One in four children with disabilities ‘suspended’ by short school days, new research shows

Inclusion Ireland, the National Association for People with an Intellectual Disability, has today called on the Minister for Education to compel schools to meet their obligation to educate children with disabilities. 

The call came at the launch of research that for the first time details the widespread, hidden and often illegal suspension of children with disabilities by placing them on short school days – so they miss classes and opportunities to socialise with other children.

One in four children with a disability has been suspended in this way – and the figure rises to one in three for children with autism, the research shows.

This is just one of the findings contained in the report, published by researchers from Inclusion Ireland and Technological University (TU) Dublin and based on an extensive survey and interviews with parents.

“Children are being denied their right to education because of the lack of acceptance and accommodation of their differences,” the report’s lead author, Deborah Brennan of TU Dublin’s Centre for Critical Media Literacy and School of Multidisciplinary Technologies, said.

“Many parents told us they are being forced either to accept a short school day or to remove their child from school,” Brennan added.

Brennan’s co-author, Dr Harry Browne of TU Dublin’s School of Media, added: “We found that short school days are doing lasting damage to children and their families – educationally, emotionally and financially.”

The report, “Education, behaviour and exclusion: The experience and impact of short school days on children with disabilities and their families in the Republic of Ireland”, is published today.

The research found the average short school day lasted only two to three hours, with many children forced to attend school for less than an hour a day.

“It is very worrying to us, the impact that short school days are having on both parents and children,” Enda Egan, CEO of Inclusion Ireland, said. “It is causing severe anxiety in the children, so much so that many have indicated not wanting to go to school at all.

“Families are also suffering significant financial loss as they scramble to keep afloat and hold onto their jobs with being available to mind a child for extra hours each day or to collect their child from school at a moment’s notice,” Egan said.

Short school days, also known as “reduced timetables”, were the subject of hearings by the Joint Oireachtas Education Committee earlier this year.

The Minister for Education and Skills, Joe McHugh, has said that all children have a right to a full school day, and that short school days should not be used for “behaviour management”.

The research, however, finds that children’s behaviour is the most common reason that schools give for imposing short school days.

“Schools appear to be using a short school day as a behaviour management ‘shortcut’, sometimes when dealing with quite serious behaviour problems, without consulting experts outside the school or addressing root causes,” Ms Brennan said.

“Some of these ‘challenging behaviours’ are ways that children normally act when they have a certain condition – so this is simply discrimination,” she said. “And some behaviours are a response to how a child is treated in school.”

Dr Browne added: “The fact is, schools are taking advantage of their relative autonomy in the Irish system to avoid their obligation to educate children with disabilities.”

Mr Egan said: “The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Ireland ratified only last year, provides that people with disabilities shall have the same right to avail of, and benefit from, appropriate education as their peers. Inclusion Ireland is calling on the Minister for Education to compel and monitor schools so that they stop blocking the admission of children with disabilities, including by their admissions policies.”

The team carrying out the research included three young adults with intellectual disabilities, Margaret Turley, Tomás Murphy and Christopher Byrne Araya. The research was funded by the Irish Research Council under a scheme that partners researchers with the community and voluntary sector.


Further Information

The report, “Education, behaviour and exclusion: The experience and impact of short school days on children with disabilities and their families in the Republic of Ireland”, is available at this link

About the Report's Authors

Deborah Brennan is a PhD candidate at the School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice at UCD, doing a thesis on education, equality and disability. She is also a lecturer in TU Dublin's School of Multidisciplinary Technologies, where she chairs the masters programme in data analytics.

Harry Browne lectures in the School of Media at TU Dublin, where with Deborah Brennan he coordinates the Centre for Critical Media Literacy. The author of three books, he has worked as a journalist for three decades and has been active in campaigns for peace and social justice.

About Inclusion Ireland
Inclusion Ireland is a national rights-based advocacy organisation that works to promote the rights of people with an intellectual disability. The organisation provides a central forum to identify priorities and formulate nationally agreed policies to present to government, statutory bodies, other relevant groups as well as the general public. Inclusion Ireland campaigns for changes in services and legislation that will improve the quality of life and participation of people with an intellectual disability in Irish society in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.