McHugh says use of reduced timetables for vulnerable pupils is ‘unacceptable’

Minister stops short of taking new steps to monitor or restrict the practice

Minister for Education says use of reduced timetables to manage the behaviour of vulnerable pupils is ‘unacceptable’. Photograph: Alan Betson /The Irish Times

Minister for Education says use of reduced timetables to manage the behaviour of vulnerable pupils is ‘unacceptable’. Photograph: Alan Betson /The Irish Times

 

The use of reduced timetables to manage the behaviour of vulnerable pupils is “unacceptable” in an education system that promotes inclusion at its core, according to Minister for Education Joe McHugh.

However, he did not say if he was taking any fresh steps to ensure the practice is monitored or to be subject to new restrictions.

Mr McHugh was commenting after a study published on Thursday found that one in four pupils with special needs have been placed on reduced hours.

The study by academics at Technological University Dublin, and commissioned by Inclusion Ireland, found the practice was largely hidden and, in many, cases illegal.

Traveller representative groups have also highlighted inappropriate use of short school days affecting pupils.

Mr McHugh said if schools feel they are unable to meet the needs of some children with behavioural issues or special needs, they should seek advice and guidance on how to meet their needs rather than taking a “unilateral” decision to remove that child from school.

“We have record investment in special education of €1.9 billion; some 13,400 special education teachers; almost 16,000 Special Needs Assistants,” he said.

“Resourcing of schools in this area has dramatically increased in recent years and the use of reduced timetables should only ever be an exceptional circumstance.”

However, Opposition parties said this response was not good enough and called for much stronger action from the Mr McHugh.

‘Blind eye’

Fianna Fáil’s education spokesman Thomas Byrne said Mr McHugh is “turning a blind eye to this matter”.

“That has to end once and for all,” he said. “Fianna Fáil are calling for the urgent introduction of Department of Education monitoring of schools regarding this matter, legislation governing these practices and engagement with schools to find out why this practice appears to be growing while ensuring schools have the adequate resources to provide children with an education.”

Green Party deputy leader and education spokeswoman Catherine Martin also said a failure to tackle this will results in the practice being normalised.

“The Minister for Education needs to take action to match his words in the form of a directive to schools stating that this practice must stop, or at the very least ensure that the use of short school days is the exception and not the norm, and is closely monitored,” she said.

While the report published on Thursday found that schools were in many cases acting illegally in the use of reduced hours, the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) insisted that primary schools are “open and inclusive places for special needs students” .

INTO general secretary John Boyle said reduced timetables were never the first port of call but that cuts to special education funding created situations where the resources available in schools were “not sufficient to provide for inclusion in that setting.”

“Schools will endeavour to do whatever they can to avoid such a need arising. They are the last resort when a child simply isn’t coping with the full school day,” he said.