Wednesday, 21 September 2022
Department of Education and Skills
Special Educational Needs
I propose to take Questions Nos. 73 and 74 together.
I would like to thank the Deputy for the question and would like to advise the following:
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 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. My Department and the NCSE continue to work very closely in planning for the delivery of new places required to meet forecasted demand.
I am satisfied that this more joined up approach is delivering. Through this intensive intervention, we have seen 383 new special classes open, bringing the total of special classes to 2,535 opened nationwide for the 2022/23 school-year. The 383 new special classes for 2022/23 is broken down by 253 at primary level and 130 at post primary level.
The list of special classes for the 2022/23 school year is available on the NCSE website at the link below.
My Department and NCSE are satisfied that sufficient numbers of special class places have been established, both in Dublin and nationwide, to meet the needs of children who had sought such placements through the NCSE. Work on delivering this additional capacity continued over the summer and schools are making the necessary arrangements to open the classes as quickly as possible. This includes recruitment of staff and work on admission policies.
Where the NCSE have sanctioned new special classes over more recent weeks, there are a number of schools who may need some additional time to complete their admission processes, recruit staff and work through any minor building and reconfiguration works. The NCSE are working directly with any schools in this situation to support them in opening these classes as quickly as possible.
Schools are also engaging directly with parents and are working to support children as they plan their transition into these new special classes. The NCSE is also providing training and other support as necessary to schools
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.
I can confirm that the NCSE is aware of an ongoing identified need for additional special education placements for primary and post-primary students with autism. Work has been underway with stakeholders for a number of years, including the area referenced by the Deputy, to meet the demand for such places.
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 education placements.
NCSE is continuing to engage with schools regarding the establishment of additional special classes for 2022/23 and beyond. Every support will be made available to schools to progress the opening of special classes in the shortest possible timeframe
It is of course open to any school to engage with the NCSE to establish a special class.
The Deputy will also be aware of additional special school provision with new special schools established in both Dublin and Cork.
My Department is committed, in conjunction with the NCSE, 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 want to reassure you also 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.