While proposed legal changes would allow State agencies compel a school to enrol a child in certain cases, the Ombudsman for Children’s Office (OCO) said current appeal systems against refusals and provision for home tuition for children in care were inadequate.
The teenager, who comes from a very vulnerable background, was expelled from a second-level school in May 2008 because of behavioural issues.
He was in his father’s care at the time and had not secured a place before leaving the country in June 2009. After returning on his own in October that year, aged 14 or 15, he went into HSE foster care and efforts by the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) to place him in four schools failed, one of which the HSE appealed.
This was unsuccessful and the child’s social worker applied for a place at 26 schools in the first two months of 2010 before a schools finally agreed to enrol him in Mar 2010.
The department provided for the maximum allowable nine hours a week of home tuition while he was out of school. But the OCO investigation report published yesterday said, while it appreciates home tuition is designed as a short-term arrangement in such cases, the scheme was not flexible enough in cases like this where a child had high support needs and was out of school for a long time.
It found that the department’s administrative actions had an adverse effect on his educational and personal development.
The report said specific policy was needed for education of children in care to recognise the additional difficulties and challenges facing them.
The department told the OCO the basic objective of the proposed reform of school admissions was to secure a fully inclusive school system. The outlines of legislation and regulations, published in September by Education Minister Ruairi Quinn, are the subject of ongoing Oireachtas education committee hearings before a bill is drafted.
The current appeal system open to parents where a child is refused enrolment was also criticised, although it is to be replaced with a school-based appeal system under Mr Quinn’s proposals.
“It is because of cases such as this one that the minister is providing a power for the NEWB and National Council for Special Education to designate a school place, and that schools must comply with that designation,” said a department spokeswoman.
She said the issue raised on behalf of the boy was that his socialisation deficit should be addressed by home tuition, but the department had pointed out that one-to-one tutoring with an adult was not the appropriate response to the socialisation issue.
The OCO report also criticised an apparent lack of co-operation between the HSE and Department of Education to resolve the case.