Tuesday, 21 July 2020
Department of Education and Skills
Autism Support Services
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.
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 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 national 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 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 contains a procedure through which the capacity of schools in an area can be tested and through which ultimately a Ministerial direction can be made requiring a school to make additional special education provision available.
The legislation was used for the first time in 2019, in respect of the Dublin 15 area. Significant progress has been made in that area on foot of action taken under Section 37. A new Special School was established and six schools have agreed to open special classes thereby meeting the need for additional places in the area. The experience of Dublin 15 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 my Department 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 report identifies the schools who it is considered have potential to provide additional places. These schools were identified following an extensive engagement with schools and their patron bodies and parents in the area.
Having considered the report, the Minister accepted the opinion of the NCSE and statutory notices were served on 39 schools in the area on 26 June last. All schools have been afforded the opportunity to make representations in respect of the notices served. Both the notices served together with the representations received to date from the school authorities and their Patrons have been published on my Department’s website.
I understand that some progress has already been made and the NCSE is working with a number of schools to establish classes for this coming school year.
My Department, in conjunction with the NCSE, will continue to work through the next steps in this process.