Belfast Telegraph

Reduced timetable guidelines aimed at cutting practice ‘not rigid enough’

A report earlier this month found that shorter school days impacted on one in four children with special needs.

Mr McHugh set out the procedures to be followed by schools where such an option is being considered and used (PA)
Mr McHugh set out the procedures to be followed by schools where such an option is being considered and used (PA)

By CateM

A number of proposed rules aimed at ensuring reduced timetables in schools were only used in exceptional circumstances have been criticised as “not rigid enough”.

It comes after a report earlier this month found that shorter school days impacted on one in four children with special needs.

Minister for Education Joe McHugh told the Joint Committee on Education and Skills that the proposed measures will allow his department to monitor schools that reduce a child’s access to education to just a few hours or less each day.

Earlier this week, the minister set out the procedures to be followed by schools where such an option is being considered and used.

The aim is to ensure that the use of reduced timetables is limited solely to those circumstances where it is absolutely necessary.

The draft guidelines are underpinned by the principles that a reduced timetable should not be used as a sanction or as a behavioural management tool and that it should be applied proportionately and should last only as long as is necessary to facilitate a return to school on a full-time basis.

Schools will be required to formally notify Tusla over the use of reduced timetables.

Speaking on Tuesday, Mr McHugh said: “If parents have concerns about the use by a school of a reduced timetable for their child they can contact their local Educational Welfare Officer, who has statutory responsibility for ensuring that the rights of the child to an education are upheld and will advise them on the most appropriate type of action.

“My Department will continue to work closely with Tusla Educational Welfare Service and with the NCSE (National Council For Special Education) to ensure that, where in the very limited number of cases a reduced timetable is deemed necessary, such measures will be used for only time-limited periods.”

Fewer than 25% of schools in Ireland have special classes, the committee heard.

We must start with the premise that every child has a legal right to education Thomas Byrne

Committee chairwoman Fiona O’Loughlin said: “A lot of parents who have difficulties in terms of their children having shorter school days because of different issues are absolutely exhausted trying to deal with the system.

“No matter what, we have to remember that schools are not just a place for academic learning, it is a place for students to grow and develop emotionally.”

Fianna Fail TD Thomas Byrne said: “This practice is a national scandal and has to end.

“We must start with the premise that every child has a legal right to education.

“We have to ensure that each child right to education is upheld. If schools can’t cope then the resourcing or training is not there.”

Catherine Martin, deputy leader of the Green Party, said: “I am not convicted the guidelines released yesterday will ensure that the use of reduced timetables is the exception rather than the norm.”

She said that schools need to outline the exact reasons for reducing a student’s timetable adding that the guidelines are “not rigid enough”.

Sinn Fein’s Donnchadh O Laoghaire said that they system was being abused.

“The level of abuse and the time that people were out is absolutely unacceptable and I am glad there is movement now,” he added.

“There is no excuse for the fact some schools were allowing this to happen  and it was happening in schools that were under significant pressure and additional resources should be put into those schools.”

Labour’s Jan O’Sullivan said that a large number of Traveller children are subjected to reduced timetables, while Sinn Fein Senator Paul Gavan accused Mr McHugh’s department of “constantly failing children”.

Mr McHugh told the committee: “The (school) principle will inform Tusla and if reduced timetables are used there has to be a reason and continuing explaining. We will be very clear and transparent around that.”

PA

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