Clarification of ‘new model’ for teaching of children with Special Educational Needs and/or Learning Difficulties
There is much talk in the media at the moment about a ‘new model’ of resourcing schools to maximally teach and support children who are in manistream classes but who have a requirement of extra help in order to achieve the proposed learning atttainment levels for their age-group, class level and in keeping with their abilities.
Let me explain this ‘new model’ and how it applies to the educational experience of children in Balbriggan Educate Together NS.
1st layer: First of all, the most important manner in which all children are taught and learn in this school, to very good effect as witnessed in our attainment tests, is through quality teaching by the mainstream teacher in all areas of the national curriculum. Specifically, the teacher here ‘differentiates’ his/her teaching to different levels of intelligence/capabilities of the children in the class; teaching the whole class the same topic but making it more challenging for the stronger students and making more gradual smaller-steps and accomodations for those who find the material challenging. We call this ‘differentiation’ and it is the most important teaching aspect of catering for the needs of children who are all learning at different rates according to their own intelligences, motivations, capabilities and learning styles. Our average class size in the school, 22, is eight children fewer than in the vast majority of other schools. This is becasue we have a recognition by the Department of Education called DEIS status , a state-funded initiative to equalise the potential of all schools to meet the highest standards of learning attainment for its students.
2nd Layer: Secondly, in our school we have seven Learning Support teachers. This is far more than in the majority of other schools,and again is becasue our school has got what is called DEIS status, Five of these Learning Support teachers are attached to a smaller cluster of classes ( eg Monmon is attached to the four Senior Infants and 1st classes) . The Learning Support teacher, according to criteria ( as set out in our Learning Support Policy available on www.balbrigganetns.com and on request ) and in collaboarion with the class teachers tests and observations, works closely with identified children in the areas of Literacy and Numeracy . Our Learning Support teachers work both ‘in the classroom’ and by individual- or group- withdrawal with these children in order to ‘scaffold’ their learning. Our two further Learning Support teachers offer specific Literacy Programmes ( Reading Recovery) and Numeracy programmes ( Maths recovery) to selected children according to very specific criteria as set out in those programmes. The aim of Leanring Support is to support the learning of the child in the mainstream classroom setting so that he/she is achieving the most success and getting the most value, all day long, out of the differentiated teaching by the mainstream teacher.
Though this will not be confirmed properly unitl mid-February, we have no reason to fear that the picture I have outlined so far will change in the ‘new model’ as announced yesterday by the Minister for Education.
Thirdly, there is another layer of teaching and support offered to children in our school, delivered by our Special Education team consisting of three teachers. Specifically, under the old model this further layer of teaching and support is given to children who have identified Special Needs according to scripted formal reports written by Psychologists, Speech and Language therapists or Medical Doctors referring to specific diagnoses of autism, or specific speech and language disorders, or moderate or profound cognitive disabilities or specific developmental or medical disorders. Again, this team of teachers work in collaboration with the class teacher on specific specialised and individualised programmes in order to maximally scaffold the child in the skills and requisites of learning to the best of his/her ability in the differentiated mainstream classroom.
It is in this 3rd layer that the new model comes into effect. The current calculation that allows us three teachers in this team has been altered radically, and we do not know if we will experience an increase or a decrease in this number. Furthermore, while prior to this the Principal’s hand was tied with reagrd to what children could avail of this level of service ( it was entirely dependent on a bureaucrat-officer , SENO, from the National Council of Special Education interpreting a written report favourably or negatively ), in the new model the Principal may make this deicision. However, some criteria will need to apply otherwise the service fo the Special Education Team will be ineffective if there are too many children allocated to it. From the outset, our school will use the following criteria
- where those children who have written reports from health professionals that make specific diagnoses ( as listed above), so no change here
- Where the principal, following on periods of observation and close consultation with the mainstream class teacher and the Learning Support teacher ( Levels 1 and 2 above) understands the child to have a specific learning difficulty that has not yet generated a formal written report by a health professional. ( this is new, and is a welcome positive of this new model.
Finally, some children with specific special needs are also entitled to ‘have access’ to an SNA to look after their care and hekth/safety needs ( the SNA has no teaching role). Whether a child gets access to an SNA at all , or whether if so the access is full-time or part-time is not affected by this new model and reamins old model. This authority remains in the hands of the bureaucratic-officer ( SENO) from the National Council for Special Education according to her interpretation of written reports by Health Professionals, and remains out of the hands of the Principal. We currelty have 3 full-time and 1 part-time SNAs in our school in oreder to meet the care needs of seven children who have been identified as ‘having access’ to such a service.
Please feel free to come to the school to discuss any issues arisng here for you or your family or call me on 01 6904635. Feel free to leave a reply to this posting
Fintan ( Principal)
Balbriggan Educate Together