Dublin school criticised over refusal to let three pupils with disabilities sit LCA

Junior minister accuses Clonturk college of ‘failing to be inclusive’ over the issue

 Students at Clonturk Community College Orla Fallon, from Beaumont, and James Nolan, from Drumcondra, join their parents and other supporters outside the school  to protest over not being allowed sit the Leaving Cert Applied. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Students at Clonturk Community College Orla Fallon, from Beaumont, and James Nolan, from Drumcondra, join their parents and other supporters outside the school to protest over not being allowed sit the Leaving Cert Applied. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

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Minister of State for Disabilities Anne Rabitte has called on Educate Together and the City of Dublin Education and Training Board (CDETB) to “go back and take a look at their core values” following the apparent refusal of one of their schools to provide an “appropriate” education for children with disabilities.

Clonturk Community College in Whitehall, north Dublin was showing “a lack of ambition” and “failure to be inclusive” she said after it told parents of three transition-year pupils they would not be able to take the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) from September.

The three young people, who have intellectual disabilities, have attended mainstream schools since junior infants. Last year they successfully prepared for the Junior Certificate Level 2 which is targeted at children with intellectual disabilities, and received certificates.

The LCA is a distinct programme for senior cycle, focusing on practical and vocational skills with real-life applicability, and assessed continually rather than in exams at the end of sixth year.

‘Human rights’

The three pupils’ parents say the LCA is the only appropriate pathway for them into third-level education. To deny them the LCA would be a denial of their children’s human rights, said Gerry Fallon. He said his daughter, Orla Fallon (17), who has Down syndrome, “loves” school.

“I like my friends and the teachers help me.” Asked if she is looking forward to her Leaving Cert, she smiled: “No, I hate it, but I need it for a job or college.”

James Nolan (17), who is visually impaired and has cerebral palsy, epilepsy and hydrocephalus, also enjoys school. “You see friendly faces and they are helpful from the first minute you walk in the front door until the end of the day.

“I would like to finish out my last few years here and not leave my friends. I am positive I will sit the LCA here. I would like to work in the hotel industry.”

His parents, Tom Nolan and Mary Ryan, are among about 20 people protesting outside the school since Monday.

They say they had chosen Clonturk CC for James, attracted by the inclusive ethos of its patrons.

“It opened in 2016, a new school, and we got verbal assurances the LCA would be provided,” said Mr Nolan. “On 8th February we got the email saying, not that they were throwing James out, but the only option available will be the standard Leaving Certificate. That is impossible for James.”

While the school did not provide a response, sources say at least 14 students each year must opt for the LCA to make provision viable. Just three have opted for it.

Asked what the school expected James to do from September, Ms Nolan said: “We don’t know. They said they would help them do the Leaving Cert but we know this is setting him up to fail.”

Mr Fallon said: “Orla will never be able to sit a Leaving Cert. We feel it is her right to sit the LCA. It is what she needs but she is being abandoned.”

‘Learner-centred’ school

The website of the school describes it as an “equality-based, co-educational, learner-centred” school with a “curriculum designed to meet the needs of all the students”.

The website of the CDETB, which did not respond to queries, says its disability support service aims to “enable a truly supportive, holistic educational service to be provided to students attending CDETB colleges”.

A spokesman for Educate Together said the charity did “not have a role in deciding curriculum provision in any school, as this is a matter for school management”.

On its website, Educate Together says: “All children with additional needs should have the supports that they need, when they need them.”

A Department of Education spokesman said schools were “encouraged to provide maximum access to Leaving Cert options but it is the responsibility and choice of each individual school to decide which LC programmes and subject choices to provide. In making such decisions, schools need to have regard to the number of applicants, the needs of all students and the resources allocated. As such, the LCA programme is not provided in all schools.”

Ms Rabitte, who met parents online on Tuesday, questioned whether the school or its patrons had explored options to provide the LCA despite the low numbers seeking it. “These children clearly cannot take the established Leaving Certificate – it’s not appropriate. I am calling on them to to go back and look at their core values, and find a solution that meets the needs of all their students”.