Lack of clarity on schools 'causing major distress' to families, autism charity says

The head of an autism charity has appealed for clarity from both the Department of Education and ...
Jack Quann
Jack Quann

07.51 19 Jan 2021

Share this article

Lack of clarity on schools 'ca...

Lack of clarity on schools 'causing major distress' to families, autism charity says

Jack Quann
Jack Quann

07.51 19 Jan 2021

Share this article

The head of an autism charity has appealed for clarity from both the Department of Education and INTO teachers' union over the re-opening of special schools and classes.

Adam Harris, CEO of As I Am, said a lack of clear information and concreate commitments is causing major distress for families.

It comes after the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) said "serious safety concerns" must be addressed prior to any re-opening of schools.


The union claims teachers' safety concerns have not been adequately addressed by the Government, and has called on the Department of Education to reconsider plans to resume in-school special education this week.

On this, Mr Harris told Newstalk Breakfast both sides need to give clarity as to what it is they are looking for.

"For the third time this morning we have families across the country, who support the most vulnerable children in the State, waking up to confusion.

"What I think is astonishing about this back and forth between unions and the department is we're hearing a lot about how professionals need time to return to the classroom.

"But what I think is being completely overlooked is that for our young people, returning to school first and foremost is about vital developmental skills that make a difference in quality of life.

"But second of all, it's not a case of just getting up on Thursday morning and throwing on your uniform, it requires intense preparation to support these young people to return to the classroom.

"And just the lack of respect in giving people clear information and making concreate commitments is causing major distress to our families.

"So I think what we need today is clarity: we need clarity from the department about the supports they can put in place for teachers.

"We need clarity from the unions in terms of what they actually want, and what success actually looks like - and finally we need clarity about how the Constitutional right for these children to an appropriate education is going to be provided."

The INTO said teachers have serious concerns about public health advice in relation to the planned limited re-opening of special education.

"Teachers are understandably and justifiably anxious about their own safety and that of their pupils whilst community infection levels remain very high," it said.

INTO President Mary Magner said: "I know this is the last thing teachers want to be worrying about as they exhaustively strive to support pupils remotely.

"We have heard the concerns of teachers in recent days and, while teachers across the country are keen to get back to the classroom, they are scared. Teachers are committed to supporting their vulnerable pupils but the safety of staff is vital."

INTO General-Secretary John Boyle said a public health webinar, hosted by the Department of Education on Monday, "did not address teachers' concerns."

This webinar was attended by Dr Ronan Glynn, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Kevin Kelleher, Assistant National Director of the HSE, and Public Health Consultant Dr Abigail Collins.

Mr Boyle said: "The Government must take responsibility for poor and untimely communication and mixed messages over the past two weeks.

"The failure of [Education] Minister Foley and Minister [of State for Special Education] Madigan to engage in proper consultation in the last two weeks has been very damaging and it has hampered the planning for the safe reopening of schools."

'Vitriolic comments'

On this, Mr Harris said he was shocked by language used in the webinar on Monday.

"From the moment the webinar started, we saw vitriolic comments directed at the doctors giving the information."

"I've never actually seen the level of anger at that webinar before.

"And I think we've seen that directed at our own families on social media in recent days.

"There's a sense that even just saying your child needs this, talking about the level of skills your child has lost in recent months owing to this pandemic instantly gets this very angry reaction.

"I think there needs to be a recognition that teachers, SNAs and families are on the one team - though we need to work together in the one direction.

"But our starting point has to be to recognise that this is a Constitutional right, that these young people can't learn remotely and that the damage being done is in of itself a public health issue".

Lack of clarity on schools 'causing major distress' to families, autism charity says

00:00:00 / 00:00:00


In a statement on Monday night, Education Minister Norma Foley and Minister of State for Special Education Josepha Madigan said they will continue to engage with stakeholders in order to bring "a phased return to in-school learning" for children with additional educational needs.

The Department of Education said there has been "almost daily communication" at either ministerial or official level with the primary stakeholders.

Minister Foley said: "We will continue with this engagement to find a shared solution that is in the best interest of children with additional educational needs and their families.

"What is key is that the needs of the most vulnerable children in our education system remain our priority.

"It is vital that we continue to engage to ensure that this cohort of students is properly supported during this critical period."

Minister Madigan added: "The priority must be to support vulnerable students at this time, such as those with special educational needs and their families.

"We will maintain our engagement with all the partners in education to ensure that agreement is reached to bring this about.

"Vindicating the educational rights of children with special educational needs is a priority for everyone in the Department of Education and in our education system."

Main image: Pictured is an empty junior infants classroom at Gardiner Street Primary School in Dublin in 2019. Picture by: Sam Boal/

Share this article

Read more about

Adam Harris As I Am Autism Charity Department Of Education Education INTO Newstalk Breakfast Re-opening Schools Special Schools

Most Popular