Government Must Prioritise Children with Special Educational Needs

The Government’s failure to prepare a Plan B for schools, and their lack of consultation, has led to chaos.

Parents, staff, and most of all, children, have been let down.

After the collapse last night of their cobbled together half-baked plans, the Government might be tempted to step back and examine things again later.

That would be completely the wrong thing to do. It would compound their failure. 

What they need to do is urgently bring the stakeholders back around the table, all of them, intensively, and stick with these talks until we have an agreed plan on how schools can return safely, what measures are needed to make schools safe, who are the first priorities, and when they can return. 

Obviously, this will have to be cognisant of public health advice at any given time. No decision must be made that is contrary to public health advice. 

But an agreed framework, with the support of all stakeholders and workers representatives can be the basis for a plan. In my view, all concerned want the best for our children’s education, provided it is safe.

For me, and I have been consistent on this, children with special educational needs need to be priority number 1, above all else. They lost out enormously last spring as did their families.

They were among the greatest victims of the last lockdown. I know that children with special educational needs and their parents are likely to be very disappointed at the government’s failure to plan properly here. 

We need to ensure that children with special educational needs can get some form of in-class learning as soon as possible but clearly it needs to be in a manner that is safe, and has the support of workers, as well as families.

SET Teachers, SNAs and other school staff have very reasonable concerns about Covid-19 and their unions weren’t consulted on these proposals. The government tried to bounce them and it hasn’t been demonstrated that their school environment – their workplace – can be made safe.

In my view, there is a desire among staff and their representatives to provide a service in person where it cannot be done remotely, provided it can be done safely. The Government must engage on that sincere desire to ensure a service can be provided, but it must be a real engagement not a fait accompli. This is a matter of urgency.

The Minister needs to step up here. She cannot simply accept the situation as it is. She cannot let the grass grow under her feet but deal with this urgently.