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This essay will look at what supports are available for the parents of a five year old boy with a physical disability to enable him to attend mainstream school. The essay will look briefly at the historical perspective regarding education and people with disabilities, how concepts such as normalisation and inclusion impacted on the integration of people with disabilities in mainstream school, hence the term mainstreaming and the policies and supports that run alongside these concepts and if these policies are reflective of a rights based approach.
Provisions are in place for children below school age (up to age 6) with physical disabilities to attend special pre-schools that have facilities that support their needs (National Council for Special Education, 2006). But provisions are not in place for pre-school services within mainstream schools therefore in relation to this topic the term school will relate to primary mainstream schools.
In the Census 2002 it was estimated that approximately 324,000 people in the population were living with a disability (National Disability Authority, on the Web, nd).
Disability in relation to people is considered to be a “restriction in their capacity to participate in economic, social or cultural life on account of a physical, sensory, learning, mental health or emotional impairment” (Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities (1996) cited in Finnerty and Collins, 2005:277).
McDonnell (2003:28) suggests that disability is not the actual “impairment” but actually the barriers within society that dis-enable the person to participate within mainstream society.
According to Barnes and Mercer (2003) the political and social perceptions of people with disabilities was challenged from the 1960’s onwards in that the general view at the time was to see the person based on their perceived limitations. These perceptions were challenged by disability groups on attaining rights that were attributed to other citizens to also be attributed for people with disabilities.
One of the challenges to the traditionally held views of disability is the concept of normalisation which Walmsley (1997) states was developed by Nirje (1969) to highlight that people with disabilities should have opportunities to enjoy the everyday occurrences of life. In that what is the norm for the majority should be available to people with disabilities (Mitchell 2004).
A key element within normalisation is inclusion (Walmsley, 1997). Inclusion became a key element in the development of an integrated educational system (Finnerty and Collins, 2005).
A key factor in inclusion is to remove the invisibility that surrounded people with disabilities in the past and that programmes such as integrated education are a way of allowing children with disabilities to have a more visible and positive profile (Dare and O’Donovan, 2002).
The Warnock Report (1978) cited in Dare and O’Donovan (2002) reviewed the educational needs of children with disabilities and found that children with disabilities should attend a mainstream school unless it could not provide satisfactorily for their particular needs.
Education in the early 1900’s was within a segregated format of special schools for people with disabilities that reinforced their exclusion from mainstream society. The concept of mainstreaming in which children with special needs were catered for within mainstream schools was introduced in Ireland in the 1970’s and was regarded as a more appropriate way of providing integrated education (McDonnell, 2003). But this provision for special educational needs within mainstream school still created exclusion in that the format was through special needs classes and still created differentiation (McDonnell, 2003). Although according to the Salamanca Statement (1994) on education for people with disabilities, inclusion was regarded as provision within mainstream schools (National Council for Special Education, 2006).
Rights Based Approach
The European Social Charter (1996) states that people with disabilities have “a right to independence, social integration and participation in the life of the community” (Lawson on the Web, nd:8) : and that it places an onus on its member states to put in place supports that overcomes barriers to inclusion and participation. Unfortunately this Charter has only been signed off by a few member states and that the rights included within it have no legal requirement.
According to Lawson (on the Web, nd) the rights based approach with regard to disability states that people with disabilities should have the same rights as the majority and that in order to achieve this that three factors are key. Participation in their community should not be limited by societal barriers such as attitudes towards disability, or limited by availability of supports. Participation is affected by accessibility. In that public services should be inclusive with regard to providing access for all, for example that public transport make proper accommodations for the needs of people with disabilities. Underlining the concepts of participation and accessibility are that government social policies allow provision for disability issues within mainstream policy formation rather than specific disability policies which in their nature create greater segregation of people with disabilities. (Lawson, on the Web, nd).
According to De Wispelaere and Walsh (2007:521) when services for people with disabilities are still determined within a “social welfare model” in that the availability of services are still decided by public bodies that a rights based approach is not in place. The rights based approach model would suggest that the rights of a person with disabilities are specified in law and that a lack of this provision of those rights should allow for recourse through the general legal system.
In Ireland there are currently three frameworks for provision of education for people with disabilities, firstly the student can attend mainstream school with support from a resource teacher or special needs assistant. The second option is the student can attend a special class within the mainstream school or thirdly the student may attend a school designated as a special school with supports for particular disabilities (The National Council for Special Education, 2006).
Various legislations have impacted on the provision of education. The Constitution of Ireland (1937) states that every child should have access to education (National Council for Special Education, 2006).
Education Act (1998)
The Education Act (1998) stated that education was to be provided for all children and specifically mentions that children with special educational needs be provided for and “have the same right to avail of and benefit from appropriate education as do their peers” (National Council for Special Education, 2006:79).
The Education Act (1998) allowed that funding would be available for additional educational resources such as assessments of students, technical aids but these too were assessed as to what was appropriate and were not an automatic entitlement (De Wispelaere and Walsh, 2007). The Act also provided for the setting up of the National Council for Special Education that would act as an independent organisation that would within its functions co-ordinate the allocation of educational supports (National Council for Special Education, 2006).
The Act (1998) stated that children with disabilities had a right to education but the term “appropriate” allowed for measurement based on what resources were available (De Wispelaere and Walsh, 2007:532). Therefore this would suggest that the Act was not rights based in that the provision of supports were decided not by factors of participation or inclusion but by resources.
Education Welfare Act (2000)
The Education Welfare Act (2000) although its main aim was to promote attendance at schools, is of consequence to children with disabilities in that many children with disabilities are not attending schools because no appropriate school is available. The registration process within the Act allows that such children that are being schooled at home are to be assessed by the Health Service Executive to ensure that the child is receiving a standard of education expected, although there is no indicator of the expected minimum standard for children with disabilities (National Council for Special Education, 2006).
Equal Status Act (2000) and (2004)
The Equal Status Act (2000) amended in (2004) promoted equality and prohibited discrimination in relation to access and provision of services with regard to nine factors of which discrimination because of disability is one (Government of Ireland, 2000). In relation to education this considers admission policies, access for the student to school, building or supports (National Council for Special Education, 2006). But the Act also states that discrimination cannot be considered if it is judged that “reasonable accommodation” was made to allow for access or a “disproportionate burden” would be placed on the service provider to make accommodations, (National Council for Special Education, 2006:81). For example in relation to the scenario, the child that has the physical disability might not be able to attend his local primary school because although accommodations such as a ramp were installed, that in order to provide other accommodations that it would place a disproportionate burden on the school.
Bruce (1991) cited in Quinn and Redmond (2005:145) suggests that the access right also relates to supports that provide for “participation in the social and cultural life of the community”. Therefore surely the attendance at a local school could be seen as a means of inclusion for the boy and that exclusion by the school because of no obligation to provide services beyond their resources could be considered a violation of rights with regard to access as per Bruce (1991) cited in Quin and Redmond (2005). But the fact that the provision of services is not rights based eliminates the responsibility of the school to provide services beyond their resources (De Wispelaere and Walsh, 2007).
Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act (EPSEN) (2004)
According to the National Disability Authority (2005) the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act (EPSEN) (2004) set out through its aims of appropriate education, assessment of identifying of need, individual education plans, general allocation system and appeals to introduce inclusive education for children with special educational needs. The Act set out that schools have a duty to include children with special educational needs and that accommodations are to be made to allow inclusion, that the school principal in particular had a role to identify children with special educational needs and arrange assessment. The assessment would allow the school to apply for additional funding (National Disability Authority, 2005). A “General allocation system” was established that would allocate permanent teacher posts based on the level of high incidence disabilities within the school and the allocation of hours for resource teachers or special needs assistants for low incidence disabilities (National Council for Special Education, 2006:41). According to the National Disability Authority (2005) the Act stated that the school in partnership with the parents and other professionals would draw up an individual educational plan to allow for the education of the child. The school could be designated by the National Council for Special Education to provide a place in their school for a child. The Act also introduced that parents could inform the teachers if they were unhappy with the education provided for their child and that the school was required to address this issue. The process of appeals and an Appeals Board was set up to allow for referral of disputes and possible resolution of disputes (National Disability Authority, 2005).
A report by the National Disability Authority (2006) to review the EPSEN Act (2004) highlighted various aspects that were positive and negative. That the General Allocation System was positive in general in that it recognised that supports were needed. But that basing allocation on level of high incidence disabilities in attendance could result that students that are not within the high-incidence bracket will lose supports that otherwise allow them to attend mainstream schools. For example described within the low incidence disabilities are physical disability, hearing impairment, moderate general learning disability and autism. Concern was raised by parents that children that were described within high incidence disabilities would be more likely to be attending special schools that would be more able to provide for their needs. Therefore the level of high incidence attendance would be generally low in mainstream schools which would impact on allocation of resources as per the General Allocation system (National Disability Authority, 2006). The report stated that the disabilities listed within low incidences does not reflect the diversity of need regarding supports for integrative education and that the General Allocation System by its nature excludes rather than includes (National Disability Authority, 2006).
Many parents report that access to mainstream schools for their children with special educational needs is difficult in that the assessment of need for children is the requisite of the Health Service Executive. Parents are having problems gaining assessment and secondly that the waiting time for such assessments is long (National Disability Authority, 2006).
The assessment of need will not necessarily qualify that the child can then go to a local school in that the school may not be able to provide the accommodations required. With regard to children with physical disabilities the perception seems to be that if the school provides a ramp that it has provided sufficient supports. That the onus is not on schools due to allocation of resources to provide services that have been assessed as needed by the child and can result in the child being marginalised and excluded if the child were to remain in mainstream school. Also that the general physical environment within mainstream schools was not necessarily suited to the needs of a child with disabilities and that the inclusion within the school would not be in the child’s best interests. The assessment process is harder to access for Special Schools unless they are part of a clinic that has a resident psychologist. The assessment process is in itself labelling in that the perception of assessment of need automatically infer an educational limitation within the child which may not be the case (National Disability Authority, 2006).
The inclusive concept of the EPSEN (2004) was positive in that it gave children with disabilities an opportunity to socialise with their peers but that the lack of supports result in exclusion as the child cannot fully integrate without these supports (National Disability Authority, 2006). An inclusive educational system provides for the diverse needs of all the children in attendance and by offering different supports for the children needs it celebrates diversity and encourages participation according to Florian and Rouse (2009). But allocations based on available resources could suggest that the Act has failed in its aims of inclusion (National Disability Authority, 2006). The difficulties in gaining access and supports has resulted that the responsibility often falls to the parents of children with disabilities to provide the educational support (Power, 2008). Also the Act states that the special needs assistants will have no role in provision of education but the provision of care for the child (National Council for Special Education, 2006). But the roles of the special need assistants have become education provision in that resources have impacted on educational supports and that the special needs assistants are not trained for this role (National Disability Authority, 2006).
It had been forecasted that the Act would be implemented by 2010 budgetary constraints have delayed the implementation of many elements of the Act (National Council for Special Education, 2008).
The system of defining low-incidence and high-incidence is not rights based in that it does not address the individual needs of the child regardless of what incidence they are within and that the allocation of additional resources such as teachers, special needs assistants and resource support teachers based on the incidences of degrees of disability is not indicative of an participatory programme. The General Allocation System is not rights based in that the system of allocation of resources based on number of children with high incidence disabilities is discriminatory towards the children with disabilities within the low incidence bracket (National Disability Authority, 2006).
Disability Act (2005)
The Disability Act (2005) although not directly linked to education does have reference in that it provided for the right to provide for an assessment of needs regarding health and education, compiling a service statement, but it does not automatically imply provision of services to match needs. Also the right to appeal decisions regarding assessment and service statement but that there was no recourse through the legal system (National Council for Special Education, 2006).
The Disability Act (2005) although providing for assessment of needs regarding health and education have not allocated a minimum level of service delivery as per the Irish Human Rights Commission (2004) cited in De Wispelaere and Walsh, (2007). That although the assessment of need is a definite right that it is undermined by the clause that the Service Statement after the Assessment Report allows that services may not be provided if it is “not possible or practical to provide” (De Wispelaere and Walsh, 2007:532) and would therefore suggest that the Act is not rights based legislation.
According to De Wispelaere and Walsh (2007) with regard to the Disabiltiy Act (2005) that although a right to appeal is mentioned that the appeal process is lengthy, in that an appeal will have to be addressed by a liaison officer, complaints officer, and appeals officer whereby the decision made is final and that then the only recourse is an appeal through the High Court. That a person with a disability is prevented from availing of an independent judge such as an Ombudsman until the internal appeal process is completed suggests that the appeals process is “dis-abling” (De Wispelaere and Walsh, 2007:534).
According to De Wispelaere and Walsh (2007) the rights based approach that provision of services should be a legal right based on need assessment has two flaws. Firstly that the expectation of delivery of services could result in a continual demand on public resources. Secondly that the guarantee of delivery of service could be considered to “undemocratic” if the provision of “disability rights” were to challenge the rights of a government to decide “economic and social policies” (De Wispelaere and Walsh, 2007:523). They proposed that a rights based approach should rather than ensure that all needs are met, that people with disabilities should like the majority of people have the right to challenge when services are not in place through the general legal system.
With regard to the scenario at the start of the essay for the parents of a boy aged five to attend his local primary school and what supports would be available to him. The Disability Act (2005) allows that the boy’s needs are to be assessed but that the delivery of services will be dependent on the adequate resources available (De Wispelaere and Walsh, 2007). Therefore the child might be assessed to have a particular need but it would not be the responsibility of the local primary school to provide the services required for his need if it was beyond their abilities and resources. The fact that there is no legal requirement on a service provider to ensure service delivery that would allow this boy to attend the school would suggest that there is no rights-based approach with regard to disability legislation and policies in Ireland (De Wispelaere and Walsh, 2007).
Legislation has been put in place within the Irish system that aims to provide education for people with disabilities. In order to fully participate access to education and learning is paramount but it would appear that the rights of the person with a disability to have an equal chance of full education is determined by criteria that measures levels of disability rather than diversity of need and that accommodation of supports is determined not as a right but as to what resources will be deemed appropriate by Government Departments. Also that the aims of the legislation to address particular issues regarding education of people with disabilities are weakened by the inclusion of clauses such as “reasonable accommodation” and “disproportionate burden” (National Council for Special Education, 2006:81) and would suggest that the right to education is not as clear cut for children with disabilities.
Also disability rights in Ireland have not received a definitive criterion regarding which rights must be protected and to what degree and that in order to be truly rights based this must be the case (De Wispelaere and Walsh, 2007).
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