Some schools actively discourage children with special needs from enroling

Preference for children of past pupils a ‘significant’ obstacle to Travellers’ education

Parents of children with special needs are often encouraged by the principals of mainstream schools to send their children to ‘special’ schools instead, with the excuse that they would get “better therapeutic supports in the special school” an Oireachtas Committee has been told.

Parents of children with special needs are often encouraged by the principals of mainstream schools to send their children to ‘special’ schools instead, with the excuse that they would get “better therapeutic supports in the special school” an Oireachtas Committee has been told.

Wed, Dec 11, 2013, 21:51

Parents of children with special needs are often encouraged by the principals of mainstream schools to send their children to ‘special’ schools instead, with the excuse that they would get “better therapeutic supports in the special school” an Oireachtas Committee has been told.

Mark O’Connor, speaking on behalf of Inclusion Ireland, Down Syndrome Ireland, Irish Autism Action and the Special Needs Parents Association, was addressing the Committee on Education and Social Protection. The Committee was hearing submissions on proposed new legislation on schools’ admissions.

The Department of Education in September published a ‘general scheme’ of the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill.

Mr O’Connor said the unofficial practise of some mainstream schools, of arguing lack of resources to support children with special needs, “flies in the face of inclusion”. He said a lack of resources “should never be used to force a child to go to a special school”.

Hilary Harmon, education officer with the Traveller support organisation, Pavee Point, called for the removal from the ‘scheme’ of the right of schools to give preferential access to children of past pupils. “The enrolment policies of some schools present a significant obstacle to Travellers in accessing and progressing” in education, she said.

She said 55 per cent of Travellers left school before the age of 15; Traveller and immigrant children were significantly more likely to be bullied in schools and cuts to Traveller education supports such as the elimination of the Traveller school liaison scheme, since 2011 had had a worrying impact on Traveller children, she said.

She called for all schools’ enrolment policies and application forms to be written “in plain English”. She said the principal of every primary school should be responsible for ensuring every 6th class child was enrolled in a secondary school, adding currently no person or body was responsible for ensuring the successful transfer of primary school pupils to second level.

Jane Donnelly of Atheism Ireland, said the human rights of children from non-religious families were being breached, both in enrolment policies and within the school setting. She said 96 per cent of primary schools were denominational and so secular parents usually had no choice but to send their children to such schools.

She called for an end to enrolment policies which discriminate against children from non-religious households.

“No school can call itself inclusive if at the starting point it discriminates on

religious grounds. That is not inclusion, diversity or a welcome,” she said.