Saturday 21 September 2019

Minister urged to act over short school days for disabled pupils

Education minister Joe McHugh. Photo: Niall Carson/PA
Education minister Joe McHugh. Photo: Niall Carson/PA
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Education Minister Joe McHugh is giving "active consideration" to the widespread practice of schools putting pupils with disabilities on short days, often because of behavioural issues, according to his spokesperson.

One in four children with a disability is being "suspended" through the use of reduced timetables, researchers found.

The figure rises to one in three with autism, and it does lasting damage to children and their families - educationally, emotionally and financially, according to the research report.

In many cases, the shorter days are "illegal" and the findings have prompted a new call on the minister to compel schools to meet their obligation to educate children with disabilities.

The research, by a team from Inclusion Ireland and Technological University (TU) Dublin, involved a survey and interviews with parents.

It is the basis of the report published yesterday, 'Education, behaviour and exclusion: The experience and impact of short school days on children with disabilities and their families in the Republic of Ireland'.

Lead author Deborah Brennan of TU Dublin said children were being denied their right to an education because of the lack of acceptance and accommodation of their differences.

"Many parents told us they are being forced either to accept a short school day or to remove their child from school," she said.

The research found the average short day lasted only two to three hours, with many children forced to attend school for less than an hour a day.

"It's very worrying to us, the impact that short school days are having on both parents and children," Inclusion Ireland CEO Enda Egan said.

He said it was causing severe anxiety in the children, so much so that many have indicated not wanting to go to school at all.

"Families are also suffering significant financial loss as they scramble to keep afloat and hold on to their jobs with being available to mind a child for extra hours each day, or to collect their child from school at a moment's notice."

Earlier this year, Mr McHugh said all children had a right to a full school day, and short days should not be used for "behaviour management".

Researchers found children's behaviour was the most common reason that schools give for imposing short school days. Ms Brennan said "schools appear to be using a short school day as a behaviour management 'shortcut', without consulting experts".

Irish Independent

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