AsIAm, Ireland’s National Autism Charity, has today written to the Department of Education to request an urgent meeting to discuss the decision of the Department to end the “Banked Hours” system which allowed schools to access deferred substitution hours when a Special Education Teacher (SET) was absent or was required to teach a mainstream class owing to an absence. The system was put in place due to the high level of absences seen during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This morning, AsIAm CEO, Adam Harris said “A number of teachers and parents have contacted us to express their concern at this sudden change. Whilst society is now re-opening, it is important that it is remembered how much students with additional needs have already lost out on, particularly due to the lengthy school closure periods over the past year and a half. Every single day, every single hour makes an important difference for a student who needs additional support and it is very regrettable to see this change which would seem to undermine that principle”.
“Just a few short weeks ago, our organisation warmly welcomed the decision by the Department to put in place COVID-19 Learning and Support Scheme which aims to provide additional access to learning for students who need it most. This decision around banked hours, which comes once again without any consultation with disability organisations, would seem to jar totally with this. We are seeking a meeting with the Department to urgently establish:
- The rationale for changing the system when absences related to COVID-19 are likely to continue
- The cost of the scheme to date and the likely costs if the scheme was to continue until at least the end of the academic year
- What measured will be put in place to ensure SET teachers are not used as classroom-based substitutes
“For us, the most important consideration is that Special Education Teachers are put in place to provide teaching support which students need. It is not an optional extra. For a long time, there has been an issue with SET teachers being used as substitutes. This is unacceptable as it assumes that SET is an optional extra as opposed to something every bit as vital and valuable as classroom-based learning might be for other children. Any system in place must hold that the SET teacher should not be used as a substitute, and that every possible alternative is fully explored and utilised to avoid this. A much broader consideration of the shortage of substitutes is needed to put an end to this practice.”