Ministers urged to extend year for special schools 

Ministers urged to extend year for special schools 

Josepha Madigan said the Summer Programme is targeting educational and behavioural regression due to school closures during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Oireachtas Committee on Disability Matters has written to ministers Norma Foley and Josepha Madigan calling for the extension of the school year in special schools to reduce the impact of the long summer break.

Committee chair Deputy Michael Moynihan said that feedback from parents reveals that 26 out of Ireland's 126 special schools have already advised parents they will not run any school-based summer programme this year, even prior to guidelines being issued on July provision.

He said there is a perception that delays in issuing the guidelines have meant even more schools have made the decision to close in June.

The committee said it wanted confirmation from the Department of Education regarding the publication of the guidelines for the Summer Programme 2022 and any reasons for any delay. 

Mr Moynihan said: "Parents have communicated to the committee that schools have told parents that the reasons for their school not participating in the Summer Programme this year include unavailability of staff due to family commitments and personal circumstances and lack of guidelines from the Department of Education."

Minister of State for Special Education Ms Madigan had told the committee at a meeting on May 3 that the Summer Programme is targeting educational and behavioural regression due to school closures during the Covid-19 pandemic, adding that there was an uptake of about 75%.

However, Mr Moynihan said: “The committee are concerned that home provision may not be the solution, as highlighted by the National Council for Special Education, who noted that home-based programmes appear to be the least effective way to deliver the scheme as home tuition lacks any social dimension and requires further monitoring and regulation.

“The committee are further concerned about the low uptake rate in 2021 as parents highlighted that 80% of children attending special schools did not participate in the Summer Programme in 2021 and that there is potential for a similar situation in 2022 which may result in further educational and behavioural regression.” 

The committee said home-based programmes may not suit children with complex disabilities, who miss out on socialisation, adding:

This is causing significant levels of stress on parents, as well as their children, in the summer.

“This is deeply concerning to the committee, as there is now the need to target past educational and behavioural regression due to school closures during the Covid-19 pandemic and the continued regression caused by lack of participation in the programme. 

"The committee believe that there is a need for urgent action by the department to ensure that all children who want to take part in a school-based programme in summer 2022 get the opportunity to do so," he said.

Not compulsory

“The committee are particularly concerned because the programme is not compulsory and this means that children with complex disabilities, who are especially susceptible to regression, may not get to participate in the programme and can be left further behind.” 

The committee called on department to ensure that children with complex disabilities have access to this year’s summer programme and that the department resources schools to enable these children to participate, adding that in the long term, the department could “consider extending the school year in special schools to reduce the impact of the long summer break and phase leave across the year for staff if the summer programme cannot be developed as a standard for this cohort of children.” 

It also wants an update from the department as to how it plans to cut the risk of low uptake by schools and said the department should consider the development of the programme on a compulsory basis, including resourcing and funding requirements, along with incentivising the involvement of SNAs.

Earlier, Independent TD Seán Canney also expressed concern at the current situation surrounding the summer programme.

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