Children’s Futures Campaign Warns New Government School Plans Fail to Prioritise Most in Need

Published date: 
18 Feb 2021

JOINT PRESS STATEMENT
Children’s Futures Campaign Warns New Government School Plans Fail to Prioritise Most in Need

RESPONSE TO GOVERNMENT PLANS TO REOPEN SCHOOLS ON 1 MARCH

 

Issued Thursday 18 February 2021, 15:00hrs
For immediate release

While welcoming Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s ‘hopes’ to reopen schools on a phased basis from 1 March 2021, the Children’s Futures Campaign Group (launched yesterday) has issued a stark warning that the new plans do not sufficiently prioritise children most in need – including vulnerable children and children with additional needs.

The #ChildrensFuturesIRL Group – AsIAm, Barnardos, Children’s Rights Alliance, Inclusion Ireland, and National Parents Council Primary – believes the new plans are not in keeping with a children’s rights approach, because this approach does not take account of those most disproportionately affected. The new plans outlined today would see junior infants, senior infants as well as first and second class back in school on a phased basis from 1 March.

This comes after the group published a legal opinion by Alan D.P Brady BL and James Rooney BL, which found the blanket closure of schools to be in breach of the right to an education, as guaranteed by the Constitution of Ireland, the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

Adam Harris of AsIAm says: “Children with additional needs are conspicuous by their absence in the plans coming out of Government today – who again prioritise academic attainment over those who are in greatest need. Having consistently told us that children with additional needs are a priority, this Government is now performing a U-turn, and at a time when other European countries have been able to keep their schools open. The majority of our children are still out of school and unable to participate in remote lessons. This is not good enough, and frankly a dereliction of duty.”

Lorraine Dempsey of Inclusion Ireland says: "The negative impact of school closures on children with special educational needs (SEN) and disabilities is undeniable. Plans outlined by the Taoiseach today do not change this one iota for some of the most vulnerable. The plans do not resolve these issues, which means they’re still not meeting their obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). It’s not okay to leave some children behind.”

Campaign members are urging Government, education partners and others to come together and secure a cross-party, cross-sector public commitment to prioritise reopening – and keeping open – schools, in line with public health advice, and limiting the negative impact of lockdown on a generation of children.

Áine Lynch of the National Parents Council Primary says: “We welcome the Taoiseach’s plans to reopen schools, but they fail to prioritise the most vulnerable children. It was identified and agreed weeks ago that vulnerable children in mainstream classes needed to be prioritised in their return to school. Countries in other jurisdictions have provided in school education and support throughout the pandemic for vulnerable children. It is unconscionable that these children with additional needs or experiencing other challenges wouldn’t be the first to be prioritised in the reopening of our mainstream classes.”

Suzanne Connolly of Barnardos says: “We welcome the Taoiseach’s comments – but it does not go far enough, especially for the many vulnerable children that will be left behind. And we need to find ways to make up for the loss of educational attainment. We are still looking for a strong and well-resourced recovery plan in place to support children’s social, emotional and educational needs.”

Tanya Ward of the Children’s Rights Alliance says: “If Government is planning a phased return to school on 1 March 2021 for Leaving Certificate students, junior and senior infants and fifth year students, then that is to be welcomed. However, it is a very small step and a step that ignores the needs of the most vulnerable, and leaves them behind. The Government needs to prioritise those most impacted by the lockdown and where online learning is inadequate.”

The #ChildrensFuturesIRL campaign is calling on Government and education partners to work together to protect our children’s futures, recommending five urgent actions.

1. Reopen special schools immediately – if the State is to meet constitutional obligations, it must provide full-time education for children with special educational needs.
2. Reopen all schools and keep them open – schools must reopen on a phased basis as a matter of priority, in line with public health advice, and the State must develop an action plan agreed with education partners to prevent future closures
3. Make up for the last 12 months to address the loss of learning – developing and providing a suite of interventions for all children but in particular forvulnerable groups of children to catch up, such as funding and resources to provide summer programmes.
4. Clarity and options for 2021 Leaving Cert students– offer students the choice of a written exam or calculated grade as part of a fair process, to protect students’ wellbeing and mental health.
5. Best interests of children and young people central to future Covid decision-making – the upcoming National Policy Framework for Children and Young People, Better Outcomes, Better Futures, provides a strategy for recovery in the context of the negative impact that Covid-19 has had on our children and young people, including those who are disadvantaged, those with special educational needs and those who are at risk of harm or neglect. The Government needs to ensure that the best interests of children are at the heart of all decisions about our children’s futures and that their voices are heard, particularly in relation to education.

The Children’s Rights Alliance is organising a session with Alan D.P Brady BL and James Rooney BL that will outline the legal opinion tomorrow, Friday 19 February, at 1pm. They will be examining children's right to an adequate education from a constitutional and human rights perspective, specifically in relation to the closure of schools in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Register using this eventbrite link.

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Contact:
Carys Mair Thomas, Children’s Rights Alliance
Tel +44 07702096704 (WhatsApp) Email: carys@carysmair.com
Lorna Cronnelly, Barnardos Tel: 0870957757
Áine Lynch, National Parents Council Primary Tel: 0879294949
Lorraine Dempsey, Inclusion Ireland Tel: 018559891 / 0877741917
Adam Harris, AsIAm Tel: 0871366527

Notes to Editor:
• Spokespeople from each organisation are available upon request.
• If you would like to be removed from our distribution list, please email carys@carysmair.com

Please include details of the following helplines for your readers:
Children's Rights Alliance helpline: 01 902 0494
Email: help@childrensrights.ie
Open Mondays 10am to 2pm, Wednesdays 2pm to 7pm and Friday 10am to 12 noon.

The National Parents Council Primary is the representative voice for parents of children in early years and primary school education. Helpline: 01 887 4477
Open Monday to Friday, 10am - 4pm
Email: helpline@npc.ie

Inclusion Ireland – get support and information online at www.inclusionireland.ie
Tel: 01 855 98 91
Email: info@inclusionireland.ie

Barnardos Parent Supportline, open to all parents who need support at this time
Mon – Fri: 10am – 2pm
Tel: 1800 910 123

About the Children’s Rights Alliance
Founded in 1995, the Children’s Rights Alliance unites over 100 members working together to make Ireland one of the best places in the world to be a child. Further information is available at: www.childrensrights.ie or on Twitter @ChildRightsIRL.