Written answers

Thursday, 19 January 2023

Department of Education and Skills

Special Educational Needs

Photo of Paul KehoePaul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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249. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the number of pupils with places in special ASD classes in the State who are currently refusing to attend school; and the process to free-up spaces in such cases to allow for other pupils who are entitled to a place to avail of the unused places. [2463/23]

Photo of Josepha MadiganJosepha Madigan (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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I would like to thank the Deputy for the question and would like to advise the following:

My Department is committed to delivering an education system that is of the highest quality and where every child and young person feels valued and is actively supported and nurtured to reach their full potential. My Department strives to ensure that every child has access to an educational experience that is appropriate to their needs and supports both their academic and personal development.

Our policy, which is set out in the Education of Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 (EPSEN) is that children with SEN should be educated in mainstream placements with additional supports provided as appropriate.

Where children require more specialised educational settings, such as special classes or special schools, the Department and National Council for Special Education (NCSE) ensures that the necessary resources and supports for such placements are provided in line with the needs of the child.

My Department is engaging intensely with the NCSE in relation to the forward planning of new special classes for the next school year 2023/2024. This work involves a detailed review of statistical data in relation to forecasting demand for special class places, consideration of improved data sharing arrangements and a particular focus on the provision of special classes at post-primary level.

As part of Budget 2023, additional funding is being provided to allow the NCSE recruit additional staff, including SENOs. These additional resources should ensure that the NCSE can better support parents and schools in relation to the provision of special education needs places.

Significant improvements have been made to the forward planning process for special education places over the last 2 to 3 years, including:

- the inclusion of special classes in all new schools by default (e.g. 4 class in a 1000 pupil post-primary school).

- improving the use of Geographic Information Systems in planning for special classes and special school places and

- increased engagement with key stakeholders such as patron bodies and management bodies, particularly at post-primary level.

There are a total of 2,544 special classes opened nationwide. Of the 2,544 special classes, there are 1802 at primary level and 742 at post primary level. This compares to a total of 1,839 special classes in the 2020/21 school year.

The NCSE is statutorily responsible for planning and coordinating provision at both a local and a national level and advising my Department in this regard. At local level, the NCSE is continuing to engage with schools regarding the establishment of additional special classes for the next school year 2023/2024. Every support will be made available to schools to progress the opening of special classes in the shortest possible timeframe.

As part of Budget 2023, my Department’s budget was substantially increased, by over 10%, meaning that for 2023 the Department will spend over €2.6 billion on special education. This level of educational funding and support is unprecedented and represents in excess of 27% of the Department’s total allocation for 2023. This includes additional teaching and care supports.

If a student is experiencing difficulties in relation to their special education setting, SENOs remain available to offer advice and assistance to parents and schools. SENO contact details can be found on the NCSE website at: ncse.ie/regional-services-contact-list

The NCSE has advised that there are sufficient places available to meet the current need for the 2022/23 year and that there are a small number of vacancies in some classes at present.

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.

Information on the list of schools with special classes, the types and locations of these classes is published on the NCSE website and is available at www.ncse.ie

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.

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.

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