The Education in Focus report from the Ombudsman for Children (OCO) highlights the case of “Lorcan” whose parents had noticed unexplained and unusual bruises and bite marks on his body. They decided to take the child out of school in April 2012 and brought a complaint to An Garda Síochána who initiated an investigation with the HSE into the allegations of abuse.
In September 2012, Lorcan’s parents applied to the Department of Education and Skills for home tuition funding while he waited for a place in a different school. This request was refused. The department was of the view that he was ineligible for home tuition as he had been voluntarily removed from his original school and still had a place there.
The department later funded home tuition in February 2013 but, by then, Lorcan had been without education provision for seven months. Further delays in processing an application for home tuition occurred between October 2013 and December 2013 when a school place could still not be found.
The OCO found the handling of the case had “negatively impacted” the boy and made recommendations to the department.
In 2014 representatives from the department met with Lorcan’s family, apologised for the delay in processing the applications, and approved home tuition until a school place became available. He started his new school in September 2014.
“The Department of Education and Skills has accepted that there are cases where children do not fit easily into schemes and that a clear process for dealing with such applications is necessary,” said the report.
Another case from 2015 referred to a teenager in residential care who was without a school placement or home tuition for a full school year. As a result, he was forced to defer his Junior Cert exams.
Another case dealt with a child in foster care who had been expelled from school and was subsequently denied a place in 28 other schools. The child eventually received a place after.
Since 2010, the OCO has handled 3,148 complaints about schools. Last year, almost half of the total of 1,699 complaints received by the body related to education.
Speaking after the publication of the report, Children’s Ombudsman Niall Muldoon said the education system needed to be agile and adapt to the needs of individual children.
“It is important that children receive education and supports that meet their needs at different times of their lives. This requires an education system to be flexible in taking a child-centred, individual approach where necessary.”