Funds needed to integrate children with special needs, says O'Toole

 

THE Education Bill has been criticised for its failure to address the problem of educational disadvantage. The Conference of Religious in Ireland said the Bill should distinguish between different types of special educational need and should recognise the disadvantages associated with poverty.

It also called for a more focused evaluation of the proposed education boards and a commitment to their role in promoting equality of access and second-chance and community education.

The Bill's proposal that pupils with special needs should be integrated by the education boards without provision of the necessary resources to do so was described by Senator Joe O'Toole as "disingenuous".

There was mixed reaction to the other general provisions in the Bill. The National Parents' Council (Primary) said the statutory right accorded parents to set up parents' associations was significant and also welcomed parents' rights of representation on school boards of management and the proposed education boards.

The National Parents Council (Post-Primary) said it regretted the lack of definite proposals on the membership of the proposed education boards and on the development of the schools' psychological services. It said the new appeals procedure was "the most important part of this legislation".

In contrast, this was described by Mr Charlie Lennon, general secretary of the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland, as "a bonanza for lawyers" and a "political gimmick".

The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children said it would lobby to have the appeals procedure extended to children under 16.

Mr O'Toole said it was right that parents should have an appeals procedure, but said it was "utterly unacceptable" that the appeals board proposed would not have a teachers' representative.

"Teachers will not have and cannot be expected to have confidence in an appeals procedure which gives a two-thirds majority to the employer side with no employee representation," he said.

The Bill was also criticised for the additional workload it would place on principals. "Many of the tasks that boards of management are being asked to undertake will increase the workload of the school principal, who is the executive arm of the board," Mr George. O'Callaghan, general secretary of the Secretariat of Secondary Schools, said.

"Again, one person is being asked to undertake extra work without the provision of support structures to enable them to discharge those duties fully," he said.

Mr Diarmuid O Murchu, president of the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools, said the extra duties would place "an increasing administrative burden" on principals which would prevent them from achieving their full potential.

Archdeacon Gordon Linny of the Church of Ireland "welcomed the consultative process that preceded the drafting of the Bill" and looked forward to examining it in detail. "We will be watching its progress as more than an interested party," he said.

The president of the Teachers Union of Ireland, Ms Alice Prendergast, welcomed the requirement to establish boards of management in all schools and the decision to drop the so-called "religious veto" over teacher appointments from the published Bill.

The Bill's absence of safeguards for the religious ethos of schools was criticised by the Supreme Secretary of the Knights of St Columbanus, Mr Patrick J. Shortall.

Following the removal of the "religious veto", he called on the Minister for Equality and Law Reform, Mr Taylor, to resist efforts to remove a similar section from the proposed Employment Equality Bill, which exempts religious institutions from certain anti-discrimination provisions.