The Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh T.D. has today (Monday 23 September) announced that schools will be required to give formal notification of the use of reduced timetables.
Minister McHugh is seeking the views of education partners on proposed guidelines for the notifications.
Following consultation over recent months between officials from the Department of Education and Skills, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) and TUSLA Educational Welfare Service, arrangements to facilitate the notification and monitoring of reduced timetables have been agreed.
Proposed guidelines have been drafted to provide clarity to schools around reduced timetables and to set out the procedures to be followed by schools where such an option is being considered and used. The aim is to ensure that the use of reduced timetables is limited solely to those circumstances where it is absolutely necessary.
The draft guidelines are underpinned by the principles that a reduced timetable should not be used as a sanction or as a behavioural management tool; that it should be applied proportionately and should last only as long as is necessary to facilitate a return to school on a full-time basis.
The following proposals have been included:
· Schools will be required to notify TUSLA Educational Welfare Service when a reduced timetable is being put in place.
· A rationale for the use of a reduced timetable should be included in the report to TUSLA.
· The consent of parents or guardians will be required for the use of a reduced timetable.
· A school must set out a plan of action for the child’s full re-integration to the full-time school day.
· TUSLA Educational Welfare Service will use the notifications to record and monitor the use of reduced timetables.
· The Department of Education and Skills will continue to work closely with TUSLA Educational Welfare Service and where appropriate with the National Council for Special Education to ensure that, in the very limited number of cases a reduced timetable is deemed necessary, such measures will be used for only time-limited periods.
· If parents have concerns about the use by a school of a reduced timetable for their child they can contact their local Educational Welfare Officer, who will advise them on the most appropriate approach.
In announcing this invitation for education stakeholders to give their views on the proposed guidelines, Minister McHugh said: “Inclusion is central to this Government’s education policy and it is essential that all pupils who are enrolled in a school should attend for the full day unless in exceptional circumstances.
“A reduced timetable is not in any way a standard aspect of a child’s experience of school and must not be allowed to become such; it should be an exceptional measure.
“It has to be accepted that in some cases it may be necessary to use a reduced timetable, for example, as a means of assisting the reintegration of a pupil to a school routine, but such arrangements must only be adopted in limited and time-bound circumstances.
“The best interests of the child, their education and their development, should be paramount in any decision making by schools.”
The finalised guidelines will apply to all recognised schools.
The Minister added: “I would greatly appreciate the opinions of the education stakeholders prior to publication of the finalised guidelines.”
The Department is inviting observations from education stakeholders until 18 October 2019.
Notes for Editors
The term “reduced timetable” is often used to describe:
· a reduced day in school where, by arrangement with the school authorities, a student arrives to school after the usual starting time or leavesbefore the end of the school day, and/or,
· a reduced week where a student may not attend the full five days each week.
The Department of Education and Skills’ position is that all pupils who are enrolled in a school should attend school for the full day, unless exempted from doing so in exceptional circumstances.
While in some circumstances it may be necessary and useful to use a reduced timetable, for example, as a means of assisting the reintegration of a pupil to a school routine, such arrangements should only be put in place in limited and time-bound circumstances.
The Department of Education and Skills has now, in conjunction with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and Tusla Educational Welfare Service, drafted guidelines for schools on reduced timetables.
The finalised guidelines will set out the procedures to be followed where a reduced timetable is proposed and will allow the monitoring of the use of reduced timetables.
Prior to finalising the guidelines the Department of Education and Skills is arranging a consultation process with education stakeholders, including school management bodies.
Investment in education
· This year’s education budget is €10.8 billion. Nearly one euro in every five of this year’s budget, about €1.9 billion, is invested in supporting children with special educational needs, including those with challenging behaviour, in schools. This is the highest ever level of Government expenditure on special education.
· This provides for a continuum of special educational provision to be made available for children with special educational needs, including those with challenging behaviours, so that regardless of the level of need of the child, educational provision can be made for them.
· The number of special education teachers has increased by 37% from 9,740 in 2011, to over 13,400. The number of special needs assistants has risen by 51%, from 10,575 in 2011 to 15,950 at present.
· Schools can now allocate additional teaching support to a child whose challenging behaviour is having a significant impact on their ability to learn in school. Children do not need a special education needs diagnosis to access these supports and parents or guardians will no longer be required to get their child such a diagnosis.
· Schools may also access SNA support for children with additional care needs, including challenging behaviour.
· All schools can access in school support and CPD from the NCSE to assist their teachers in working with children who display challenging behaviour.
· The number of specialist placements for children with complex special educational needs has also been significantly increased by this Government.
· Over 1,050 additional special placements have been provided for the new school year.
· There are now 1,621 special classes, compared to 548 in 2011, including 1,355 special classes cater for children with Autism.
· 125 special schools, including a new special school established this year, also provide specialist education for students with complex special educational needs. These schools now provide over 8,000 places compared to 6,848 in 2011.
· A pre-school and in-school therapy demonstration project is being undertaken in 75 pre-schools and 75 schools to provide in-school therapeutic support for students. In addition, €4.75m was allocated in Budget 2019 for the trialling of a new School Inclusion Model of support to include in-school provision of behavioural practitioners, psychologists and regional support teams to build capacity in schools to meet the needs of their students. The outcome of this pilot will inform the future policy and service provision, including the provision of behaviour support.
· The National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) works with both primary and post-primary schools and are concerned with learning, behaviour, social and emotional development. This Government has recognised the valuable input of the National Educational Psychological Service for pupils and schools and over the lifetime of this Government has increased psychologist numbers from a sanctioned level of 173 whole time equivalent in 2015 to a current 204 wholetime posts with a commensurate increase in investment from €18m to €20.75m per annum in the period. There are currently 190 posts in the system with recruitment of some 14 new posts and vacancies currently underway.
· Supports are also provided to DEIS schools at an overall cost of €125m to 891 schools serving approximately 190,000 pupils to improve attendance, retention and school participation.
· Enhanced capitation for Traveller children in the system is provided at a cost of €1.1million.
· Actions are also being progressed under the National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy to improve educational outcomes for Travellers, including a pilot project to target school attendance, retention and participation commencing this September. Additional supports have been provided to support this pilot project in the form of home school community liaison officers funded by the Department, in addition to Traveller education workers funded by the Department of Justice and Equality and educational welfare officers employed by TUSLA.