Concern over summer schemes for children with special needs

While further details on the Government’s plans have been welcomed, concerns still remain over the viability of summer programmes for children with special educational needs.
Concern over summer schemes for children with special needs

Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh T.D. together with the Minister for Health Simon Harris, and Minister of State for Disability Issues Finian McGrath. Photo: Julien Behal
Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh T.D. together with the Minister for Health Simon Harris, and Minister of State for Disability Issues Finian McGrath. Photo: Julien Behal

While further details on the Government’s plans have been welcomed, concerns still remain over the viability of summer programmes for children with special educational needs.

On Friday, Joe McHugh, the Minister for Education, officially confirmed that summer programmes will be offered to students with a wide range of complex and varied needs.

This is in acknowledgement of the adverse effects extended school closures have had on these students and their families.

Programmes are also being put in place for students at most risk of disadvantage in DEIS schools.

Separately, the HSE is aiming to run summer camp-style programmes for up to 1,200 children with complex needs.

However, the summer programmes are dependent on the number of teachers, SNAs, staff members and schools sign-up. It is expected that there will be a significant demand for the schemes.

Families of children with complex needs have felt the “deepest impact” of the school closures, Mr McHugh said.

“Teachers and schools have made huge efforts in the last three months. They deserve enormous credit for that.” He added that he hopes schools, teachers and SNAs feel they can get involved in the programmes, and the department will assist them.

However, concerns around the programme still remain for his political opponents.

Thomas Byrne, Fianna Fáíl education spokesman, said more information on the proposals is needed, like how the summer programme will take place in classrooms, and the willingness of schools to take part.

“This information needs to be provided as soon as possible.”

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, Sinn Féin education spokesman, said he is concerned that enough “preparation” for the scheme has not been done by the Department of Education.

“That schools, families and teachers won’t have been in a position to organise themselves,” he said, adding that many families may end up disappointed as they will not be able to find a programme or place for their child.

“The Government may try to shift blame onto the schools but the reality is that it will be their failure to plan for this scheme. If that is the case, building up the hopes of these families is a deeply unfair thing to do.”

The plans for summer programmes published on Friday are "incomplete", according to Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Labour's education spokesman.

“Many schools who previously provided this service have indicated that they will not be able to offer a programme this summer because the announcement is so late."

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