School imposing reduced timetables in a way that is ‘not solely child centred’

Warning from the Oireachtas Committee on Education contained in first statutory report on the issue

 Niall Muldoon, Ombudsman for Children, said ‘I think it’s something we need to go after quickly. I would say four or five years would sort it out.’ Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Niall Muldoon, Ombudsman for Children, said ‘I think it’s something we need to go after quickly. I would say four or five years would sort it out.’ Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Schools are imposing reduced timetables on children in a way that “may not be solely child centred”, a landmark report on the issue warns.

The report from the Oireachtas Committee on Education, published on Thursday, is the first statutory report on the issue .

The practice entails a school reducing a child’s access to the school, telling their parents or guardians to bring them in for just a few hours or less each day. In the majority of cases these are imposed on already marginalised children - including Travellers, economically disadvantaged children and those with intellectual disabilities.

The practice is not monitored by the Department of Education or Tusla and because the children are in for at least some of the school day, they are marked ‘present’ and their reduced attendance remains invisible.

The committee plans more hearings in the autumn but published this first report on Thursday to ensure the issue received attention before the new school year starts at the end of August.

Noting every child’s Constitutional right to an education the committee “rejects the use of reduced timetables unless it is clearly shown to be in the interest of child concerned and with the agreement of the child’s parent(s) or guardians(s)”.

Evidence to the committee, from parties including Traveller advocacy organisations, intellectual disability charity Inclusion Ireland, and, the Irish Primary Principals’ Network suggested “in some cases the use of reduced timetables may not be solely child-centred”.

Committee chairwoman Fiona O’Loughlin TD (Fianna Fáil) said it was accepted that “in some very limited instances a reduced timetable is better than suspension of expulsion”. Of particular concern however was the absence of guidelines and of monitoring by Tusla - which manages education and welfare services.

Committee member, Jan O’Sullivan TD (Labour) said: “With reduced timetables we’ve uncovered something most of us weren’t aware of, that they were used to such an extent. Data collection is crucial.

“We struggled around saying reduced timetables shouldn’t be used at all because we got evidence that in some cases it can help keep a child in school. There should be intervention at a much earlier stage and the parents have to be involved on an equal power basis.”

Ombudsman for Children, Dr Niall Muldoon said: “I think it’s something we need to go after quickly. I would say four or five years would sort it out. That’s when you start to get equality again, when you’re talking about giving all of our children the equal opportunity, giving out teachers the equal opportunity.”

The report makes five recommendations, including an audit of how many Traveller children have been put on reduced timetables; that the practise be “strictly monitored through a defined mechanism” including that Tusla and the Department be notified whenever a child is placed on a reduced timetable with the rationale for it; that a complaints procedure be available to parents who are dissatisfied with the practise; the bringing forward of legislation to clarify the practice, and, that inspectors record their use during inspections.