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No 'specific number' on how many children can participate in Summer Programme

Ministers Norma Foley and Josepha Madigan launched this year’s programme this afternoon.

LAST UPDATE | 9 Feb 2023

EDUCATION MINISTER NORMA Foley has said that her department wants to see the “maximum number” of children with intellectual disabilities participate in the summer programme this year. 

The Minister was launching the 2023 programme alongside Minister of State for Special Education Josepha Madigan this afternoon. 

The summer programme, previously known as ‘July Provision’ and ‘Summer Provision’, was established as a four-week programme of education for children with autism and those with profound special educational needs (SEN) throughout the month of July.

The scheme was developed to reduce potential regression in learning associated with these categories of special education needs over the summer holidays.

The programme, which has a total funding of €40 million this year, is open to all schools who wish to participate. 

However, the programme has been criticised by parents of children with intellectual disabilities in the past, with a number of court cases being taken by parents whose children were denied access to the scheme. 

Eligibility criteria for the programme was expanded in 2020 and 2021, which increased the number of primary aged children with complex special educational needs eligible for the scheme from 15,000 children in 2019 to 80,000 children in 2021, according to the Joint Committee on Autism

Speaking today, Foley said the department is “seeking an increase” in the number of students participating. 

“I don’t think it would be fair at this point, to put a specific number on it. The objective is that the maximum number of schools and the maximum number of young people will have an opportunity to be involved,” she said.

“There has been great learning from the review that was done last year and as I said, lots of new initiatives and opportunities being provided this year. So in terms of the targets, that the maximum number of children and young people has an opportunity to participate.”

Foley said this year, the department is “placing particular emphasis on our special schools”.

Pilot initiative

A new Special School Programme has been included in the programme as a pilot initiative.

If a child’s special school is not running a school-based programme, a portal will be available which will allow parents to register their child’s details so that if a place is available in another location, they might be able to participate. 

A portal will also be available for teachers and SNAs to register their interest in working on a school-based programme in a special school.

unnamed (1) Minister for Education Norma Foley and the Minister of State for Special Education and Inclusion Josepha Madigan speaking at the Department of Education this afternoon. Leon Farrell Leon Farrell

The length of the day for special schools is being reduced from the full school day to 10am – 2pm but the same daily rate will be paid to staff taking part. Additional grant funding of €2,000 will also be provided for each week that a special school provides a school-based summer programme.

The Special School Scheme can also run for two-to-five weeks anytime during the school summer holidays and not just in July.

“We’re ensuring that as much as we possibly can, that we will lessen the load for schools who might like to become involved. A national coordinator has been appointed to oversee the work in the special schools especially in this regard,” Foley said.

“There will also be a schools organiser and a programme manager in each of our schools. The entire emphasis really is to make this as attractive to the schools to become involved, and indeed to make it as attractive as possible for our students as well.”

Home-based schemes

At primary level, the Primary School Scheme will provide one cohesive scheme combining the ‘Inclusion’ programme and special classes from last year.

The DEIS expanded literacy and numeracy summer camp is also available at primary level for pupils in DEIS schools. This is available to all schools in the DEIS scheme, including those that received their new DEIS status in September 2022.

The Post-Primary Scheme will be available to secondary school students with complex special educational needs and those at risk of educational disadvantage.

A home-based programme will be available for pupils with special education needs where their school is not running a summer programme or a place on a school-based programme is unavailable.

Details of the home-based programme will be published at a later date.


In November, the Joint Committee on Autism compiled a report on the programme which made a number of recommendations, including that the Department establish a dedicated liaison team to provide information and assistance to schools, and that it expand the range of professions that can participate in the programme. 

Going forward, student teachers and students in disciplines like therapy, social care and nursing and others will now be able to register their interest to work in the programme. 

“Not all staff may wish to be involved or may have the capacity to be involved over the summer so they’re offering opportunities to others who have appropriate qualifications in the area. Student teachers, those who work in specific areas of interest, physiotherapy, speech and language, whatever the case might be that they might become involved,” Foley said.

Contracted teachers and special needs assistants will be paid based on the rates they are normally paid during the school year, while substitute teachers, SNAs, newly qualified teachers and Route 5 undergraduate student teachers will be paid their standard substitution rates.

Getting to class

Transport was cited as a “major barrier” to students accessing the programme by Inclusion Ireland in 2020. 

Asked whether the department would be providing transport for students, Foley said that “every opportunity that needs to be provided for students to attend these courses will be provided for”.

“That’s why we’re making the additional resources directly into the schools. Where there are specific issues in terms of lack of transport, that’s a matter that can be raised directly with the Department,” she said.

“Our entire objective here is to ensure that schools themselves are fully resourced, that if schools don’t have sufficient staff, who for a variety of reasons might not be available, that they can avail of other staff and indeed that we will put other posts in place to support those schools.

We are open and flexible to addressing any issues that might arise that might be a barrier, either to the school or indeed to the students.

Madigan said all of the measures announced will make a difference this year, but that the department wants to build on the number of students participating.

“It’s absolutely crucial that children particularly those with complex and profound needs in special schools – we’re only talking about 8,500 children at the end of the day – can participate, for the children and of course, for the families and the parents as well,” she said.

Inclusion Ireland CEO Derval McDonagh said the charity welcomes the announcement.

“It is clear the Department have taken on board a number of concerns of previous years in the reality of the programme on the ground for children who need support during the summer holidays,” McDonagh said.

“It remains to be seen the uptake of the programme this summer but it looks hopeful in terms of additional supports at school and at home, coordination of the programme, ways to find teachers and an earlier release of the details and information so schools, teachers and families can plan for success.

These are all things we and other advocacy groups asked for and we hope they will lead to more children accessing their education and the supports they need to flourish.”
School places

The department came under intense criticism last year over a lack of school places for children with special educational needs. 

It emerged in June that the Government proposed opening five centres in Dublin in September as an emergency measure in response to a shortage of appropriate school places for children with special educational needs. 

But the plan was highly criticised by parents and stakeholders, who called it regressive and segregative to children with special educational needs. It was eventually shelved. 

The Government later approved a Bill that would allow the Minister of State for Special Education to compel schools to provide special classes for children with special educational needs more quickly.

Asked about the matter today, Madigan said she understands that “any child known to the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) currently has an appropriate placement”.

“Obviously, we’re now at very intensive engagement in terms of planning for September 2023, so we’ve written to all post-primary schools because it’s really important that that transition between primary and post primary is filled,” she said.

We’ve written to all post primary schools and have made it very clear to them that between the next three-to-five years, they will all be expected to open special classes where capacity is needed.

“It’s really, really crucial that that forecasting module that we have in place works well and we’re sharing that data between departments and indeed the NCSE to ensure that what’s happened historically, doesn’t continue into the future.”

The department said that deadline dates for registration for the summer programme will be published on its website and communicated to schools directly.

Further details of the scheme are also available on the department’s website

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