Press Release 2 March, 2022
Ministers Foley and Madigan announce establishment of a scheme to provide Irish Sign Language Support for children whose primary language is Irish Sign Language (ISL) and who are attending recognised schools
Minister for Education Norma Foley TD and Minister of State for Special Education and Inclusion Josepha Madigan TD today (Wednesday 2 March) announced details of a new scheme for the provision of Irish Sign Language (ISL) in-school support for students who are Deaf and whose primary means of communication is ISL.
The new scheme will involve two key strands of support:
- Programme of intensive in-school support for individual students to enable them access teaching and learning and participate in school life
- Programme of training and support to build capacity among the school community including teachers, special needs assistants, other school staff and pupils on communication using Irish Sign Language
The new scheme is targeted at children and young people attending primary, special and post-primary school who were born without an auditory nerve or due to infection, disease, trauma, failed technology intervention (for example cochlear implants)heir auditory nerve has ceased to function completely and whose primary means of communication is using Irish Sign Language.
Under the scheme, a package of dedicated specialist ISL supports will be allocated to relevant schools so these students have a more inclusive school experience.
Minister Foley said: “My Department’s vision is that we have an education system where every child and young person feels valued and is actively supported and nurtured to reach their full potential. The aim of the new scheme is to help children and young people who communicate primarily through ISL to realise their potential and achieve good education and life outcomes. Specialised supports are needed by these students who have no access to sound and depend on ISL as their primary means of communication.
“ I am delighted that we are addressing this issue in a way that will make a real difference to their lives and those of their families. The new scheme also meets a requirement of the Irish Sign Language Act 2017, which is an important piece of legislation that supports our citizens in accessing services through their chosen medium of communication.”
Minister Madigan said: “As Minister of State for Special Education and Inclusion I am delighted to have secured additional supports for those students who communicate using Irish Sign Language. Today’s announcement is a further step in ensuring that inclusion remains at the heart of education and that every child is able to fulfil their full potential at school. ISL is an important part of daily life in Ireland and is the main language of communication for many people. It is only right that this fact is recognised and supported by our education system. I am confident that these supports will be of benefit to many students and their teachers.
“The Department of Education is committed to supporting special education and this scheme recognises the need for a broader range of supports in specific circumstances. The new scheme outlined today is innovative and will complements other education supports in schools as well as those being provided by the National Council for Special Education and NEPS to students and their families. The upcoming consultation will also ensure that the new scheme is tailored to the needs of the young people and the schools in which they learn. I am looking forward to engaging with the wider education sector to ensure that these supports are in place and accessible as soon as possible.”
The establishment of the new scheme follows the commencement of the Irish Sign Language Act 2017 on 23 December 2020. Section 5 of the Act outlines a number of requirements in relation to education including the establishment of this scheme.
In developing the new scheme, the Ministers recognise that the primary educator in a school is the class teacher, who is qualified and registered with the Teaching Council.
The new roles will support the work of the class teachers and complement other teaching support and care support provided for the targeted students.
The deployment of the new supports is consistent with a key principle underpinning Department policy on the allocation of supports to students with special educational needs that the child with the greatest level of need should receive the greatest level of support.
Under the scheme, two new posts are being created, an ISL – Specialist Classroom Support and an Advisor Deaf/Hard of Hearing (ISL).
The role of the ISL – Specialist Classroom Support is to consistently convey the spirit and content of the communication occurring in the classroom and enhance active engagement with learning and participation in school life by the student.
The focus of the new Advisor Deaf/Hard of Hearing, (ISL) role will be to build capacity in ISL across the school community including teachers, SNAs, other school staff and students.
It will be a key requirement of the scheme that only candidates who are appropriately qualified and fluent in Irish Sign Language will be appointed to these new roles.
A competitive salary scale will be offered to ensure the posts are sufficiently attractive to persons with the relevant skills and qualifications. A robust recruitment process will also be put in place.
The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) will be responsible for the delivery of the new supports under the scheme. Schools that identify students with a need for specialised ISL support will be invited to submit an application to the NCSE.
The proposals and the operation of the scheme will be discussed with education stakeholders in the coming weeks with a view to finalising the scheme as soon as possible so that it is in place in time for the commencement of the next school year.
The establishment of the new scheme arises following the commencement of the Irish Sign Language Act 2017 by the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth on 23 December 2020. Section 5 of the Act outlines a number of requirements in relation to education including the establishment of this scheme.
- Intensive in-school specialist ISL support for individual students
Where a school has enrolled students meeting the criteria for specialised ISL support, an ISL –Specialist Classroom Support professional will be assigned under the new scheme to work in the school to support individual students in accessing teaching and learning.
This new role is separate from that of other school personnel, for example, teacher, SNA and will replace the existing interim support arrangements over time.
The purpose of the ISL – Specialist Classroom Support is to consistently convey the spirit and content of the communication occurring in the classroom and enhance active engagement with learning and participation in school life by the student.
The ISL–Specialist Classroom Support professional will be required to become familiar with the curriculum content and school programme, a task that may involve additional research to understand the topic, concepts, vocabulary and phrases and the ISL signs needed to convey them.
In carrying out their work, the ISL–Specialist Classroom Support professional will take time to understand and process, the content, the context and the messages being delivered by the class teacher thereby mediating the curriculum for the student whose communication is solely through ISL.
- Build ISL capacity within schools
This aspect of the new scheme provides for the building of capacity in using ISL across the school community and all aspects of school activity. For this purpose, a new role of Advisor Deaf/Hard of Hearing (ISL) is being created.
The focus of the new role would be to build capacity in ISL across the school community including teachers, SNAs, other school staff and NCSE and NEPS professionals who deliver educational supports for this cohort of children whose primary means of communication is ISL.
The new post of Advisor Deaf/Hard of Hearing (ISL) will meet this need and support the delivery of a continuum of support for children who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing to access education through ISL from the point of diagnosis by a relevant professional through to the end of post-primary education.
It is envisaged that a number of these appointments will be made nationally. Their work will complement and align with the work of other advisory supports provided by the NCSE to schools and families.
Advisers may be assigned to work intensively with individual schools or group of schools in accordance with identified need. These posts will not only assist mainstream schools but also provide specific ISL support to special classes and to the special schools that cater for children who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing (D/HH).
Operation of the new scheme
The delivery of the new supports will be managed by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) through its regional team structure. The NCSE is responsible for coordinating supports for children with special educational needs.
These professionals will also be available to support the development and delivery of other education supports and programmes for families of Deaf children and those working with those families.
Selection criteria for appointment to the new specialist ISL posts
Successful candidates will be expected to be appropriately qualified and be fluent in ISL. For appointment to these posts, candidates will be required to, among other items:
- be appropriately qualified i.e. hold a NFQ Level 8 qualification or higher
- hold a qualification in ISL based on the Common European Language Framework or equivalent;
- have achieved a high level of proficiency in ISL;
- have an appropriate level of proficiency in written and oral English/Irish;
- have the capacity to communicate and interact effortlessly using ISL in a school environment.
The personnel appointed to these roles are likely to come from a variety of professional backgrounds including education.
A number of desirable attributes and experiences will also be considered in the selection process.
Full details and complete job specifications and selection criteria will be published in due course.
The Department will now consult with relevant stakeholders on the detail of the scheme and how it will be administered.
It is intended that the scheme of support will be in place in time for the commencement of the 2022/23 school year.
Obligations on the Minister for Education under the ISL Act 2017
Section 5 of the ISL Act 2017 requires the Minister for Education to:
- Establish a scheme for the provision of ISL classes for families of children who are deaf;
There is a scheme already in place for the provision of ISL tuition for families with children who Deaf and whose children communicate using ISL. This scheme provides funding to families to secure the services of an ISL tutor in the home.
Under the scheme, funding is provided by the Department for a weekly home tuition service whereby tutors visit the homes of Deaf and Hard of Hearing pre-school children and school-going students to provide training in Irish Sign Language (ISL) for these children and their families including their grandparents.
The total funding available for the ISL tuition scheme is in the region of €310,000 annually. There were 176 children and their families supported under the scheme by approximately 47 tutors in the 2020/21 school year.
The grant is payable from the date that the application is approved with a maximum of 104 hours tuition available in a full year.
The grant is paid to the parent/guardian where the tutor is not on the Department’s payroll.
The scheme is available to Deaf / Hard of Hearing children from diagnosis to leaving post primary school, so there is a broad range of ages and abilities.
Visiting Teachers provide advice in relation to Irish Sign Language (ISL) provision and support and can assist parents to make an informed choice in relation to the preferred communication approach.
The Department is committed to reviewing this scheme to ensure that it meets the needs of the users. Work on this review will commence shortly.
- Establish a scheme to provide ISL support for children who are attending school and whose primary language is ISL;
The new scheme announced today meets this requirement.
- Ensure there is a sufficient number of placements for the training of teachers of children who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing;
In September 2019, a new pilot Bachelor of Education (Irish Sign Language) (ISL) programme for primary ITE commenced in DCU. This is a separate CAO entry pathway into primary teaching specifically for deaf and hard of hearing students who communicate through ISL and has been accredited by the Teaching Council. The approval was given for one intake only, of up to 6 students, with a plan to evaluate at the end of that period, before deciding on whether the approval might be extended to further cohorts. There are currently 4 students completing the programme to be primary teachers, whose language of communication is ISL. This cohort of students will graduate in 2023. The Department is currently considering a request by DCU to allow a second cohort of students to enter the Bachelor of Education (Irish Sign Language Pathway).
The Department is also considering supports for teachers and qualification pathways more broadly. These will be informed in part by the roll out of the new scheme, as announced today
- Determine the minimum qualifications of teachers of children who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing where practicable and necessary to ensure the provision of education to children who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing.
The Teaching Council is the statutory regulator for the teaching profession. All teachers employed in recognised schools must be registered with the Council. The Council accredits programmes of initial teacher education and sets the standards and criteria for teacher registration. The standards for registration and programmes of initial teacher education are subject to regular review by the Council. The review takes into account the latest research on the teaching profession as well as developments in relevant policy areas and legislation.