‘Optimistic but cautious’ over phased return of Special Needs education

Minister for Education Norma Foley’s announcement that Special schools are to reopen on February 11, followed by Special classes in mainstream schools on February 22, is being met with a mixture of cautious positivity according to Denis Coleman, Principal of CBS Primary School in Tralee.

ebruary 22 will mark a new beginning in more ways than one for the Tralee school as it marks the reopening of its new extension comprising of four new classrooms and a special educational needs unit.

Minister Foley stressed that a leading factor in her decision has always been that learning remotely is particularly hard for many children with additional needs.

In her statement, Minister Foley said she is ‘acutely conscious’ that the loss of regular school routine, social interaction with friends, direct face to face access to teachers and special needs assistants as well as therapy interventions, have presented huge challenges and a real risk of regression to the learning, social, emotional development and well-being of pupils.

Mr Coleman concurs with Minister Foley’s assertion, saying that even though his school was ready to return earlier, he welcomes confirmation of a start date and that everyone is looking forward to it.

He explained that even though every teacher is working hard in a lock-down situation to try and replicate the school setting via zoom, the one-to-one teaching experience far outweighs this approach.

“There is daily contact between teachers, SNAs and children in the special classes, and while they are all doing very well, we would much prefer to be back in. It’s just a very different way of delivering education to kids, and, in particular, special needs kids,” he said.

Mr Coleman added that there is huge positivity about returning even though uncertainty remains a factor for as long as Covid is with us.

“The fact we’re in February, in spring, and that green shoots are starting to appear, there is a real sense that every day that goes by now is a day we’re closer to going back in.

“It’s important to generate that sense of hope for the children. We’re trying to create a situation whereby if people follow the guidelines, my sense is that it will work,” he said.

Minister Foley’s announcement is also being welcomed by 17-year-old Sophie-Mai Pierse who has Down Syndrome and attends St Ita’s and St Joseph’s Special School at Balloonagh in Tralee.

In The Kerryman a week ago, Sophie-Mai’s father, Risteard, outlined the negative impact the school’s closure was having on Sophie-Mai’s education and self-progress.

The Tralee-based solicitor told The Kerryman on Tuesday that he was ‘relieved’ at the proposals for the reopening of special schools.

“It gives hope to parents, particularly those in more stressful situations where there are more challenging behaviours,” said Risteard.

“The great hope is that the regression that has occurred in our children’s education, work can now be done in repairing that,” he added.

Sophie-Mai was taking part in an online class with her father when news came through that she and her classmates would be returning. Needless to the say the news was enthusiastically received. It comes as a huge boost to families after a tough period of uncertainty.

“There was a collective cheer from the children, and their parents; they are looking forward to it,” he said.

Risteard said he particularly welcomes the supplementary programme announced by Minister Foley. This will provide an extra five-hours per week outside of school hours, from February 11 until the end of April. It is a measure aimed at clawing back the loss of progress, both for children in special and mainstream schools.

“This will help children who have significant additional needs to avail of this supplementary programme which will enhance the prospect of repairing the regression that has occurred,” Risteard said.

Independent.ie – News