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(Ireland) Schools temporarily halt special needs assessments

Nov 1, 2022, Irish Examiner: Schools will not play role in accessing needs of children with disabilities until pilot evaluated

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has warned it cannot “unilaterally decide” to pause its statutory obligations to children with disabilities.

No further assessment of need (AON) forms will be sent to schools until an “extended pilot” is evaluated.

This comes following meetings between the teachers’ unions, the NCSE, the Department of Education and principal representatives.

A circular was issued to schools on October 20, telling them they now will play a role completing forms for the AON process for students with disabilities following a ruling from 2021.

However, many principals raised concerns over the lack of training, the workload and the pressure the move would create for them and their students.

Solicitor Gareth Noble had accused the NCSE of initially attempting to “bounce” its legal responsibilities and obligations to children with disabilities onto school principals.

The NCSE has now “rightly accepted” that school principals may not be best placed to carry out these assessments, Mr Noble said.

School principals were correct in calling out how they were delegated this power without any back-up support.”

However, the NCSE still “very clearly” has statutory obligations to nominate someone with the relevant expertise to carry out these assessments, he said.

Under the Disability Act, AONs must commence within three months of their initial referral and be completed within three months of commencement.

“They just tried to slip this on to school principals in a way that left school principals very vulnerable, children’s needs not being properly assessed and the NCSE completely exposed legally.

"Instead of putting in the assessments that are required under the Disability Act, they seem to have placed a pause on the whole thing. That won’t stack up legally. The AON process is very clear — it has to be done and dusted within six months, and that includes in my view the educational assessment.”

Teachers’ unions including the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) welcomed the move late last week to extend the trial of the education component of the AON process.

Currently, 66 schools have received a request to complete a school report form for assessment of educational need. These schools are to work with teams involved in a pilot process before the summer, composed of inspectors, psychologists and NCSE personnel.

No further AON forms will be sent to any school until the extended pilot has been evaluated and further consultation has happened with the partners in education.

However, Mr Noble said: “It’s not as simple as the INTO and the NCSE getting together and saying ‘right we need to take another look at this and pause them’ that’s not the way it works because the Disability Act sets a very clear timeline for the commencement and completion of assessments.

In the absence of school principals being delegated the duty, which was totally improper and unfair in the first place, who are they going to nominate?” A spokesperson for the NCSE said: “Where schools have been requested to complete a report on educational need as part of those assessments, a staff member from the NCSE, the Inspectorate or NEPS will be in contact with those schools following the mid-term break in order to provide support, when required. The Department and NCSE are committed to further engagement with the education stakeholders on foot of this extended trial and to work collaboratively to resolve any outstanding issues.”

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