Government announcement on special schools and classes, but leaves majority of students behind

A majority, 10,000 students, with special educational needs attend mainstream classes, and will not be catered for.

Down Syndrome Ireland, Inclusion Ireland and AsIAm have welcomed the Government’s announcement that education will continue for students with special educational needs in special schools and in special classes, but warned that over 10,000 students with special educational needs will not benefit from the measures announced. The groups are calling for further engagement and support for students with special educational needs who attend mainstream classes.

Under plans announced by Government this evening, Special Schools and Classes will remain open and Leaving Cert students will attend school up to three days a week whilst all other students will be asked to access remote learning. The majority of young people with additional needs now attend mainstream school and many of these students experienced regression and distress due to being unable to learn online, due to cognitive differences, during the last period of school closures in 2020.

Reacting to the Government’s announcement, the groups said: “While we certainly welcome the decision to ensure students, often with complex needs, attending special schools and classes will be able to continue to access learning in their school environments, over 10,000 students – a majority of students with special educational needs, attend mainstream classes, and will not be facilitated at all. We don’t understand this anomaly in Government policy – just last year the Summer Provision scheme was extended to facilitate these students, recognising their additional educational needs during the pandemic.

“The last closure period had a significant impact on the support needs of students with additional needs. A recent joint survey conducted by the three organisations indicated that 30% of children struggled to re-integrate into school, over 40% have required additional SNA support and some 79% of respondents said their child would need to access in-school learning should another closure period arise.

“The last lockdown had a stark impact on children with special educational needs – families reported children losing hard-won skills in the areas of communication, personal care and self-regulation whilst also experiencing major distress, anxiety and confusion at the sudden change in routine and withdrawal of support. Our families accepted this reality when COVID-19 suddenly appeared on our shores but cannot be expected to allow their children to further struggle after the Department of Education has had many months to prepare a plan to meet their needs, whilst abiding by public health guidelines. We have asked the Department repeatedly to prepare for such a scenario as this.

“We need the Government to re-engage on this issue, and ensure that arrangements are put in place to ensure these students are not left behind. We are seeking another meeting with Minister Josepha Madigan to discuss the options available to do this.”

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