By Kieran O’Mahony
THE principal of Bandon Grammar School has criticised the Department of Education over its refusal to sanction an autism class for a number of pupils at the school, simply because it is a fee-paying school.
Speaking to The Southern Star, Ian Coombes said that the school has been campaigning for the past three years to get this sanctioned, but is getting nowhere.
‘There seems to be no shifting the Department on this and we have five pupils now who all have diagnoses recommending access to a unit or special [ASD] class. But Minister McHugh and his officials continue to refuse permission on the basis that ‘the Department does not have a policy of supporting classes in fee-charging schools,’ said school principal, Mr Coombes.
‘As far as we know, the only reason for the refusal is that we are a fee-paying school. Three efforts in a row have led to nothing and both the current Minister for Education and the previous one have not been prepared to even engage on this.’
He added: ‘The parents have exercised their constitutional right to send their children to a school of their choice of ethos and with a proven record of inclusion of many children with various different ways of learning. The children are very much part of the school community where their siblings also attend, as did their parents.’
Ian said there is an increasing shortage of places locally and nationally at second level offering dedicated ASD classes.
‘Anticipating the possible issue that the Department might have regarding fees, the Board of Management has already waived the charging of a fee to any child referred to an ASD class but this offer has not been acknowledged by the department,’ he added.
The school was approved initially in 2017 and staff had undergone training and upskilling but then the Department announced they had granted the approval in error and were withdrawing it.
A Department of Education spokesperson said that the Department does not have a policy supporting the establishment of special classes in fee-charging schools.
‘This is because the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) is required to satisfy itself that the class is both sustainable and available to all of pupils who may need special class placements in a particular area. The Department is satisfied that, based on the advice of the NCSE, schools in the free education system can continue to establish sufficient special classes to meet identified need.’