Tuesday, 13 October 2020
Department of Education and Skills
Autism Support Services
256. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills her plans to support children with autism that are suffering due to the lack of ASD units in primary schools in County Limerick; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30028/20]
257. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills her plans to support children with autism that are suffering due to the lack of ASD units in secondary schools in County Limerick; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30029/20]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 253 to 259, inclusive, together.
Enabling children with special educational needs to receive an education appropriate to their needs is a priority for this Government. My Department invests €1.9 Billion or almost 20% of its total educational budget annually on making additional provision for children with special educational needs. This represents an increase of over 50% in total expenditure since 2011, at which point €1.247 Billion per annum was provided.
The policy of my Department is that all children with special educational needs, including those with autism, can have access to an education appropriate to their needs, preferably in school settings through the primary and post primary school network.
This policy has been informed by published research, including the Report of the Task Force on Autism (2001), the Evaluation of Educational Provision for Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) (2006) and National Council for Special Education (NCSE) policy advice on Supporting Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (2016).
This policy ensures that the majority of children with special educational needs attend mainstream classes with their peers.
Such placements facilitate access to individualised education programmes which may draw from a range of appropriate educational interventions, delivered by fully qualified professional teachers, with the support of Special Needs Assistants, Special Education Teachers and the appropriate school curriculum.
But some students may find it difficult to manage full-time placement in mainstream and so placement in a Special Class or Special School setting where lower pupil/teacher ratios apply and there are other supports available.
There is therefore not one preferred educational environment for children with special educational needs, rather there is a model which takes into account the identified educational needs of individual pupils.
As such, my Department’s policy focuses on ensuring that all students, including those with autism, can have access to an education appropriate to meeting their needs and abilities.
The National Council for special Education is responsible to planning and coordinating local education provision and school placements for children with special needs for the whole country. It has however advised that there are currently 60 classes supporting students with autism operating in mainstream schools in Limerick. These classes provide for up to 360 specialist places in mainstream schools based in a total of 37 Primary Schools and 23 Post Primary schools. 13 of these classes are new for the 2020/2021 school year. In addition, 188 students with autism are supported within 5 Special Schools in Limerick.
Taking a range of demographic factors into consideration, it is anticipated that additional places may be required in Limerick to cater for likely future demand in the city and county. The NCSE, through its network of local SENOs, will continue to engage with the local schools to establish additional classes as required.
NCSE has also advised that there are currently 4 special classes operating in primary and post-primary mainstream schools in Newport, Co. Tipperary, supporting students with autism. It is anticipated that a further special class will open here in September 2021, subject to available accommodation.
A list of all special classes, including classes opened for September 2020, is available on the NCSE website at www.ncse.ie