The Ombudsman for Children has expressed concern about the quality of educational provision for children who have arrived here as refugees from Syria under a State-supported resettlement programme.
Niall Muldoon was commenting on the findings of a report by Department of Education inspectors, which found that children living in special accommodation under the programme do not have access to education services and supports that all other children are entitled to.
Department inspectors and psychologists visited three centres in counties Kildare, Waterford, and Roscommon, where interim schools have been established to cater for the needs of children being resettled here.
The report notes that the more than 100 children living at the centres are "a very vulnerable cohort of children at a significant time of transition in their lives".
The schools are based in Emergency Reception and Orientation Centres (EROC) established under the Refugee Protection Programme.
The programme was designed to offer a safe haven to people fleeing conflict in the Middle East and Africa.
The report has found the fact that the schools are not recognised by the Department of Education means the children cannot access special needs assistance, and other supports that they would have a right to in a recognised school.
It also found that no centre had been able "to systematically integrate its pupils into the nearest mainstream primary schools".
Commenting on the report, Dr Muldoon said that during visits by his office to the centres, parents had expressed concerns about the education being provided to their children.
He said they were anxious to have their children integrated into mainstream schools and were concerned that their children were not getting access to other services.
Inspectors found that although the schools, and the accommodation centres they are attached to were initially meant to house families for periods of three or four months, many families are remaining for significantly longer periods.
The report notes that this is due in part to the housing crisis.
The report calls for the integration of children in local schools. It says that the "segregated" education provided at the centres "was not intended as a long-term solution".
Department inspectors have recommended that attendance at the EROC schools should be limited to three months.
In relation to one centre at Ballaghadereen in Co Roscommon, the report notes what it calls "challenges" to the integration of the Syrian children in local schools. However, it does elaborate on what these challenges are.
It has called for further examination of the "perceived barriers to the integration of EROC pupils into local primary schools", and recommends that additional funding, staffing and other supports for local mainstream schools be considered as a possible solution.
It has called for a range of other policy measures to support the effective transfer of the children to mainstream schools, including clarity around the role of agencies, such as Tusla.
Among a wide range of recommendations, it also calls for dedicated and well-equipped play areas, including outdoor play spaces that are secure, well-maintained and stimulating.
It says consideration should be given to temporary recognition of the schools so that children and teachers can access supports available in all recognised settings.
The Ombudsman for Children has urged the Department of Education to follow through on commitments contained in the report.
He said: "In particular, the Department of Education should build on their plan to enable and encourage local schools to enrol these children".
The inspector’s report was completed in June of last year, but was only published on the Department of Education website this month.
It took over seven months for findings by the inspectors and psychologists on children who are schooled in emergency centres to be published.
Asked by RTÉ News why the report was only published last week, a spokesperson for the department said the work in finalising the report was completed in June 2018.
"Following that, the Department of Education and Skills, in consultation with the Department of Justice and Equality, and Tusla, gave consideration to the report and how best to address its recommendations," he said.
The spokesperson added that the Department of Education and Skills is now progressing that set of actions to respond to the findings contained in the report.
Additional reporting Ailbhe Conneely