Teaching unions reject special needs education reopening plans

Teachers’ unions have rejected plans to reopen special needs education this week. In a joint st...
Michael Staines
Michael Staines

20.31 19 Jan 2021

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Teaching unions reject special...

Teaching unions reject special needs education reopening plans

Michael Staines
Michael Staines

20.31 19 Jan 2021

Share this article

Teachers’ unions have rejected plans to reopen special needs education this week.

In a joint statement this evening, the Irish National Teacher’s Organisation (INTO) and Fórsa said efforts to reassure them that the reopening was safe had failed.

They urged the Government to postpone Thursday’s planned reopening - warning that their members are “genuinely fearful that the school environment was unsafe for students and staff.”


The unions questioned how schools could reopen when the national guidelines continue to ask people to stay at home and avoid all contact with others, where possible.

INTO General Secretary John Boyle said “inconsistent advice about safety in schools” was at the root of the problem.

“We are calling on the Government to avoid a confrontational approach that forces a reopening on tens of thousands of fearful staff who want to follow public health advice,” he said.

“Instead, they should continue to work with us to ensure that schools are safe for students and staff.”

Earlier disability groups warned that children with special needs have been ‘almost completely forgotten’ in the row between unions and the Government.

"False dawns"

In a joint statement, Down Syndrome Ireland, Family Carers Ireland and Inclusion Ireland said the reopening process had become a ‘series of mixed messages and U-turns.’

“The manner in which this issue is being dealt with – with U-turns, mixed messages and false dawns – needs to stop,” they said.

“The department and education stakeholders need to get this sorted once and for all. Our most vulnerable students – children with disabilities and special educational needs, their families and their carers have been almost completely forgotten about in this row.”

They said urgent interim measures need to be put in place until an agreement can be reached.

“Last week on national radio we heard from many struggling families who are currently living in state of despair,” they said.

“Parents have found the emotional rollercoaster of schools opening one day and not the next difficult to take.”

"Significant harm"

They said the negotiations over the last week “have relegated the voice and needs of the child throughout this process.”

“The unfolding of events over the last two weeks has drained many of the families we represent,” they said.

“We cannot lose sight of the significant harm being done to many students with special educational needs by the continued absence of an adequate level of education supports.

“We’re again calling for their interests to be put first, and for all parties to re-engage to bring this issue to a successful outcome.”

On Lunchtime Live earlier, Dublin mother Ciara Jones said her young autistic has been counting down the days to reopening - and she has yet to work up the courage to tell him it may not happen.

"Desperately sad situation"

In the statement this evening, Fórsa’s head of education, Andy Pike said the Government had failed to “win the support of special education stakeholders.”

“I’m sure this was not the intention, but we are in a desperately sad situation where rushed efforts to prematurely reopen schools have pitched the special needs community against itself,” he said.

“SNAs themselves are disability advocates. They know that SEN students need support, not least because so many enter the profession because they themselves have a child or family member with special needs.

“It would be for the best if all parties would focus on a general reopening of schools as soon as possible, once there is an established downward trajectory in the number of Covid-19 cases and fresh public health advice that it is safe to do so.”

The unions said they worked hard to achieve progress over the last week; however, they said there has been no progress on fresh public health advice, higher vaccine priority for teachers, serial testing in schools or assessing the level of demand among parents.

The urged the Government to “step back from forcing the reopening of schools” which they said would “create conflict at the height of the pandemic.”

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