We welcome the recent report on the provision of school places published by the Ombudsman for Children’s Office. Commenting on the report’s findings, the Ombudsman for Children, Dr. Niall Muldoon, said:
“The OCO is of the view that any failure to include children with SEN within the mainstream school system, for any reason other than to facilitate their effective education, constitutes discrimination”.
The report makes a number of recommendations to address the problem that has left a number of children across the country waiting for a school place this September. These recommendations, designed to eliminate the barriers impeding the right to education for children with SEN in the communities in which they live, include:
1. Forward Planning
- Home tuition should operate as an emergency measure only and as a last resort.
- The Department of Education (DES) must publish a plan ensuring that there are sufficient school places to meet the needs of all children with SEN within their local communities.
2. Access to Psychological Assessments in the Short-Term
- The Department of Education (DES) must ensure access to a psychologist through NEPS or other services for the estimated 4,000 children awaiting an assessment.
3. Building Local Capacity
- All schools, particularly all post-primary schools, be required to construct or re-purpose existing accommodation in order to meet the needs of children with SEN locally.
4. Engaging Schools, Parents and Students
- The Department of Education (DES) must engage with schools, parents, and children with SEN.
- The Department of Education (DES) must gather data on the number of children requiring SEN supports in mainstream primary and post-primary schools.
- The Department of Education (DES should publish annual data on the number of children with SEN without an appropriate school placement.
- The current review of the EPSEN Act must include Sections 3 to 13 of the EPSEN Act 2004, and decide if these sections should be commenced or changed, or whether new legislation is required to ensure that individual educational plans (IEPs) for children with SEN are rights-based, child-centred and inclusive.
- There must be engagement between the Department of Education (DES) and the HSE, as well as the Department of Health and the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, with respect to both the review of the EPSEN Act and the delivery of specialised supports in schools.
- A review of Section 37A of the 1998 Education Act must consider if an amendment is required.
Section 37 of the Education Act 1998 addresses issues relating to Education Support Centres and the regulations governing their establishment and management.
7. Access to Therapeutic Assessments and Supports
- The Department of Education (DES) and the HSE must ensure that children with SEN have access to assessments and supports in all education settings
8. Investing in Teachers
- The Department of Education (DES) must arrange for all teachers to engage in specialist SEN and training in inclusion annually.