October 11, 2021
Minister’s removal of banked teaching hours negatively impacting special education provision – Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD, has called on the Minister for Education to reverse the decision to remove banked SET hours in schools this year, and to take steps to resolve the substitution crisis to ensure that children with special educational needs do not miss out.

The Cork South Central TD said:

“There is no doubt that there is a substitution crisis in our schools. School leaders are at the pin of their collars trying to find substitute staff to cover absences.

“Last year, the Minister put in a system of banked hours in the schools. This meant that where a substitute teacher could not be found, a Special Education Teacher would cover the class, and those hours could be banked so that they could be made up later, ensuring children with special educational needs would not miss out.

“This year, the substitution crisis continues. Each week, principals are left with no choice but to pull their Special Education Teacher into mainstream classes to cover absence.

“The Minister has done little to address this; she has not expanded substitution panels despite calls by us and, crucially, by school leaders to do so.

“Worse than that, we are hearing reports that the Minister has taken the decision to remove the option to bank hours this year. 

“What this means in reality, is that where a school leader is stuck for a sub, and must deploy a Special Education Teacher to cover the class, those special education hours are now lost.

“The losers here are children with special educational needs. They are losing out on crucial special educational teaching time due to the failure of the Minister to address the substitution crisis, and the bizarre decision she has taken to remove the safeguarding of the hours through the banked hours system.

“The Minister announced the CLASS programme to much fanfare, as a programme to support our most vulnerable students who missed out when school buildings were closed. 

“The reality is, however, that CLASS teaching hours are being used to make up for these lost special education teaching hours, and not as additional support

“One principal I spoke with had to bank 122 days of special educational teaching last year as they were so pushed to find substitution cover. That same school has only been allocated 125 days under the CLASS programme.

“This same scenario is being played out in schools across the country. It is a farce for the Minister to say with a straight face that the CLASS programme is doing anything but plugging the gaps of the substitution crisis.

“Instead of orchestrating media with leaked briefings to newspapers about ‘battles’ over long-settled and universally expected parts of the budget, the Minister would be better focusing her energies on fixing this very real problem.

“I will be looking at the Budget closely tomorrow to see a commitment from the Minister to address the significant substitution issues across our schools. 

“Until that is sorted, the Minister needs to bring back banked hours. If not, children with special educational needs will continue to lose out.”

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