Vulnerable students face ‘real risk of regression’

Disability groups to tell Covid-19 committee of children excluded from summer supports

School closures are presenting a “real risk of regression” for many vulnerable children with complex needs, the Department of Education has warned.

At a meeting of the Covid-19 special committee on Thursday, a senior department official will say the loss of regular school routine, access to teachers and vital supports risks undermining the learning, development and wellbeing of these children.

"Many families are reporting significant challenges caring for their children in the absence of these supports and routines," Dalton Tattan, assistant secretary at the Department of Education will tell the committee.

A summer programme due to get under way soon is aimed at supporting children with complex special educational needs and those at greatest risk of educational disadvantage.


So far about 200 schools have registered to run the school-based summer education programmes, which are likely to benefit 3,400 children. In addition, almost 9,200 children are registered for the home-based programme.

There are about 14,000 children attending special schools or special classes with special or complex needs.

However, Inclusion Ireland, a support group for children with disabilities, will tell the committee that the programme continues to exclude some with disabilities and has been characterised by "poor planning, leaving schools and families frustrated and in the dark".

Enda Egan, the group's chief executive, says a survey of its members found that most parents are struggling to educate and support their vulnerable children at home.

It says support from schools has been variable, from “excellent to almost non-existent”.

Pledge from McHugh

Down Syndrome Ireland will also tell the committee of its "shock and distress" that many children at second level or those transitioning from preschool into mainstream primary schools are not eligible for the summer scheme.

This is despite a pledge by Minister for Education Joe McHugh that all children with Down syndrome would be entitled to attend.

"We, alongside up to 1,000 parents of students with Down syndrome around the country, were completely blindsided when the Department of Education published guidelines on June 12th with clear restrictions on who could access the programme in July/August 2020," Deirdre Saul, the group's interim chief executive, will tell the committee.

“As a result, despite the lip service paid to promoting an inclusive education system, those children heading to mainstream primary school will be penalised rather than supported, as will those in mainstream post-primary schools.”

It says restricting the scheme to exclude some students with Down syndrome is a form of discrimination that is “impossible to understand” and it could see “no justifiable reasons” for excluding a significant number of vulnerable students.

The department has proposed making funds available for Down Syndrome Ireland to run a summer provision for post-primary students through the group’s local branches

The group said that while funding is always welcome, these students should be entitled to access the State scheme.

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