It it lawful to put my five-year-old on a reduced-hours timetable?

Ask Brian: Limiting a child’s access to schooling is a failure by the education system

There have been  numerous reports of children’s attendance at school being restricted to the bare minimum number of hours each day. Photograph: iStock

There have been numerous reports of children’s attendance at school being restricted to the bare minimum number of hours each day. Photograph: iStock

 

My five-year-old daughter started school in September 2018. We knew she needed extra support in the classroom. Unfortunately, she was simply branded as “bold”, isolated from her peers and put on a reduced-hours timetable. We removed her from school before Christmas. She is now flourishing at a new school. We feel angry at the way she was let down. How is this lawful?

To take a four- or five-year-old child away from her fellow pupils and teacher, leaving her isolated, without any teaching input, and then send her home each day after she is deemed to have completed enough time on the premises to be marked present is a complete failure on the part of those responsible for her education.

From the more detailed letter you sent me, it is clear your child’s behaviour indicated she had special needs. It is also evident that while her teacher attempted to meet those needs while still teaching 29 other children, the principal was not supportive.

A charitable interpretation of how the principal responded to this situation indicates a lack of initial management training on how to manage situations where newly admitted children require special support.

A more jaundiced interpretation would be that the principal knew exactly what would be required to meet the child’s needs but opted to pressurise you to take your daughter out of the school and find another school who might be happy to accept her.

It is deeply concerning that of late there have been numerous reports of children’s attendance at school being restricted to the bare minimum number of hours each day.

This allows a principal to mark the child present, thus avoiding having to notify the appropriate State agency of absences of more than 20 days. This legalistic behaviour is an appalling way to treat vulnerable children, and in no way fulfils our obligation to educate them to the level of their potential.

The principal in this case might well claim that for health and safety reasons they had no choice other than to remove this child from a class of 30 children. They could cite a lack of Department of Education resourcing for situations where a child entering a junior infants class clearly has learning support needs. What is inexcusable in this case is a policy of constantly finding reasons not to be available to meet the child’s parents to discuss the options to resolve the difficulties.

I am pleased that through your own actions in removing your child and finding another school which is now educating her to her full potential, she seems to be recovering from the trauma she experienced in her previous school.

I hope that in highlighting your daughter’s case, those in authority ensure it cannot happen to another junior infant pupil.

Email queries to askbrian@irishtimes.com