Special Educational Needs And Gaelscoileanna

It is widely recognised that some of the best educational services in Ireland for children with Special Needs is through Irish-medium schools. The smaller, more pupil-and-family orientated nature of Gaelscoileanna has benefited many children with special educational requirements, something the Northern education minister, John O’Dowd, has acknowledged:

“Partnership across all sectors is the key to meeting the needs of all our children with special educational needs.

This was the key message from John O’Dowd, Education Minister, at a seminar in Newry run by the POBAL, the advocacy organisation for the Irish language sector. The seminar was attended by education sector representatives from both the north and south of Ireland.

Speaking at the seminar the Minister said: “All our children and young people deserve a first-class education system. Children identified with special educational needs (SEN) deserve support and the right provision.

“Over the past 30 years the Irish medium sector here has transformed into a vibrant, dynamic and integral part of our education system. I was encouraged to learn that research has all pointed towards the same needs and priorities of the Irish medium sector in relation to training and SEN. Meeting the needs of children with SEN is as pertinent as in any other sector.

“North-south cooperation in improving provision for children with SEN is a high priority for both me and my Department. In fact SEN continues to be one of the four areas of cooperation agreed by the North South Ministerial Council.

“I want to commend POBAL in their determination to ensure that children with special educational needs are not disadvantaged when choosing to learn through Irish. I know the focus of this seminar is to raise the awareness of the support and resources available to those in the Irish medium sector.”

POBAL, the Irish language community organisation, carried out a two-year research project into the requirements of Irish-speaking or bilingual special needs children.

“Irish language advocacy group, POBAL, has published its all-island research on training and support needs for teachers in the Irish medium sector in regard to children with special educational needs (SEN).

The research report was launched in the Gresham Hotel, Dublin, with guest speaker Dr. Jean Ware from Bangor University, Wales, speaking on ‘Squaring the Circle: Supporting Bilingual Children Who have SEN – What Do We Know and What Do We Need to Know?’   in the context of Irish medium education. The second launch took place in Belfast at the Holiday Inn Hotel, Ormeau Avenue with guest speaker Dr. Enlli Thomas, Bangor University, a core member of the executive of the ESRC Centre for Research on Bilingualism in Theory and Practice.

This new research, which has been undertaken by POBAL with COGG funding support, suggests the need for an information and communication strategy around SEN and Irish-medium education. The researcher, Caroline Nolan said,

“The research clearly shows that the same problems repeatedly flag up, for example, a lack of practical training for teachers in bilingual / immersion education with children who have learning difficulties, a lack of guidelines in providing a support plan for bilingual children, a lack of facilities, especially for a graduated reading scheme, and a lack of appropriate standardised tests. However, progress has been made in recent years. I was surprised by the amount of projects underway to develop new resources, appropriate tests, etc. We must use this information store to provide practical support for classroom teachers and provision of services in their work. This is the first recommendation.”

POBAL’s Janet Muller said: “We will see the importance of this research. It stands to reason that there should be more all-island cooperation on this matter. We are grateful to An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta (COGG) for their long-term outlook in support of this proposal.”

The report can be downloaded from here.

“Training Needs and Support for the Irish Language Sector and Gaeltacht Areas Regarding Children with Special Needs

This new research study is funded by An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta & Gaelscolaíochta. This undertaking stems from earlier research work that we carried out between 2006 and 2008 on the special needs of the bilingual child (Irish – English).  As a result, a gap was found in provision available to the sector at present.  A weakness was found in the training and support framework:

  1. With teachers in Irish Medium sector in regard to children with special needs.
  2. In regard to pupils with Irish in English Language schools.  This research focused on training and support needs for teachers and nursery staff when attending to the needs of children with special needs in the context of Irish Language education, both north and south, and in Gaeltacht areas.

There are 4 aspects to this ongoing research:

  1. An examination of the current state of the sector regarding training and support.
  2. Training needs for the Irish education sector on an all-Ireland basis in finding children with special needs ( both in initial teacher training and professional development follow-up) at nursery, primary and post-primary levels.
  3. To find support, awareness and communication needs for the sector.
  4. Detailed recommendations regarding
    • Training provision
    • Support provision (including building on awareness of examples of good practise; improving communication with teacher / provider, etc.”
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