Education focus on special needs

Additional staff hires targeted at special needs students in government schools are anticipated to ease problems with student behaviour, Education Minister Alden McLaughlin told Finance Committee recently.

Responding to a question about how the government was intending to deal with truancy, Mr. McLaughlin revealed an effort is under way to address the problem’s underlying causes.

‘I’m willing to suggest that there has been perhaps too liberal a use of the suspension tool by public schools,’ he said.

‘Far too many kids have been put out of the system for too long, a result of a system that has left principals and teachers with little recourse of how to deal with problem students, when these disciplinary issues arise from other factors,’ he said.

Mr. McLaughlin said the Ministry has been looking to focus on using special educators to address these needs adequately.

‘For the first time, there is now a special education needs unit in the Ministry,’ he said.

‘We had 73 special education needs posts by the end of this academic year, and we will have 140 by the end of next year,’ he said.

The number includes 70 support assistants for special needs students and an increase in all the other types of special needs teachers, including a doubling of the number of reading specialists.

‘We are aware that those sorts of issues affect self-esteem, achievement, and those types of things, and that students act out to get attention or to express their frustration,’ he said.

Mr. McLaughlin said he hopes the move will significantly reduce the number of students who are suspended

He also said that another truant officer has been hired to provide service to Cayman Brac, bringing the total number of officers to three.

‘We really have to spend time on the suspension unit to make sure that excluded students are being serviced and that we make sure that special needs educators are available to intervene early on at the critical primary level,’ he said.

He said government is considering whether to offer special needs funding to private schools. He said it was a difficult question because most special needs students are asked to leave private schools and ultimately wind up in the public school system.

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