Summer programmes in special schools must be made compulsory around the country, a Fine Gael Senator has said.
Speaking in Seanad Éireann, Senator Micheál Carrigy urged that children with the highest educational needs are not left without supports for summer 2024 after many were denied access to programmes this year.
Senator Carrigy, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism, said: “After meeting with a large number of parents’ groups, one issue came to the fore early on, namely, the lack of summer provision in special schools.
“We issued a report in October 2022 and engaged with the Department of Education and the Minister of State with responsibility for special education, and new rules, guidelines and supports were put in place for summer 2023.
“We opened a portal for students training in therapies in colleges and ECCE-qualified staff who were very well-educated to ensure they would be available to work in the programme.
“The committee sent a questionnaire to all 130-odd special schools in the country, collated the answers and issued a report. A total of 35% had difficulty in recruiting an organiser, 48% had difficulty in recruiting internal staff, 18% had difficulty in recruiting external staff and 20% did not have available school buildings. One in five said it could not run the programme because school buildings were unavailable.”
Senator Carrigy continued: “In 2022, of the 8,682 children in special schools, 16% had a programme of two or four weeks.
“In 2023, with all the changes and supports introduced, 27% had a programme. We need to address this issue for 2024 to ensure 100% of children in special schools have access to these programmes.
“We need to make this compulsory. We have a portal for staff who are available and want to work to provide this service so there is no reason for any special school not to put that in place.
“I want us to start the process for 2024 now and I appeal to every principal and Board of Management to do their utmost to ensure this is in place.”