Four leading advocacy organisations representing children with special educational needs and their families, AsIAm, Down Syndrome Ireland, Family Carers Ireland and Inclusion Ireland, have criticised the Government for making significant changes to plans to re-open schools on a phased basis with no prior consultation with disability representative organisations. The changes announced this evening will negatively affect almost 20,000 children with additional educational needs.
The announcement, made by Taoiseach Mícheál Martin, will see approximately 20,000 students with additional needs fall behind almost 300,000 students in Junior, Senior, First and Second class in the order of returning to school, despite the Government repeatedly stating that children with additional needs would be prioritised.
Speaking following the Taoiseach’s address, a spokesperson for the groups said:
“We are incredibly disappointed for thousands of children and families we represent who, having been told repeatedly by Government that their return to school was the absolute priority, now find themselves completely de-prioritised. The fact that this has come with no prior consultation with their representative groups only adds insult to injury. We have repeatedly sought to engage with Government and with Minister Foley to highlight the issues facing children with additional educational needs in mainstream classes and more specialist settings but have received no substantive engagement or correspondence in over a month.
“To be clear – we recognise the need to get all children back to school, and the impact school closures is having on all groups. But they are having a significantly more severe impact on children with additional educational needs, who cannot access remote learning in the majority of cases. These children need to the priority – but now they are being told that they won’t be back until everyone is back. There is a sense from Government that the mission was accomplished when the partial re-opening of special classes and schools was announced, even though the majority – over 20,000 students with additional needs – attend mainstream classes and have not returned to school. Despite the announcement of a supplemental support scheme – which parents have found inaccessible and unworkable for many– these children are still waiting for progress
“There is a sense tonight that children with additional needs have been left behind, their interests relegated and de-prioritised. We are once again requesting clarity for these children from Government tonight – and calling on the Government and the Department of Education to drastically improve their communications and engagement with representative groups, which has been critically lacking in recent weeks.”