Many children with special educational needs won’t be able to participate in the summer education programme because of lack of transport, it was warned today.
The programme is specially designed to cater for pupils with special needs, to provide a structure and routine outside normal school year.
It is regarded as even more important this year because of the closure of schools since March 12 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
But an advocacy group said today that “many schools that are taking part in the scheme are telling parents that transport will not be available.”
“Parents are also reporting that transport is a major issue and will be a barrier to some children attending the summer programme and there are significant fears for September.”
This, said Enda Egan, CEO of Inclusion Ireland, is despite a Department of Education commitment to get pupils to schools.
Parents also have the option of employing a tutor at home, as an alternative of sending a child to school, but it can be difficult to find a tutor.
Mr Egan was addressing the Oireachtas Covid-19 Committee, which held a special session on the summer education programme.
To date, about 200 schools have signed up to deliver the programme, while 9,200 parents have registered for a home-based tutor.
The scheme has been expanded this year to include more categories of children with special needs, but Mr Egan told the committee that while this was welcome, it continued to exclude cohorts of children with disabilities.
He said overall it has been “characterised by poor planning, leaving schools and families frustrated and in the dark.”
Mr Egan said it continued to exclude most children with intellectual disabilities, including those with Down Syndrome at second level.
“This is despite them having the same risk of regressing in education as their primary school peers,” he said.
Inclusion Ireland Community Engagement Manager Mark O’Connor said he could not see why primary school children could avail of something that was not open to a 13-14 year olds, with the same condition, at second-level.
“Those children have the same issues as children at primary level,” he said.
On the transport issue, Inclusion Ireland chairperson Lorraine Dempsey said pupils with special needs live quite a distance from their school and if the school did not arrange transport, it could be logistically difficulty for parents to drive the child to and from school themselves. A grant being offered to parents to arrange their transport would not be paid until the autumn, she added.
She said it would mean in come cases, even where a child is offered school-based provision, they will not be able to take it up.
Ms Dempsey said in some cases, transport arrangements between schools and local contractors had terminated since the March closure.
Mr O’Connor told the committee there was one special school in Cavan, Monaghan and Louth and parents could face an hour and a half long drive each-way twice a day, to bring a child to the school.
Ms Dempsey said that while 9,200 parents had registered for a home-based summer programme, to date, it did not mean that they would all be in a position to avail of it.
“We won’t know until October how many actually managed to get tutors. We know already families are having difficulties trying to provide a tutor, “ she said.
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With childcare services starting to re-open next week, there's a real sense of life returning to normal. Except of course this is the new normal. Crèche drop-offs will be different, parents kept at bay, classes may be smaller.