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(Ireland) Special ed council accused of forcing principals to handle its duties

Oct 21, 2022, Irish Examiner: NCSE trying to 'bounce' legal obligations to children with disabilities onto principals
The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has been accused of attempting to “bounce” its legal responsibilities and obligations to children with disabilities onto school principals.

It comes after a circular was issued to schools this week, telling them they now will play a role in the assessment of need (AON) process.

AONs are intended to be the first step towards identifying the needs of children with a disability. Under the Disability Act, the assessment must commence within three months of its initial referral and be completed within three months of commencement. However, long waiting lists mean children can wait years.

An ‘information note’ to schools this week from the NCSE said it “now has the responsibility to nominate an appropriate person to carry out an assessment of education needs on behalf of the HSE under the AON process” following a legal judgment in 2021. The note includes a questionnaire-type form and instructions for principals on how to complete the process.

Under the Disability Act, the HSE can request that the NCSE nominate a person with appropriate expertise to carry out an educational assessment for a child where it determines there is a need. … "What the NCSE seems to be doing [with this information note] is passing this over to school principals," said children’s rights solicitor Gareth Noble of KOD Lyons which has brought legal challenges to the system of assessing children. The HSE assessment officer is the person charged under the Disability Act with arranging for these assessments.

"They are told they need to go to the NCSE for that, but the NCSE seems to be stepping off the pitch of play and sending it in to school principals.

Ultimately, the NCSE could be in legal trouble over this document to principals because it is not school principals that have the legal responsibility to ensure this is done. It is the NCSE’s legal responsibility to ensure this is done under the act.” … He said lack of resources was not a legal defence.

“My concern, and I’m sure the concern of school principals, would be that they’re giving principals effectively the responsibility to ensure that these routines are being done without the resources or the expertise to do so.

“It’s very important that the NCSE clarify all this urgently, and confirm that it is not school principals who are being asked to ensure that these assessments are being done, and that it is the NCSE who are doing it.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said: “The department and NCSE have put in place a suite of supports to assist schools in completing the educational component of the HSE’s AON process These include: Detailed guidance; short video for use by schools setting [out] how to comply with the process; email support; dedicated support line. This line will be staffed by education professionals who will assist schools in completing the process.”


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