Thursday, 5 March 2020
Department of Education and Skills
201. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the steps being taken to ensure that a child (details supplied) in County Cork has an appropriate second-level school place for the 2020-21 school year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2788/20]
Ensuring that every child has a suitable school placement is a key objective of my Department and significant supports are available for children with special educational needs.
Since 2011, the number of special classes in mainstream schools has increased almost threefold, from 548 to 1,618 for the 2019/2020 school year; with 1,353 of these catering for children with autism.
167 new special classes have been established nationally for 2019/20 school year of which approximately 156 will be new autism special classes, comprising 6 Early Intervention, 100 primary, and 50 post-primary autism classes.
Provision in our 124 special schools has also increased from 6,848 placements in 2011 to 7,872 this year.
In Cork alone there are 195 special classes and 13 special schools providing specialist support to children with more complex special educational needs.
A list of special classes for September 2019 is available on the NCSE website at:
Budget 2020 provided for an additional 265 special class teachers in 2020, which will allow for the opening of additional classes where required.
The NCSE has responsibility for coordinating and advising on the education provision for children nationwide; has well established structures in place for engaging with schools and parents; and seeks to ensure that schools in an area can, between them, cater for all children who have been identified as needing special class placements.
It is open to any school to make an application to the NCSE for the establishment of a specialised provision and where sanctioned, a range of supports, including capital funding, is made available to the school. My Department works closely with the NCSE in this regard.
The NCSE is planning a further expansion of special class and school places nationally, including Cork, to meet identified need for next year. This process is ongoing.
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 NCSE 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.
Last year, the NCSE indicated that parents in Dublin 15, South Dublin, Kildare and Cork were experiencing difficulty securing school places for their children.
The legislation has been used twice in Dublin to address shortages of special class and school places.
The legislation contains a procedure through which the NCSE can test the capacity of schools in an area to provide more special education places and through which ultimately a Ministerial direction can be made requiring a school to make additional special education places available. The Act prescribes a set of steps to follow which includes extensive consultation with schools and their patron bodies.
The initial step in the process is for the NCSE to inform the Minister that there is a shortage of places in a particular area.
The NCSE will only activate the legislation after it has taken all reasonable efforts to get schools and their Patrons to voluntarily agree to provide additional special class or school places.
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's Local Special Education Needs Organisers (SENOs) are available to assist and advise both schools and the parents of children with special educational needs in relation to special class provision.
As the Deputy's question relates to special class placement for an individual pupil, this has been referred to the NCSE for direct reply.
202. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the steps being taken to ensure that children (details supplied) in County Cork have an appropriate second-level school place for the 2020-21 school year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2789/20]
I wish to inform the Deputy that as school authorities finalise their enrolments each year, issues have arisen where primary school pupils are experiencing difficulties in a number of areas in securing a post-primary school place for the start of the new school year (September 2020).
Where capacity is an issue the key points to be considered are:
- Duplication of applications – pupils have applied for a place to a number of schools in the area
- School of choice – pupils can’t get a place in their preferred school while there are places in other schools in the town/area
- Some towns/areas have single sex schools and while places are available in the school they are not available to all pupils
- External draw – pupils coming from outside the local area
Where these issues exist, Department officials from the Planning and Building Unit engage with all relevant parties to resolve them.