Written answers

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Department of Education and Skills

Special Educational Needs

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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378. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the action he will take to address the specific educational needs of children with a disability or learning difficulties, including a lack of access to technology and access to high speed broadband. [6856/20]

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal, Fine Gael)
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I recently announced that a special €10 million fund is being made available to support the purchase of technology and devices for disadvantaged students, including students with special educational needs. 

This is additional to the latest round of funding for ICT under the Digital Strategy for Schools whereby €40m grant funding will be distributed in the coming weeks to eligible.  

€10m additional funding is also now issuing to schools to support children and young people who are at risk of educational disadvantage during the period of school closures, including children with special educational needs. 

Many schools have also previously been sanctioned to purchase assistive technology equipment for pupils with special educational needs, under my Departments Assistive Technology scheme.

DES Circular 0010/2013, which sets out the basis for this scheme, notes that the equipment purchased should normally be kept in the school, however, the pupil or pupils for whom the equipment is sanctioned may, with the consent of the management authority, use the equipment at home.

Schools are encouraged to ensure that pupils are allowed to bring home and use assistive technology equipment sanctioned under this scheme, which is suitable for use at home (such as laptops and tablet devices) during the school closure period.

My Department has also provided a range of support and guidance for schools on how to provide for the continuing education for pupils over the current school closure period.  

Supports are provided to schools and teachers engaged in distance learning and these are available at

In additional to the general guidance that has been provided for schools, additional support material has also been provided specifically on how schools should provide for the continuity of education for children with special educational needs. This guidance is available at:

The guidance notes that there is a particular need for pupils with special educational needs (SEN) to have regular, ongoing schooling. While all pupils need to be supported to maintain their engagement in learning, those with SEN are among those who need most support at this time. Examples of strategies and measures to ensure that the needs of pupils with SEN are catered for, are provided in the guidance documents and a range of resources are also identified for parents.

It sets out the role of schools and teachers in engaging with pupils with SEN and the role of teachers and school leaders to support such pupils. It advises schools as to how best to keep in touch with parents and guardians and how to keep pupils with SEN safe and engaged in the distance learning environment.

The guidance sets out the role of the special education teacher to support children with special educational needs at this time. It notes that the special education teacher’s knowledge of their pupils’ priority learning needs and agreed targets, as outlined in the pupil support file, will enable them to work with parents and guardians to choose appropriate supports in a remote learning environment.

Special Education Teachers (SETs) are asked to carefully examine how progress on the existing learning targets in student support plans can be reasonably extended by home learning. They are asked to use this knowledge to communicate with the pupils and their parents and guardians and to establish what methods will work best to achieve continuity of learning for the pupils.

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) is also providing a range of online resources for parents and teachers to support home learning for children with special educational needs during the Covid 19 restrictions.

In addition to the normal supports, the NCSE is providing online resources for children with Special Educational Needs who are at home as a result of the schools’ closure. 

Supports provided include those relating to general learning and difficulties for pupils with SEN, Curriculum support, speech language and communication, occupational therapy support, guidance around behaviour, and learning and resources on ‘Visiting Teachers Support’ for a teacher who teaches children with sensory impairment

Details of the full range of supports that the NCSE provides for teachers and parents is available at:

The Department of Education and Skills’ NEPS psychologists have also developed advice and resources for young people to manage and stay well when schools are closed. The NEPS advice & resources for keeping children and young people well during Covid-19 are available at

Guidelines for continued provision of Guidance Counselling and resources available to support practice is available at

Guidance for parents of primary school pupils, which sets out what they should expect in relation to engagement in distance learning from schools, and how they can support their child in a home schooling environment is also available at:

While recognising the difficulty that school closure has had for parents and pupils, particularly in relation to pupils with special educational needs, my Department will continue to support and encourage schools to provide as much continuity of education as possible for such pupils, while continuing to engage with public health officials and stakeholders in relation to when schools may re-open and operate in a safe manner that is consistent with public health advice.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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379. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills when a special needs school place will be made available to a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6872/20]

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal, Fine Gael)
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Ensuring that every child has a suitable school placement is a key objective of my Department.  Significant resources are allocated each year to ensure that appropriate 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.

A list of special classes and special schools for the current school year is available on the NCSE website.

Budget 2020 provided for an additional 265 special class teachers in 2020, which will allow for the opening of additional classes where required.

The National Council for Special Education (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. 

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.

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's Local Special Education Needs Organisers (SENOs) are available to assist and advise both schools and the parents of children with special educational needs. Parents may contact SENOs directly using the contact details available at:

My Department understands that the NCSE are engaging with the parent of the child referred to by the deputy on the matter of an appropriate school placement. The SENO remains available to offer further advice and assistance, and I would encourage the parent to continue to engage directly with them, as required.

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