Schools may be inappropriately using reduced timetables as informal suspensions to deal with behaviour deemed difficult to manage in the classroom, the Ombudsman for Children has warned.
Dr Niall Muldoon is due before an Oireachtas committee on education and skills today as discussions continue on the use of reduced timetables, which sees schools reducing the number of hours a child may attend.
“At the moment the use of reduced timetables is invisible,” Dr Muldoon said.
“There are no guidelines on its use, no guidance on recording its use and no external monitoring.
“Therefore there is no oversight of its use in individual schools.”
“The prolonged use of reduced timetables as an exclusionary measure on children can have a serious and long-lasting impact.
“It may make them feel unwanted by the school community, they may be perceived as different by their peers, they may stop seeing school as a positive place and they may even drop out of school.”
Dr Niall Muldoon said it is a serious issue that needs to be addressed for the benefit of children and for schools.
“Anecdotal evidence would suggest that some cohorts of children including children with disabilities, children with emotional and behavioural difficulties or children from a different cultural background such the Traveller or Roma communities, are being disproportionately affected by the use of reduced timetables.
“With the current system, it is impossible to determine if this is the case and to what extent these groups are being affected.”
While reduced timetables can be used as a positive intervention in exceptional circumstances, safeguards need to be put in place to ensure that the use of a reduced timetable is time-limited, he added.
Meanwhile, an advocacy group is expected to call for the introduction of ethnic descriptors to determine if the use of reduced timetables is being disproportionately applied to students from the Travelling community.
The use of reduced timetables has been widespread amongst Traveller students, according to Irish Traveller Movement director Bernard Joyce.
“While there may be a need on a case by case basis for the use of reduced timetables, we are concerned about the measure becoming a permanent element in a child’s education.”