Monday, September 25, 2017

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by ohn Kubiak, NIID, Trinity College Dublin. and Deborah Espiner, Faculty of Education, University of Auckland.

Inclusion—A human rights issue

It is no longer satisfactory that people with disabilities are excluded from further education opportunities at third level. The desire for inclusive tertiary education is growing and has become a reality, not only in Trinity College Dublin but also in other countries such as Canada, Australia and Finland (see Hughson, Moodie and Uditsky 2005).

The model used by advocates of tertiary education in these countries combines the principles of full inclusion, informed by a human rights perspective, with an understanding of the social model of disability (Oliver 1996, 1998). Rather than seeing impairment as tragic and difficult for the person involved—as in the medical model—the social model of disability is based on the view that society is responsible for preventing the full participation of disabled people. More recently, the disability movement has followed the lead of other minority groups who have experienced discrimination and exclusion from society. A rights-based model has begun to emerge with declarations such as the United Nations Draft Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006) affirming the right of disabled people to full participation in all aspects of societal life. This shifts the emphasis from ‘individual needs’ towards ‘civil rights.’

Being a third-level student: A socially valued role

Going to university can open up a whole new way of being for students who have previously experienced marginalisation. Such inclusion is a powerful way to promote a person’s talents and abilities. Being a third-level student also means having a socially valued role which, according to the Social Role Valorisation (SRV) theory of Wolfensberger, can lead to the ‘good things in life’ (Wolfensberger 1972, 1992).

Wolfensberger, however, recognises that many or most of the ‘good things in life’ are beyond reach of, or harder to get for, devalued or marginalised people. Instead, what might be called the ‘bad things in life’ are imposed upon them. They are sometimes perceived as being deviant or a burden on society, they can be rejected by the community, segregated or become the object of violence and abuse (Kendrick 1994).The reality of being labeled devalued means that the abilities of people with intellectual difficulties are often underestimated or unrecognised, so they are not given the chance to achieve their true potential.

It is also a fact that, to date, this group of people has largely been excluded from access to lifelong learning in Ireland. This means that many people with intellectual disabilities finish school with their dreams and career ambitions unrealised, while their transition from school life to adult life can be restricted and contained.

Certificate in Contemporary Living

The Certificate in Contemporary Living (CCL) at the National Institute for Intellectual Disability (NIID), Trinity College Dublin, focuses on three aspects: academic learning, personal growth and career development. The course is supported by other departments within Trinity College, which enables the students to engage with undergraduate students from different disciplines.

The aims of the Inclusive Studies and Research module

One of the mandatory modules of the CCL programme is the Inclusive Studies and Research (ISR) module, which is aimed to allow CCL students to be included in third-level educational programmes alongside the wider student body at Trinity. As this approach is exploratory, the process is part of a research project ethically approved by Trinity. The purpose of the research is to investigate how the CCL students can audit classes in other disciplines while undertaking the CCL course at Trinity. To meet the requirements of the Inclusive Studies module, students are given the opportunity to attend up to three classes within a course that they have selected and have been invited to attend by the lecturer in charge. The research is aimed at identifying:

  • The conditions (physical, emotional, social) that help students with a disability to integrate into undergraduate university courses.
  • The strategies of instruction used by mentors and lecturers to support the learning of a student from the CCL programme.
  • The resources and supports that facilitate the inclusion of students with a disability into undergraduate courses.
How the Inclusive Studies and Research  module works

For the ISR module, CCL students select an area of Trinity College’s undergraduate prospectus that they are interested in. During the 2008-2009 academic year, the CCL students  have chosen from a wide variety of subjects including Art History, Economics, Social Policy, Classics, English, Geography, Drama and Zoology. Once these decisions are made by the students, and they have done some research on the subject, individual lecturers from these Departments are approached to see if they are open to the CCL students attending up to three lecture or group activity sessions.

Lecturing staff from within the above departments showed no hesitation in including the CCL students admission to their lectures. Several staff have reported that they have made some alteration to their delivery style and used Powerpoint to accommodate the different learning styles of the CCL students. Lecturers were very considerate in their responses to the students’ questions, validating the students’ observations and queries with their answers. Lecturers have been willing to rephrase the main points and the more difficult concepts of their presentations for the benefit of the CCL students. Some lecturing staff have commented that these adaptations have made their delivery more accessible to the whole class.

NIID student feedback

The NIID students’ experience of attending mainstream lectures has been successful. Feedback from the students suggests that they felt more self-confident as a result of sustained interaction with their undergraduate peers. The following comments are examples of what individual students have gained from taking part in the ISR module during 2008-2009, and attending lectures on the main campus:
‘My support mentors [a mentor is another undergraduate student who supports the NIID student attending lectures] are three very, very nice girls, who are willing to give us a hand…. The three of them take different days to meet with us and talk about the lecture. We’ve learned that we can ask.’

‘There is only ten or twenty of us in the lecture. The lecturer wouldn’t be rushing off—if  you wanted to go talk to her you could.If I wanted to get more details off her for my project I could go and ask her. I’m really, really happy about going to the labs (and) the lecturer was happy to have us—I didn’t think that she would. Even the other students asked about the course we were doing and have been interested.’

One student who took an ISR module in Zoology said:
‘I look at birds in a completely different way now. You learn about the behaviour of animals and you’re also learning about insects.’

Another student, studying classics, said:
‘The lecturer was very good. She made the presentation very colourful and she used more pictures in her presentations than she did words. That works for me as I’m more good with pictures rather than words. I was very impressed.’

Two other students who were studying history said:
‘I’m studying History. We got on well with the other students— if we were stuck or anything they’d give us a
hand. I enjoyed learning about the Black Death….and Christopher Columbus’ voyage and trip from Spain to the USA.’

‘We were studying India at the time and she [the lecturer] used Bollywood films in the lectures. We watched a film last week in black and white with subtitles. It gives you a look at what history was like years ago in the old days.’

Implications of CCL students attending mainstream lectures

Among the core values of the CCL programme at the NIID is a belief in the equality of opportunity for individuals with intellectual disabilities. The CCL course also endorses the view that the students’ educational experiences in third-level education should reflect what is available to their peers. By educating all university students together, the CCL students are given the opportunity to engage with the college community and to prepare for life in the wider world. Lecturers are also encouraged to adapt their teaching methodology and to become more creative with their pedagogy.

Members of the college community, which includes everyone from undergraduates and canteen staff to security workers and library staff, are also encouraged to make the conscious decision to operate according to the social value of equality for all people. Universities like Trinity College that promote inclusive education understand that this makes them, and the society they serve, more economically and culturally productive because they use and extend the talents of all. They command public support because part of their mission is to support the public good. They are better at what they do because they are ‘learning institutions’ and people use them because they treat people well and are guided by social justice considerations.

It is only in this type of environment that students with an intellectual disability can grow and flourish and, as Wolfensberger (1972) observed, are allowed ‘the dignity of risk… and [avoid] the dehumanizing indignity in safety.’ (p.200)

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by Michael McKeon Dublin City University

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) published its Implementation Report on the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs (ESPEN) Act 2004 on 18 December 2006. The Report sets out the views and recommendations of the Council for the phased implementation of the Act.

It identifies the policy issues that need to be addressed and actions that need to be taken over the next four years to ensure that the Act is fully implemented over that period. Pat Curtin, NCSE Chief Executive, said that ‘The report maps out how the vision and practical measures set out in the Act in relation to the provision of inclusive, appropriate education for all children with special educational needs can be made a reality. Policy changes that need to occur and the resources that need to be provided to deliver the outcomes envisaged in the Act are clearly set out in a price tag action plan.’

The report examines in detail the number of children who will come within the much broader definition of special educational needs, as set out in the Act. The report’s finding is that the number of such children could be up to 18% of school-going children. The report identifies the areas in which investment is required and estimates the level of investment needed across a range of areas, but with particular emphasis on teacher training and support for schools. Over four years the total investment needed on the education side is estimated at €397 million, of which supports for schools, including the training and development of teachers, is estimated to cost €243 million.

The Council maintains that progress in making the EPSEN Act vision a reality will require change on the part of parents, representative bodies, schools, teachers, education and health sector administrators and professionals and a wide variety of other statutory bodies and stakeholder interests — including the Council itself- The goal of enabling children with special educational needs to participate in, and benefit from, inclusive education and in achieving meaningful outcomes from education in terms of progression to employment, further and continuing education, fulfilled lives and independent living is an extremely challenging one which will require the combined efforts of all concerned if it is to be delivered as a new deal for children with special educational needs.

According to Tom Murray, Chairman of the Council, the action plan presented by the Council is ambitious, as it provides for the commencement of the rights-based provisions of the Act by the end of 2009. The Council’s view is that these provisions cannot wait until the end of the five-year implementation phase. Much needs to be done in the intervening period to ensure that the framework for delivery of the provisions of the Act is put in place. The Council looks forward to engaging with the Department of Education and Science on the range of policy changes and actions to give effect to this report.

In a response from the Department of Education and Science, Minister Mary Hanafin welcomed the report, indicating that her department will consider it in detail. The Report acknowledges the difficulties in identifying precisely the number of pupils who will access services under the Act, and estimating the level of additional resources required. It also signals that a process of engagement needs to be undertaken between the Departments of Education and Science and Health and Children, as well as other participants in the education and health sectors in conjunction with the NCSE, to identify the detail of the way forward.

The Minister maintains that the implementation of the Act will provide a challenge to all involved in making educational provision for pupils with special needs, where much has already been done to pave the way for implementation. Significant resources had been allocated to schools to cater for such children and enormous advances in the provision of resources for pupils with special educational needs have been made in recent years with continuously prioritised special education in the allocation of resources and a committed to continued improvements in educational provision for children with special educational needs.

The Minister endorsed the work of the NCSE, maintaining that the establishment of the National Council for Special Education with its locally-based Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENOs) has enabled significant improvements to be made in the delivery of service to pupils with special educational needs, their schools and parents. The Minister highlighted the fact that because of increased investment in recent years, there are:

  • More than 1100 teachers in special schools
  • Over 5000 teachers at primary level dealing directly with children with special educational needs, compared to less than 1500 in 1998
  • At second level, approximately 1854 whole-time.equivalent additional teachers are in place to support pupils with special educational needs. This compares to the approximately 200 teachers who were in place in 1998 for such pupils.

In addition, there are approximately 534 whole-time.equivalent learning support teachers We now have more than 8200 special needs assistants — compared to 300 in 1998.

In addition:

  • Over €50m is being spent this year on school transport for special needs pupils.
  • Approximately €3 million is being provided towards specialised equipment and materials
  • A 30% increase in capitation rates has been approved for all special schools together with an increase in capitation grant to certain categories of special classes in mainstream schools. The total cost of this new measure will be €1.5million.
  • A Special Education Support Service has been established to provide professional support and training for those providing education services to pupils with special educational needs.
  • Additional resources have been provided in the estimates that will fund additional measures to facilitate the implementation of the EPSEN Act. Over €820 million is being provided for special education in 2007— nearly 30% (€180 million) more than announced for the 2006 estimates

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has also launched Guidelines for Individual Education Plans (IEPs) for children with special education needs. The Guidelines present a checklist of the essential elements required for an IEP. It is intended that this will form the template for best practice in the future. The Guidelines do not yet have statutory effect and are designed to provide a good practice guide to schools on the IEP process. The NCSE recognises that IEPs and their implementation will have significant resource implications for schools. Copies of the Guidelines have been sent to all schools as the process of implementation begins.

Tom Murray, NCSE Chairperson, stated that the guidelines will provide an important resource for parents and teachers. “The launch of the IEP guidelines is another important step in responding to the needs of children, parents, teachers and schools. These guidelines build on the good work already being done in schools all over Ireland, to ensure that those with special educational needs can achieve not only the same outcomes, but also have access to the same kinds of opportunities as everyone else. These guidelines will further inform me, as a parent of a child with special needs, as to what actions I can take at home with my child to provide her with the best possible opportunities to develop both educationally and socially.”

The IEP guidelines will be of tremendous benefit to all teachers in special education. Sinéad Mc Loughlin, primary school principal and NCSE member, argued that teachers are committed to ensuring that the individual learning needs of pupils with special educational needs are catered for in the school setting. Effective planning and resource provision will ensure access to the curriculum for all pupils, and participation in a relevant and meaningful learning environment.

NCSE state that the publication of these guidelines will benefit everyone in the special education sector and outline the benefits:

  • The Individual Education Plan will bring key people together in the best interests of the individual child.
  • The Individual Education Plan will mark out a clear route for every child with special needs
  • The Individual Education Plan will identify any areas where there is a deficit in a child’s development to date, and highlight where the child can make specific achievements and progress.

The IEP is individual, specific and inclusive and will deliver measurable outcomes for children, parents and teachers alike. The child is provided with ‘a road map’ to chart his/her development, parents will be fully informed of what progress is being made with their child and what outcomes to expect, and all teachers will have a greater involvement in the education of children with special needs.

Minister for Education and Science, Mary Hanafin, who launched the Guidelines, stated that she was aware of past failings in not providing adequately for special education. Since 1998 unprecedented levels of investment have been targeted towards special education and significant progress has been made. The publication of the guidelines is a further development to enhance education provision for children with special education needs. While the Minister is aware that some schools have already drawn up IEPs for children with special education needs, these guidelines will provide further support for schools and parents and all involved in the education of children with special education needs.

The Implementation Report on the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs (ESPEN) Act 2004 is available on the Council’s website at .

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Kathryn Sinnott and Marie O’Donoghue (Association for the Severely and Profoundly Mentally Handicapped, Cork) give their opinion of the proposed Education Bill, and how it will, if passed, impact on children with severe and profound disabilities.

This bill purports to give education as a right. What it does, in fact, is to make the right to education subject to resources, practicability, ministerial discretion and availability. No other right is subject to such restrictions. We feel that this bill, if enacted, will be unconstitutional because the Constitution guarantees the right to education without such restrictions. In the seventy-two pages of amendments proposed (by May 1998), it seems, on the face of it, that some of our criticisms have been heard. However, we feel these changes will prove cosmetic as there is no attempt to remove key ‘opt-out’ clauses.

Resources and Practicability

In Ireland many children with special needs have never been to school; the excuse given for this lack of educational provision is invariably scarce resources and practicability. In section 6 of the Education Bill, the first stated object of the Act is:

‘(a) to give practical effect to the constitutional rights of children, including children who have a disability or who have other special educational needs, as they relate to education;’.

However, the following object is:

‘(b) to provide that, as far as is practicable and having regard to the resources available, there is made available to people resident in the State a level and quality of education appropriate to meeting the needs and abilities of those people;’

Section 7. (1) (a) states that is shall be the function of the Minister

to ensure, subject to the provisions of this Act, that there is made available to each person resident in the State, including a person with a disability or who has other special educational needs, a level and quality of education appropriate to meeting the needs and abilities of that person;’

But: 7.(4) In carrying out his or her functions, the Minister—

  • shall have regard to—
  • the resources available,

9.—A recognised school shall provide education to students which is appropriate to their abilities and needs and, without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing, it shall, as far as resources permit

  • ensure that the educational needs of all students, including those with special educational needs, are identified and provided for,
  1. (2)(g) [Boards of Management] within the resources provided to the school in accordance with section 12, make reasonable provision and accommodation for students with special educational needs.


40-(3)(d) [the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment shall] have regard to the practicalities of implementation of any advice which it proposes to give to the Minister.

In the Education (No.2) Bill 1997, a child with a disability is termed a ‘child with special educational needs’. Yet the type and level of education given to such a child will be determined not by those special needs, but by ministerial discretion.

Although the proposed bill uses the word ‘appropriate’ [section 9], it modifies the word with the phrase ‘as far as resources permit’, giving the Minister for Education the power to determine appropriateness arbitrarily. We feel that the proposed bill, in Section 15 (2)(g) above, eliminates the concept of appropriateness in education and enshrines a national educational policy of ‘Ah, sure, it’ll do.’

These provisions are in contrast to Article 42 of the Irish Constitution, which guarantees free primary education as a human right which must be provided by the state, irrespective of resources and practicability. As Mr Justice Rory O’Hanlon stated in his judgment on the O’Donoghue case (1993):

‘It appears to me that it (Article 42) gives rise to a constitutional obligation on the part of the State to provide for free primary education for this group of children in as full and positive a manner as it has done for all other children in the community.’

All educational services are costly. However, a disabled child, particularly a child with an all-encompassing disability such as severe or profound mental handicap, autism or multiple handicap, will require a greater level of resources. These children, like all children in this State, are constitutionally entitled to an education appropriate to their needs. The state must accept that in some cases such appropriate education will be expensive. However, in their submission to the Courts in the O’Donoghue case, the Department of Education pleaded

‘that in the care and education of the profoundly handicapped child, difficult choices have to be made in relation to the distribution of scarce resources.’

This argument was strongly rejected by the Court:

‘In the course of the present judgment I have found that, in my opinion, the Plaintiff [O’Donoghue] has made out his case that that the Respondents [The State and the Department of Education] have at all times been in error in contesting it.’ (Mr Justice O’Hanlon, O’Donoghue Judgment 1993)

‘I am convinced, on the evidence, that the provision of free primary education for children severely or profoundly handicapped, mentally and/or physically, requires a much greater deployment of resources than was thought appropriate even as recently as 1983, when the Blue Report was completed.’ (Mr Justice O’Hanlon)

Having failed in the courts to exclude children with severe and profound mental handicaps from education, it seems that the state is still attempting to achieve that exclusion from education through this bill. (During the pursuance of the appeal against the O’Donoghue judgment, the government established the provision of free third level education to those who can avail of it—with no constitutional obligation to do so.)

Efficiency and Effectiveness

In view of the fundamental bias towards ‘resources and practicability’ in the Education Bill, the clauses below (which in a different context would be unexceptionable) seem ominous to us. Our experience of ongoing neglect and indifference to our children’s needs would lead us to suspect the use of terms like ‘efficiency’ and ‘effectiveness’.

  1. (d) [amended to 6. (e)] to promote the right of parents to send their children to a school of the parents’ choice having regard to the rights of patrons and the effective and efficient use of resources.
  1. (2) (b) to monitor and assess the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of the education system provided in the state by recognised schools and centres for education;

Again, Mr Justice O’Hanlon’s judgment (1993) stated:

‘This process [education] will work differently for each child, according to the child’s own natural gifts, or lack thereof. In the case of the child who is deaf, dumb, blind or otherwise physically or mentally handicapped, a completely different programme of education has to be adopted and a completely different rate of progress has to be taken for granted, than would be regarded as appropriate for a child suffering from no such handicap.’

School or Health Service?

In our experience, the Department of Education has sought to leave responsibility for services to children with severe or profound mental handicaps to the Department of Health. Our children have disabilities, not an illness. The Education Bill states that the Minister shall have regard to:

‘[7.(4)(a)(ii) The provision for education and training made by other agencies with funds provided by the Oireachtas,’

In the O’Donoghue case, the state unsuccessfully argued that the severely and profoundly mentally handicapped child would be better ‘trained’ in a Department of Health setting, rather than a class under the Department of Education. It seems the defeated argument is again being put in the above clause?

There has been no amendment to lessen our concern about this ‘let-out’ clause, and we fear it could be used to shunt responsibility for ‘education and training’ to day centres funded by the Department of Health. Indeed, Brian O’Shea, TD, has put an amendment which would enable such a health service to be deemed a ‘school’, without a teacher or capitation grant.


Clause 10(2)(a) states:

‘the number of students who are attending or are likely to attend the school is such or is likely to be such as to make the school viable.’

This clause seeks to make viability, as determined by the number of students, a condition of ministerial recognition of that school or class. As ‘viable’ means economically practical in terms of expenditure, this clause may deny disabled children an education on that basis. The numbers of children with disabilities, especially severe disabilities, are relatively small; they are geographically scattered; and their needs vary. Yet each child has a right to an education in his or her own right, regardless of the presence of potential classmates.

The state should recognise that it faces a greater cost in the future (to the Department of Health) if it neglects educational needs now, and an increasingly high cost to the Exchequer through court claims for damages by children and their parents because of lack of appropriate educational provision.

Two-tiered educational economics

The present Minister for Education has promised £250m to teach children how to use computers, at a time when thousands of children with disabilities have no school. This bill has no guidelines to define scarce/sufficient resources; rather it empowers the Minister for Education to decide arbitrarily how and on whom the department’s budget is to be spent.

Grace and Favour?

Education is a right, not a concession based on available resources. If this bill is passed, education will legally be put on the very ‘grace and favour’ basis which was adamantly rejected in the High Court:

‘I am of opinion that it is not sufficient for the Respondents to grant as a matter of grace and concession, educational benefits which the Applicant is entitled to claim as of right.’

‘The demands of justice must first of all be satisfied; that which is already due in justice is not to be offered as a gift of charity…’ (Mr Justice O’Hanlon, O’Donoghue Case, 1993)

We fear that if this bill is passed, most children with significant disabilities will still be without education, while others will be expected to accept gratefully whatever educational scraps the department decides it can afford. The lucky ones will have a few showcase places in schools, to be proudly displayed by the department and service providers. In other words, we will have the same situation which exists today and which, after so many hard-found court victories, must not be perpetuated and legitimised.

After the failure of the Department of Education appeal against the O’Donoghue judgment (6 February 1997), Micheál Martin, then Fianna Fáil Spokesman for Education, stated:

I think it [O’Donoghue judgment] will demand clear implementation of the judgment in terms of extra provision, and additional provision for mentally handicapped children in our schools and that the proper education resources are made available. The State now has a clear legal obligation to provide such resources.’