Thursday, 18 February 2021
Department of Education and Skills
Special Educational Needs
179. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if she will consider making it a requirement that all schools in receipt of public funding would have to facilitate an ASD unit, given the huge shortage of places nationwide; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9097/21]
I wish to advise the Deputy that in the case of all new schools, it is general practice within my Department to include a Special Education Needs Base (SEN Base) in the accommodation brief for new school buildings, unless local circumstances indicate that it will not be required. Typically, a two classroom SEN Base is provided in new primary schools and a two or four classroom SEN Base is provided in new post primary schools.
As the Deputy is aware, special classes can also be established within a school's existing accommodation. In such circumstances, the school can apply to my Department for capital funding to re-configure existing spaces within the school building to accommodate the class and/or to construct additional accommodation for special needs purposes, should the school’s existing accommodation not be capable of hosting special classes.
The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has responsibility for coordinating and advising on the education provision for children nationwide. It has well established structures in place for engaging with schools and parents. The NCSE seeks to ensure that schools in an area can, between them, cater for all children who have been identified as needing special education placements.
The NCSE is planning a further expansion of special class and special school places nationally, to meet identified need. 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.
Notwithstanding the extent of this investment, there are some parts of the country where increases in population and other issues have led to concerns regarding a shortage of specialised provision.
Through better planning at both national and local level, it is the Department’s objective that specialist education places should come on stream to meet emerging demand on a timely basis and the active collaboration of school communities is essential in this regard.
180. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if she will allow a school (details supplied) to deliver the in-person support programme for pupils with complex needs on the school premises in exceptional circumstances in order to accommodate some of those most in need of the support whose home circumstances are not suitable for home-based provision; if she will extend this permission to other schools that may wish to avail of it; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9100/21]
My Department is conscious of the fact that closing schools has hugely adverse consequences at individual, family and societal level and that the effect on children with special educational needs can be even greater.
Following intensive engagement and input from primary, post-primary and special education partners, a framework has now been developed and agreed with all partners, including unions and management, in order to achieve a phased return to in-school provision for children with special educational needs.
Under the framework the following phased return to in-school provision has been agreed:
Phase 1:Special schools reopened on Thursday 11th February 2021. In accordance with this agreement pupils will attend on a 50 per cent basis to allow for attendance of reduced numbers within the school setting. This will be reviewed in line with public health advice.
Phase 2:Primary and Post-Primary Special Classes will reopen from Monday 22nd February 2021. Pupils are expected to attend these classes on a full-time basis.
Special classes at primary and post-primary level will be supported in their return by the enhanced school teams put in place by the HSE and the Department of Education. Updated guidance and information on the supports for schools has been made available to primary schools, and will be made available to post-primary schools in advance of the return.
It is not possible to facilitate the return to school of other pupils/students with special educational needs without the agreement of all stakeholders. This includes the use of school buildings to deliver the supplementary programme.
Intensive engagement is continuing with education stakeholders, towards a full return of all students to in-person teaching and learning in primary and post primary schools as soon as possible and when it is safe to do so.