AsIAm, Ireland’s National Autism Charity is shocked and dismayed by the Governments recent announcement to plan to open a number of “Special Education Centres” across Dublin as an emergency response to the current crisis in school places families are experiencing. The untold damage such a move or policy direction will do, is not one we welcome or endorse, and proceeding with this plan will mark a major step backwards on the path to inclusive education. No national advocacy group was consulted on this. This is despite the establishment of a forum for our groups post-pandemic to prevent ill-advised and poorly communicated decisions.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) is clear in its position on what an inclusive education system should look like, and this announcement does not meet this standard. Such an announcement flies in the face of inclusion, diversity and respect and if implemented will undo a lot of the good work undertaken in recent years to build a more inclusive education system. It is a deeply regressive step and will, in our view, further entrench inequalities around access to school places within our education system.
Today’s crisis is a long time in the making. The lack of appropriate school placements is due in part to the culmination of a lack of forward planning, forward thinking and coordination by a number of key stakeholders. AsIAm, this week in response to the number of queries we were receiving commissioned a survey on “Appropriate School Placements”. The data at time of writing highlights the scale of the problem nationwide.
Further clarity is needed on last night’s unexpected announcement with many questions remaining, such as:
- Will these Special Education Centres meet a child’s constitutional entitlement to an education?
- What does it mean for the section 37a process?
- What is the transition plan?
- Why should we not presume these new centres will not just become the norm?
- How does this announcement align with the UNCRPD?
AsIAm reiterates its position that we have no confidence in this decision or announcement. We will be engaging with the Department at a meeting this afternoon, where we will raise these concerns.