Tuesday, 22 October 2019
Department of Education and Skills
Special Educational Needs Service Provision
216. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the actions he is taking to ensure that children on the autism spectrum for whom a place in a special class attached to a mainstream school is required can access such a place locally, particularly in County Limerick; if he will use his powers to insist that such provision is available within a reasonable distance of the homes of such children; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43405/19]
The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has a statutory function to plan and co-ordinate the provision of education and support services to children with special educational needs.
This includes the establishment of special class and special school placements in various geographical areas where the NCSE identifies need, including in County Limerick.
It is open to any school to make application to the NCSE to establish a class where a need has been identified in their area. My Department is not involved in considering applications from individual schools.
The NCSE have well established structures to ensure that advance planning is in place so that schools in an area can, between them, cater for all children who have been identified as needing special class placements.
In deciding where to establish a special class in an area, the NCSE take account of the current and projected demand and the available school accommodation both current and planned. In this regard, the SENO will also approach individual schools in the area to discuss the matter with a view to finding the optimal location in terms of convenience and sustainability.
The NCSE team of locally based Special Education Needs Organisers (SENOs) are available to assist and advise schools to plan for special class provision and to address issues in provision that may arise from time in time at local levels.
Guidelines for Boards of Management and Principals of Primary and Post Primary schools contain information on setting up and organising special classes, including information on resources which may be provided to schools to establish special classes are available to download fromwww.ncse.ie.
Normally, special classes are established with the full cooperation of the schools in areas where they are required
However there are some parts of the country where the Council faced challenges in getting schools and their Patrons to voluntarily agree to provide special class or school places.
As Minister I have a power under Section 37A of the Education Act 1998 to direct a school to provide additional provision where all reasonable efforts have failed.
The legislation was used for the first time back in April in respect of the Dublin 15 area.
As Minister, I would much prefer that schools provide places for children in their community. Where this is not the case, I am prepared to use the legislation to ensure that children can access a suitable education.
In Co. Limerick, there are currently 5 special schools and 57 special classes in mainstream schools, including 5 ASD Early Intervention classes, 28 primary ASD classes, and 16 ASD post primary ASD classes.
As the Deputy's question relates to the NCSE planning for special class provision in a particular area, I have arranged for the question to be forwarded to the NCSE for their attention and direct reply.