Parents of children with disabilities and young people who have experienced short school days spoke movingly at the launch yesterday of 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”.
Over 50 people, representing the education and disability sectors, were in attendance at the launch which was held at the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.
Margaret Turley said ‘Everyone deserves a right to be educated and being treated equally in school is the beginning of a fair chance in life’. Margaret was a member of the team who produced the research which was a collaboration between Inclusion Ireland and the Technological University of Dublin.
The report highlights that 1 in 4 children with disabilities are being 'suspended' by short school days and this is being done in an undocumented, hidden manner. They are marked in on the roll and sent home early with no formal record of suspensions in the form of short days. The numbers rise to 1 in 3 where autism is concerned.
The research found that children’s behaviour is the most common reason that schools give for imposing short school days and can be a behaviour management ‘shortcut’, sometimes when dealing with quite serious behaviour problems, without any outside experts being consulted.
Children suffer significant feelings of anxiety
Lead author on the research, Deborah Brennan, described the effect of short school days on children, the anxiety and exclusion it causes and, in many cases, children do not want to go back to school at all.
Orla, a parent, spoke at the launch about her daughter's experience and the isolation it leads to. She said the system needs to change and that ‘every child should have access to a school regardless of their ability'.
Lauren, an 18 year old student from Dublin was diagnosed with Asperger’s at the age of 15. Lauren described the turmoil of her adolescent years as a result of short school days and said ‘the education system needs to be more compassionate and less like a conveyor belt’.
Long lasting effects on parents
The financial impacts of shortened school days on families are often long lasting. Parents suffer physical and mental health problems including loss of sleep and a quarter have sought professional help.
The research findings showed that one in four parents had to stop work due to having to be available to pick up their child at a moment’s notice. Two parents spoke at the launch about the impact on them as parents.
Rachel, parent of a 9-year-old with autism and ADHD, spoke of the stress of getting phone calls from the school to come and collect her son. Rachel said that ‘teachers need to be trained so as to be able to support children with disabilities in schools’.
Calls for action
Catherine Martin TD and member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Skills launched the research. She said ‘It was heart breaking to hear the stories of children who have been excluded from schools on the basis of their disabilities. Deputy Martin called on the Minister for Education, Joe McHugh, to ‘issue a directive to end this practice’.
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.
Read the report at this link
Read the press release at this link
Watch RTE's news report at this link