We, along with the three other leading advocacy groups representing students with additional needs, Inclusion Ireland, Family Carers Ireland and AsIAm, met yesterday with the Minister for Education, Norma Foley TD, and Minister for Special Education and Inclusion, Josepha Madigan TD. The groups requested the meeting to highlight the anger of families of some 20,000 children with additional needs in mainstream school who were de-prioritised by the Department in the first phase of the re-opening of mainstream schools.
The Department of Education had previously committed that children with additional needs, in special schools, classes and mainstream, would be the priority group for the return to school and secured NPHET approval for this decision prior to the initial planned reopening on the 20th January. Subsequently, a decision was taken to prioritise whole class groups over students with additional needs and so whilst children from Junior Infants to 2nd class and 6th year students returned to school on Monday, children with additional needs between the ages of 9 and 17 remained at home.
Speaking after the meeting, a spokesperson for the four organisations said:
“We communicated to the Ministers our deep disappointment both at the lack of in-school support for many children with additional needs, who cannot engage in education remotely, and the Department’s failure to communicate the decision and its rationale to families. The organisations emphasised the need to ensure that children with additional needs became the priority for the Department moving forward.
“We are conscious that even as children return to school in the weeks ahead, many will have lost key coping mechanisms and have greater support needs in school during the transition period. The Department has committed to an enhanced Summer Provision Programme and to work to secure as many schools participation in the programme as possible. The Ministers also agreed to ensure that the supports available to families through the Supplementary Scheme are communicated to schools and families and that work will continue to enable the service to operate through schools and from school buildings, outside of school hours.
“The groups requested and secured agreement from the department that children with additional needs voices must be heard on an ongoing basis by Departmental officials moving forward and the Ministers have agreed to establish a formal mechanism, with a terms of reference, to consult with our groups on relevant policy issues and programmes moving forward to ensure that the lived experiences of children and their families are at the heart of the decision making process moving forward.”