Wednesday, 18 December 2019
Department of Education and Skills
Special Educational Needs Service Provision
The provision of education for children with special needs, including those with Autism, is an ongoing priority for Government.
Currently, almost 20% of the total Education Vote or €1.9bn is invested in supporting children with special needs.
The majority of children with Autism attend mainstream class, where they may access additional supports if required.
But some students may find it difficult to manage full-time placement in mainstream and so placement in a Special Class or Special School setting may be deemed appropriate where placement in mainstream class is not in the best interests of the child.
Nationally, 167 new special classes opened this school year, which means there are 1,618 special classes in place, compared to 548 in 2011. Of these 1,353 special classes cater for students diagnosed with ASD.
As approximately 1% of the school population require the support of a special class, it is not possible or practical that a special class placement would be available in every school.
Instead the NCSE ensures that schools in an area can, between them, cater for all children who have been identified as needing special class placements.
Before approaching a particular school to request the establishment of a special class, the NCSE take into account both present and future potential need within the area and must be satisfied that the class is sustainable and appropriately located.
The NCSE has planned further expansion of special class and school places to meet demand for the coming years, which will include additional post primary special class provision.
It is open to any school to make an application to the NCSE for the establishment of a specialised provision and where sanctioned, there is a range of supports including capital funding available to the school.
Normally, special class and school places 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 has faced challenges in getting schools and their Patrons to voluntarily agree to provide special class or school places.
I know that this can cause much anguish for parents and families involved.
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.
I would prefer to see schools volunteer to provide more places rather than places being secured on the back of an order or a direction from me. It is the right thing for the children in a community.
The NCSE has a team of local Special Education Needs Organisers who can advise parents of children with special educational needs and identify available school places.
As the matter raised by the Deputy refers to a particular area, I have arranged for the Deputy's question to be forwarded to the National Council for Special Education for their attention and direct reply.