in the context of Ireland’s ratification in 2018 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and on foot of significant growth in the number of special classes being opened in schools.
The policy advice was prepared following an extensive period of research, consultation and deliberation undertaken by the NCSE. The policy advice recommends the progressive realisation of a more inclusive education system that reflects the Irish context.
This includes the long term development of new school campuses which would cater for all students to complete their primary and post-primary education. This would mean that children with special educational needs could enter the same school gate as their siblings or friends, but go to different buildings on the campus, with the potential for shared activities.
The NCSE policy advice also recommends a number of system reforms in teacher education programmes and school leadership preparation and ongoing professional learning programmes. It also recommends more psychological and therapeutic supports in mainstream schools to help them support students with special educational needs.
Minister Foley said: “I would like to thank the National Council for Special Education for its work in preparing and publishing this comprehensive policy document on inclusion for children in our education system. This is about children and young people growing up and learning together to the greatest possible extent. Having an education system that is a broad reflection of Irish society is important to me as Minister.
“To the greatest extent possible, we want children, whatever their ability, to have the opportunity to learn in their local school with their siblings and peers, be it in a mainstream class or a special class. And there will always be a place for special schools in our country because they play a vital role in meeting the needs of children with the most complex educational needs well into the future. We are currently opening four new special schools in September.
“We’ve invested very significantly in special education with a package of €2.7 billion for 2024, which is 26 per cent of the Department’s budget. We now have almost 3,000 special classes, including around 1,800 which have been added in the past three years, and we will open another 600 in the next two years. This level of expenditure and resourcing, which provides almost 40,000 additional teachers and SNAs in schools, provides us with an excellent base upon which we can achieve, over time, a more inclusive education system.”
Minister Madigan said: “The policy advice published today by the National Council for Special Education sets out a strong ambition for an inclusive education system that reflects our diverse society.
“Inclusion is at the heart of everything we do and all of our schools are playing an important role in delivering a system that supports and improves outcomes for all children. We are making significant progress in ensuring children can learn and thrive alongside their peers. Our school communities have demonstrated a real commitment to inclusion and I would like to thank them for their ongoing support in this work. We now have almost 3,000 special classes across the country to provide for over 18,500 children and will open another 4 special schools next September, which will see 134 special schools continuing to play a vital role in meeting the needs of over 9000 children.
“Under Budget 24 we will spend €2.7bn, over a quarter of the Department‘s budget, on special education provision. The consistent investment in special education will ensure that we can continue to develop an increasingly inclusive education system. I look forward to working with the broad range of education stakeholders in the coming years to continue to build on the considerable investments made in special education as well as the excellent practices already in place in mainstream and special schools.”
The two Ministers also welcomed the fact that the Department applied successfully to the European Commission’s DG Reform Office Technical Support Instrument (TSI) process. The TSI programme is designed to support member states that are intending to initiate system reforms.
In this instance, the DG Reform Office has appointed the European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education to provide support to Ireland to progress the development of a model of inclusion for the school system to take account of the findings and recommendations contained in the NCSE policy advice. This will involve reviewing provision in key areas of the education system and extensive collaboration with the full range of education stakeholders.