Schools imposing reduced hours on disadvantaged children
Placing pupils on reduced timetable without consent considered ‘a form of suspension’
Practice affected “particularly vulnerable children and young people experiencing behavioural difficulties, disabilities or social and emotional challenges”. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien
Disadvantaged children’s access to education is being curtailed across the State by schools imposing “reduced timetables” on them.
Children’s rights advocates are calling on the Department of Education and Tusla to compel schools to record and report when and how often they impose the measure and to introduce legislation governing the practice.
Neither body collects data on reduced timetables.
The practice entails schools reducing children’s access to the school, telling their parents or guardians to bring them in for just a few hours or less each day.
Although the Department of Education says reduced timetables should be used only in exceptional circumstances, never as a behavioural management tool and only with the parents’ consent, organisations report children on reduced timetables in response to behavioural and mental health issues, and sometimes without parents’ consent.
June Tinsley, head of policy with Barnardo’s, said she was aware of cases in Limerick, Wexford and Dublin. It affected “particularly vulnerable children and young people experiencing behavioural difficulties, disabilities or social and emotional challenges,” she said.
A spokeswoman for the Irish Traveller Movement said: “The matter of Traveller children being sent home from primary school mid-morning – on reduced timetables – has been raised with us many times this year, from south county Dublin, Fingal, Dublin West, Offaly and Kerry.” It has also been raised by Travellers in Donegal.
Dr Niall Muldoon, Ombudsman for Children, also said he was aware of the issue. “No child should be deprived of their right to education due to the lack of services or support to meet their needs in a school setting,” Dr Muldoon said.
“Children who are demonstrating challenging behaviour have as much right as any other child to access their education.”
Tusla said every child should attend a full school day “unless exempt”. The department said placing a child on a reduced timetable without the parent’s consent was considered “a form of suspension”.