Over 500 children with special needs are without school places

Claim that home-tuition grants were deliberately delayed is rejected by Government

Fianna Fáil said ‘a delay in the processing of home-tuition grants can lead to the most vulnerable children in our education system missing weeks of education’. File photograph: Getty

Fianna Fáil said ‘a delay in the processing of home-tuition grants can lead to the most vulnerable children in our education system missing weeks of education’. File photograph: Getty

 

More than 500 children with autism and other learning difficulties do not have a suitable school place, according to the latest official figures.

Department of Education figures provided to The Irish Times show 96 children aged six or more are in receipt of home-tuition grants on the basis that they do not have a suitable educational placement.

A further 405 children aged three or more with autism are seeking early intervention class places.

Under official rules, all children must be enrolled in a primary school placements in the September prior to their sixth birthday.

A department spokesman said the home-tuition grant scheme was aimed at providing funding towards a “compensatory educational service” for children with special educational needs who cannot access a suitable place.

There was controversy with the home-tuition grant earlier this year when forms to apply for the payment were only made available to parents on August 8th last. Parents were advised that the processing time for the grant was 15-days, which meant many were not able to hire home tutors in time for the start of the school year. These forms must be signed by a special education needs organiser attached to the National Council for Special Education (NCSE)

Records released under the Freedom of Information Act show that, in a number of cases, special education needs organisers told parents after August 8th that they had been “instructed by the department to hold off signing forms until guidelines were updated”.

This, in many cases, further delayed the processing time for home tuition, resulting in children missing out on education.

This claim conflicts with a response given in the Oireachtas recently that the department had “prioritised the processing of home-tuition applications”.

As one parent wrote in an email to the department: “I am so frustrated and upset about the way our most vulnerable children are treated. To put this level of stress on parents at the last minute is immoral.”

Departmental response

When asked if the department had issued an instruction to hold off processing the forms, a spokesman said it “did not issue instruction to the NCSE to delay the processing of home-tuition application forms”.

It added that it was aware of concerns regarding the operation of the home-tuition scheme and will review the steps involved from making an application through to getting approval, along with the associated time frames.

Fianna Fáil education spokesman Thomas Byrne said he was not satisfied with the answer given conflicting written evidence.

“A delay in the processing of home-tuition grants can lead to the most vulnerable children in our education system missing weeks of education,” he said.

“Many children who receive it have special educational needs, illnesses or behavioural issues which stop them accessing school in the usual manner. It should not be delayed for any reason, particularly an administrative one.”

He called on Minister for Education Joe McHugh to clarify urgently why special education needs organisers were being told to delay processing home-tuition applications.