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“All children grow up together, go to school together, play together, and help each other, while learning about their various differences – that is the future I would like to see.” In his foreword to OCO’s Plan for Places report that came out on 21 June 2022, Dr. Niall Muldoon wrote about his hopes for an inclusive education system for all children. This would mean that children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) receive equal access to education close to home, just like their brothers, sisters and neighbours.
The OCO wrote the report because children with SEN are fighting to get suitable places in schools when under the UNCRC: “all children should have equal access to education regardless of the child’s gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, disability, parentage, sexual orientation or other status.” In fact, the report stated that, 4,000 children are waiting for a diagnostic assessment. Why is this important? Because a child needs to be diagnosed to get the services they need – including the right education. Around 15,500 children with SEN, who have school places have to travel very far to go to school because there is often no school place in their local community that can meet their needs. The OCO hopes that the government takes the recommendations in the report into account when it is reviewing 37A of the Education Act 1998.
Here are some of the recommendations that the OCO made:
- In the first place, the OCO outlined that better forward planning is needed for the provision of school places for children with SEN and for the Department of Education to be proactive on this rather than reactive
- In some circumstances, when children can’t access schools or don’t have a school place, they are home-schooled. The OCO recommended that home tuition should only be an option for limited periods and used as a last resort
- The OCO also recommended that the Department of Education makes sure that children currently waiting for a diagnostic assessment have access to a psychologist
- The OCO asked that all schools are made to, and resourced to, make any changes they need to so their environments are inclusive for children with SEN
- The OCO also said that there needs to be more training for teachers on supporting children with SEN in the classroom
You can read the full OCO report Plan for Places here and all of the recommendations that were made (page 68).
On 28 June 2022 Minister of State for Special Education, Josepha Madigan, and Minister for Education, Norma Foley, brought in emergency legislation - Education (Provision in Respect of Children with Special Educational Needs) Bill 2022.
In response to this, the Ombudsman for Children's Office released a statement. It said that even though they welcome the move to make schools and the National Council for Special Education co-operate, everybody has to make an effort to help each other to achieve this in the shortest amount of time possible. The Ombudsman for Children’s Office also said that Section 37A is a last resort and what is really needed is a focus on forward planning.
Children with SEN should be able to have the same access to education as their siblings and not have to travel far from their home to go to school. The OCO ask that a focus on special classes in the bill does not put off a move towards an inclusive education model.