A representative for school principals has said a Government Minister was wrong to name four schools in the Dublin area currently engaged in a dispute with the Department of Education about special education classes.
Páiric Clerkin, chief executive of the Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN), took issue with the stance of Josepha Madigan, the Minister of State for Special Education and Inclusion.
On Saturday Ms Madigan told RTÉ radio that she would be “relentless” and would put schools that “refused to engage” with the department in the spotlight.
She said the department has written to 14 schools about establishing places for children with special educational needs and four of them had not responded.
“We decided to publish a list of schools who hadn’t been forthcoming in opening special classes come September, in specific circumstances where we know that they have capacity,” she said.
On Monday Mr Clerkin told RTÉ's Morning Ireland that he took issue with the publication of the names of the four schools and denied they had failed to engage with the department. “That is not the case,” he said.
In some instances the schools already had special education classes and the Minister’s comments were a “gross disrespect” to parents, principals and boards of management, he said.
Mr Clerkin said two months was not enough time to prepare such classes – schools needed two years to implement the changes effectively.
He said the IPPN wanted every child to have access to their local school, and what the Minister was proposing was a “quick fix” with a short lead-in time.
Mr Clerkin said his organisation wanted to see a process where every child could attend their local school, but this would require a longer lead in time. The Minister should not be attempting to “scapegoat” schools, he said.
“We will always do what is right, to do that we need a longer period”.
The IPPN would work with the department to ensure every child has a school place, he added. The education system was based on collaboration. “We will do everything in our power. This is not the way to do it.”
On Monday afternoon, the principal of one of the four schools rejected a claim the school had not engaged with the Department of Education about the provision of special education classes.
Seamus Sullivan of Scoil Bride Boys School in Blanchardstown told RTÉ Radio’s News at One that the school had been communicating with the National Council of Special Education since February and March, outlining why it could not open an additional class this coming September.
The most recent interaction from the department came in the form of a letter on June 17th emailed to the patron of the school and CC’d to the school pointing out that the school had a room available but had not yet agreed to open a special education class in September.
The school already has one dedicated special needs class with one teacher and three Special Needs Assistants (SNAs), Mr Sullivan added.
A special education teacher was also required at all times, which meant other classes in the school were without the resource, which was the reason why the school could not provide a second special education class, he explained.
Teachers and SNAs were working incredibly hard under intense pressure, he said.
It was very frustrating to be portrayed in this light, Mr Sullivan added, when the school had been exploring every option to see what they could do about providing a second special education class.