Special needs education must be treated with the priority it deserves – Byrne

Published on: 25 August 2019

Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Education, Thomas Byrne, has said the recent reports that hundreds of children with autism and special needs are without appropriate school places ahead of the new school year are not surprising.

His comments come as Minister McHugh has very belatedly ordered six schools to open special classes to cater for children with special educational needs but without ensuring any kind of resourcing for these classes.

Deputy Byrne said, “Fianna Fáil has consistently pleaded with the Government to uphold the constitutional right to education of children with special needs.  What the Minister has latterly done is too late and too ineffective for many.

“Unfortunately, while these reports don’t come as a surprise they are deeply concerning. We know that parents of children with special needs and autism face considerable difficulty securing school places for their children. Over 850 children with special needs across the country were receiving home tuition last year because a space could not be found for them in schools.

“For many, even when they are provided with a space, they are faced with reduced timetables for which no oversight responsibility is taken by the Department of Education. Each and every child has a right to education to enable them to live a full life and to realise his or her potential. We know that for some, this hasn’t been the reality.

“Fianna Fáil have long acknowledged the issues with special needs education, in fact back in July we brought a specific motion before the Dáil to address the shortfalls in special needs education – this was unanimously accepted.

“The standoff between Minister McHugh and the six schools is totally unacceptable. Fianna Fáil fought for the Education (Admissions to Schools) Act to provide the Minister with powers to compel schools to provide children with special needs with classes.  Almost two months ago I called on the Minister to be much more proactive in its application to ensure every child with a special educational need has that need met before September 2019.

“Yet he decides to use these new powers the week before the new school term, causing chaos and stress for many families.  The Minister has not promised resources or training to enable these classes to open. Special needs education must to be treated with the priority and urgency that it deserves. It shouldn’t be a matter for the Minister the week before school begins.

“Children with special needs are being treated appallingly by this Government”, he concluded.

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