Tuesday, 7 December 2021

Questions (297)

Alan Farrell

Question:

297. Deputy Alan Farrell asked the Minister for Education if she will ensure that children attending school who have a disability or behavioural difficulties have access to supports to prevent limited timetables and expulsions in the future; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [59818/21]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The Board of Management of each school is responsible for the care and safety of all of the pupils in their school. Schools should supervise and support children who are distressed or out of control until they have recovered and are able to re-engage in the classroom. In some circumstances this may mean the temporary removal of a child from the environment where the problems have arisen.

Schools owe a duty of care to all their students and any action taken in relation to managing behaviour must be proportionate.

Tusla's Educational Welfare Service has published guidelines for schools on Codes of Behaviour which all schools are required by law to have in place. The guidelines advise that specialised behaviour management strategies, should not be used without expert advice, training and monitoring. In particular, the guidelines point to certain sanctions which are regarded as inappropriate, including leaving a student in an unsupervised situation while in the care of the school. All parents must be made aware of behaviour management strategies employed by the school.

Schools may seek advice from their local National Educational Psychological Services psychologist, from the NCSE’s Support Service which includes Special Educational Needs Organisers, the National Behavioural Support Service and the Special Education Support Service, as to how children with behavioural needs can best be supported in school.

A range of guidance is available for schools in relation to the management of student behaviour. The Department published Guidelines for Supporting Pupils with Behavioural, Emotional, and Social Difficulties, which is available on the Department’s website, www.education.ie. The National Educational Psychological Services document Behavioural, Emotional and Social Difficulties – A Continuum of Support also provides advice for teachers, including some advice on the use of “time out” procedures in the classroom.

Training is available for schools in relation to the provision of support for children with special educational needs from the NCSE’s Regional Service. The Special Education Support Service can, as part of their designated training modules, provide guidance for schools in relation to the management of difficult behaviour.

Further to the receipt of policy advice from the NCSE, the Department of Education established an Expert Working Group to develop guidelines for schools on the prevention and management of challenging behaviours (including the use of physical interventions) where such behaviour is considered as likely to present serious risk of physical harm to the student concerned and/or others within the school environment.

Development of the Guidelines has been informed by evidence showing that whole school positive behavioural approaches and early and ongoing engagement with the school community, including parents/guardians, are necessary for the development of effective school policy and practice.

Following consideration of the views and contributions received as part of the consultation process, a final draft of the guidelines has been prepared and is being considered by the Department. They place a strong focus on prevention and early intervention strategies for the management of crisis student behaviour in which physical intervention may be employed only as the last part of a comprehensive, positive and planned behavioural approach by the school. They are underpinned by the principles that such intervention is never used for the purposes of discipline; that it should be applied proportionately and should last only as long as is necessary to de-escalate the situation. The guidelines underline the importance of continued supervision of children during a crisis period including matters related to behaviour and the need for such incidents to be recorded.

The guidelines when issued will apply to all schools. In this regard, consideration is being given to the implementation of guidelines by schools including the kind of supports and training that may be required.