Thursday, 5 May 2022
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
Special Educational Needs
Thankfully, we are not back in the 1990s, and significant work has been done since then on this, together with the supplementary Covid learning and support scheme. I totally agree with the Deputy and am ad idemwith her on one thing, which is that the families really need this service and need respite for their children to bring them on. We gave some of this information to the Ombudsman for Children as well. Some children with autism, for example, in special schools and special classes are no longer in those classes but in mainstream settings. There are more children now in mainstream settings than there were in the past. In those circumstances the provision of support is not about the location but about the level of need. That is critical. As I said, there are enhanced supports and enhanced funding for special schools. Guidance has gone to schools. It was based on engagement with management bodies and unions, and states that the schools should prioritise those with the most complex needs. That guidance from the Department to schools has been very clear, and schools can take on as many students as they have the capacity to take on. There is no difficulty with that. That is really important.
The inspectorate did a review which has fed into this year as well. We never want to take away from one category to the other. As I said, this is based on need, not location. We have lots of statistics. There has been a 64% increase in special schools and special classes from 2019 to 2021, so we are making progress. We used the feedback this year in order that we could make it a more streamlined process and make it as attractive as we possibly could. We have doubled the funding from €20 million to €40 million, a 100% increase, to try to get schools to participate voluntarily in this scheme for the benefit of the parents and the children.