More than 1,000 children, mostly with special needs, were placed on reduced school days during the last academic year, according to the first report on the scale of the practice.
The report was prompted by controversy over whether reduced timetables are being used appropriately in schools.
While many say it is a necessary practice in exceptional circumstances to assist with the reintegration of pupils to school routines, campaigners argue that it also be used to exclude or sanction vulnerable children with behavioural problems.
A breakdown of data compiled for the 2022/23 school year shows there were a total of 1,044 “first notifications” of students on reduced school days. This represents 0.1 per cent of total student population.
Of the 1,044 students, a majority (684, or 66 per cent) had special educational needs. A small proportion (90 or almost 9 per cent) were Traveller or Roma students.
The bulk of students were attending primary (47 per cent), second level (44 per cent) or special schools (10 per cent).
Schools were advised to notify education authorities when reduced timetables continued beyond the initial period notified.
There were 342 “second notifications” and a further 170 “third notifications”, which extended the period.
The report follows a commitment in the programme for Government to ensure “reduced timetables are only used in a manner that is limited, appropriate and absolutely necessary in line with the Department of Education’s rules.”
Guidelines on the use of reduced school days, which came into effect at the start of last year, state that the consent of a parent/guardian is required in advance and the practice should last only as long as is necessary to facilitate a return to school on a full-time basis.
Minister for Education Norma Foley said it was the first time a report on reduced school days notifications has been published and was the first step in ensuring the focus is always on a “return to full-time schooling as quickly as possible.”
“Feedback from schools indicates that implementing a reduced school day can have a very positive effect on a student. It supports the student to attend school in a measured way and allows for a gradual return to a full school day but in a manner that is tailored specifically to the students individual needs,” she said.
“Schools are demonstrating flexibility with students, careful to pace expectations, not to overwhelm the learners and to progressively reintegrate them. The parents are also to be acknowledged and commended. They have shown a willingness to engage with schools and work in partnership to support their child’s education.”
Ms Foley said the data gathered will also help to inform a Traveller and Roma education strategy that is being developed and will provide further insight into supporting vulnerable students in their education journey.
“The reports will shape the policy development in this area. I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to this report and acknowledge the continued work on reduced school days,” she said..
Minister of State for special education Josepha Madigan said education authorities were working to ensure that all students are supported to the greatest extent possible to attend for the full school day.
“We are committed to supporting all children with special educational needs to reach their potential. In 2023, the special education budget will be substantially increased by almost 10 per cent, with a total spend on supporting students with special educational needs of over €2.6 billion,” she said.