The provision of additional resource hours in schools is always a headline story. Much has been done to increase the supply and to ensure that as many children as possible who need it, receive it. Additional Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) have been recruited.
Trainee teachers have better awareness and understanding of special educational needs. Specialised special education training has been given to teachers and these teachers are now dedicated Resource Teachers. Thankfully the odious term, ‘Remedial Student’ has been consigned to the history books.
So much has been done to help struggling students. However, like many things in life, the most difficult obstacle to overcome is actually qualifying for Resource hours. With limited hours available, there has to be a clear, fair and equitable system in place in order to qualify for resource hours. Schools have a difficult task in attempting to be fair to everyone, but usually once you’re in, you’re in!
What is not so clear is the exit strategy. There is an old saying in financial investment – the day you buy is the day you sell! In other words, you always need to have a clear exit strategy. You don’t just buy something because it suits your needs right now, you need to think beyond the now and consider your future plans and needs.
Some children will need additional educational support throughout their time in school. Most will only need it for a short time. The difficulty is knowing when to call a halt to it. As parents, we are reluctant to stop because of ‘what if syndrome’. What if he needs it next year, what if she will need help in secondary school?
In Ireland there is still no legal requirement for schools to produce an IEP (Individual Education Plan) which would specify the learning goals that are to be achieved by the student over a set period of time. So it can be difficult for parents to make a decision to stop their child receiving resource hours.
A number of our hummingbird parents have wanted to stop their child’s resource hours and had great difficulty in doing so. Two years ago one parent went so far as contacting the Department of Education directly to find out what to do. The person on the phone was shocked – she had never had a request to stop resource time before!
But surely the ultimate aim of additional resource hours is to give children those extra resources so that they reach the same level as their peers and therefore no longer need that extra help! If a building needs remedial works (there’s that term again but in a better context), scaffolding and temporary supports may be needed in the short term. But once the work is done, the supports are taken away.
So how do you know if it’s time to finish? First you need to listen to your child. If they are complaining about the resource time being babyish or too easy you need to find out specifically what work is being done during this time. Perhaps they are going out for a group session and they are ahead of the other children in the group. Maybe the work isn’t challenging enough for them on a one to one basis. Perhaps they have caught up with their peers and no longer need extra support.
Ultimately, the decision on whether or not your child avails of additional resource hours rests with you – not the school. Do not be pressurised into sending your child out for resource teaching in order to ‘keep the resource hours available to the school’. One thing that is always overlooked is what the child is missing while they are out with the resource teacher.
Some children feel that going out to resources means that they never catch up because the class moves on while they are away, leaving them permanently at a disadvantage. This does not mean that they are incapable of doing the same work, it just means that they are behind precisely because they were getting additional help! And so they are caught in a never ending cycle.
So listen to your child. Talk to them and talk to the school. Ask for an IEP, even on an informal basis. Ask for the exit strategy. Put your request in writing. The goal is for your child to be learning independently with confidence in their own abilities.
Remember taking the stabilisers off their two wheel bike? They still wobbled at first, they may even have fallen down, but they got back on and learned how to cycle. Some will cycle slower than others and that’s ok. The main thing is that they are cycling.
We don’t keep the training wheels on bikes when the need has gone – shouldn’t education be the same? Oh and a really nice by-product will be more hours available to other kids who need them. Everyone wins!