JOYCE DOYLE’S son displayed “severe anxiety” which made him physically ill when he began attending secondary school.
At just 13, he was diagnosed with school phobia and doctors prescribed him sedatives to try and calm him down.
“That didn’t work of course,” his mother said. “The attitude was that he should be able to go to school. The system doesn’t understand and if someone is different they are seen as dysfunctional. After a lot of confrontations with doctors and schools I found an alternative for him.”
That alternative is iScoil, Ireland’s first online post-primary school, developed for students between the ages of 12 and 16 who have disengaged from the school system.
Funded by the Presentation Sisters, iScoil currently caters for 50 learners and is located in five clusters around the country: Dublin, the East Coast, Limerick, Galway and Longford.
According to team leader Marianne Checkley each student is assessed on an individual basis for their suitability to the programme.
Ms Checkley said since the programme started there has been a big increase in demand for the service. “We have a waiting list for September and we often have to turn people down.”
The online school has the backing of the National Education Welfare Board, which often passes on referrals.
Reasons why young people might need to avail of the service range from school phobia, illness, mental health problems or parents simply looking for a different method of schooling.
Ms Doyle, whose two older children attend mainstream secondary school with no difficulties, said there is an attitude in Ireland that every child has to do the leaving cert before going on to further education.
“Just because my son couldn’t go to school it doesn’t mean he does not want to be educated. He is FETAC accredited and is on level three. Once he has level five there are so many courses he can do. He doesn’t need to have his leaving cert to go onto further education.”
Ms Doyle said iScoil is working fantastically for her son who has a personal mentor that brings her up to speed once a month on how he is doing. “For him, it is definitely a better option than regular school,” she said.
At the iScoil conference in Croke Park yesterday, Sr Anne Marie Quinn of the Presentation Order said that after a successful three-year pilot project, iScoil is moving to the next stage of development and seeking accreditation. Sr Quinn said the increasing need for complementary learning models such as iScoil is imperative.
“We estimate that 1,000 children leave each year before completing junior cert and 43% of those were either unemployed or seeking their first job and still looking a year later,” she said.
“With the exception of residential care and home tuition there is no alternative state provision for this age group. iScoil caters for young people at risk, who have been out of school for six months and have tried other interventions.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved