96% of parents fear the impact of Department of Education’s proposed changes to Special Education Teacher Allocation

  • AsIAm, Down Syndrome Ireland and Inclusion Ireland appear before Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education

5th March 2024: The country’s three leading disability advocacy organisations, AsIAm, Down Syndrome Ireland and Inclusion Ireland are today appearing before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education at 11am to express the fears and concerns of parents of Autistic children and children with Down Syndrome and Intellectual Disabilities to recently announced changes by the Department of Education to the Special Education Teacher (SET) allocation model.

From September 2024, the funding allocation which schools receive will no longer be based on the number of children with identified complex needs enrolled in a school. Currently, this number accounts for 50% of the overall frontloaded allocation. The recently announced changes were made without any consultation with parents or disability stakeholders, in clear breach of Ireland’s obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

AsIAm, Down Syndrome Ireland and Inclusion Ireland have previously called for the Department to pause implementation of the new model so that meaningful consultation can take place with those most affected. The Committee will today hear calls for the re-instatement of complex educational needs into the allocation model, improved communication by the Department of Education and a robust, independent appeals process, open to families seeking to access SET hours. The lack of sufficient investment to meet the needs of children will also be highlighted to the committee.

In advance of today’s hearing, the organisations conducted a snap poll between Monday 26 February and Thursday 29th February with over 1,300 responses. The vast majority of respondents (85%) have a child currently receiving SET support in school.

The results highlight the impact of a lack of consultation and communication with families and fundamental concerns on the policy change. The survey found that:

  • 94% believed that any reduction in SET hours would impact their child’s ability to learn and participate in school.
  • 74% felt that they did not have a good understanding of the changes proposed by the Department.
  • 96% were concerned that the change would see their child’s school lose resources.

Parents were also given the opportunity to outline the basis and nature of their concerns, with a number of key themes emerging which include:

  • The current lack of sufficient resources in the education system prior to any proposed change
  • The potential impact of any reduction in support on individual children and schools
  • A lack of understanding of the experiences of children with complex needs.
  • The proposed changes would create new barriers to accessing mainstream education, including enrolment.
  • The impact for children with complex needs due to start national school in September.
  • The rationale applied by the Department for the proposed model, including the use of STEN (Literacy & Numeracy) scores to allocate resources

Many of these findings tally with concerns raised in a petition signed by more than 700 principals making up the National Principal’s Forum.

Speaking ahead of today’s hearing, Adam Harris, CEO of AsIAm said “We welcome the extensive engagement we had with senior departmental officials yesterday in relation to their recently announced SET allocation model. However, AsIAm continues to have significant concerns about the changes, as reflected in the overwhelming response of our respective communities to the snap survey. The impact of the lack of meaningful consultation and effective communication on this issue cannot be underestimated. Critically, we are faced with a reality where the majority of our young people cannot access the support they require in school. As a result, they have vastly different school experiences to their neurotypical or non-disabled peers. We acknowledge the rise in resources in recent years but the impact is significantly diluted when it is considered against the backdrop of a vast increase in identified need within the classroom. We urgently need to see more investment together with a robust appeals process which provides transparency to families and avoids a blame game between the Department and schools. Put simply, we need to make the system work for children, not make our children fit into a broken system.”

Turlough Kelly, Communication and Advocacy Manager with Down Syndrome Ireland, said:

“This proposal has already caused acute concern and unease among many of our members. In the absence of any definitive public clarification from the Department on the exclusion of complex needs from the criteria, many parents fear that their children will not have access to the supports or the educational setting they need to thrive. The lack of consultation with those most affected has also caused a huge degree of uncertainty and anxiety”.

Derval McDonagh CEO of Inclusion Ireland states “We are deeply concerned by the disconnect from those in a position of power to the experience of disabled children in school today. 45% of children with support needs contend with a lack of appropriate supports at school, reduced timetables, emotionally based school avoidance, other distressing experiences, or they are not attending school at all.

From our recent survey, only 14% of disabled children are thriving in school in Ireland today. This statistic alone should make us stop and think. The experience that children have in school lasts a lifetime. We need a better system, one where every child is valued, belongs and gets the support they need. It is an investment in their lives and in their future.”


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