Deputy John Deasy asked the Minister for Education and Science the reason Down's syndrome is not on the list of 11 low incidence disabilities that qualify for resource teaching hours in view of the fact that it occurs in 0.2% of the population; the action that is being taken to deliver a more appropriate model than GAM to meet the complex learning needs of children with Down's syndrome following the critical report of the Children’s Ombudsman.
REPLY / Minister Ruairí Quinn:
I wish to explain to the Deputies that pupils with Down syndrome attending mainstream schools may receive additional teaching support in primary schools, either under the terms of the General Allocation Model (GAM) of teaching supports, if the pupil's educational psychological assessment places the pupil in the mild general learning disability/high incidence disability category, or through an allocation of individual additional resource teaching hours which are allocated by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE), if the child is assessed as being within the low incidence category of special need, as defined by my Department's Circular Sp Ed 02/05.
Pupils with Down syndrome may be allocated resources under the category of mild general learning disability, or under the categories of moderate general learning difficulty or Assessed Syndrome, in conjunction with another Low Incidence disability.
I wish to advise the Deputies also that the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has a formal role under the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs (EPSEN) Act, 2004 in advising me in relation to any matter relating to the education of children and others with disabilities.
My Department requested that the NCSE consider the issue of whether Down syndrome should be reclassified as a low incidence disability in all instances, regardless of assessed cognitive ability, in the context of its preparation of comprehensive advice on how the educational system supports children with special educational needs in schools.
The NCSE report on Supporting Children with Special Educational Needs in Schools has now been published and is available on the NCSE website, www.ncse.ie. The report recommends that under the new resource allocation model proposed by the NCSE in its report, children should be allocated additional resources in line with their level of need, rather than by disability category.
The NCSE has recommended that in the short-term, pupils with Down syndrome pupils who are in the Mild General Learning Difficulty (Mild GLD) category should continue to be supported by schools' Learning Support allocation in the same way as other pupils with a Mild GLD.
The NCSE policy advice did not recommend that an exception should be made for children with Down syndrome who are in the mild general learning difficulty range, over other children who are in the mild range and who also may have other co-morbid conditions.
However, the NCSE report states that it is confident that the introduction of a new allocation model will overcome the difficulty posed by all children with mild general learning disabilities, including children with Down Syndrome, who have additional difficulties and who can be supported according to their level of need and in line with their learning plan process. In the meantime, schools are reminded that they can differentiate the level of learning support granted to ensure that available resources are used to support children in line with their needs.
I have requested the NCSE to immediately proceed to establish a Working Group in order to develop a proposal for consideration for a new Tailored Allocation Model, which is set out as one of the principal recommendations of the report. In the course of my recent meeting with Down Syndrome Ireland a number of issues were raised which I consider merit further examination. Accordingly I have asked my officials to consider these issues further and to provide a full response to Down Syndrome Ireland on the issues raised as soon as possible.