In the past week (April 30 – May 7) Inclusion Ireland conducted a survey of parents of children with disabilities who are trying to home educate. 733 parents responded.
Children with intellectual disabilities and autism are missing school a lot. For children with complex behaviour and medical needs home education is very difficult or non-existent, despite the best efforts of parents and teachers. The experience of parents across the country varies widely with some children having daily class via Zoom and access to educational materials and smart applications from their teacher but some other children are having little or no contact or education provision.
Parents are struggling to provide any form of education to disabled children while also trying to work from home, work on the front line and isolate at home, or minding other children or elderly adults.
There is a small group of children who have no access to any form of technology to engage in virtual/online schoolwork. There is also a group of children with complex needs who cannot access education unless it is provided in person. For these children education has stopped.
Without access to school and therapy supports some children and their families are struggling to cope with the impact of the change the closing of schools has had on their lives and routines. They are finding it hard to adapt.
The Department of Education and Skills (DES) needs to treat the COVID 19 crisis in special education as the crisis it is. There has been virtually no action from the DES to date to support children with intellectual disabilities and/or autism who may now be without school for 6 months or more.
Inclusion Irelands Report to the Minister for Education makes the following recommendations
- Schools must contact parents of children with disabilities to conduct a technology audit. The DES must then respond by providing technology and materials that is accessible to engage in virtual online classes immediately.
- Any distance learning provision must be accessible.
- The DES must resource schools to send out books, workbooks, iPads with educational materials preloaded and arts materials to children with disabilities as a matter of urgency. An alternative is to make a grant available to parents to purchase such materials as required.
- The DES must determine best practice in virtual education of what is working well and ensure all schools have the capacity and resources to implement as a matter of urgency.
- The DES must make therapy resources available through existing resources used for the pilot inclusion model, NCSE resources and in partnership with the HSE. This must be done swiftly using virtual or remote technology to support children with disabilities.
- The DES needs to examine the possibility of home tuition/July provision in the home or school in line with public health guidelines. This is a particular need for children with complex learning or behaviour needs who are unable to interact with education in a remote manner.
- The DES needs to assess and plan for children with complex medical needs. It is unlikely these children will be in school in 2020 so longer-term planning for accessible home education is required. This may be required for all children if there is a second wave of COVID-19.
- When schools begin to reopen, children with disabilities must not be discriminated against, and must return to school at the same time as their classmates. In certain cases, an early staged return may be needed in advance to allow the child to re-engage in education.