Plan to set up special education centers ‘dead in the water’, say government sources – The Irish Times

A controversial plan to create special education centers for children without school places is “dead in the water”, government sources have said.

The plan, revealed in The Irish Times last week, involved the temporary establishment of five centers in the Dublin area to provide education for dozens of vulnerable children who have yet to secure a place in a special class in a regular school.

The plan has met with heavy criticism from activists and human rights groups who said it amounted to “separate education” and would undermine attempts to create an inclusive education system.

Minister of State for Special Education Josepha Madigan is due to meet with disability groups on Tuesday to discuss the proposal, among other issues.

However, a government source said the scale of the criticism showed there was now “no public support” for the proposal.

“There is no support from advocacy groups, from the opposition and there are also concerns within the government,” the source said.

Education Minister Norma Foley reportedly raised questions about the details of the proposal last week before it was made public, sources said.

“She was worried about the implications for inclusion and made that clear in a meeting attended by the [Department of Education] secretary general and others,” a government source said. “It was just a proposal, as far as she was concerned, and did not meet the standards of what the Department of Education would accept.”

A spokesperson for Ms Madigan was not immediately available for comment. She said last Thursday that the proposal was something she wanted to explore further this week with disability groups. “It was in its early stages and I think it’s really important to point out that in every department there are a number of different proposals, a number of different ideas that come up at any given stage,” said- she declared.

Ms Madigan said it was about giving parents an “option” and was something she wanted to explore further. She asked the disability groups she met on Thursday to come back with more proposals.

“I think we need to look at that and explore it and interrogate it more and try to use the ETB [education and training] centers they offer. This is not to replace a special class. It’s not a placement,” she told RTÉ’s Six-One.

Ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, campaign groups again voiced their opposition to any plans involving special education centres.

“It has been clear since they were first brought up that they are not an appropriate solution to this preventable crisis,” said Adam Harris, chief executive of AsIAm, an autism charity. “They don’t respect rights and would do more harm than good for children and the education system.”

He said it was time to focus on proposals that will provide autistic-friendly school places and others that will indeed provide suitable school places.

AsIAm, along with a coalition of disability groups, is calling for emergency legislation to force schools to open special classes in time for next September. The groups argue that the existing powers – known as the 37a process – are too slow and bureaucratic and will not deliver the right school places on time.

Last week, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission also expressed concern over the proposed special education centres.

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