Last week, the Department of Education published the latest guidelines to provide clarity surrounding the use of reduced timetables in school settings. As discussed here, there are a number of factors that might increase a child’s anxiety surrounding their school timetable from the sensory environment, to social and peer difficulties to exam and workload related stress. Reduced timetables are a potential response to school refusal.
Unfortunately, if a child is really struggling in their school environment, sometimes removing them from that environment can be the only option. However, reduced timetables may not always be an appropriate response to the challenges your child is facing. It’s important to be educated on where and when this is necessary. The guidelines help to elaborate on where and when this is appropriate, and the rights and responsibilities of both schools and parents/guardians in pursuing a reduced school timetable.
The Department of Education and Tusla Education Support Service’s position is that reduced school days should not be used as a behavioural management tool in the form of a sanction. It is acknowledged that reduced school days may be helpful in exceptional circumstances as part of a transition or reintegration intervention, based on the needs of
Where a reduced school day is used, 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. Signed parental/guardian consent (or consent of the student if over 18) should be received prior to implementation of a reduced school day.
The guidelines reiterate that a Reduced Timetable must not be used as a sanction (i.e. a punishment in the same manner as suspension), that it must take place in exceptional circumstances, in partnership with parents and seeking the views of the student.
They also provide the procedure for how schools must implement them:
- They must have already consulted the relevant support staff and SENO and have implemented an appropriate support plan before considering reduced timetables.
- In other words, schools have an obligation to have necessary supports in place: reduced school timetables must not be used to bypass the need for educational supports
- They must have clear, evidence-based reasons for why a reduced timetable is appropriate and with the best interests of the student in question.
- They require the written consent of the student’s parent/guardian (or the student if they are over 18 years) AND must document if said consent is withdrawn
- They must notify Túsla of this decision no later than the first day of the commencement of each episode of each school day
- They should notify the NCSE (Local SENO) of the decision to place the student on a
reduced school day where the student has special educational needs (SEN)
- Should formulate and agree a plan for the reduced school day intervention which will
specify the following the duration of the intervention, any educational supports or
interventions to be provided during this period and the actions required to support the student’s return to a full-time school day.
- This plan will have regard to any relevant medical reports or other relevant information held in the student’s support file.
- A copy of this plan signed by the principal and parents/guardians must be given to the parents/guardians and the Educational Welfare Officer/DE Inspectorate. It must also be included in the student’s support file
- This period for which the student is on a reduced school day, should not exceed six school weeks and a reduced school day cannot be carried forward from one academic year to the next
- A review must be arranged if the student is still on a reduced timetable as the time limit approaches
- Extension can only considered in further exceptional circumstances and written consent from the above parties AND with a further report submitted to Túsla
- A record must be kept of all instances of this which can be provided to Túsla/the Inspectorate
- Finally, they must inform parents/guardians of their right to withdraw consent and the availability of the TESS educational welfare officer to provide assistance if required
The guidelines also outline the supports available to schools and the process behind appeals, which can be viewed here.