Thursday, 12 May 2022
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Special Educational Needs
I ask the Minister of State for an update on the setting up of autism classes in the Dublin 12 area, namely, in Drimnagh Castle Secondary School, St. Paul's Secondary School, Assumption Secondary School, and Loreto College. In the next year a cohort of Dublin 12 children will need autism classes in secondary school. Children who may not have needed a class in primary school usually need one in secondary school as navigating secondary school is a lot harder. The question asked by the Dublin 12 campaign for autism spectrum disorder, ASD, inclusion is, if this is not provided, where will these children go?
The Deputy and I have spoken about Dublin 12 and special classes there on a number of different occasions. From a general perspective, we have increased the amount of special classes since 2011 by 386%, which we can all admit is significant, although that is not to say there are no pinch points, particularly in Dublin, Cork and other areas. This year we opened 269 classes and next year we will open 287, which will create 1,700 additional special class places. We have a total of 2,148 special classes open nationwide. In Dublin 12 we have a total of 21 special classes, 15 of which are in primary education, including two early intervention classes, and there are six post-primary classes as well. Of those 21 classes, four of them opened this year, including Loreto Senior Primary School, Loreto Junior Primary, St. Damian's National School, and the Marist Primary School on Clogher Road.
The majority of special classes open in Dublin are in primary level as distinct from post-primary, and that is a matter I am looking at. There is a gap and a disconnect there I am trying to fix. One of the ways we are doing that is with our collaboration with The Spiritan Education Trust, which is a patron for fee-charging schools, six of which are post-primary and three of which are primary. One of those is in Templeogue, which is in the Deputy’s constituency. It is a ground-breaking and major policy breakthrough that the fee-charging schools will open special classes and I am hoping that will fill the gap. There are four schools that have projects in train in the Deputy's constituency. There is the Holy Spirit Primary Schools in Greenhills in Kimmage west.
I am involved in and support the Dublin 12 campaign for ASD inclusion. The Minister of State has met them and they are parents who are concerned about their children. They are campaigning hard to ensure those children who are moving from primary education, especially over the next year or two years, have clear direction to go into post-primary or secondary school. They made the point to me that it is harder for children who have autism to navigate secondary school and that is one of the reasons they are seeking to ensure classes are in place. They are campaigning so that children will not be forced out of the area to access a school when they should be getting services at close to home as possible.
That planning for special education provision is one of my raisons d'êtrein the Department. The National Council for Special Education, which I have to hold to account in its planning for current and anticipated demand, is critical, and that is primarily done through the special educational needs organisers, SENOs, even though there can often be a narrative that it is under the section 37 mechanism. It is generally done through collaboration with schools that engage with parents, HSE officials and other stakeholders. We have to look at the special educational needs, SEN, capacity over the next ten years from primary to post-primary level. We have to look at the space capacity in schools, the schools building programme, the expansion of projects and approval under the additional school accommodation schemes, where they can get that scheme and where it will be of assistance to open a special class.
Those are all things we will need to do, not just in Dublin 12 but nationally, from the point of view of moving children from primary to secondary level. Has the Department looked at the cohort of children who, over 2023, 2024, 2025, 2026, 2027, 2028, 2029 and 2030, will be seeking to move into secondary schools?
If schools do not provide the classes, will they be compelled to provide classes? Will the Minister of State give me and other Deputies information on how many children will need secondary school places in the next five to ten years?
Last year the Department gave a commitment that all new schools that are built will automatically have SEN facilities and-or a sensory room if they need it. We should not have this issue every year where we are scrambling to facilitate children with special needs. As I mentioned earlier, based on current and anticipated demand, we have a forecasting model in place. The planning and building unit is now sharing its geographical information system with the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, so the NCSE can see building projects that are planned in each geographical area in real time. That was not done previously. The Deputy is right that we need to ensure we have adequate capacity five, ten, 15 and 20 years into the future. I am endeavouring to work on that daily.