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One in four children with a disability being denied a full school day, report says

A survey found that 24% of all children with disabilities have experienced short school days for at least some part of their education.

A lack of resources has been cited as the reason for denying children full school days.
A lack of resources has been cited as the reason for denying children full school days.
Image: Shutterstock/ESB Professional

ONE IN FOUR children with disabilities are being denied a full school day, against the wishes of their parents, according to a new report. 

Inclusion Ireland, with the Technical University Dublin surveyed the parents of children with disabilities, and gathered data in relation to the duration of school days and noting the reasons provided by schools when their child’s schools days were cut short. 

It found that 24% of all children with disabilities have experienced short school days for at least some part of their education, often against the wishes of their parents. 

This means they were removed from school before their school day was due to finish and sometimes for extended periods of time ranging from a day to several months.  

Boys with a disability had a 27% chance of experiencing a short school day compared to girls who had a 17% chance of a short school day.

Meanwhile, children with autism or ASD were found to be particularly vulnerable to being removed from school as 32% reported short school days during their child’s education to date. 

The report claims that short school days can be justified when, for example, a child’s medical needs, as certified by a pediatrician, recommends it. 

However, it says short school days are a form of suspension which, under the guidelines from the National Educational Welfare Board, can only be imposed by a school’s board of management. 

The report says short school days are unlawful in Ireland as children with disabilities are entitled to “avail of, and benefit from. appropriate education as do their peers who do not have disabilities” under the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act, 2004. 

The research by Inclusion Ireland is based on a survey of 393 responses, as well as interviews with professionals and parents who have children in various school settings including mainstream, special units, and special schools. 

“The most common response for hours of attendance was two to three hours per day for both primary and secondary school children,” it found. 

Parents were told “their child’s behaviour” was to blame for them being removed from the school in almost half of the cases, while “just over a quarter of respondents said schools cited a lack of resources or staff as a reason for proposing a short school day”. 

The knock-on effect this had on parents was also documented in the report. 

More than 80% of respondents said it had a negative health impact on at least one parent, while 30% said their children’s school exclusions had caused them to seek professional help for themselves. 

Nearly two-thirds said it had resulted in a loss of sleep for at least one parent, while two-thirds said it had adverse impacts on another adult such as a grandparent or friend. 

Criticism 

The findings of the report has led to criticism from politicians who say the Government is not taking appropriate action to address reduced timetables. 

Fianna Fáil’s education spokesperson, Thomas Byrne said Education Minister Joe McHugh had turned a “blind eye to this matter”. 

“The official position is clear, the Department states that children are entitled to be at school for the full day.

“Tusla have confirmed that they consider reduced hours to be a suspension. The constitutional rights of some of the most vulnerable children in our education system are being denied through an illegal practice.”

Responding to the report, Minister McHugh said: “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.

McHugh added that there is “record investment” in special education of €1.9 billion, some 13,400 special education teachers and almost 16,000 Special Needs Assistants. “Resourcing of schools in this area has dramatically increased in recent years and the use of reduced timetables should be only ever be an exceptional circumstance,” he said. 

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