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Schools are teaching 'difficult' children for fewer hours as an invisible way of suspending them

Ombudsman Dr Niall Muldoon said anecdotal evidence shows some children suffer disproportionately from “reduced timetables”.

File photo
File photo
Image: Shutterstock/maroke

SCHOOLS ARE INAPPROPRIATELY reducing the timetables of difficult-to-manage students as an informal way of suspending them, the Ombudsman for Children has said. 

Dr Niall Muldoon is set to appear before the Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills today, and will tell members that reducing a child’s time spent in school over a long period can have a “serious and long-lasting impact”. 

He will also say that the government should put in place a statutory framework to deal with reduced timetables, and make sure they are used in the correct manner.

Reducing the amount of time a child spends in school is a measure taken, often as a response to “a child’s challenging behaviour when there is a lack of available learning supports for the student, while others use it as a disciplinary method”, children’s charity Barnardos says

According to Dr Muldoon, anecdotal evidence suggests that some cohorts of children are affected disproportionately from reduced timetables, such as children with disabilities, children with emotional and behavioural difficulties or children from a different cultural background such as Traveller or Roma communities.

“At the moment the use of reduced timetables is invisible. There are no guidelines on its use, no guidance on recording its use and no external monitoring. Therefore there is no oversight of its use in individual schools,” the Ombudsman said. 

It is important to highlight that reduced timetables are used as a positive intervention in exceptional circumstances to support children at a particularly difficult time when a full day at school may be an insurmountable challenge… 
However, even in these circumstances safeguards need to be put in place to ensure that the use of a reduced timetable is time-limited, in the best interests of the child and put in place without putting any pressure on the child’s parents or guardian.

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Dr Muldoon said the government should be proactive in collating nationwide data on the use of reduced timetables in schools. 

He said that the prolonged use of this in schools can make children feel “unwanted by the school community, they may be perceived as different by their peers, they may stop seeing school as a positive place and they may even drop out of school”.

“This is a serious issue that needs to be addressed for the benefit of children and for schools,” the Ombudsman added. 

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Sean Murray

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