‘My son was put on a shortened day at age five. It was devastating’

School decision to place junior infant on reduced timetable overturned by appeals body

Therapists found no evidence of any behavioural or mental health problems in the boy and concluded any behaviour was school-specific and a coping mechanism.  Photograph:  Dave Thompson/PA

Therapists found no evidence of any behavioural or mental health problems in the boy and concluded any behaviour was school-specific and a coping mechanism. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA

 

Five-year-old Conor* was put on a shortened day by his school just five months after starting junior infants.

Prior to the decision he had been removed from class multiple times and supervised by the principal in her office.

Concerns first arose when his teacher told his parents that Conor was being rough with some other children and had issues with following instruction and “colouring inside the lines”, according to his father.

His parents – a professional couple – say they were initially baffled. While he might not have always “toed the line”, there was no sign of a wider problem.

“It just didn’t make sense,” he says. “His Montessori had no problems; neither were there any concerns raised in his after-school club, horse-riding lessons or rugby classes.”

Lives ‘upside down’

Within a few months, he was spending more and more time with the principal in her office and his parents say they were being asked to pick him up from school early.

His father says he was shocked when the school in February announced it was imposing a shortened day on Conor from 8.50am-11.15am.

“It turned our lives upside down. My work revolves around the school day, so it disrupted that. But we wondered what did we do wrong. What had we not picked up? My wife lost sleep over it. I was worried. My eldest boy was asking why was his brother not in school at breaktime.”

His parents appealed the decision to an independent appeals body facilitated by the Department of Education under section 29 of the Education Act.

Coping mechanism

It ultimately found in the boy’s favour and agreed that the school had effectively suspended Conor and that he should return to a full day.

Following an eye exam, Conor was found to be “profoundly long-sighted”. Therapists found no evidence of any behavioural or mental health problems and concluded any behaviour was school-specific and a coping mechanism to deal with stress and anxiety.

His father feels his son may have struggled to adapt to the transition from a child-led Montessori school to a teacher-led class and that he was reacting to negativity from his teacher.

His parents later decided to move both Connor and his older brother to another school where they are “perfectly happy”.

“For me, the system showed no sensitivity at all to my son. The principal or the school wasn’t answerable to anyone.”

* The boy’s name has been changed at the request of his parents