Doubts over whether enough school staff will sign up for summer programme

Government initiative aims to deliver support to thousands of vulnerable students

Minister for Education Joe McHugh said he hoped schools, teachers and SNAs feel they can get involved in the sunmner programme. Photograph: Leon Farrell/PA Wire

Minister for Education Joe McHugh said he hoped schools, teachers and SNAs feel they can get involved in the sunmner programme. Photograph: Leon Farrell/PA Wire

 

Opposition political parties have questioned whether sufficient numbers of schools and teachers will participate in an “opt-in” summer programme aimed at supporting thousands of vulnerable children.

The Government published details of the summer programme on Friday, which will offer up to four weeks of in-school or home support for children with a range of special and additional needs.

In addition, all disadvantaged - or Deis - schools have been invited to apply to run numeracy, literacy and wellbeing programmes for at-risk students in advance of the new school year beginning in late August.

The programme will rely on sufficient numbers of schools, teachers and special needs assistants signing up to deliver it in July and August.

Minister for Education Joe McHugh said he hoped schools, teachers and SNAs feel they can get involved in scheme which was a “ significant expansion” of support for children and families who are most in need.

However, Labour Party education spokesman Aodhán Ó Riordáin said many schools who have previously participated have indicated they will not be able to do so because the announcement is “so late”.

Sinn Féin’s education spokesman Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD also said many schools do not feel safe signing up due to a lack of protocols and clarity on support.

The plan has been launched amid rising concern over the impact of school closures on vulnerable children.

Disability support groups says many children have regressed and lost critical skills, while some disadvantaged schools report that they have had little or no contact with many at-risk students.

Difficulties

Mr McHugh acknowledged the difficulties facing students and said the programme was designed to help re-engage students with school or vital support.

The programme will have three main strands:

- In-school or home-based supports provided by teachers and special needs assistants to help prevent regression among children with special needs.

- Summer camps in disadvantaged schools, including a numeracy and literacy programme for primary pupils and a programme of re-engagement for post-primary students.

- A Health Service Executive-led summer camp to support to up to 1,200 children with complex needs.

Special needs pupils who will be eligible for the summer provision include those with autism or severe and profound learning difficulties; children in special classes and special schools; children transitioning from early years into a special class or special school; and primary pupils in mainstream classes.

In addition, children with Down syndrome, sensory disabilities or those with moderate general learning disability or severe emotional behavioural disorder will also be eligible.

If possible, the Government says school transport will be provided to support the programme.

The programme has been welcomed by groups such as autism charity AsIAm, which said it would provide an essential bridge of summer support.

“We now all need to work together to make sure that every child who is eligible can benefit from the scheme,” said Adam Harris, AsIAm’s chief executive.

He said teachers and SNAs were passionate champions of autistic young people and will no doubt play a very positive role and help to increase capacity.

“AsIAm is calling on all those who can provide the service to do so - your support could be the difference between a child being able to return to school in September or not managing that transition,” he said.

He said the support of teachers and SNAs could could be the difference between a child and family having a really positive summer or not being able to manage.

* A dedicated online registration system for families of children with special needs to access Summer Provision is available at: gov.ie/summerprovision