I wish to advise the Deputy that my Departments Inspectorate has recently introduced a model of inspection of provision for children with special educational needs in post-primary schools (SEN-PP). As part of this inspection model, inspectors will engage with schools on a range of issues including the use of reduced timetables.
This mirrors the practice that has also been recently introduced for inspections of provision for children with special educational needs in primary schools (SEN-P) where inspectors raise the issue of numbers of children on reduced timetables. Similarly, inspectors raise this issue when conducting DEIS evaluations.
As the inclusion of a focus on children on reduced timetables within the inspection models is a very recent development, it is too early for an analysis of any information gathered to have taken place. The Inspectorate intends to challenge the inappropriate use of reduced timetables in the context of the school inspection process.
The position of my Department is that all pupils who are enrolled in a school should attend school for the full day, unless exempted from doing so for exceptional circumstances, such as medical reasons.
Reduced timetables should not be used as a behavioural management technique, or as a de facto suspension or expulsion.
Where schools apply a shorter school day in relation to a child, such arrangements should only be put in place in exceptional circumstances in order to assist a pupil to return to a school, where a pupil has been experiencing an absence due to a medical or behavioural related condition.
Any such arrangement should be a transitionary arrangement, which is designed to assist the reintegration of a pupil to a school environment.
In making any such arrangements, school authorities should be mindful of the best interests of the child and of the child's right to a full day in school. Schools should seek the advice of the National Educational Psychology Service before implementing such arrangements.
I wish to advise the Deputy that my Department is engaging with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and TUSLA Educational Welfare Service on the matter of reduced timetables, with a view to examining options which can be taken to address the issues raised.