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'Parents should refuse,' says author of report which finds shorter days forced on 25% of children with disabilities

Update: Parents who are forced to accept a shorter school day for their children with special needs, should refuse to do so the lead author of a new report has suggested.

The report, Education, Behaviour and Exclusion: The Experience and Impact of Short School Days on Children with Disabilities and Their Families in the Republic of Ireland, included a poll of almost 400 parents of children with disabilities, conducted by academics for Inclusion Ireland.

The research found the average short school day lasted only two to three hours, with many children forced to attend school for less than an hour a day.

Lead author of the report, Deborah Brennan of Technological University Dublin, told RTÉ radio’s Today with Sean Rourke “parents should just refuse if they are told their child has to have a shorter day.”

Fianna Fáil’s education spokesperson Thomas Byrne, told the same show that this is a national scandal and is a breach of a child’s right to free education. “It is absolutely outrageous and it is time to say to the Department that enough is enough.”

"Parents should not accept if their children are being sent home early," he added. "The Government is not providing the necessary resources."

It is necessary to emphasise “time and time again how wrong this is,” said Mr Byrne.

Earlier: Report finds quarter of children with disabilities being denied full day at school

A report has found that one in four children with disabilities are being denied full school days as 'short school days' are being imposed upon them by schools.

New research shows that the figure rises to one in three for children with autism.

The findings are contained in a report, “Education, behaviour and exclusion: The experience and impact of short school days on children with disabilities and their families in the Republic of Ireland”, published by researchers from Inclusion Ireland and Technological University (TU) Dublin.

They are based on an extensive survey and interviews with parents.

“Children are being denied their right to education because of the lack of acceptance and accommodation of their differences,” the report’s lead author, Deborah Brennan of TU Dublin’s Centre for Critical Media Literacy and School of Multidisciplinary Technologies, said.

“Many parents told us they are being forced either to accept a short school day or to remove their child from school.”

Inclusion Ireland, the National Association for People with an Intellectual Disability, has called on the Minister for Education to compel schools to meet their obligation to educate children with disabilities and curtails the "widespread, hidden and often illegal suspension" of children with disabilities by placing them on short school days.

The group said the children miss classes and opportunities to socialise with other children.

Brennan’s co-author, Dr Harry Browne of TU Dublin’s School of Media, added: “We found that short school days are doing lasting damage to children and their families – educationally, emotionally and financially.”

The research found the average short school day lasted only two to three hours, with many children forced to attend school for less than an hour a day.

“It is very worrying to us, the impact that short school days are having on both parents and children,” Enda Egan, CEO of Inclusion Ireland, said.

“It is causing severe anxiety in the children, so much so that many have indicated not wanting to go to school at all."

“Families are also suffering significant financial loss as they scramble to keep afloat and hold onto their jobs with being available to mind a child for extra hours each day or to collect their child from school at a moment’s notice.”

Short school days, also known as “reduced timetables”, were the subject of hearings by the Joint Oireachtas Education Committee earlier this year.

The Minister for Education and Skills, Joe McHugh, has said that all children have a right to a full school day and that short school days should not be used for “behaviour management”.

The research, however, finds that children’s behaviour is the most common reason that schools give for imposing short school days.

“Schools appear to be using a short school day as a behaviour management ‘shortcut’, sometimes when dealing with quite serious behaviour problems, without consulting experts outside the school or addressing root causes,” Ms Brennan said.

“Some of these ‘challenging behaviours’ are ways that children normally act when they have a certain condition – so this is simply discrimination,” she said. “And some behaviours are a response to how a child is treated in school.”

Dr Browne added: “The fact is, schools are taking advantage of their relative autonomy in the Irish system to avoid their obligation to educate children with disabilities.”

Mr Egan said: “The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Ireland ratified only last year, provides that people with disabilities shall have the same right to avail of, and benefit from, appropriate education as their peers. Inclusion Ireland is calling on the Minister for Education to compel and monitor schools so that they stop blocking the admission of children with disabilities, including by their admissions policies.”