Clare Fine Gael Senator Tony Mulcahy has proposed that the legal starting age in the Irish education system for a child be reduced to 3 years of age in order to extend special education support services to preschool-going children.
Senator Mulcahy was speaking in Seanad Éireann this week in response to an address to the upper house by Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan in which she outlined the proposed introduction of a new inclusion support service to assist schools in supporting children with special educational needs.
Administered by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE), the service will include the special education support service which provides training for schools in how to assist pupils with special educational needs, as well as the national behaviour support service which provides guidance and support to schools in dealing with behavioural issues. Until now these support services have been managed separately within the Department of Education.
“No one in society should be denied the right to go to preschool because they cannot get the special education support services they need,” Senator Mulcahy said in response to Minister O’Sullivan’s address.
He commented: “We have children in preschools with challenging behaviour getting six hours of special education support services, provided by Health Service Executive, meaning that they must stay at home for three out of five school days each week. Once a child enters the educational system, there should be a line from start to finish which they follow as part of the education process. A child with special needs requires 24 hours, seven days a week support.”
Senator Mulcahy, whose daughter has special needs, said he believed the starting age in the education system for a child should be when they enter preschool at the age of three.
“Education should start at preschool right through to the end. It must be about the child’s ability, not their disability. This must be done through the one Department. I have already spoken to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy James Reilly, who provides some funding in this area too. I propose we streamline children’s movement into primary school and further streamline it when they go into second and third level education. There should be one single channel,” said Senator Mulcahy
“The managers and providers of preschool services may identify a need for dealing with challenging behaviour which the parents may not have noted themselves or accepted. There are children who may not be allowed to avail of preschool because they may not have a support for dealing with challenging behaviour and the service provider may not be able to deal with the matter. Service providers are passionate about what they do. They are not looking for supports that are not a necessity but this area has to be addressed,” he concluded.