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New rules proposed to limit schools teaching 'difficult' children for fewer hours

Concerns have been raised over the use of reduced timetables.

Image: Shutterstock/maroke

THE DEPARTMENT OF Education has proposed tightening the rules on the use of reduced timetables, following concerns about schools reducing the time in school of difficult-to-manage students. 

Minister for Education Joe McHugh announced today that schools will need to formally notify Tusla if they’re using reduced timetables. 

In June, the Ombudsman for Children Dr Niall Muldoon told the Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills that reducing the time a child spends in school over a long period of time can have a “serious and long-lasting impact”.

The new proposed guidelines have been formulated by the Department of Education, the Department of Children and Tusla. 

As part of the rules, schools will need to inform Tusla’s educational welfare service when a reduced timetable is introduced for a student, as well as explaining the reasons behind the decision. 

Schools will also need to get the consent of parents or guardians to use a reduced timetable. 

“A reduced timetable is not in any way a standard aspect of a child’s experience of school and must not be allowed to become such. It should be an exceptional measure,” McHugh said in a statement. 

“It has to be accepted that in some cases it may be necessary to use a reduced timetable, for example, as a means of assisting the reintegration of a pupil to a school routine, but such arrangements must only be adopted in limited and time-bound circumstances,” he added. 

The new guidelines will see Tusla charged with monitoring the use of reduced timetables and get schools to set out a plan of action to re-integrate a child’s back into a full school day. 

Evidence suggests that children with disabilities,with emotional and behavioural difficulties or children from a different cultural background such as Traveller or Roma communities are disproportionately affected by reduced timetables. 

Muldoon warned in June that reduced timetables might 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”.

Inclusion Ireland, which represents people with intellectual disabilities, called the proposed rules a “step in the right direction”. 

“Schools should only impose short school days in very exceptional circumstances and never in hidden and informal ways. Monitoring of this practice is the first step towards ensuring that this is the case,” Enda Egan, CEO of Inclusion Ireland, said. 

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