Government Guidance on Reduced Timetables Vital for Children’s Futures says Alliance
Under embargo until Tuesday 14 September
Pressure is mounting on Government to publish its long-promised guidelines on the use of Reduced Timetables in schools, says the Children’s Rights Alliance, as there is a ‘growing trend’ in their use. Weeks into a new academic year, the Alliance Helpline continues to receive queries from parents and children about education, including the misuse of Reduced Timetables.
Almost 250 people have registered for today’s webinar – Reduced Timetables and the Future of Alternative Education – indicating the strong interest in the sector. The event, which includes keynote address by Minister of State for Special Education and Inclusion Josepha Madigan TD, will throw a spotlight on the practice that restricts children's constitutional right to access education, particularly children with special educational needs, Traveller and Roma children and children experiencing trauma or adversity.
Minister of State for Special Education and Inclusion Josepha Madigan TD said: “I am delighted to have been invited to contribute to today's important conference on the subject of reduced school days. In preparing guidelines on the use of such measures, we want to ensure consistency in how a child-centred approach is taken when a reduced school day is being considered. We have taken into account the experiences outlined in various fora by parents and advocacy groups, including those representing minority groups and children with special educational needs. We have also taken on board the views expressed by schools and education partners.
“The imminent publication of these guidelines will be an important development and will put, for the first time, procedural safeguards in place with respect to the use of reduced school days. This is part of a broader suite of new resources and reforms that we are introducing to ensure that young people and school staff are fully supported in making our schools truly inclusive places for all."
Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance said: “We believe a growing trend is emerging where we are seeing the increased use of reduced timetables in Ireland. Our Members are reporting more cases of this kind often involving particularly vulnerable children. That’s why it’s vital that Government publishes its long-promised guidelines.
“Of course, reducing the time a child spends in school can sometimes be in their best interests but only in strict and limited circumstances. Schools need Government Guidance to ensure these measures are used for the right reasons. Restricting a child or young person’s schooling to sometimes as little as an hour a day without good reason and for extended timeframes is unacceptable.
“But the introduction of guidelines alone is not enough. Schools and teachers need to be better equipped to support students who may be experiencing difficulties. Comprehensive national training should be provided for all teachers on child developmental science and the impact that trauma can have on the developing brain, behavioural patterns and emotional regulation, as well as training on culturally inclusive and anti-racist whole-school approaches. Aligned to this, we need to see an increase in funding for in school supports for students, such as the National Educational Psychological Services.”
This has been a key campaign for the Alliance for some time:
• in February the Alliance gave Government a D- Grade in its Report Card 2021 for the lack of progress in issuing finalised guidelines and establishing a robust monitoring system
• in July, the Alliance announced that education had overtaken family law as the top concern for one in four callers to its Helpline, with the use of reduced timetables emerging as one of the most concerning education issues in 2020 and during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Julie Ahern, the Alliance’s Legal and Policy Manager, who manages the Helpline and is spearheading the Reduced Timetables Campaign said: “This year has brought this issue into sharp focus. The majority of queries relating to Reduced Timetables have seen children as young as six go to school for an hour or two, with not one school having in place a plan outlining their reintegration to a full school day.
“Reduced timetables is one of the most serious children’s rights issues, as it restricts their constitutional rights to access education. The lasting impact it can have on a child’s life cannot be ignored as ultimately, it reduces their opportunities to build relationships with their peers or fulfil their full potential. We need a formal system for recording reduced hours in the education system and finding ways to put Alternative Education on a firmer footing, which could prove life-changing for some children. The Department of Education should formally recognise Alternative Education provision and fund centres in the same way as the formal education system.”
In addition to hearing from young people experiencing the benefits of Alternative Education from Cork Life Centre, Alliance Chief Executive Tanya Ward will today chair two expert panels comprising Adam Harris, AsIAm, Deborah Brennan, TU Dublin, Brian Fitzsimmons, iScoil, Cormac Forkin, NUI Galway, Bernard Joyce, Irish Traveller Movement, and Sandra Irwin-Gowran, Educate Together.
This event is part of the #ChildrensFuturesIRL Education Awareness Month in September, which seeks to prioritise schools and the education of children and young people in our national response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
For more information, or to access the event, contact:
Carys Mair Thomas, Children’s Rights Alliance
Ph: +353 1 8605574 (24/7 availability, diverted to mobile)
Note to Editors
• Reduced timetable (also known as Reduced School Days / Reduced Hours / Shortened Day / Shortened Week) = when the length of time a child spends in school is shortened.
• Spokespeople available for interview include:
o Tanya Ward, Chief Executive, Children’s Rights Alliance
o Julie Ahern, Legal and Policy Manager, Children’s Rights Alliance
o Case studies (anonymized) available on request – ask Carys for details.
• The event will be using the following hashtags - #ReducedTimetables #ChildrensFuturesIRL
• The Reduced Timetables and Future of Alternative Education event takes place online on Tuesday 14 September 2021 between 9.30am -12pm. You can register here: bit.ly/3zG6FVi
• Full details regarding the D- grade for ‘Reduced Timetables’ can be found on p.56 of Report Card 2021: https://www.childrensrights.ie/content/report-card-2021
• You can read more about the queries received through the Helpline and Legal Advice Clinics Alliance Helpline Annual Report 2020, published in July, here: https://www.childrensrights.ie/sites/default/files/Spotlight%20Helpline%...
(AsIAm Story; Report Card 2021)
Tommy* is a seven-year-old boy who has several additional needs: he requires a particular environment in school to support his additional needs and help deal with communication and behavioural difficulties.
In September 2020, during the Covid-19 pandemic, Tommy’s parents received an email from his school notifying them that he would be put on a reduced timetable the next day.
This was without the consent of Tommy’s parents and introduced after he had already missed out on six months of educational in-class learning due to Covid-19 restrictions. Tommy’s parents were told not to bring him to school unless they agreed to pick him up at a certain time, earlier than the rest of his classmates.
Concerned about any further educational setbacks, Tommy’s parents sought the help of AsIAm. The situation has since been resolved but only after the intervention of other agencies.
Name and some identifying details changed to protect the privacy of the individual and family.
Please include the details of the Helpline for your readers:
Helpline: 01 902 0494
Opening Hours - Monday 10am to 2pm
Wednesday 2pm to 7pm
Friday 10am - 12 noon
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. We change the lives of all children in Ireland by making sure that their rights are respected and protected in our laws, policies and services. Further information is available at: www.childrensrights.ie or on Twitter @ChildRightsIRL