Eight-week summer gap 'not acceptable' for children with additional needs

Eight-week summer gap 'not acceptable' for children with additional needs

The Oireachtas autism committee addressed the need for more special education summer programmes. (L to R) in front is Joan Collins TD, Marian Harkin TD, Senator Micheál Carrigy (Committee Cathaoirleach), and Senator Catherine Ardagh. Standing is Marc Ó Cathasaigh TD, Jennifer Carroll MacNeill TD, Senator Eileen Flynn, Pauline Tully TD, and Pádraig O’Sullivan TD. Picture: Maxwells

An eight-week gap of school during the summer holidays is “not acceptable” for families of children with special educational needs.

That is the view of TDs and senators, speaking at the Oireachtas autism committee today, as it met to continue its discussions around education policy and autistic people.

The committee heard from the Teaching Council's acting director Phil Fox, and representatives of teachers, special needs assistants (SNAs), and school principals. 

Speaking during the committee, Cathaoirleach Micheál Carrigy said summer provision is a particular concern. 

July provision 

Access to summer programmes, previously called ‘July provision’, has been expanded in recent years, but sign-up from schools, teachers, and SNAs is voluntary. 

Many special schools also do not run programmes over the summer holidays. 

“We have towns with multiple children with a need where there is no provision taking place," Mr Carrigy said. 

In the vast majority of our special schools, it's not taking place, it is not acceptable. 

Mr Carrigy asked the Teaching Council if it would support letting those working in education, but who do not have a Teaching Council registration number, to work on the summer programmes. 

“My own personal belief is it should be mandatory for all special schools across the country to provide that provision.”

Phil Fox told the committee there are currently 116,000 teachers on the Teaching Council register, making it the largest professional register in the country. 

Fine Gael deputy Jennifer Carrol McNeil asked the Teaching Council what number of teachers previously made themselves available for July provision. 

“Because what it looks like on the face of it, there is a very large number of people available, who are paid comparatively very well, and we don't have this service for our most vulnerable children. So that's our point of frustration.”

This summer, many teachers were exhausted after two years of working through a "very difficult environment" due to Covid-19, Anne Howard of the Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) said. 

In previous years, many teachers who took part in summer programmes were also left waiting until December for payment. 

Due to their contracts, some teachers are not paid during the summer, and must take up other work or sign on. Ms Howard said:

Because they were concerned that they would not receive a payment until December they could not allow themselves to be in a situation where they received no payments during the summer months.

Meanwhile, Andy Pike of Fórsa, which represents SNAs, said the work to accommodate Ukrainian students has been coordinated very well through the Education and Training Boards (ETBs). 

The Government could ask the ETBs to make sure there is sufficient provision within their catchment area, he added. 

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