Schools will have to formally notify Tusla if they are going to put pupils on reduced timetables, under new proposals.
It comes after a report from the disabilities charity Inclusion Ireland found that one-in-four children with a disability were being put on “short school days” – often against the wishes of their parents.
Schools often cited "challenging behaviour" as a reason for putting a pupil on a reduced timetable – with practice often not formally recorded or monitored by child welfare authorities.
In a statement this morning, the Department of Education said it had agreed new arrangements for the notification and monitoring of reduced timetables.
It has also drafted proposed guidelines setting out the procedures that must be followed if a school is considering putting a pupil on reduced timetables.
It said it aims to ensure that they are only used in “those circumstances where it is absolutely necessary.”
“The draft guidelines are underpinned by the principles that a reduced timetable should not be used as a sanction or as a behavioural management tool,” it said.
“That it should be applied proportionately and should last only as long as is necessary to facilitate a return to school on a full-time basis.”
Under the proposals, schools will have to notify Tusla when a reduced timetable is being put in place.
It must outline the reasons behind the decision and receive parental consent before putting it into practice.
It also must set out a plan of action for the child’s return to full-time classes.
Tusla will be tasked with recording and monitoring the use of reduced timetables.
Parents who are concerned about their child being put on a reduced timetable by their school will be able to contact their local Educational Welfare Officer, who will “advise them on the most appropriate approach.”
The Minister for Education Joe McHugh said: “Inclusion is central to this Government’s education policy and it is essential that all pupils who are enrolled in a school should attend for the full day unless in exceptional circumstances.”
“A reduced timetable is not in any way a standard aspect of a child’s experience of school and must not be allowed to become such,” he said. “It should be an exceptional measure.”
He said the practice may be necessary in some cases but said “such arrangements must only be adopted in limited and time-bound circumstances.”
“The best interests of the child, their education and their development should be paramount in any decision making by schools,” he said.
The Department is inviting observations on the new proposals from education stakeholders until October 18th.
Once finalised, the guidelines will apply to all recognised schools.