Integration of Children with Special Educational Needs

In the late 1990s, in keeping with international practice, Ireland began to prioritise a policy of educating children with Special Educational Needs(SEN) alongside all children in the mainstream classes of local primary and secondary schools. This was presented to the public as ‘inclusion’, and , of course, ‘inclusion’ of all children is both a noble aspiration and indicative of a respect for children’s rights. In practice, therefore, what had begun was the shutting down of Special Schools where some children with Special Educational Needs might have been catered for their care, educational and even medical and therapeutic needs and these children were, instead, to be offered places in mainstream schools in either the mainstream classroom or in special units/classes within these local standard mainstream primary schools.
Teachers concerns at this time were manifold. For example, a primary teacher’s qualification trains the teacher for mainstream teaching of a broad childcentred national curriculum, the specific pedagogies and curricula for teaching children with Special Education Needs are not covered in these degree and post-graduate courses. Teachers were concerned whether they would be offered this very specific and specialist training. Similarly, a mainstream primary teacher will teach all his/her lessons in a ‘differentiated’ manner catering for children with the range of abilities one might expect in the mainstream class. This is a considerable challenge but one that the competent and committed teacher is trained to achieve. Children with Special Educational Needs, however, often do not fall within these ranges and the curriculum choices, behaviour-management strategies, health and safety protocols, pedagogical choices, classroom resources etc.for the mainstream class are inadequate and ineffective.
As a result of these debates the National Council for Special Education was set up with view to the provision to mainstream local standard peimary schools the supports that would make it possible for such schools to simultaneously cater for the needs fo the newly enroling children with Special Educational Needs and for the pre-existing committment to all other children in the school to educate them according to the best practice described in the National Curriculum. There was to be no compromise envisaged on the standard of education and care that both sets of children were to experience The children with Special Educational needs were to get the standards of specific needs-based education and care that they would otherwise have been provided in the Special School setting. The children in the mainstream school were to get the standard of education in their mainstream classroom irrespective of whether a child with considerable special education needs had been enroled in that classroom.
In 2011, in my professional opinion, we have now reached a point in time where the failure of this vision must be made public and debated openly. In schools up and down the country school leaders ( Principals, Senior Teachers, Chairpersons of Board of Management) will tell you that the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) are failing schools in their schools’ aspiration to provide a world-class high-achieving education for all children. An erosion of the basic philosophic stance that schools are about the maximal education of each and every child according to his/her talents is underway and ,disconcertingly, seems to be lead by the NCSE. Children with Special Educational Needs have had the understanding that their education, which involves education, care and therapy, are not having this provided for them in the manner that was originally envisaged in mainstream settings. Similarly, the other children in the classroom are having their education compromised by the lack of support, especially the presence of a Special Needs Assistant, to the class teacher for any child enroled in that class with Special Education Needs.
I recently attended a talk given by a senior figure from the National Council for Special Education where, in my opinion and in the opinion of all the other Principals who were present, he suggested that schools were failing to deploy the supports for Special Educational Needs, and especially Special Needs Assistants ( SNAs) adequately or appropriately. He outlined the necessity for the SNA to be only involved in the ‘quasi-medical’ care needs of children with special educational needs. As he spoke I felt he was describing a role for an SNA akin to a ‘school nurse’ who might flit from room to room toileting one child here, feeding another child there, popping over to take a diabetes count in another room and sprinting back to another room to dress another child: all of which could be comfortably done according to a pre-set timetable and perhaps a pager system. He never spoke about the neceessity of ‘presence’ to a child with Special Educational Needs for both the child with SEN and for the teacher/other children. His vision of the SNA role was not one that would envisage that the child with SEN might be facilitated on-the-spot with the appropriate assistance that may allow him/her to access the teacher-directed lesson that is underway in the room, or may quickly curb an inappropriate action/response from the child with SEN that would compromise the learning situation that the teacher has crafted for all of the children.
The word ‘education’ did not seem to be a priority for this senior officer from the National Council for Special Education in his outlining of the role of the SNA. From a teacher and school leader perspective, the ‘presence’ of an SNA for a child with special educational needs is of major importance. It is the presence of the SNA that allows for the child with special educational needs to become present/participative/attuned in a scaffolded ( and not dependency-creating) manner to the work of the teacher, the business of learning. It is in this atmosphere and protocol that the child with Special Education needs can get the education that he/she needs and , simultaneously, for the rest of the children in the classroom not to have their education compromised. Please leave a comment.

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5 Responses to “Integration of Children with Special Educational Needs”


  1. 1 judith makris May 6, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    with regard to SEN there is no incentive whatsoever for teachers to upskill through professional development other than personal incentive.currently the INTO are discussing the panel. I would like to know the purpose of a panel especially for filling teaching posts in SEN posts.In my eyes it seems to make a mockery of any professional development in the area of SEN? can someone please tell me otherwise?

  2. 2 James March 29, 2011 at 10:31 am

    The right to education is recognised under Article 42 of the Irish Constitution which guarantees an ‘absolute right’ to appropriate primary education.
    Not all pupils with special educational needs will achieve an ‘appropriate primary education’ in a mainstream class. I am convinced that the current model of inclusion is not the most effective way to meet their needs. People who advocate full inclusion fail to see that children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) are individuals with differing needs and while some benefit from inclusion, others do not. Most of the research available discusses the process and principles of inclusion rather than the outcomes. There are also many guides and useful information regarding effective practice but extremely limited research is available on comparative performance. I have read lots in the area of inclusion and still haven’t found any noteworthy evidence to suggest a link between inclusion and pupil attainment or indeed pupil happiness.
    Experts in this area warn that it may not be possible to teach individuals with SEN to perceive and experience the world in certain ways if they are not biologically predetermined so to do. In such cases it is vital for the educator to recognize this and tailor a personalised plan or road map for each individual student in order to achieve success. From my experience and discussions with teachers from around the country it seems that children with SEN in a mainstream class do not always have the curriculum tailored to their needs. It is more often the case that they are engaged in a compensatory curriculum operating merely at a behavioural level. Advocates of full inclusion support their stance on the principles of human rights and equal opportunities. This lobby seems to focus all their attention on placement while neglecting the quality of education and the specific needs of the individual children. Perhaps more worryingly (as Judith has mention) it is euro symbols and not children’s specific needs that driving the move towards full inclusion.

    • 3 judith makris March 29, 2011 at 6:20 pm

      James I think it is looking like there will come a point when Special Needs is a term that wont be allowed anymore:either by those with principles of human rights and equal opportunities or by those in the DES who are tightening purse strings in order to spend elsewhere (maybe for a few pot plants for the Athlone offices!).But the term ‘Special Needs’ obviously suggests special ‘intervention’, ‘treatment’ or however else one wants to refer to it.
      There was an article on the BBC wnews website stating that English schools are needing help with the ‘special needs influx';referring to the likes of ‘foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, attachment disorder, rare chromosomal disorders, some mental health problems, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, sensory impairment, autism, fragile X syndrome, the long-term effects of drug use during pregnancy and the long-term effects of premature birth.’
      They are being proactive and what are we doing here????

  3. 4 judith makris March 28, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    I always thought that in Ireland, where, in the area on ‘inclusion’ and best practice for SEN (specifically with autistic spectrum disorders), we are still very new to what works and doesn’t, we can use this to our advantage by looking at other countries to see their successes and failings.However, the way things are currently going it really feels that the DES are blundering along blindly with euro symbols and not children at the fore.
    Are the teaching colleges providing NQTs with the tools needed to teach pupils with special needs?If not, they should either provide the training or decide that these pupils should be in a special school. The majority of teachers in special schools have had exactly the same training as those in mainstream (which a lot of parents don’t seem to realise).For those who want to upskill, this must be done of their own back and commonly paid for out of their own pocket. Where is the DESs priority for providing teachers with the skills needed for working with pupils with SEN.
    Also, for the pupils in mainstream sitting alongside a pupil with SEN, this can be an extremely enriching experience for both parties; as long as the teacher has the skills, support and enthusiasm to embrace the challenge.But not every pupil has this experience, often through lack of support (ususally in the form of an SNA).SNA aren’t teachers, nor are they just nose wipers and babysitters.They can provide a really valuable service under the right direction and training.When SENOs are coming into special schools to shave of what they see as an excess of SNAs what hope does a mainstream school have of holding on to this valuable asset?

    I think that Ireland has come some way in understanding the wide variety of SENs that can challenge pupils but I feel there is a very long uphill road to go before we get their inclusion and education absolutely right. The worrying part is how many pupils will suffer a bad experience of education in the process.

    • 5 Cecelia April 10, 2011 at 9:57 pm

      I think a huge part of the issue is the understanding of inclusion or ‘equality’ that is being offered as the principle upon which this action is being undertaken.

      It seems that now it only goes as far as equality of opportunity (children with special needs have the same right to a place in the mainstream) without ever progressing to equality of participation (children with special needs being supported in accessing the curriculum and taking part in classroom life).

      It certainly seems at the moment that the powers that be do not care whether children with special needs are actually enabled to participate in the classroom. They are physically present in mainstream schools and so the government can ‘check the inclusion box’ to some extent but without progressing to equality of participation, it is doing a immense disservice to the children with special needs, the other children in the class, the teacher and the entire school system.

      It’s a worrying time for the Irish education system…


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