Written answers

Thursday, 12 May 2022

Department of Education and Skills

Special Educational Needs

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)
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138. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the steps which she intends to take to cater for the increasing numbers of children requiring access to ASD units at post-primary level in the wider Athlone area; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22475/22]

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)
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150. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the steps which she intends to take to cater for the increasing numbers of children requiring access to ASD units at primary level in the wider Athlone area; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22474/22]

Photo of Josepha MadiganJosepha Madigan (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 138 and 150 together.

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 a wide range of schemes and supports for children with special educational needs.

This includes additional teaching and care supports.

As a result, the number of special education teachers, special needs assistants and special class and school places are at unprecedented levels.

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

Over the last two years, my Department and the NCSE have worked closely on a more streamlined and joined up planning process which has ensured a targeted approach to meet demand for special needs placements ahead of each new school year.

I am satisfied that this more joined up approach is delivering. Through this intensive intervention, we have seen an additional 300 special classes, providing 1,800 new places, opened nationwide for the 2021/22 school-year.

I also acknowledge that 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 NCSE 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.

Budget 2022 provided for the creation of 287 additional special classes for the 2022/2023 school year. These additional classes will provide over 1,700 new places from September next.

The NCSE is currently engaging in a process of establishing new classes for the 2022/2023 school year and beyond. Both my Department and the NCSE are always grateful to schools who express a willingness to open a special class to meet the educational needs of students in their local communities. It is of course open to any school to engage with the NCSE to establish a special class.

There are Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENOs) located across the country and they have a specific remit in helping and supporting parents in accessing the education necessary for their children, including in identifying suitable school placements.

I want to reassure the Deputy that my Department will continue to support the NCSE and schools through the provision of the necessary funding and capital investment to ensure all children are successful in accessing an education.

Information on the list of schools with special classes, the type and location of these classes is published on the NCSE website and is available at ncse.ie/special-classes.

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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139. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills her Department’s plans to support the establishment of a new special school in the east Cork area; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22888/22]

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.

It is also a key priority for me as Minister for Special Education & Inclusion.

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.

As a result, the number of special education teachers, special needs assistants and special class and special school places are at unprecedented levels.

Notwithstanding the extent of this investment, there are some parts of the country, including Cork, where increases in population and other issues have led to concerns regarding a shortage of special class and special school places.

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

Over the last two years, my Department and the NCSE have worked closely on a more streamlined and joined up planning process which has ensured a targeted approach to meet demand for special education placements ahead of each new school year.

I am satisfied that this approach is delivering.

This intensive intervention has seen an additional 300 special classes already opened nationwide for the 2021/22 school year as well as the establishment of two new special schools.

This targeted approach will continue in identifying and meeting demand for special education placements throughout the country. In terms of the area specifically referenced by the Deputy, I can confirm that the NCSE is aware of an identified need for additional special education placements for students with autism in Cork.

The Deputy will be aware that Minister Foley and I recently announced a significant expansion of special school provision in Cork and Dublin.

This significant announcement provides for the establishment of a new special school in Cork as well as increased capacity in existing special schools in Cork. Planning for the establishment and opening of the new special school has begun which includes determination of the size of the school required so that the necessary staff recruitment, school policy development and related arrangements can be put in train. The new school will be located on an interim basis in Rochestown in a premises expected to become available in early 2023.

My Department is committed, in conjunction with NCSE and the network of local Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENOs), to continue to work with parents, schools, patrons and all stakeholders to ensure that there are sufficient appropriate places for students with additional needs and to support all students to achieve their potential.

I can assure the Deputy that every support will be made available to progress additional special class and school capacity, in the shortest possible timeframe, with a particular focus in Cork on the 2022/23 school-year.

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