Written answers

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Department of Education and Skills

Special Educational Needs

Photo of Chris AndrewsChris Andrews (Dublin Bay South, Sinn Fein)
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206. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if he will intervene in a process as part of the provisions under section 37A of the Education Act 1998, to ensure schools in the Dublin 2, 4, 6 and 6W areas open autism special classes and that it is implemented effectively to begin to address the imbalance and exclusion that persists. [10721/20]

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.

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 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.

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. 

As Minister for Education & Skills, I have power under Section 37A of the Education Act 1998, to direct a school to provide additional provision where all reasonable efforts have failed. This legislation has been used to good effect in the recent past. This experience shows that real and practical challenges can be addressed by working together to provide additional special class and special school places.

The legislation was activated for a second time on 29 October 2019 following a report by the NCSE which identified children in South Dublin needing special education school places. Since then, the NCSE in consultation with the relevant education stakeholders, has been testing the capacity amongst schools in the South Dublin area. 

On 21 April 2020 I received a report from the NCSE, pursuant to Section 37A(2) of the Education Act 1998 (as inserted by section 8 of the Education (Admissions to Schools) Act 2018) in respect of South Dublin, as the NCSE Council remains of the opinion that there is an insufficient number of special class and special school places within the South Dublin area for September 2020.

The next steps in the process are being considered, in conjunction with the NCSE, with a view to ensuring that every child has a suitable school placement, which is the key objective of my Department.

Matt Shanahan (Waterford, Independent)
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207. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if a decision has been made on whether to run the July provision programmes to accommodate students with special needs; if his attention has been drawn to the impact on children with complex conditions such as autism, intellectual disabilities and special needs (details supplied); if he is considering opening schools to enable school-based programmes to run in conjunction with programmes in home-based settings; the particular online supports in place for affected students to maintain routine and learning over the summer months; his plans to extend the pilot scheme which has operated in four second-level schools; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10723/20]

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal, Fine Gael)
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My Department has published details of a summer programme for children with special educational needs enrolled in special schools, special classes and mainstream classes.  The programme incorporates some aspects of the July Provision of previous years. 

Summer Provision 2020 – Reconnecting with Education, is a significantly expanded programme for children with complex special educational needs which aims to re-establish the child’s relationships and connection with school and their peers as a basis for learning and participation and to help the child to re-engage in learning and social activities and help them adapt to new routines and changes.  The programme aims to ensure, in so far as possible, that the child can reintegrate/transition into their planned education setting for the next school year with their peers.  In-school or home-based supports by teachers and SNAs will help to prevent regression among children with special needs. 

The eligibility criteria has been widened to include the following categories of children:

1. Pupils with a diagnosis of Autism

2. Pupils with severe and profound learning difficulties

3. Any child in a special class or special school

4. Children transitioning into a special class or special school from early year’s settings

5. Pupils in primary school mainstream classes who present with the following disabilities:

- Children with Down syndrome

- Children who are Deaf or most severe hard of hearing

- Children who are blind or have a most severe visual impairment

- Children who have a moderate general learning disability

- Children with severe emotional behavioural difficulties

All special schools and primary schools with special classes are invited to provide the school based summer provision for their students.  This programme will run for a minimum of two weeks and can extend up to four weeks where the schools, teachers and Special Needs Assistants are willing to participate. 

Home-based provision will be available where a child’s local school is not providing a programme or does not have the capacity to accommodate a child in a planned programme this year. In this situation my Department will provide grant funding towards the engagement by Parents of a registered teacher / SNA to provide home based support for 10 hours a week for 4 weeks.

The programme will be reliant on schools, teachers and Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) choosing to participate on a voluntary basis. 

A dedicated online registration system for families of children with special needs to access Summer Provision is now available onGov.ie/summerprovision

Parents are asked to register their participation online, providing some outline information of the extent of their participation in the programme e.g. number of weeks.

Once registered, the parent is then free to plan and organise the programme for their child by consulting with the child’s school and securing the services of a teacher or SNA. 

I also announced a programme for DEIS schools for this Summer.

Full information on summer provision and its various strands, including guidance information for parents, is available at Gov.ie/summerprovision

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