Parents’ alarm over low take-up of summer catch-up programme for vulnerable pupils

Government says it is working with schools to provide necessary resources and supports

Many parents say they are worried that schools are not signing up in sufficient numbers to host summer “catch-up” programmes of education aimed at tens of thousands of vulnerable children.

Earlier this month the Government announced an expanded summer programme for up to 81,000 children who have lost out most as a result of school closures such as pupils with additional needs and disadvantaged students.

While staff are paid, the participation of schools, teachers and special needs assistants is on a voluntary basis.

A survey of more than 1,400 parents by the autism charity AsIAm this week found that almost 55 per cent said their local schools had not confirmed whether they would  run the programme.


Schools have until Thursday, June 10th, to indicate whether they will run the programme this summer.


The survey indicates that competing administrative demands and uncertainty over staffing and supports on offer for schools and children may be among the reasons for the low take-up so far.

Adam Harris, chief executive of AsIAm, said he was hopeful that clarification on some of these issues by the Department of Education on Wednesday will result in more schools opting into the programme.

In a message to schools, the department confirmed that the number of teachers and SNAs (special needs assistants) for special class and special school programmes will remain the same as those provided during the school year.

In the case of schools running the summer programme for mainstream students with complex needs and those at risk of education disadvantage, they can form groups of “up to” 12 students supported by one teacher and one SNA.

Schools may also apply for additional teaching and SNA support where there are more than six children with complex special educational needs.

“We welcome this clarification and hope it will ensure that the maximum number of schools will apply to run the programme,” he said.

“The department has worked with stakeholders to address many of their concerns. Ultimately, it will rely on individual schools, teachers and SNAs engaging with this to make it a success.”


Mr Harris said if take-up is lower than expected, he said it was vital that ring-fenced funds for the programme are used to provide other supports for vulnerable children.

A spokesman for the Department of Education said it would continue to work with all stakeholders to support parents in accessing summer provision, and with schools to ensure they have the resources and supports necessary to successfully run the programmes.

He added that where schools do not offer the programme or where parents cannot offer a placement, parents of children with complex needs can access a home-based programme using teachers or SNAs.

The department is also providing funding for a “programme overseer” to administer the scheme which it says allows for preparation time, faster payments of staff, ease of administrative burden on schools and greater guidance materials on programme content.

However, Inclusion Ireland, which represents people with intellectual disabilities and their families, said delays in confirming details of the programme have impacted on time for school planning and parents' ability to source tutors.

Lorraine Dempsey, Inclusion Ireland's interim chief executive, said progress on the issue so far has been extremely disappointing.

She called on the Government to redouble its engagement with the education sector to overcome the barriers holding back the scheme this year.

“We’re extremely disappointed with progress on the summer programme for children with additional educational needs,” she said.

“ The scheme, as it is, does little to ensure that children with mild intellectual disabilities and those with the highest support needs can benefit, unless something radical changes,” she said.

“We’ve heard reports of extremely low take-up among schools, real difficulties among parents in sourcing home-based tutors, the exclusion of children with mild intellectual disabilities in mainstream education, and, most worryingly, anecdotal evidence of the exclusion of children with high support needs from the scheme by schools and tutors.”

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent