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(Ireland) Almost 40,000 students with disabilities failed by the school system

Dec 11, 2018, Irish Times: Expelled at age 10: ‘He hasn’t been at school for over a month. I’m heartbroken’ https://www.irishtimes.com/news/education/expelled-at-age-10-he-hasn-t-been-at-school-for-over-a-month-i-m-heartbroken-1.3721092 Schools says expulsion is a last resort – but parents say the system has failed their children Matthew Draper is 10 years old. He loves to draw. He wants to be a gamer when he grows up. But, for now, all his father wants is for him to be allowed return to his primary school in Athlone. Ernest Draper’s son was expelled in October. “He hasn’t been in school for over a month now. I’m heartbroken, honestly heartbroken.” Matthew started in the school in 2012 and from the outset he struggled to manage his behaviour. “We noticed outbursts of violence and aggression towards other kids,” says Draper. These behaviours were also noticed by the school and Draper worked with the then principal to get his son assessed. The assessments revealed that Matthew had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). He was also diagnosed with oppositional defiance disorder, defined by education services as a “a recurrent pattern of negative, defiant, disobedient and hostile behaviour towards authoritative figures in particular”. It became clear that if Matthew was to be able to engage with mainstream education, he needed expert support. We have done everything we can to help. We’ve tried to work with the school. There’s nowhere else for Matthew. … Along with resource hours, Matthew was allocated access to a special needs assistant (SNA). It took several applications, coupled with petitioning by Matthew’s father, before he was granted a full-time SNA by education authorities…. But the challenging behaviour didn’t dissipate. The incidences of aggressiveness and bad language continued, resulting in several suspensions and a reduced school day for Matthew. His father reported that these sanctions only served to deepen Matthew’s negative relationship with school…. It was following an incident in which Matthew absconded from school that an application to expel him was finally put before the school’s board of management. Draper feels his son has now been abandoned by the school and fallen through the cracks of the education system.... Expulsion from primary schools are relatively rare, but they are on the increase. Confusion Figures from Tusla, the child and family agency, show that there were 28 expulsions from primary school in 2017/18 compared with 19 the previous year. … “There aren’t the resources there to support children with behavioural needs,” says Lewis. Timing of access to these therapies and supports also needs to be addressed. “It all comes down to early intervention, the minute they walk in the school door that’s when the interventions need to happen,” adds Lewis. “By the time they get to fifth and sixth class, it’s too late.” A recent report published by Barnardos show the barriers many children face in accessing services. There are a staggering 37,400 children waiting for mental health, speech and language or disability services nationwide. There is also a postcode lottery, with children in some areas waiting longer than others. In the Cork-Kerry region, for example, some 29 per cent of children are waiting more than a year to access mental health services. Experts agree that the key to tackling managing challenging behaviour is early intervention. Many also argue that these services should occur in schools themselves. In May this year the Government launched a project that could hold the key to to addressing some of these needs. The in-school therapy demonstration project is a programme that aims to meet the needs of both the student and the school involved. The project is being piloted in 75 primary schools and 75 pre-primary school settings. Through a network of regional teams, the project aims to offer access to speech and language and occupational therapy in an educational setting. This project offers hope that early intervention supports and therapies can finally be accessed by schools if and when they are needed. For now, though, many schools must continue without this service and, for Matthew Draper, it has come too late. Expulsions and suspensions: in numbers 28: Number of pupils expulsions from primary schools (2017/18) 195: Number of secondary school pupils expelled (2015/16) 1,438: Number primary school pupils suspended (2015/16) 13,383: Estimated number of pupil suspensions in secondary school (2015/16)