Parents who are asked to accept a shorter school day for their children with special needs should refuse to do so, the lead author of a new report has suggested.
Carried out by Technological University (TU) Dublin on behalf of Inclusion Ireland, the report sets out that one in four children with disabilities are being effectively “suspended” by short school days, also known as “reduced timetables”.
This figure is even higher for children with autism, where the figure was found to rise to one in three, the report also found.
The report found that the average short school day lasted only two to three hours, with many children forced to attend school for less than an hour a day.
Schools appear to be using short school days as a behaviour management “shortcut” in some cases when dealing with quite serious behaviour problems without consulting experts outside the school or addressing root causes, said the report’s lead author, Deborah Brennan.
“Some of these ‘challenging behaviours’ are ways that children normally act when they have a certain condition — so this is simply discrimination,” she said.
“And some behaviours are a response to how a child is treated in school.”
Speaking on RTÉ radio’s Today with Sean O’Rourke, Ms Brennan said: “Parents should just refuse if they are told their child has to have a shorter day.”
Meanwhile, the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) has said therapy services like speech and language supports are practically non-existent in schools following years of cuts.
“All children have a right to education,” said INTO general secretary John Boyle.
“Reduced timetables are never the first port of call; schools will endeavour to do whatever they can to avoid such a need arising.
"They are the last resort when a child simply isn’t coping with the full school day.”
“The National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) is severely under-resourced at present. Resources and supports are insufficient for schools to provide an appropriate education for some pupils with special educational needs.”
A spokesman for the Department of Education said that all enrolled pupils should attend school for the full day unless exempted from doing so under exceptional circumstances.
“Reduced timetables should not be used as a behavioural management technique, or as a ‘de facto’ suspension or expulsion, nor does any provision exist for the use of reduced timetables for particular pupils.”
If a parent objects to a school putting their child on a reduced timetable they can seek advice from their local educational welfare officer, he added.