NAMHI’s parents’ subcommittee excelled itself in organising its seventh annual Parents’ Seminar, held in at the Longford Arms Hotel on 13th October 2001. The seminar topic ‘Integration—Segregation’ (issues affecting children with disabilities in mainstream and special education) attracted a large attendance and lively discussion. Sylvia Dawson, founder of the Longford Association, welcomed everyone to her ‘patch’ and Maeve Harrington from Cork ably chaired the sessions.
Karen Gallagher spoke about the needs of preschool children and called for the possibility of dual enrolment in primary school so that a child could benefit from both special and mainstream classes. Ann Geraghty, Galway spoke frankly about the limitations of the service she and her over-stretched speech and language therapists could provide, and hoped (like all of us) that additional training courses would soon be established outside Dublin.
Finian McGrath (parent and school principal), Annie Nolan (parent) and Mairéad Doyle (teacher) spoke of mainstream educational experience. They emphasised the need for realistic choices to suit individual preferences and requirements, called for more links between schools and for much more forward planning to provide a continuum of service and supports.
After lunch parents Moira Mahon and Bridget Heaney spoke enthusiastically about their children’s special educational setting, and Martin McGrenery, Principal of St Mary’s Special School (Delvin) gave an overview of his ‘specialist’ setting and its advantages for the rural pupils in attendance.
Other insights were added too. Special educational Inspector Peadar McCann, Cork, spoke of the developments across special educational needs and admitted that ‘Athlone is swamped’—he felt that regional boards are needed, as well as further curriculum guidelines (those for children with severe and profound disabilities should be issued during 2002). He agreed with the call for dual-enrolment and felt that special schools must become more used as a resource for training and in-service teaching. Denis Bohane, representing the INTO, stated union policies on mainstream provision, emphasising the need for assessment, resources and planning prior to enrolment.
Overall, the day was informative and balanced; it was encouraging to hear wide agreement on the primacy of individual family choice for a mainstream or special school setting—with, of course, the essential resources, trained teachers and support staff to deliver appropriate education for each child, in either setting.