Parental consent to be required if schoolchild put on short days

Guidelines will oblige schools to seek leave before action taken on behaviour problems

Schools say they do not have the resources to support the sometimes complex needs of vulnerable children. Photograph: The Irish Times

Schools say they do not have the resources to support the sometimes complex needs of vulnerable children. Photograph: The Irish Times

 

Schools must obtain parental consent if intending to place any pupils on shortened days due to behaviour problems, under new rules being drafted by the Department of Education.

Campaigners say many vulnerable students – such as those with special needs or Traveller children – are regularly placed on reduced timetables as short as one hour a day in order to manage behaviour.

Schools, on the other hand, say they do not have the resources to support the sometimes complex needs of vulnerable children.

The extent of this practice is obscure as schools are not obliged to record numbers on shortened days.

Minister of State for Special Education Josepha Madigan said on Tuesday that official guidelines for schools are due to be published shortly. She said they will oblige schools to notify Tusla, the child and family agency, if a child’s hours are cut and to explain why.

The objective is to ensure that use of reduced timetables is limited solely to those circumstances where it is absolutely necessary and in a child’s best interests, said Ms Madigan.

Under the new rules, she said reduced hours should not be used as a sanction or as a tool to manage behaviour. Instead, they should be applied “proportionately” and should last only as long as is necessary to bring a child back to full hours.

Schools must also set out a plan to get the child back to full hours, while Tusla will record and monitor the use of reduced timetables.

The Children’s Right Alliance called for the guidelines to be published urgently as there was a “growing trend” in the use of reduced timetables across schools.

The group argues that the practice restricts children’s constitutional right to access education, particularly children with special needs, Traveller and Roma children and those experiencing trauma or adversity.

‘Long-promised’ guidelines

Tanya Ward, chief executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, said: “We believe a growing trend is emerging where we are seeing the increased use of reduced timetables in Ireland. Our members are reporting more cases of this kind often involving particularly vulnerable children. That’s why it’s vital that Government publishes its long-promised guidelines.”

She said that while reducing the time a child spends in school can sometimes be in their best interests, this should only be in strict and limited circumstances.

“Restricting a child or young person’s schooling to sometimes as little as an hour a day without good reason and for extended timeframes is unacceptable.” said Ms Ward.

The alliance said schools and teachers urgently need to be better equipped to support students who may be experiencing difficulties.

Ms Madigan said the guidelines aim to ensure consistency in how a child-centred approach is taken when a reduced school day is being considered.

“We have taken into account the experiences outlined in various fora by parents and advocacy groups . . . The imminent publication of these guidelines will be an important development and will put, for the first time, procedural safeguards in place with respect to the use of reduced school days.”