Belfast Telegraph

One in four children with disabilities ‘suspended’ by short school days

The figure rises to one in three for children with autism, according to research.

Joe McHugh (Niall Carson/PA)
Joe McHugh (Niall Carson/PA)

By Aoife Moore, PA

One in four children with disabilities are being effectively “suspended” by short school days, according to research.

The average short school day lasted only two to three hours, with many pupils attending for less than an hour.

The report from Inclusion Ireland and Technological University (TU) Dublin details the “widespread, hidden and often illegal suspension” of children with disabilities by placing them on shorter school days – resulting in missed classes and opportunities to socialise with other children.

One in four children with a disability has been affected, and the figure rises to one in three for children with autism, the research shows.

The study found that children’s behaviour is the most common reason schools give for imposing short school days, adding that it does lasting damage to children and their families educationally, emotionally and financially.

Families reported significant financial loss as they attempted to stay afloat and hold on to jobs while being available to care for a child for extra hours each day or to collect them from school at short notice.

Inclusion Ireland has called on the Minister for Education to compel schools to meet their obligation to educate children with disabilities, and monitor schools for blocking the admission of children with disabilities.

“Children are being denied their right to education because of the lack of acceptance and accommodation of their differences,” said the report’s lead author, Deborah Brennan.

“Many parents told us they are being forced either to accept a short school day or to remove their child from school.”

Inclusion Ireland said the situation is causing severe anxiety in children, with many not wanting to go to school at all.

The report has caused a significant amount of criticism for the Government and minister Joe McHugh, with political rivals Fianna Fail calling on him and the Minister for Disability Finian McGrath to intervene.

Fianna Fail education spokesman Thomas Byrne called the report a “national scandal”.

“The constitutional rights of some of the most vulnerable children in our education system are being denied through an illegal practice,” he said.

“The minister has seen fit to turn a blind eye to this matter. That has to end once and for all.

“Fianna Fail are calling for the urgent introduction of Department of Education monitoring of schools regarding this matter, legislation governing these practices and engagement with schools to find out why this practice appears to be growing while ensuring schools have the adequate resources to provide children with an education.”

A source working within the Department of Education told the PA news agency they are concerned by the findings, as the department itself has not “been inundated” with schools reporting their concerns over the issue, or issues linked to lack of resources to help pupils with additional needs.

Responding to the report, Minister McHugh stated: “The reported scale of use of reduced timetables is unacceptable in an education system that promotes inclusion at its core.

“If schools feel they are unable to meet the needs of some children with behavioural issues and other special needs then rather than taking a unilateral decision to remove that child from school they should be seeking advice and guidance on how to meet their needs.”

PA

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