Schools, reduced timetables and safety

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Sir, – Why is there no reference in the article “Children on reduced timetables ‘denied education’” (News, November 16th) to the disruption and possible denial of the other children’s education which the behaviour of some children causes in a classroom situation?

Indeed, in the most extreme cases, children with serious behavioural difficulties can pose a physical threat to the other children in their proximity.

Individual schools can neither comment on the behaviour of individual children nor on the disruption and denial of other children’s education to which that behaviour may give rise. I am sure that you are well well aware of that, despite your highlighting a “no comment” response. On the other hand, in the interests of a balanced article, you might have made an effort to at least speculate on the reasons why such behaviour leads to reduced hours or to find independent qualified commentators rather than to quote only those whose role is to advocate for children whose behaviour leads to exclusion.

The interests of the children might have been better served by a careful examination of the support services which are rarely available when required in situ to cater for children who engage in difficult behaviour as an expression of their familial or other personal difficulties.

I am sure that schools and their advocates would be willing to provide lots of support material for an article highlighting the need for proper and readily available support services. – Yours, etc,

CHARLIE LENNON,

Blackrock, Co Dublin.

Sir, – I agree wholeheartedly with Ombudsman for Children Dr Niall Muldoon when he states that, “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”. Such statements of the ideal, however, are not good enough. More helpful to frontline educators in the classroom would be integrated action by the Department of Education, Tusla – the Child and Family Agency, the HSE, et al, in providing the necessary services and supports to schools, committed to, but struggling to fulfil, such ideals of inclusion.

Schools cannot be expected to continue to make up for the inadequacies of other services and bear criticism when forced to take decisions to reduce hours in those circumstances where the welfare and safety of individual children and entire school communities are at stake. I would ask Barnardos, Inclusion Ireland, the Irish Traveller Movement and others who have commented to continue to direct their concerns to those with responsibility for providing support and resources to our schools. – Yours, etc,

Rev NORMAN

McCAUSLAND,

(Chairman,

Board of Management

Springdale National School),

Raheny, Dublin 5.

Sir, – Some Deis schools, like mine, serve communities with the most complex and persistent levels of poverty nationally, as well as dealing with the cumulative effects of that disadvantage. We have to balance the rights of the individual child with complex emotional and behavioural needs with the rights of all the children in the school, who also have a right to access education. No child should be deprived of their right to an education due to the extremely challenging and disruptive behaviour of another child.

Managing extreme behaviour at this level takes up an exorbitant amount of teacher and management time, and very little outside support is available. There is currently a one-year waiting list to access our local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. The whole school community is adversely affected when dealing with extreme behaviour, an atmosphere of tension, apprehension and fear is felt in the school as staff try and cope with difficult situations, affecting the teaching and learning in the school.

In my experience, a child is only put on a reduced timetable after numerous strategies and interventions have been tried, when their behaviour threatens the health and safety of others in the school, when the school is at breaking point trying to cope with the volatility and aggression of the child, and when the child simply cannot cope with a full day when the resources to support the child are not available.

The staff and I in our school care deeply about our pupils and want the best for all of them. The teachers and special needs assistants go above and beyond their job description to meet the complex needs of our children, and this deserves to be acknowledged. Blame should not be thrown at schools as they strive to cope with deep-rooted and complex issues in children caused by failures in society. – Yours, etc,

ORLA HANAHOE,

Tallaght, Dublin 24.

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