The Special Needs Parents Association is a voluntary registered charity run by parents for parents which exists to support all parents of persons with special needs and disabilities irrespective of age or diagnosis, by striving on a national level for improved treatment, education, welfare and acceptance for our children. Since its establishment in 2010, SNPA has been actively involved across Government Departments and with other agencies and organisations to further our mutual goals.
The following observations are based on feedback from parents. SNPA is fortunate to have a very diverse profile of parent members, amongst which there are also parents who work within the current special education system as well as having personal experience of supporting their own child through the education system and parents who have detailed knowledge of the educational and social challenges associated with a broad range of learning difficulties and disabilities.
Delivery of a better service to students and schools
SNPA have always supported the concept of one special educational body by the amalgamation of NCSE, National Educational Psychology Service, Special Educational Support Service (SESS) and the National Behavioral Support Service (NBSS). We would also advocate for the addition of specialist educators to the ISS, with a minimum academic level of M.EdSEN that can offer direct advisory support to teachers in schools and an increase in the number of Behavioural Support Specialists which we believe would have a big impact in supporting schools.
The addition of the Visiting Teachers Service for the visual and hearing impaired into the ISS model is welcome, however we are extremely disappointed that NEPS will not be incorporated into an integrated Inclusion Support Service and believe this to be a missed opportunity to streamline the system of special educational supports and simplify pathways leading to the related supports for both a whole school or individual pupil approach. SNPA acknowledges that a major component of NEPS Model of Service is consultative and would complement a whole school planning approach in the identification of training needs for staff and thus build professional capacity in schools to be better equipped to deal with the complex and diverse educational needs of the pupil population overall as well as with individual children.
Any savings by the amalgamation of the currently individually based services should/could be frontloaded into providing more qualified support staff as identified above. We would also support the development of the ISS into geographical based teams to support schools in their region to include; facilitating and providing training for teachers and SNAs where appropriate, actual contact time in schools where exceptional circumstances have been identified and a broader and specialist team approach where necessary to support the school to avoid a breakdown in the pupils placement in a proactive rather than reactive manner. SENOs should also be collocated with the ISS Team to ensure a totally integrated approach and a more collaborative service overall. The ‘Report of the Education and Health Working Group on Collaborative Working between Health and Education Sectors’ outlines how health and education services can be delivered in a complementary and effective manner to children with complex disabilities and the need to optimise resources across the system and minimise duplication, particularly in the context of the current economic environment. Such duplication should also extend to examining facilities and shared administrative capacity across the current individual services, thus identifying potential savings in operational costs that can be redirected to other areas within the proposed ISS.
Coordination between schools and outside agencies
The SENO or an identified ISS Liaison to the school should have the ability/remit to coordinate such specialist interventions where required and liaise with the Disability Network Teams and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services with parental consent, in order to have a coordinated approach to preventing and providing solutions to complex scenarios that may lead to a child or adolescent no longer able to attend school.
The ISS must have powers to compel a school to implement team recommendations to prevent cases where the lack of implementation leads to a breakdown in school placement. It is very evident from parent feedback that the main causes for a breakdown in school placement is where a plan has been carefully devised with considerable intervention from outside agencies, Visiting Teacher and Behavioural Specialist recommendations and lack of implementation inevitably leads to an unnecessary degeneration of the pupils experience in school culminating in suspension, expulsion or a (stressed) voluntary withdrawal from the school setting of the pupil by the parent, or reduced school day.
Responding to Exceptional circumstances
The response to exceptional circumstances should be timely and a clear pathway developed for school and parents as to what that pathway involves as indicated in Recommendation 22 citing the Inclusion Support Service and our own recommendations in the above section on the ISS and breakdown of school placements.
We have a unique opportunity to provide a better framework of integrated whole school and individual pupil supports to schools by the development of a streamlined Inclusion Support Service, but again SNPA would reiterate that the reluctance to include NEPS in the Departments proposal would be a retrograde step and we would strongly advise that this be given more consideration before a final ISS model is signed off on by the Minister for Education.
While we understand that all areas of reform are confined to a large degree by fiscal restraints, it is imperative that schools, educators and pupils receive the support necessary to have positive outcomes. While we have indicated where there is potential savings that could be redirected into frontline supports, an additional investment to increase the effectiveness of the service will certainly be needed to keep pace with demand if we are to support the policy of Inclusion.