Decision from Dublin school not to run LCA sparks online campaign for two students with disabilities

Muiris O'Cearbhaill

Clonturk Community College is a school in Whitehall, Dublin 9. In late March, the board of management decided that it will not run the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme for their second senior cycle year.

An online campaign and petition was started by the families of two students, James Nolan who has a range of complex disabilities and Orla Fallon who has a Down Syndrome diagnosis. The campaign is calling for the LCA programme to be made available to these students.

This decision leaves these two students, and their families, with no choice but to do a traditional Leaving Certificate or a hybrid Leaving Certificate however, this leaves the students without the guarantee of a qualification.

On the 9th of February 2021, both families of these students were told that the LCA programme will not be made available to their children in Clonturk Community College by its principal.

On the 25th of March the chairperson of the board of management, confirmed, “the board carried out a full review of the decision not to run the Leaving Certificate Applied and have upheld the original decision that the programme is not viable for the academic year 2021/2022.”

The parents said that the reasons for this decision were not detailed and no reasonable excuse was given to them as to why the programme is not viable.

“No other realistic options or supports were proposed. For Clonturk to only offer the traditional LC is absolutely setting these students up to fail,” said Gerry Fallon, Orla’s father.

It is believed by the parents that there are four students in total who will not be able to do the LCA programme if Clonturk CC follow through with their decision.

Tom Nolan, James’ father, told The College View that Clonturk CC had been sold to them as a school who could facilitate James and other students with similar or other disabilities. Tom camped outside the school in October 2016 to secure a position for James.

Gerry Fallon said, “The very reason both families chose Clonturk was because we were advised and ensured that the educational needs of both students would be met right through to Senior Cycle.”

The senior cycle had not happened in Clonturk CC until last year, where their very first fifth years began. The LCA programme did not run for their first senior cycle year either, which meant all students had to participate in a traditional Leaving Certificate.

Gerry Fallon said one student’s parents from the year above had contacted him on this matter. The parents had opted for their child to continue in Clonturk last year and begin a traditional Leaving Certificate which ended “with disastrous outcomes”.

Gerry Fallon said, “Moving to another school to leave a stable learning environment is not an option we can consider for our children.”

Tom Nolan said, “The chances of [James] being bullied will be huge, James has seizures and when James gets anxious, he gets more seizures. Moving James is not an option today.

“There’s a support network around them [in Clonturk]… they’re a part of the school. When we chose Clonturk for James – we chose it because we were told ‘We’ll look after him’.”

Tom Nolan also added that they were told that there would be an LCA programme in Clonturk when they applied for the school in October 2016.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education told The College View, “The LCA programme is one of three Leaving Certificate options made available by the Department for senior cycle students that schools can choose from, based on the educational needs and interests of their students,”

“Schools are encouraged to provide maximum access to these Leaving Certificate options, but it is the responsibility and choice of each individual school to decide which Leaving Certificate programmes and which subject choices to provide.

The spokesperson added, “It is a matter for the school/board of management to have clear admission procedures in place regarding how the available places are allocated to students.”

A member of the board of management told The College View that the decision to run an LCA programme in Clonturk CC isn’t a given and depends on whether the uptake is sufficient enough.

Adding that members of the school would be anxious that the programme would run, however the LCA programme requires teachers and additional resources.

A spokesperson from the LCA administrative office from the Professional Development  Service for Teachers (PDST) told The College View that the decision to hold an LCA programme is a matter for the school and board of management, that comes down to the resources the school have.

Also adding, that any school that does approach the PDST with an interest in running the LCA or another Leaving Certificate programme receives teaching and learning for the teachers at the school or the coordinator of the programme(s).

On the 9th of April, the families met with representatives for Clonturk CC.

The families said in a statement to the College View, “Once again, the only option being presented to us was a hybrid of the Leaving Certificate which may or may not be formally recognised as a qualification.

This is an unacceptable proposition for us. The decision by Clonturk not to run the LCA is denying students with a disability the right to complete the Senior Cycle and leave school with a formal State certified qualification.”

On the 12th of April, the families protested outside of Clonturk CC with members of the public. It is understood that the families are now engaging with Minister for Education Norma Foley and Minister of State at the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth Anne Rabbitte.

Muiris O’Cearbhaill

Image Credit: Anna Nolan on