Sinn Féin spokesperson for Disability and Carers, Pauline Tully TD, has expressed her dismay at the fact that over 700 children with additional needs are excluded from a school setting.
Teachta Tully said:
“A total of 732 children in the state are currently in receipt of the home tuition grant. This, in most cases, is down to the fact that there is not an adequate number of school places for children with additional needs.
“Many children with additional needs have also experienced a reduction in their school timetable. This can be to benefit the child and should only be used as a short term measure, however, it can be and has also been used inappropriately as a punishment.
“It is also the case that there is a cohort of children who have been expelled due to challenging behaviour associated with their disability.
“While expulsions are rare at primary level – about 30 a year – they are excessively high in special schools or schools with special classes, according to latest figures compiled by Tusla.
“Pupils in special settings make up just 4 per cent of the primary school population, but account for about 66 per cent of primary expulsions.
“The mother of a sixteen year old boy with autism who was expelled last year with challenging behaviour has said that she has applied without success to 15 other schools since then, but no appropriate placement is available.
“The outcome of all of this is to effectively exclude children with additional educational needs from a school setting, leaving them isolated from their teachers, friends and peers and exacerbating issues for these children further down the line.
“Home tuition is not, and never should be seen as a long-term solution for children with additional needs, it should only be for very short periods of time.
“Parents of children with additional needs are facing educational barriers no other families have to experience. Imagine being told there is no school place for your child. That would be devastating news for a parent whose child is already facing many additional barriers in life.
“Like all parents, the parents of children with additional needs want to ensure that their children have the same educational opportunities and experiences as all other children.
“The government need to ensure that there is an adequate number of special schools and special classes in mainstream schools available to cater for children with additional needs.
“The School Admission Bill 2018 gave the Minister for Education and the department the power to compel schools to open special classes.
“A review of the operation of this provision is supposed take place after three years, this needs to happen. This power needs to be utilised much more robustly to end the problem of admissions for children with additional educational needs.
“The government also need to ensure that teachers in special schools are properly trained and equipped to properly manage children with challenging behaviour, that there is access to and use of appropriate therapeutic services, and that every possible avenue has been exhausted before expulsion is even considered.”