Sunday 18 March 2018

Eight autistic children still waiting for a school place after 10 weeks

The former
pupils of
ABA, which
was forced
to close due
to a lack of
The former pupils of specialist school Achieve ABA, which was forced to close due to a lack of funds
Pat McCormack with his seven-year-old daughter Meabh
Breda Heffernan

Breda Heffernan

MORE than two months after their specialist school closed due to a lack of funds, a group of eight autistic children still have no school places.

The former pupils at Achieve ABA in Donaghmede, north Dublin, have instead spent the past 10 weeks either at home or being taught by private tutors paid for by parents.

Following the closure of their school at the end of July after five years in operation, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn charged the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) to find new places for the children.

However, parents have accused the NCSE of not doing enough to meet their children's educational needs and say it has referred them to unsuitable schools.

The NCSE has denied this and said it was satisfied that a school place was available for each of the children.

But in one case, a girl was referred to an all-boys school while in another a boy was told there was a place for him at a special school, despite his parents already being told he did not meet the enrolment criteria and could not attend.


Pat McCormack, a teacher and father of Meabh (7), said her two years at Achieve had been a period of "great advancement". However, since its closure he and his wife have had to pay for a tutor for their daughter.

"At the minute we're using our savings and are looking to take out a loan to continue funding her education for the rest of the year. For the last six weeks we can only afford a little over three days a week and the other days we're home-schooling," he explained.

He said it was indicative of a "lack of care or else poor administration" by the NCSE that it identified a place for Meabh in an all-boys' school.

She was also referred to a special school in Co Louth that would entail a 400km weekly commute from the family home in Donabate, Co Dublin. When Mr McCormack contacted this school he learnt it could not cater for Meabh as she is in the moderate autism spectrum and it only takes children with mild autism.

Mr McCormack said: "Meabh hasn't received any state funding in practically a year and a half. We believe Meabh is entitled to appropriate education.

"I'm petrified, like countless parents are around the country, about their child going into an unsuitable place and their child will -- not might -- regress and lose the skill sets they have learnt," he added.

Another parent, Daniel O'Mahony, said the NCSE had identified three "possible places" for his son Aidan (9), none of which were suitable.

The first place is not available until November and even then it is unclear if Aidan will meet the enrolment criteria, which are being reviewed. The second school is 24km from the family home while in the case of the third school, Aidan has previously been told he does not meet the entry criteria.

Despite being out of school since the end of July, Aidan has also been refused a home tuition allowance and his family is instead paying for a tutor.

"Just because it (NCSE) says it has identified possible places, it doesn't mean they are suitable," said Mr O'Mahony.

In a statement provided to the Irish Independent, the NCSE said it had engaged with the parents of all eight children who attended Achieve.

"The NCSE is satisfied that a school place is available for each child and will continue to engage with these parents -- in particular those who have not as yet opted to enrol their child in one of the schools listed," it said.

Irish Independent

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