Many parents unaware special education staff do not need additional qualifications, conference hears

ASTI event told key roles such as co-ordinators of education supports for students with additional needs not officially recognised

Many parents are not aware that special education teaching staff do not need any additional qualifications to provide tuition for children with additional needs, according to secondary teachers.

The Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland (ASTI) annual conference in Wexford heard that key school roles such as co-ordinators of education supports for students with additional needs are not officially recognised and do not require any training.

Natalie Doyle Bradley, a special-education teacher in Dublin, said despite the critical role these co-ordinators play, there is no official documentation outlining their responsibilities, no standardised training and no dedicated support service.

“This inconsistency adversely affects Irish education by creating disparities in the support available to students with additional needs,” she said.

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“Without clear guidelines, special educational needs coordinators are often left to navigate their responsibilities without adequate support, leading to variability in the quality of education and support provided to students.”

She said the “overwhelming” and “undefined scope” of duties can lead to stress and burnout among coordinators, detracting from their ability to support students and collaborate with educators and parents.

Delegates at the convention voted to pass a motion demanding that the Department of Education formalise the role of special educational needs coordinators and ensure standardised responsibilities, training and support is provided.

Meanwhile, divisions have opened among delegates over plans to survey members across the ASTI and the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) over a possible merger.

The survey of members, due to take place between April 10th and 25th, could pave the way for a formal ballot at a later date.

It will ask whether members are in favour of forming a single education union, and whether there is support to continue further amalgamation work.

ASTI president told delegates on Thursday that teacher unity at second level could lead to a “shift in the Irish education system”.

“It is fair to say that our potential to shape the sector in our own image is not currently being reached,” Ms O’Brien said.

However, some delegates at the annual conference expressed concern that secondary teachers’ voices could be diluted given that the TUI includes members in the further education and third level sector.

In an open letter to delegates on Thursday, former ASTI president Philip Irwin expressed worry that the TUI was a more “diverse” union and, as a result, tended to “play off” different interests.

He also argued that a resolution passed at the union’s 2015 convention directed the ASTI to open discussions with the TUI with a view to forming a single union “to represent secondary teachers”.

Mr Irwin said he believed there had been a failure to follow these directions and called for the survey to be paused.

Earlier this week, ASTI general secretary Kieran Christie told delegates that previous motions did not preclude a merger with teachers outside second level.

He said unity talks would only proceed on the basis that “every member can see themselves being accommodated and that a new structure will respect the traditional decision-making processes of both the ASTI and the TUI”.

“If we get a sense that members feel the work should continue, then we will do that. If we get the sense that there is no appetite for this, then we will discontinue the process,” he said.

Separately, the union passed resolutions called for changes to how middle management posts are appointed.

Delegates directed the union to demand that demanded that points awarded to seniority in posts of responsibility interviews should be reinstated.

In addition, they called for such interviews to be carried out by “independent interview panel” which should not include any current or former principal, in the “interest of equality and fairness to all applicants.”

Separately, the ASTI is to explore setting gender quotas to help ensure more woman are better represented across the union. While the union’s membership is 70 per cent women, they are underrepresented on committees and areas of decision-making.

Officials said the union is to consult branches on the issue over the coming months. Emer Haughey, ASTI member, said a gender balance could help cultivate “a new generation of leaders which represents our society as a whole”.

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