Seanad debates

Thursday, 8 February 2024

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Special Educational Needs

9:30 am

Photo of Seán FlemingSeán Fleming (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

On behalf of the Minister I want to thank Senator Sherlock for raising this matter this morning. A priority of this Government is to ensure that all children have an appropriate school placement and that necessary supports are provided to our schools to cater for the needs of children with special educational needs. It is important to remember that the vast majority of children with special educational needs are supported to attend mainstream classes with their peers. To support children with more complex needs, special classes in mainstream schools and special schools are provided. In 2023, the Department spent over €2.6 billion on special education and further progress will be made this year as an additional €113 million will be allocated to providing support for children with special educational needs.This includes funding to support children with special educational needs in mainstream classes, for new special classes and new special school places, for additional special education teachers and special needs assistants, and for the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS.

In 2024, the number of teaching and SNA posts in our schools will increase by 774 teachers and 1,216 SNAs, added to deliver up to 2,700 new places for children with special educational needs. This means there will be more than 41,500 qualified and committed people in our schools who are focused wholly and exclusively on supporting children with special educational needs. It is important we recognise the work they are doing. Substantial work is being done, demand is increasing and the Government is increasing the facilities available, the staff and the required additional classrooms and temporary extensions to schools as appropriate. A message should not go out suggesting the system does not work. It is working and that is a testament to school principals, boards of management and the 41,500 qualified and committed staff who provide this service.

I accept there is unmet demand. There is not a Member of the Oireachtas who would not agree on that. All Members have these issues in their areas, and what the Senator said chimed with what we all know. Nevertheless, we also know fabulous facilities are being provided in many places, and I wanted to put that on the record of the House lest people thought we were going to ignore it.

The NCSE has responsibility for the planning and co-ordinating of school support for children with special educational needs, and over recent years the Department and the NCSE have introduced a number of strategic initiatives to plan for and provide sufficient special classes and special school places. These initiatives are bearing fruit, with almost 1,300 new special classes sanctioned and seven new special schools established over the past four years. The Department of Education engages intensively with the NCSE in respect of forward planning for new special classes and additional special school places. The forward planning work is well under way for the 2024-25 school year. This work involves a detailed review of statistical data in respect of forecasting demand for special class places, analysis of available school accommodation, consideration of improved data-sharing arrangements and a particular focus on the provision of special classes at post-primary level.

As a result of the forward planning, two new special schools are being established for the current school year in Cork and Dublin, with further capacity being expanded in 11 other special schools. This will bring to four the number of special schools established in Dublin in recent years, in addition to the ones that were already there. In December 2023, the Minister, Deputy Foley, and the Minister of State, Deputy Madigan, announced the establishment of a further four new special schools for 2024-25, in Enfield, south Kildare, Gorey and Limerick. This will bring to 11 the number of new special schools established nationwide in recent years.


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