Parents frustrated over lack of places at Cork special schools

Parents frustrated over lack of places at Cork special schools

Parents have expressed their frustration and concern over the lack of available places for their children at special schools in Cork and they are calling for urgent action to address the issue.

PARENTS have expressed their frustration and concern over the lack of available places for their children at special schools in Cork and they are calling for urgent action to address the issue.

Among them is Mary Hickey, whose son Andy is currently in a special school setting that caters for children up to the age of 12.

Andy is currently in a special school setting that caters for children up to the age of 12.
Andy is currently in a special school setting that caters for children up to the age of 12.

Andy has a dual diagnosis of autism and an intellectual disability, and is due to leave the school this summer.

His parents had hoped that he would secure a place in another special school setting that caters for older children. However, they have been advised that the school is oversubscribed.

Ms Hickey said the only option available to them at this time was to find a home tutor, who can teach Andy at home for 20 hours a week from September.

However, the Cork mother said she didn’t feel this was suitable for her son.

“That’s not an answer for Andy,” she said. “He needs [a school setting], not just for the academic side; he needs the life skills, the social skills, the interaction — he needs all that to succeed in life,” she said.

Ms Hickey said her other three children had gone through the education system with ease, but this wasn’t the case for Andy.

It’s a situation that shouldn’t occur.”

Abbey is now on a waiting list for a place in a special school in September 2022.
Abbey is now on a waiting list for a place in a special school in September 2022.

Ms Hickey’s concerns were echoed by Claire Madden, who is in a similar situation and has also been advised that there were no places available for her daughter Abbey, who is also turning 12.

Abbey also has a dual diagnosis of autism and an intellectual disability.

She is now on a waiting list for a place in a special school in September 2022. Ms Madden said she had contacted a number of other schools to try to find a place for Abbey, but was told they were either at capacity or that her daughter didn’t meet the criteria.

“There is no place for her, only at home.”

Ms Madden said she was concerned about how home tutoring would work for Abbey.

“Home is home to Abbey, and school is school. It’s one or the other. She loves going to school,” she said.

Ms Madden said that she felt that children like Abbey were being forgotten about.

Kayla is also without a school place for Septmeber. 
Kayla is also without a school place for Septmeber. 

Aisling Henebry is also facing a similar situation with her daughter Kayla, who also has a dual diagnosis of autism and an intellectual disability.

“I’m left in limbo now with no places to go,” she said.

Ms Henebry said that the only option available to her was also home tuition. However, she said that Kayla needed her routine and being in a school setting.

“Her only friends are her friends she gets to meet in school... Without a school placement, it’s not just her education being taken away, I’m taking away part of her life,” she said.

These parents are hoping that solutions can be urgently found to the problems they are facing, for example, through making more places available in appropriate school settings.

Some parents dealing with multiple refusals 

The issues and concerns being faced by the three Cork families are not unique to them, however.

Sinn Fein TD Donnchadh O Laoghaire. Photo:Gareth Chaney/Collins
Sinn Fein TD Donnchadh O Laoghaire. Photo:Gareth Chaney/Collins

Sinn Féin spokesperson on education and Cork South Central TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said he had been contacted by a number of parents who were worried about whether their children would have a place in a special school in Cork in September.

“For children who don’t get a place in a special school, a lot of the parents might end up homeschooling or home tutoring, and that’s extremely demanding. There are parents out there with multiple refusal letters and they just don’t know what they are going to do next September and some are even worried about the following September,” he said.

Cork special schools 'essentially full'

Fianna Fáil spokesperson on special education and Cork North Central TD Pádraig O’Sullivan said that special schools in Cork “are essentially full”.

Padraig O'Sullivan TD Pic; Larry Cummins
Padraig O'Sullivan TD Pic; Larry Cummins

He said that more than 20 children did not have a place in a special school at present and were not in any school. They were most likely receiving home tuition, he said.

Speaking to The Echo, he noted that, throughout the pandemic, people have said there’s no replacing in-class tuition, adding: “And here we are, with [circa] 23 children with special needs, and many with profound special needs, [being asked to] be at home with their parents full time and homeschooled. To me that is unacceptable,” he said.

Mr O’Sullivan said the issue wasn’t a new one, but had come to the fore and was particularly acute at the transition from primary-aged to secondary-aged education.

He said that, while a commitment had been made to establish a new special school in Cork, a more immediate solution was needed, such as renting a temporary facility.

“They [the department] are looking at short-term/medium and long-term responses to the special school deficit. I want to see a short-term one because I want to see kids being able to attend school in September,” he said.

A spokesperson for Micheál Martin said: “The Taoiseach believes every effort should be made to meet the needs of families with children of special needs.

“The Department of Education has responsibility for provision of special needs places and is aware of the priority to provide additional capacity.”

NCSE 'acutely aware' of need for additional placements 

When contacted by The Echo, a spokesperson for the Department of Education said that the National Council for Special Education (NCSE), which has responsibility for co-ordinating and advising on the education provision for children nationwide, was “acutely aware of the need for additional special education placements in Cork”.

The spokesperson said the NCSE was “continuing its engagement with schools, patron bodies, parents and other stakeholders to bring these placements on stream. This is a priority for both the department and the NCSE, with ongoing discussions to explore and consider both short- and long-term options to provide additional capacity in the system.”

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