Parents outraged by e-learning plans for sick children

Parents of pupils unable to attend school due to illness are outraged by new 'e-learning' plans, which they claim put the needs of teachers ahead of children.

The Elluminate Our Lives group has been fighting a five-year campaign to have a computer system that allows sick children to take part in classes from their homes introduced in full.

The group was formed by parents of children who cannot attend school for reasons including sickness or attention-deficit disorder.

They say the Elluminate program, which beams absent pupils' lessons live to home computers, is the lifeline their children need.

All schools have had the equipment for Elluminate since 2011 but only a small number have been using the system.

Last year education minister John O'Dowd asked for a speedy resolution to problems.

Now a protocol for home-school e-learning has been produced following consultation between managing authorities, trade unions and the Department of Education.

But Elluminate Our Lives said it was "outraged" by the proposals.

The document informs schools of the approach to be followed in delivering a home-school e-learning pilot for pupils who are on short-term absence as a result of illness or medical condition.

It is envisaged that such pilots would cover one school term initially and no teacher would be compelled to participate.

It also recommends that e-learning should not be considered for suspended or expelled pupils and classes will not involve live classroom streaming

Dianne Little from Elluminate Our Lives said e-learning for short periods was not be enough for children with long-term illnesses.

She also claimed it was "appalling" to deny suspended pupils access, when so many of these pupils had special educational needs.

"We thought that after all these years, whilst children with cancer, autism, ME, brain injury, or other illness or disability were denied education, seriously impacting their futures and removing continuity in their lives just when they needed it most, that the department would produce something worth the wait," Ms Little said.

"But no, after sending them the UK policies showing children should have full and equal access within 15 days via e-learning if they were unable to attend and sending them a flow chart illustration how it could work, they still manage to put teachers first and the needs of our most vulnerable children don't even feature."