Ireland’s 134 Special Schools need Sustainable Action

There are 134 Special Schools, including 10 hospital schools, located across all 26 counties, educating 8,241 pupils (2,666 females and 5,575 males). Special School principals will be gathering together at the upcoming Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN) Annual Principals’ Conference, titled ‘Sustainable Leadership’, taking place this Thursday and Friday, 24th and 25th January in Citywest Convention Centre in Dublin.
IPPN recently surveyed all principals of Special Schools as part of an ongoing IPPN Membership Engagement project. The survey findings will be presented to the group at a dedicated meeting of special school principals on Thursday, 24th January. This meeting will also be attended by a representative of the Department of Education & Skills and the Ombudsman for Children, Niall Muldoon.

While all Special Schools are aligned with the primary level sector, this survey has told us that 79% of special schools cater for both primary and post-primary pupils. An additional 5% cater for early years right through to post-primary level.

These schools cater for pupils with mild general learning disability (GLD), moderate GLD, severe or profound GLD, special learning disabilities, physical disability, including hearing or visual impairment, emotional behavioural difficulties and/or autism

Special schools very often struggle to get the equipment and provision they need to support those attending their schools. 85% of special school principals believe they do not have sufficient funding to run their school effectively and efficiently. Many special school principals have prioritised the need for an annual training fund to be provided to meet the training needs of all staff. Preference has been given to the need for adequate training and guidance in dealing with extreme and violent behaviours.

97% of respondents believe further supports are needed to alleviate behavioural issues in the classroom, while 87% of respondents have specified that they have concerns around health and safety in their school.
Budget 2019 provided the funding for the allocation of an administrative deputy principal to special schools with a Principal + 15 or more class teachers due to the ‘additional administrative burden related to the management of special schools’. While this allocation is of course welcome, much more is necessary. The need for an administrative deputy principal for special schools with 6 or more class groups features in the top 3 priorities as defined by special school leaders.

IPPN Deputy CEO, Pat Goff stated ‘an administrative deputy principal in more special schools would make an enormous positive impact in meeting the complex needs of these unique schools. It would contribute to alleviate the demands of managing or coordinating the large numbers of staff, agencies and supports on a daily basis and ultimately facilitate sustainable leadership, allowing the principal to lead the teaching and learning.’
The SERC report, which led to the staffing schedule currently in place in special schools, has not been revisited since 1993. Special school leaders have also featured this in their top 3 priorities to be actioned.
Ensuring sufficient access to essential clinical services, such as psychology, speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, social work, etc has also been prioritised by these school leaders. The Bus Escort system appears to be deeply flawed and can take up an inordinate amount of school leaders’ time.

IPPN Deputy CEO, Pat Goff said ‘special school leaders have also highlighted the need for a review of special school buildings to ensure adequate standards are in place. A prime example of where this is necessary is St. Michael’s House special school in Skerries’.

St. Michael’s House Special School, located in a converted farm house in Skerries, Co. Dublin has been in ‘temporary’ accommodation for the past 36 years. While at maximum capacity, this is a special school without full wheelchair access. Following numerous Ministers’ visits and years of conveyed broken promises, the end is not yet in site for this school, staff, pupils and parents. Mounting levels of repairs needed just to keep the building in basic condition is an unending financial affliction. Although communication was made in March 2018 that a site had been identified and was at an ‘advanced stage’, nearly 12 months later no formidable further action has been taken.


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