“IT is incredibly bad in Cork...We need to keep the pressure on, and we need action.”
Those were the words of Gavin Owens — a parent and a spokesperson for Families Unite for Services and Support (Fuss) who was speaking following the release of a report by the Ombudsman for Children’s Office, which found that the Department of Education is failing children with special educational needs regarding the provision of suitable school places.
The report — Plan for Places: Forward Planning for the Provision of School Places for Children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) — makes recommendations to address the problem that has left a number of children across the country waiting for a school place this September.
“For children who live in provision ‘black spots’, most notably Cork and Dublin, the system can fail in its response,” the report stated.
“That such failings occur is not acceptable.”
Mr Owens said he agrees with the finding of the report.
“I absolutely agree with the report,” he said.
“They don’t have enough people. One of the major issues the schools face is they don’t know what they will have for next September yet. They don’t know what resources are going to be available to them.”
Mr Owens also said the lack of SNAs in Cork means some children are forced onto a reduced timetable.
“I have two lads aged eight and nine,” he said. “One of them is in a mainstream class with an SNA. One of them is in an ASD unit. My eight-year-old is technically in an appropriate school place. His SNA is split between four classrooms. It is of no value to him if his SNA is in another room. We don’t know if the SNA they have now will be the SNA they will have next year and how many hours will be allocated.”
Sinn Féin TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said the report is ‘shocking’.
“The report is shocking but not surprising,” he said.
“It is a scandal there are hundreds of children across the State who do not have an appropriate school place for September, many do not have a place at all, and I know that is true in Cork. It is a denial of their constitutional right to an appropriate education.”
Mr Ó Laoghaire said parents in Cork are already worried about a suitable place for September.
“Many who are looking forward to 2023 are also worried,” he said. “I welcome the Ombudsman’s report. I hope it brings renewed urgency to a severe situation.”
The report also found that as many as 15,500 children must travel outside their local catchment area every day and around 4,000 are currently waiting for a diagnostic assessment to qualify for a school place.