Written answers

Thursday, 12 May 2022

Department of Education and Skills

Special Educational Needs

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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122. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if she has utilised her powers under the Education (Admissions to School) Act 2018 to compel a school to open an ASD unit. [23671/22]

Photo of Josepha MadiganJosepha Madigan (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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Enabling children with special educational needs to receive an education is a priority for this Government.

This year, my Department will spend in excess of €2 Billion, or over 25% of the Department’s budget on providing additional teaching and care supports for children with special educational needs.

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has responsibility for co-ordinating and advising on the education provision for children with special educational needs nationwide.

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 school places.

The Minister has powers under Section 37A of the Education Act to direct a school to provide additional places but this power is only used as a last resort and where all reasonable efforts have failed.

This legal power to compel schools to open new special classes is only used where the following criteria apply:

- there is established need for additional places in an area

- it is considered that the schools involved in the Section 37 process have capacity to open the additional classes and

- all reasonable efforts have been made to support these schools in making the required provision.

The legislation has been used twice to date; initially in the Dublin 15 area in 2019 and more recently in the South Dublin area in 2020. Significant progress has been made in these areas on foot of action taken under Section 37.

The Section 37 process is one of the tools available to the Department to ensure that adequate suitable education provision is made for children with special needs and it is not a substitute for advance planning.

All parties would prefer to see schools volunteer to provide more places rather than places being secured on the back of an order or a direction from the Minister. The evidence available this school-year is that schools are willing to work collaboratively with the Department and NCSE on the provision of new school places for children with special educational needs and I am grateful to all concerned for their ongoing work in this regard.

I can also reassure the Deputy that the local SENOs continue to be available to assist and advise parents of children with special educational needs.

Parents seeking special class placements for their children are advised to contact NCSE locally so that their needs can be taken into account for planning purposes.

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