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Briefing Paper: Special Schools with Autism Spectrum Disorder designation

 

Introduction

Information directly related to the Deputy’s queries about educating students with Autism Spectrum Disorders in Special Schools is front-loaded. Additional information had been inserted into Appendices.

A number of the Deputy’s queries are covered by sections in recent NCSE reports. Where directly relevant these sections have been repeated wholesale. The NCSE has a very clear position on evidence informed advice (page 18 Policy Advice Paper 5), and describes an approach that takes into account a wide range of studies and international evidence reviews. These include two peer-reviewed studies commissioned by the NCSE including a broad range of evidence brought to their attention during their consultation processes.

 

Background

Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) – used interchangeably with the more colloquial term ‘autism’ – are lifelong conditions that generally result in difficulties in social communication, social interaction and social imagination.[1] In addition, many people with ASD have sensory difficulties and unusually restrictive and repetitive behaviours and interests. While the core deficits associated with ASD are present throughout life, the expression of these difficulties will vary with age and with the presence of other disabilities or the influence of life events.[2]

ASD can cause a wide range of symptoms, which are grouped into three broad categories:[3]

  1. Problems and difficulties with social interaction: such as a lack of understanding and awareness of other people’s emotions and feelings;
  2. Impaired language and communication skills: such as delayed language development and an inability to start conversations or take part in them properly; and,
  3. Unusual patterns of thought and physical behaviour: This includes making repetitive physical movements, such as hand tapping or twisting. The child develops set routines of behaviour, which can upset the child if the routines are broken.

Autistic disorder – sometimes referred to as ‘classic autism’ – is one of three broad types of ASD. The others are Asperger syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS).

Children with Asperger syndrome have milder symptoms that affect social interaction and behaviour. Their language development is usually unaffected, although they often have problems in certain areas of language. (For example, understanding humour or figures of speech, such as ‘she’s got a chip on her shoulder’ or ‘it’s raining cats and dogs’.) Children with Asperger syndrome usually have above-average intelligence. Some children are skilled in fields requiring logic, memory and creativity, such as maths, computer science and music. (But only 1 in 200 children are exceptionally skilled, so-called ‘autistic savants’).[4]

PDD-NOS can be thought of as a ‘diagnosis of exclusion’. It is used for children who share some, but not all, of the traits of autistic disorder and/or Asperger syndrome. Most children with PDD-NOS have milder symptoms than children with autistic disorder, but they do not share the good language skills and above-average intelligence associated with Asperger syndrome.[5]

The term ‘spectrum’ is sometimes used to refer to the symptoms of ASD, which can vary from individual to individual and from mild to severe.[6]

There is currently no cure for ASD, but there are a range of treatments that can improve the symptoms listed above.

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE)

All of the statistical data in this report was provided directly from the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) at the request of the researcher. It includes the most up to date information available.

 

The NCSE was set up to improve the delivery of education services to persons with special educational needs (SEN) arising from disabilities with particular emphasis on children.[7] The Council was first established as an independent statutory body by order of the Minister for Education and Science in December 2003.

 

The NCSE’s local service is delivered through its national network of Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENOs) who interact with parents and schools and liaise with the HSE in providing resources to support children with special educational needs.

Note on language use

The Department of Education (DoE) and the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) do not use the terminology ‘Autism Specific Schools’ or ‘Autism Specific Units’ rather they refer to them respectably as special schools whose primary designation is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and special classes whose primary designation is ASD.

 

Continuum of Education

The Deputy’s query focuses on special schools with an ASD designation. In the Irish context these schools are understood within a broad continuum of supports for students with ASD.

In Ireland, students with special educational needs are served by a continuum of provision ranging from full-time enrolment in mainstream classes to full-time enrolment in special schools, with a variety of options in between. This means a range of placement options is available to them which includes:

  • A mainstream class, where the student with special educational needs receives additional attention from the class teacher through differentiation of the curriculum and/or additional teaching support provided by a resource/learning support teacher or through co-teaching, where required.
  • A special class in a mainstream school.
  • A special school which has been designated by the Department of Education and Skills for a particular category or categories of disability.

Special needs assistants (SNAs) are allocated to primary, post-primary and special schools to support students with a disability who also have significant care needs. [8]

 

Quantity of Special Schools in Ireland

While a presumption in favour of including students with special educational needs in mainstream education is enshrined in legislation, special school provision is also available for students aged four to 18 years.[9] There are currently 135 special schools, 116 of which are resourced with teachers and training by NCSE. There are 19 other special schools, categorised as special for different reasons such as those for the education of children in detention and care.

Of the 116 special schools resourced by NCSE 19 have Autism Spectrum Disorder as a primary designation. See Chart 1 below for the national picture. The Table for this data is included in Appendix 1.

Chart 1: Special Schools by primary designation

Source: NCSE data provided to researcher November 2018 (L&RS analysis)

 

 

Special Schools (ASD) in Dublin

The Deputy articulated a particular interest in the number of special schools with and ASD designation in Dublin. Table 1 below shows that of the 19 special schools with ASD as a primary designation 7 are in Dublin. Table 2 in the Appendix 1 describes the following details. The full table of all schools in the state with ASD as a primary designation are available should the Deputy require it.

  • The location of each of these schools
  • The number of teaching posts as of end of 2017
  • The number of SNA posts as of end 2017
  • The number of pupils as of end 2017

Table 2: Special Schools with ASD as primary designation in Dublin

Name of School DesignationTeaching Posts End 17.18SNA Posts End 17.18Pupils 17/18
BALLYOWEN MEADOWSLoughlinstown, Co. DublinASD824.6648
SETANTA SPECIAL SCHOOLStillorgan Road, Co. DublinASD123055
ST MICHAEL’S HOUSE SPECIAL NATIONAL SCHOOLKilbarrack, Dublin 5ASD82330
Saplings RathfarnhamRathfarnham, Dublin 14ASD41822
ABACAS KilbarrackKilbarrack Dublin 5ASD731.6626
ABACAS KilnamanaghKilnamanagh, Dublin 24ASD519.6625
Red Door MonkstownMonkstown, Co. DublinASD21013

Source: NCSE data provided to researcher November 2018 (L&RS analysis)

 

 

ASD Special Classes in Dublin 7 and Dublin 15

The Deputy expressed an interest in ASD resources within the Dublin 7 and Dublin 15 postal codes. Accordingly a list of special classes for those with ASD in that area have been provided. This information was obtained directly from the NCSE and is correct as of September 2018.

There are 30 special classes with ASD as a primary designation in Dublin 7 and Dublin 15 as of September 2018. Five of these were in post primary and 25 were in primary schools.

Due to the length of this list, which includes the school name, school type, class type and number of teaching posts, the relevant table is presented in Appendix 2.

The full list of special schools in every postal code in the state are available should the Deputy be interested in them.

 

Education of Students with Challenging Behaviour

The Deputy has indicated that the parents she is liaising with are particularly concerned with meeting the needs of children with ASD with higher needs. Given that this may include those with challenging behaviour arising from ASD I include below relevant recommendations from the NCSE.

In NCSE briefing report number 5 it explicitly states that the following recommendations, taken from NCSE’s policy advice on the Education of Students with Challenging  Behaviour  Arising  from  Severe  Emotional Disturbance/Behaviour Disorder (EBD)  2012,  also  have  application  for  students with exceptionally challenging behaviour arising from ASD.

I include the text from that section of the report wholesale below as the evidence-led approach the NCSE takes to developing these positions is robust.

Staffing Levels for Children with Exceptionally Challenging Behaviour Arising from Severe EBD

When considering  the  education  of  students  with  challenging  behaviour  arising  from  a  severe   emotional and/or behavioural disorder, the NCSE advised that staffing levels in special  schools and classes for children exhibiting such behaviour must be sufficient to ensure the safety  of students and staff members. School boards of management should ensure that in classrooms where severely disturbing behaviours are being documented regularly and on an ongoing basis, no adult should be left in the room on their own at any time. This implies that if one adult leaves the room, for a break for example, two adults should be left to supervise the class. This rule should also apply to the supervision of break-time.

To provide  adequate  teaching  support  for  those  exceptional  cases  where  there  is  a  clear  and   documented history of repeated episodes of assault, violent behaviour or serious self-harm, special  schools  with  children  with  exceptionally  challenging  behaviour  arising  from  severe  EBD  should   be  allowed  to  set  up  one  class  with  a  reduced  pupil-teacher  ratio  of  4:1.  The  number  of  SNAs   allocated, for this class alone, should be sufficient to meet the requirement that no adult is left  alone in the classroom at any time.

Management of Challenging Behaviour

The NCSE advised that the DES should issue clear guidelines to schools on realistic and appropriate measures  to  be  taken  to  contain  children  during  episodes  of  violent  behaviour.  These  guidelines   should  be  based  on  evidence  of  international  best  practice  in  working  with  children  with  severe   emotional  and  behavioural  difficulties  and  should  specifically  address  when  it  is  appropriate  for   teachers and SNAs to use restraint and/or the use of a time-out room. The NCSE further advised that parents must be clearly informed of the school’s code of behaviour, including the practices in place for the containment and protection of the child during episodes of  violent behaviour.

Further reading: Education of Students with Challenging  Behaviour  Arising  from  Severe  Emotional Disturbance/Behaviour Disorder (NCSE 2012)

 

Dealing with severe behavioural issues

The Deputy queried best practice for dealing with students with ASD who have severe behavioural difficulties including self-harm.

NCSE policy advice paper 5 deals with those issues under the heading ‘crisis intervention’ (page 13). I include the text from that section of the report wholesale below as the evidence-led approach the NCSE takes to developing these positions is robust.

Crisis intervention

It is important to realise that challenging and/or violent behaviour is not necessarily linked to special educational needs but is a broad, societal issue. While challenging behaviour can be associated with a diagnosis of ASD, it is inappropriate to consider that all students with ASD present with it. Only a minority of students who may or may not have special educational needs demonstrate serious, challenging or violent behaviours in school settings.

Schools have a duty of care to all their students and staff. Their management of challenging (and sometimes violent behaviour) must be consistent with a student’s right to be treated with dignity and to be free of abuse. Schools should make every effort to prevent the need for the use of restraint and seclusion. School policies in this area should form part of overall policy on the positive management of behaviour which emphasises the importance of having: preventative strategies in place to avoid the emergence of challenging behaviour; good staff/student relationships to promote positive student behaviours; and early intervention to manage challenging behaviour if/ when it arises.

It is clear that some schools feel let down by the educational and health systems. They consider they are being asked to educate a small number of students who at times can exhibit extremely challenging and sometimes violent behaviours towards both themselves and others, without access to sufficient, necessary clinical and therapeutic advice and guidance. The reality is that staff members, including teachers and SNAs, are currently being injured in schools. While such incidents are few, they are nevertheless serious when they arise.

Views expressed on this issue were perhaps the most forceful, divisive and emotional heard during our consultation process. They ranged from: under no circumstances should separate rooms be used in schools for the management of behaviour to the absolute need for separate, lockable rooms for the safety of the student, other students and staff.

We found no evidence that the use of seclusion or restraint provided any educational or therapeutic benefit to students with ASD or that it reduced the recurrence of problem behaviours.

The literature is clear that many students with ASD can need time and space to self-regulate their behaviour and to avoid sensory overload.

In our view, the only legitimate rationale for use of seclusion and/or restraint is in an emergency situation to prevent injury or harm to the student concerned or to other students or staff members. Even then, as schools are not approved centres under the Mental Health Act, great care should betaken not to break this law in their use.

Schools therefore require guidelines, as a matter of priority from the DES on developing an appropriate policy for emergency procedures which details protocols that should be in place to deal with crisis situations that arise from incidences of challenging behaviours from any student in the school.

 

The DES should request the National Educational Psychological Service to prepare and issue clear guidelines to schools on: realistic and appropriate emergency procedures to be used in crisis situations, involving episodes of extremely challenging or violent behaviour, causing serious risk to the student him/herself, other students or staff members; and the supports that will be available to students, teachers, and parents following such incidents. The DES should seek legal advice to ensure the guidelines are lawful.

Schools should provide a ‘quiet space’ for students with ASD to meet their sensory needs but time-out rooms4 should not be available in schools specifically for students with ASD as there is no evidence basis to support their use with this group of students.

 

Teachers’ Professional Development

The Deputy queried best practice for dealing with students with ASD who have severe behavioural difficulties including self-harm. Concerns relating to teacher training were raised in the public consultation (NCSE policy document number 5, page 41). These were summarised as follows

There was a lot of concern about the level of training and knowledge of teachers working with students with ASD as they require knowledgeable and experienced teachers. There was also great concern about non-experienced teachers being given special classes and resource teaching hours and the practice in some post-primary schools where resource teaching hours were used to ‘fill’ subject teacher timetables. This resulted in a fragmented experience for the student.

NCSE policy advice paper 5 deals with those issues under the heading ‘Teacher’s Professional Development’ (page 109). I include the text from that section of the report wholesale below as the evidence-led approach the NCSE takes to developing these positions is robust.

Teachers’ Professional Development

The NCSE has previously advised that all professionals working with students with special educational needs should be required to develop and foster the skills necessary to meet the diverse needs of this population and should have in place protocols to share information, where appropriate. It is particularly important that all professionals working with this group of students adopt an inclusive philosophy towards their education.

The NCSE drew attention to research findings highlighting that the quality of teachers and their teaching are the factors most likely to have the greatest impact and influence on educational outcomes. Given the centrality of the teacher in the education of students with special educational needs, the NCSE considered that special education should form a mandatory part of every teacher’s initial training and ongoing continuous professional development. The development of a student’s organisational, social and communication skills should be viewed as part of every teacher’s responsibilities and should form part of the whole-school plan.

The NCSE recommended that the Teaching Council should establish standards of teaching in relation to the knowledge, understanding, skills and competence necessary for teaching students with special educational needs, including ASD in mainstream and special settings. The Teaching Council should develop a framework for initial and continuing professional development to ensure that teachers are provided with this knowledge, understanding, skills and competence. The framework should address both the requirements of newly qualified teachers and the upskilling of existing teachers. This should form part of an overall framework for teachers working with students with special educational needs.

The NCSE recommended that the Teaching Council and the DES should ensure that teachers are provided with the necessary knowledge, skills, understanding and competence to meet the diverse learning needs of students with special educational needs. The Teaching Council should stipulate mandatory levels and frequency of CPD that teachers are required to undertake for teaching this population within an overall framework of CPD for teachers. A framework for the professional development of teachers working with students with special educational needs was outlined in Appendix 3 of the report and addressed: what training should be in place as part of initial teacher education programmes; what training should be in place as part of ongoing continuing professional development for all teachers and for teachers in specialist roles and settings (learning support/resource teachers, visiting teachers, teachers in special schools and classes).

Given the importance of this aspect for the education of students with special educational needs,it is worth outlining the particular recommendations that the NCSE made for the ongoing CPD for teachers in specialist roles and settings (learning support/resource teachers, visiting teachers , teachers in special schools and classes).

The Teaching Council should stipulate mandatory levels and frequency of CPD for teachers in specialist roles/settings that include opportunities to develop skills appropriate to teaching particular groups of students and collaborative working skills for interaction with colleagues, parents and professionals.

  • The DES should consider the possibility of requiring teachers in specialist roles and settings to hold a recognised postgraduate diploma in special education and/or a postgraduate diploma in a specific disability category. Opportunities for placement in a special education setting should be available as an integral part of postgraduate programmes in special education.
  • Further development of competences or standards that define the specific skills, knowledge and understanding required for teachers working with students within different categories of special educational needs, should underpin continuing professional development for these teachers.
  • Teacher Education Section should provide a strategic programme of professional development designed and delivered specifically to teachers in special schools to address, in an in-depth manner, the complex and diverse needs of students attending special schools.
  • The requirements of post-primary teachers should be taken into account in the design and delivery of programmes of continuing professional development.

Finally, the NCSE recommended that an ongoing programme of CPD should be designed and delivered for principals and deputy principals to focus on providing leadership for the education of students with special educational needs in schools.

Appendix 1

Table 1: Primary Designation of Special Schools

 Total
Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD)19
Emotional Disturbance/Behaviour Disorder (EBD)1
Hearing Impairment2
Mild General Learning Disability (GLD) Schools30
Moderate General Learning Disability (GLD) Schools33
Multiple1
Physical6
Preschool1
Severe Emotional Disturbance/Behaviour Disorder (SEBD)8
Sev/Profound Learning Disability10
Specific Learning4
Visually Impaired1
Total116

Source: NCSE data provided to researcher November 2018 (L&RS analysis)

 

 

Appendix 2

ASD Classes in Dublin 7 and Dublin 15

NCSE list of special classes as of September 2018

The Deputy expressed interest in ASD resources within the Dublin 7 and Dublin 15 postal codes. Accordingly I have provided a list of special classes for those with ASD in that area. This information was obtained directly from the NCSE and is correct as of September 2018. The school name, school type, class type and number of teaching posts are presented below.

There are 30 special classes with ASD as a primary designation in Dublin 7 and Dublin 15 as of September 2018. Five of these were in post primary and 25 were in primary schools. The full list of special schools in every postal code in the state are available should the Deputy be interested in them.

Table X: Special Schools with ASD as primary designation in Dublin 7 and Dublin 15

NameSRNSchool NameAddressSch TypeClass TypeTeaching PostsNew Class
Dublin 1519435QSt Francis Xavier J N SRoselawn RoadPrimaryAutism/Autistic Spectrum Disorders1.00 
Dublin 1519470SSt Francis Xavier Senior N SRoselawn RoadPrimaryAutism/Autistic Spectrum Disorders1.00 
Dublin 1519755LSacred Heart N SHuntstownPrimaryAutism/Autistic Spectrum Disorders1.00 
Dublin 1519755LSacred Heart N SHuntstownPrimaryAutism/Autistic Spectrum Disorders1.00 
Dublin 1519755LSacred Heart N SHuntstownPrimaryAutism/Autistic Spectrum Disorders1.00 
Dublin 1520098ICastleknock Educate Together NsBeechpark AvenuePrimaryAutism/Autistic Spectrum Disorders1.00 
Dublin 1520098ICastleknock Educate Together NsBeechpark AvenuePrimaryAutism/Autistic Spectrum Disorders1.00 
Dublin 1520201VTyrrelstown Educate TogetherHollywood RoadPrimaryAutism/Autistic Spectrum Disorders1.00 
Dublin 1520201VTyrrelstown Educate TogetherHollywood RoadPrimaryAutism/Autistic Spectrum Disorders1.00 
Dublin 1520241KScoil Choilm Community National School Porterstown RdPrimaryAutism/Autistic Spectrum Disorders1.00 
Dublin 1520241KScoil Choilm Community National School Porterstown RdPrimaryAutism/Autistic Spectrum Disorders1.00 
Dublin 1520247WScoil GhráinnePhibblestownPrimaryAutism/Autistic Spectrum Disorders1.00 
Dublin 1520247WScoil GhráinnePhibblestownPrimaryAutism/Autistic Spectrum Disorders1.00 
Dublin 1520383HHansfield Educate Together NSBarnwell RoadPrimaryAutism/Autistic Spectrum Disorders1.00 
Dublin 1520383HHansfield Educate Together NSBarnwell RoadPrimaryAutism/Autistic Spectrum Disorders1.00 
Dublin 1520384JPowerstown Educate TogetherPowerstown RoadPrimaryAutism/Autistic Spectrum Disorders1.00 
Dublin 1520384JPowerstown Educate TogetherPowerstown RoadPrimaryAutism/Autistic Spectrum Disorders1.00 
Dublin 1568083NLe Cheile Secondary SchoolTyrellstownPost PrimaryAutism/Autistic Spectrum Disorders1.50New
Dublin 1568101MHansfield Educate Together Secondary SchoolBarnwell rdPost PrimaryAutism/Autistic Spectrum Disorders1.50 
Dublin 1520383HHansfield Educate Together NSBarnwell RoadPrimaryAutism/Autistic Spectrum Disorders1.00 
Dublin 1520384JPowerstown Educate TogetherPowerstown RoadPrimaryAutism/Autistic Spectrum Disorders1.00 
Dublin 1520384JPowerstown Educate TogetherPowerstown RoadPrimaryAutism/Autistic Spectrum Disorders1.00 
Dublin 1568083NLe Cheile Secondary SchoolTyrellstownPost PrimaryAutism/Autistic Spectrum Disorders1.50New
Dublin 1568101MHansfield Educate Together Secondary SchoolBarnwell rdPost PrimaryAutism/Autistic Spectrum Disorders1.50 
Dublin 1568101MHansfield Educate Together Secondary SchoolBarnwell rdPost PrimaryAutism/Autistic Spectrum Disorders1.50New
Dublin 1576098WColaiste Pobail SetantaPhibblestownPost PrimaryAutism/Autistic Spectrum Disorders1.50 
Dublin 1576098WColaiste Pobail SetantaPhibblestownPost PrimaryAutism/Autistic Spectrum Disorders1.50 
Dublin 716988TChrist the King Boys NSAnnaly RoadPrimaryAutism/Autistic Spectrum Disorders1.00 
Dublin 716988TChrist the King Boys NSAnnaly RoadPrimaryAutism/Autistic Spectrum Disorders1.00 
Dublin 717464NSt. Finbarrs Boys NSKilkieran RoadPrimaryASD Early Intervention1.00 
Dublin 717466RSt Catherine’s Infants’ SchoolRathoath RoadPrimaryAutism/Autistic Spectrum Disorders1.00 
Dublin 718632NSt. John Bosco Junior Boys NSNavan RdPrimaryAutism/Autistic Spectrum Disorders1.00 
Dublin 720131DDublin 7 Educate Together NSFitzwilliam PlacePrimaryAutism/Autistic Spectrum Disorders1.00 
Dublin 720152LNorth Dublin Muslim NSRatoath RoadPrimaryAutism/Autistic Spectrum Disorders1.00 
Dublin 720502MScoil Sinead PelletstownC/O ETNSPrimaryAutism/Autistic Spectrum Disorders1.00New

Source: NCSE data provided to researcher November 2018 (L&RS analysis)

[1] Wing et al, 1979. Severe impairments of social interaction and associated abnormalities in children: epidemiology and classification. J Autism Dev Disord. 1979 Mar; 9(1):11-29.

[2] http://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/autism-spectrum-disorders

[3] https://www.hse.ie/eng/health/az/a/asperger-syndrome/causes-of-autistic-spectrum-disorder.html

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] https://www.hse.ie/eng/health/az/a/asperger-syndrome/causes-of-autistic-spectrum-disorder.html

[7] http://ncse.ie/about-us

[8] National Council for Special Education, “Supporting Students with Special Educational Needs in Schools,” May 2013.

[9] Patricia Daly et al., “An Evaluation of Education Provision for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder in Ireland,” National Council for Special Education, no. 21 (n.d.): 310.