Thursday 22 August 2019

Pressure put on schools over lack of places for special needs pupils

Education Minister Joe McHugh. Photo: Frank McGrath
Education Minister Joe McHugh. Photo: Frank McGrath

Katherine Donnelly and Breda Heffernan

Education Minister Joe McHugh has told schools they must do more to fulfil their obligations in providing places for children with special needs.

Amid growing protests over difficulties facing many parents, he also expressed concern about the lengths to which they have to go to identify a place.

He said he had asked his officials to work with the special education service to improve the information being made available to parents.

The minister reminded schools that he now had power to compel them to make additional provision for a child with special needs, but said he believed it should only be used as a measure of last resort.

His comments came as frustrated parents gathered outside the Dáil to protest at a lack of school places for their children with autism or intellectual disabilities.

Sharon O'Brien from Glasnevin, Dublin, said she been applying for a place in an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) unit for her five-year-old son Tadhg.

She has tried as far away as Drogheda, Co Louth, without success. Tadhg, who has autism and a moderate intellectual disability, is due to start school in September.

"I have 10-plus rejection letters. There is just no place for him and he needs an ASD unit," said Ms O'Brien.

Linda Comerford, spokesperson for the Enough is Enough Every Voice Counts campaign, which organised yesterday's protest, said allocation of school places feels like "a national lottery".

She said it was unacceptable parents had to apply 30km away from their homes - or even farther - for a place.

Irish Independent

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