Expanded summer ‘catch-up’ programme to support up to 81,000 vulnerable children

Ministers announce €40m supports for pupils with special needs or at risk of disadvantage

All students in special schools, special classes and those with complex needs in mainstream schools will be eligible to participate in the summer programme. Photograph: iStock

All students in special schools, special classes and those with complex needs in mainstream schools will be eligible to participate in the summer programme. Photograph: iStock

 

The Government has announced an expanded summer “catch-up” programme for up to 81,000 children with special needs and disadvantaged students.

All students in special schools, special classes and those with complex needs in mainstream schools will be eligible to participate. It will also be open to students at the “greatest risk of educational disadvantage” attending Deis schools.

For the first time, all primary and secondary schools will be facilitated to run these summer programmes.

Overall, the €40 million initiative aims to support pupils to re-engage with education, build their confidence and boost their wellbeing.

Eligibility criteria have been extended this year to include second-level students with complex needs and children at risk of educational disadvantage.

Prior to this, summer programmes were only available to special schools and pupils in special classes in primary schools and in disadvantaged - or Deis - schools.

A home-based summer programme will continue to be available for children with complex needs where their schools are not providing a school-based programme. Total eligibility is set to increase four-fold, up from 23,000 last year to 81,000 this year.

All primary schools will have the opportunity to provide a two-week summer programme for mainstream pupils with complex needs and those at greatest risk of educational disadvantage.

Special needs assistants

Separately, the Department of Education has confirmed to schools that for the 2021/22 school year there will be no change to the model of allocation of special needs assistants (SNAs). The introduction of a “frontloaded” model for the allocation of SNAs will be deferred until the start of the 2022/23 school year.

The department said it had not been possible to provide the necessary information and training to support the implementation of the new model in schools.

As a result, allocations for the 2021/22 school year will be based on the actual number of SNAs employed by a school on April 30th of this year, which will be rolled over into 2021/22.

It said no school would receive a reduced allocation and there will be scope for appeals or extra support under an exceptional review process to be delivered by the National Council for Special Education.

Speaking following Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, Minister for Education Norma Foley said the summer programme would offer important education provision to children who need it most following disruption to the school year.

“We are all acutely conscious that children and young people did not have access to in-school learning for a long period of time,” she said.

“Despite the best efforts of everyone to support and engage with remote learning, not being in school has many adverse consequences. Evidence indicates that it particularly impacts children with complex special educational needs and those at greatest risk of educational disadvantage.”

Take advantage

She encouraged school communities to take full advantage of the opportunity to provide the programme to their eligible students.

Minister of State for special education Josepha Madigan said it was the largest summer programme ever and, for the first time, every student with complex needs across all primary and post-primary schools will be eligible to take part.

“This is something that I have sought to put in place and I welcome the decision to make this expanded programme a reality,” she said.

Government ministers say enhanced measures have been put in place to encourage participation of schools in this process. This includes reducing the administrative burden; funding for schools to prepare and oversee the programme; earlier payment of school staff; and recruiting final year student teachers graduating this summer.

Pupils with complex needs who have transport provided on the special educational needs school transport scheme during the school year and are attending the school-based programme in either a primary or a special school will be provided with transport.