Wednesday, 13 May 2020
Department of Education and Skills
I propose to take Questions Nos. 305 and 306 together.
My Department's policy is to ensure that all children with special educational needs can be provided with an education appropriate to their needs.
Where possible, provision is made for the inclusive education of children with special educational needs.
Department policy is that children with special educational needs should be included where possible and appropriate in mainstream placements with additional supports provided.
In circumstances where children with special educational need require more specialised interventions, special school or special class places are provided for.
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.
167 new special classes were established nationally for 2019/20 school year. There are currently 68 special classes in Co Offaly, of which 17 are post primary and 51 are primary.
There are currently 30 special classes in Co Laois, of which 4 are post primary and 26 are primary.
A list of special classes for September 2019 is available on the NCSE website at:
There are two special schools in Co Laois and one in Co Offaly, catering for approximately 160 students with the most complex needs.
Budget 2020 provided for an additional 265 special class teachers and 35 special school teaching posts in 2020, which will allow for the opening of additional special classes and additional enrolment in special schools 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 special school places nationally to meet identified need for next year. This process is ongoing.
Normally, special class and special 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.
Last year, the NCSE indicated that parents in Dublin 15, South Dublin, Kildare and Cork were experiencing difficulty securing school places for their children.
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 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 school placements for children with disabilities.
My Department is not aware of a shortage of special education places in Co Laois or Co Offaly.