Speaking recently in the Dáil, I questioned the Department of Education over the lack of training provided by the Department to educators of vulnerable children with Austism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Teachers are often left to train at their own expense on courses related to teaching children with autism, but do not receive the recognition they deserve from the Department.
There is a lack of a clear career path for teachers and no recognition for these teachers as a specific stream in education. When I have raised these issues before with the Department of Education, it has passed it to the Teaching Council, which is locked in a tight model where it only recognises four streams of teaching: Primary, Secondary, Montessori and other, and Further Education. It is a rigid structure, and there is no mention of children with autism or particular special needs.
In Dublin 15, we have a relatively high number of schools, especially at primary level but increasingly at secondary level, where children are in ASD classes. There is also a broad agreement to develop an ASD-specific school in the Dublin 15, Dublin 7 and Dublin West area because of the numbers of children effectively in part-time education at present and, in some cases, not in education at all.
With regard to ASD classes, if teachers are taken out of the general primary teaching stream at primary level but have no specific training, notwithstanding their intense commitment to the children, it may not produce the best outcome for children. We need to work out how we facilitate appropriate training for people who are going to take up positions as teachers in ASD classes or in ASD specific schools. It is for the Minister for Education to provide leadership in respect of the Teaching Council.
I understand that when the Teaching Council was established, this may have been an area which did not receive any particular attention. Now that we know that this is an issue, we need to address how we are going to provide for recognition for people who have trained in the ASD area and how to provide the most appropriate and best education for children who have autism and ASD issues. From the point of view of people who want to teach children who are autistic or who are on the autism spectrum, we have to recognize this is a specialised area of teaching and that the current setup of the Teaching Council does not fully recognize this.
After questioning the Department of Education on these issues, the Minister of State at the Department in his reply said:
“Inclusive education is a fundamental principle of our education and training system. This principle is put into practice in the policies of the Department and the Teaching Council. Under the Teaching Council Act 2001, all initial teacher education programmes in Ireland that lead to registration must have professional accreditation from the Teaching Council. The mandatory requirements for accreditation are set out in criteria and guidelines for programme providers. Under these criteria, student teachers in all accredited programmes are required to undertake study in inclusive education, including special education. This applies to all primary and post-primary teachers. The Teaching Council is carrying out a review of the impact of the current programmes with a view to amending the criteria and guidelines before the next round of accreditation commences in 2020.
“The Department published Guidelines for Schools: Supporting Students with Special Educational Needs for primary and post-primary in 2017. These provide guidance to schools on the use, organization and deployment of additional teaching resources for students with special educational needs, including students with autism. In addition to developing and reviewing their whole-school policies in the education and inclusion of students with special education needs, schools should also be proactive in meeting the continuing professional development, CPD, needs of their teachers.
“The National Council for Special Education, NCSE, support service delivers a range of professional development initiatives and support for teachers working with students with special educational needs, including autism. Moreover, all of the Department’s support services, such as the professional development service for teachers, are required by the Department to have regards to the individual needs of all learners in designing and delivering CPD for teachers.”