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Young children with autism left without education due to funding delays

Home tutors have raised concerns that the Department of Education has failed to process tuition grants.

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CHILDREN WITH AUTISM are being failed by unnecessary delays in approving funding for home tuition, education staff have warned. 

Several home tutors who work with students with autism spectrum disorder contacted TheJournal.ie to express their concerns that the Department of Education had so far failed to approve funding applications for home support payments – potentially leaving young children without education for months even as the school term begins. 

The home tuition scheme provides what the Department of Education calls a “compensatory educational service”. 

It is funding typically provided to children unable to attend school for a variety of reasons, such as illness or if they have special educational needs. 

Children with autism receive home tuition support from tutors approved by the Teaching Council. From the ages of two and a half to three, children can receive funding for 10 hours per week. From the age of three and above, this can increase up to 20 hours until a school placement is found for the child. 

Parents and guardians must apply to the Department of Education for home tuition funding for a tutor, with special educational needs organisers (known as SENOs) operating as middlemen between the department and parents when it comes to processing application documents. 

One home tutor told TheJournal.ie, who asked not to be named over fears that it might affect the funding application, said that the child she works with has been without home education for three weeks – and was worried that child could be without home tuition until November if the application isn’t approved soon. 

Carole McGuinness, a home tutor who runs her own therapy company in Westmeath, blamed a lack of staff in her local area and unnecessarily bureaucracy from the Department of Education as the primary reason for the delay. 

“It’s administration,” she said, pointing to the fact that it was three weeks into the school-year term and there had been no tuition hours approved. 

In the Dáil this week, Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice asked the Minister for Education Joe McHugh about the delay, telling the minister that “children are losing out on valuable tuition hours and teachers are losing out on work”. 

One major problem cited by home tutors is the delay in publishing application forms, which were published this year on 8 August.

Last year, these forms were published on 26 July. 

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In a statement, a spokesperson for the Department of Education acknowledged that there had been a delay in publishing the forms. 

They said that “SENOs are processing home tuition applications as a matter of urgency”. 

“The vast majority of applications made during the summer have been processed. The department is prioritising the processing of a small number home tuition applications with a view to processing completed applications within a shorter timeframe,” the spokesperson added. 

There are approximately 14,000 students in Irish schools diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. In 2017/18, the Department of Education provided home tuition grants to 110 children aged between two and a half and three and to 484 children aged between three and five. 

Adam Harris, the founder of the autism advocacy organisation AsIAm.ie, said the issue was “very concerning” and said that it should be rectified as a matter of urgency. 

“Autistic students often need more additional support,” he said. He added that it was worrying that “very piecemeal support is not being put in place in an appropriate and timely manner”. 

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