10.00 Eucharist, St Audoen Cornmarket (parking in Francis Street).
11.30 Eucharist, St Catherine & St James Donore Avenue (service of the Word Second and Fourth Sundays).
A passionate letter to the Minister for Education (shortened)
Dear Mr Quinn,
I am the principal in St Catherine’s National School in Donore Avenue, a Church of Ireland national school with an enrolment of 130 pupils. We are a mainstream school, but have a proud tradition of supporting and including children with special educational needs. We were one of the very first school to have a Special Class for children with Mild General Learning Difficulties, and the only Church of Ireland school in the country with such a class. With our reputation for inclusion and our small size, we have in the last number of years also attracted a number of pupils who are not eligible for our special class but who presented with other difficulties such as speech and language disorder, verbal dyspraxia, Asperger Syndrome, emotional and behavioural disorder, cerebral palsy, etc.
Last Thursday I received notification from the NCSE that our Special Class is to close with effect from the end of this academic year.
This was not unexpected as numbers had been gradually dwindling, due to parents preferring to send their children to local mainstream schools with some teaching support. However it does leave us with three vulnerable pupils with special needs who have now had a significant prop removed from their lives. We are not looking for an extra teacher. The Special Class post would simply be re-named. We would understand that this post would be temporary for one year unless more hours are granted next year.
If the new circular is followed, we will lose over 20 % of our staff in one fell swoop – our special class teacher plus our current part-time resource post, which would have to be “farmed out” to resource teachers with spare capacity from other schools – a totally unworkable arrangement. This is at a time when our numbers are increasing and we have a boy with very significant needs joining us in September, as well as a very severely disabled little girl who will be with us on a split placement with Enable Ireland.
We have established a centre of excellence in the teaching and management of children with special educational needs. The teacher who would lose her job has a master’s degree in art therapy in addition to her normal teaching qualification. She is an outstanding teacher for these very vulnerable children.
We are a minority ethos school with a particular reputation within the Church of Ireland community with regard to special educational needs.
Returning to my second point above, I must stress that the new arrangement where I would have to go out to other schools and borrow their under-used resource teachers – up to five different teachers! – to cobble together 21.6 hours is complete madness. It takes no account of the realities of children’s lives – imagine having a different resource teacher every day! – or the realities of life in schools. None of the principals I have spoken to have any idea whether they will have spare capacity, such is the widespread confusion that these circulars and the delay in making allocations has caused.
I am a responsible citizen who understands the very grave situation our country is in. I have accepted without question a 25 % cut in my take-home pay, the extra Croke Park hour, the rise in college fees for my two daughters, and the total loss in value of my AVC contributions. We all have to make sacrifices, and difficult decisions have to be taken. However I am asking you to shield our most vulnerable citizens – children who may never be able to vote due to their level of disability – from the worst effects of the crazy behaviour of others, for which they are not to blame.
The feast of Pentecost was marked by 11.30 Family Service led by the children of the Sunday School, directed by Karen Jordan and the assistant teachers. The smaller children seemed to enjoy playing their parts and the older ones took their readings very seriously. Richard Walshe stood on a chair flanked by two angels, one of them Christina, who had spent hours getting into her wings. A sheet was thrown over him and he subsided, representing the Ascension with very simple but very dramatic effect. We gave thanks using the new Eucharistic Prayer provided by the Church of Ireland for use when considerable numbers of children are present. There were many adults present also, and it was a delight to see so many people celebrating the birthday of the Church. It was also Valerie Wilkinson’s birthday and at Church Coffee after service we sang Happy Birthday. Many thanks to the team which served coffee and tea, and to everyone who baked and brought and contributed to a most enjoyable party. The wind howled and the rain lashed the windows, so it was as well that we had given up the idea of having the event in the Rectory garden, which in sunny conditions would have been ideal!
While St Audoen’s is one of the oldest and most historic Churches in the city, the approach was made in about 1828, and the principal doors date from then. They have now been removed to a joiner’s workshop for necessary repairs in accordance with the guidelines which apply to a protected structure. No doubt they will look very fine when they return! In the meantime, a temporary partition has been erected.