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How we can support students with additional learning needs in mainstream schools in Ireland

22 Apr 2024

Children in a classroom with teacher
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In a recent recommendation to government, the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) suggested a move towards a "fully inclusive" education system in Ireland. This new system would see all children educated together in mainstream schools, including those with additional learning needs.


This recommendation has been welcomed, however, there is a recognition that investment in resources and infrastructure is necessary to facilitate this change and ensure that every child has access to a supportive learning environment.


In this blog, we explore various provisions that both governments and schools should consider to guarantee that teaching staff feel adequately supported in educating all students, including those with Special Educational Needs (SEN).


Dedicated Support Staff 


Teaching Assistants and Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) are integral supports to classroom teachers, particularly in settings with diverse student needs. In a classroom, where a teacher's attention is divided among numerous children, addressing the unique and individual requirements of those with additional needs becomes a challenge. These students often benefit from more personalised assistance, whether it involves help with reading, writing, or basic hygiene.


These dedicated support staff, shoulder these tasks, allowing classroom teachers to channel their focus into delivering effective lessons to all children. This collaborative approach ensures that every student, irrespective of their needs, receives the necessary support to thrive academically.


Staff Safety Alarms


Teaching students with diverse needs poses inherent challenges for teachers and support staff. Students with additional learning needs can sometimes experience difficulties in communication, sensory processing, emotional regulation, or social interaction, leading to heightened emotions of frustration, anxiety, and being overwhelmed. Unfortunately, these emotions can manifest as aggressive behaviour often directed towards the teaching staff. A 2023 report revealed that from 2017, over 500 teachers and SNAs have sought “assault leave” due to student violence.


In the face of such challenges, staff safety alarms such as the P2 System by Pinpoint deliver an effective solution. Equipping teaching staff with personal alarms such as this empowers them to swiftly summon assistance in the face of potential violence. Often the mere knowledge that help is on the way can de-escalate a tense situation. In instances where de-escalation proves challenging, alerted staff arrive swiftly to bring an end to the incident typically without anyone being harmed.


You can read more about how our alarm system benefited Carrongrange High School, a purpose-built secondary school for pupils with moderate, severe and complex additional support needs.


Therapeutic Supports


While the Department of Education welcomes the NCSE recommendation, parents of children with additional needs have expressed concerns about access to additional therapeutic supports within schools. These supports include speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, behaviour practitioners, and psychologists, who contribute to creating a school environment that can understand and address both the educational and behavioural needs of their students.


Class Sizes 


Recent data from the Department of Education found that over 60,000 primary school pupils were in classrooms with 30 or more pupils. This finding has sparked calls for a thorough assessment of Irish school classroom sizes. While larger class sizes may be seen as an efficient utilisation of resources, they often present challenges to the quality of learning. This issue becomes of particular concern for students with additional needs, who thrive on more personalised attention. Smaller class sizes also mitigate the risk of overwhelming students with special educational needs (SEN) a more pleasant learning environment for all.


In the words of Derval McDonagh, chief executive of Inclusion Ireland; ‘It is not the child who should bend to suit the system and fit into available choices, rather the system should bend and flex to suit the child.


Interested in learning more about our award-winning staff safety systems? Get in touch with us here.

 

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