Summer Provision Programme "not delivering" for children

Delays in plans for the Summer Provision programme have “let children down” a local TD has claimed. Sinn Féin spokesperson on Disability and Carers, Pauline Tully, says poor planning has resulted in a low uptake by schools of the educational support.

“Once more, the Minister and her Department delayed announcing the details of the Summer Programme until mid-May. This annual demonstration of unpreparedness needs to end,” Deputy Tully said.

The Sinn Féin TD says schools had limited time to plan and prepare for the school based programme, adding that this resulted in a low take-up among schools.

Almost 1,000 schools across the country intend to run special summer programmes to help children make up for losses to learning and socialisation as a result of the school closures, preliminary figures from the Department of Education indicate.

The figures show that 968 schools expressed an interest in running 1,346 schemes across a range of Department of Education-funded summer programmes.

However Deputy Tully says the scheme should be more effective: “According to a response to a parliamentary question I submitted, over 60% of special schools are not taking part at all in the programme and although there was significant additional funding put in place this year only 13 additional special schools registered to run the programme.”

The Sinn Féin spokesperson says the scheme was badly handled by the government: “While it's welcome that there was a significant increase in funding compared to last year, the eleventh hour planning and announcement by the Minister and her Department ensured a low uptake from schools which will ultimately result in a significant proportion of this funding not being spent and most likely being returned.

“This has left massive gaps throughout the state where children will have no access to the school based programme at the very time when they need it most due to the time these children lost out on during Covid-19 restrictions,” Deputy Tully said.

The Cavan Monaghan TD said the programme does not go far enough: “Of the schools running a programme only a very small number are providing it over a four week period which was originally the timeframe. Changes brought in by the Department now allow schools to run the programme from a minimum of two weeks to a maximum of five weeks, with the vast majority of schools opting to run the programme for less than four weeks.

“So, for most of the children who are lucky enough to have a programme running in their area and who do manage do secure a place they will still only be able to access this over a greatly reduced period,” she explains.

Deputy Tully says those who could benefit most are “abandoned” by the programme: “The scheme, in its current form, does little to ensure that children with mild intellectual disabilities and those with the highest support needs can benefit. This is essentially abandoning the very children that the scheme was originally set up to provide for. The Government and the Department must redouble their engagement with the education sector to overcome the barriers holding back the scheme. Simply throwing money at it at the last minute has not worked and will not work.”

She believes that there needs to be a reappraisal: “There needs to be a root and branch review of the Summer Provision Programme because these issues are arising year after year, time and again and they need to be systematically addressed. We need to see long term planning introduced to this programme to avoid schemes being developed and announced last minute as happened again this year.”

“The Minister and her Department need to ensure that 2021 is the last year we see this clambered, last minute planning and announcement of the Summer Provision Programme,” Deputy Tully concluded.