At Inclusion Ireland we are sure that many people watched the heart-breaking Prime Time on RTE 1 this week. In case you missed it, you can watch it here. https://www.rte.ie/news/primetime/2022/0517/1299600-parents-autistic-boys-special-school/
In response, we know that every child has a right to education and should have the right to go to their local school alongside their siblings and peers. It is unacceptable that this is not the reality for many children. The news of action from the Minister with responsibility for Special Education, Josepha Madigan TD was welcomed by many. Immediate steps need to be taken for children with intellectual disabilities to access their right to education who do not have a school placement right now.
Hand in hand with the immediate actions, we also call for a national conversation around what inclusive education actually is. The first step is to get a place in your local school but what happens after that is just as important to make inclusion real. With the review of the EPSEN Act this year, we must reflect on how to radically change this system to support children rather than asking them to just “fit in” to the system we already have. We know this kind of radical rethink takes leadership and the belief in the benefit of inclusive education for all children.
In clear terms, what we want at Inclusion Ireland is:
- In reviewing the EPSEN Act this year, we are calling for it to be renamed the “Inclusive Education Act“. We need to stop talking about children with disabilities as “special” and start talking about rights. Language is powerful. There is nothing special about wanting children to be educated in their local schools. It is their right for that to happen.
- Children should be able to go to their local school and be educated alongside their peers whether they need a lot of support or a little support and everything in between. Choices should not be so polarised into “special classes ” or “mainstream school”. Families are finding it so difficult to access an educational place for their child and are then being pushed to make impossible choices between mainstream and “special” settings. We need a vision for what inclusive education should and could look like with the right investment and most importantly the right leadership. Some schools need to change, but all schools need support to include children in a meaningful way. The system needs to change, not the children. In the immediate term, we call on the Minister to use the legislation available to ensure that local places are provided for those who need them right now.
- We want to hear more stories about the benefits for all children educated in inclusive environments and the real lived experience stories of disabled adults who have gone through the system. Being educated alongside your whole community supports all children’s empathy and creativity. Diversity is powerful and we need to value it.
- We need real system reform, and that reform must include the components for Inclusive Education. We know the system doesn’t work for many children who are excluded, on reduced timetables or short school days. What would a different system look like? It is the view of Inclusion Ireland that there are three critical components for truly inclusive education:
a) Leadership: At government and school level a belief in every child’s right to be included in their local school and in the value that inclusion brings for all children.
b ) Resources: this includes ongoing training, access to multi-disciplinary supports and individualised supports for children.
c) Environment: Inclusive universally designed environments for children no matter what level of support they need.
Some schools have all three components, others are struggling to provide them and need and deserve support to do so. As a society we need a national conversation around our vision for inclusive education.
We at Inclusion Ireland are planning on hosting that conversation in Autumn with the voices of disabled people front and central.
More details to be released soon.
Radical and meaningful change is needed now.
Come and join the Inclusion movement.
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