Education and the disadvantaged
Sir, – I can only hope that your editorial of Monday, 19th inst, November 19th does not reflect accurately “The Irish Times view on the education for the disadvantaged” but that it is merely a confused attempt to include socially disadvantaged children and children with behavioural difficulties under one umbrella, presumably in an attempt to validate the views in the remainder of the editorial.
Children with behavioural difficulties may be found in every stratum of Irish society. It is most likely that the vast majority of socially disadvantaged children do not have acute behavioural difficulties.
It is not worthy of The Irish Times to state in an editorial that there is “evidence of a widespread practice of excluding disadvantaged and difficult children from the normal curriculum” when there is no such evidence. Words like “widespread” and “endemic” are used in the editorial to validate views which appear to be based on hearsay. If a children’s constitutional right to education could be vindicated by putting them in a classroom with 20 to 30 other children, for a fixed number of hours per week, then there would be little difficulty in meeting that challenge. An appropriate and quality education, however, must be based on more than just locating children in a classroom.
The problem, which your editorial blithely ignores, is that the vast majority of schools are ill-equipped to provide the safe spaces, individual tuition and other services required to address the difficulties of children with severe behavioural and/or emotional difficulties. If The Irish Times is genuinely committed to finding a solution to the logistical difficulties of catering within the Irish school system for children with severe behavioural difficulties then perhaps it would ask one of its journalist to investigate the extent of the facilities and support services provided in developed countries like Finland or Norway and ask the authorities in this country why it does not replicate the facilities and services here.
Schools have to try and cater for all of the children under their care to the best of their ability.
If a school has a child with severe behavioural difficulties, such that that child poses a physical threat to other children or disrupts the education of the other children in a class, then the school has a responsibility to the other children to remove the child with behavioural difficulties to a place of safety where the child may be educated or at least the behavioural problems addressed.
To provide that appropriate withdrawal service in the school requires space, trained personnel and other expertise, which are not readily available to the majority of Irish schools. Imposing a regulation or seeking to vindicate a constitutional right will not solve those problems.
The final sentence of the editorial should, with a little adjustment, be the lead sentence of the editorial. When will the Departments of Health and Education and the HSE provide the necessary resources for childhood psychiatric and other services and facilities to schools to enable them to provide an appropriate education for all of the children of the nation? – Yours, etc,