Written answers

Thursday, 21 March 2024

Department of Education and Skills

Special Educational Needs

Photo of James O'ConnorJames O'Connor (Cork East, Fianna Fail)
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210. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the position regarding an expression of interest to her Department by a school (details supplied) in establishing an ASD unit; if she will address the matters raised in correspondence supplied by the school; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13473/24]

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, for my department and for the National Council for Special Education (NCSE).

The vast majority of children with special educational needs are supported to attend mainstream classes with their peers. Where children with more complex needs require additional supports, special classes and special school places are provided.

In 2023, my department spent over €2.6 billion on special education and further progress will be made this year as an additional €113 million will be dedicated to providing supports for children with special educational needs.

This includes funding to support children with special educational needs in mainstream classes; funding for new special classes and new special school places; additional special educational teachers, special needs assistants (SNAs) and funding for the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS).

In 2024, the number of teaching and SNA posts in our schools will increase with an additional 744 teachers and 1,216 SNAs added to deliver up to 2,700 new places for children with special educational needs. This will mean we will have over 41,500 qualified and committed people in our schools who are focused wholly and exclusively on supporting children with special educational needs.

The NCSE has the responsibility for planning and coordinating school supports for children with special educational needs.

Over the last number of years, my department and the NCSE have introduced a number of strategic initiatives to plan for and provide sufficient special class and special school places.

These initiatives are bearing fruit with almost 1,300 new special classes sanctioned and seven new special schools established over the last four years.

My department engage intensely with the NCSE in relation to the forward planning of new special classes and additional special school places. This forward planning work is well underway ahead of the 2024/25 school year. This work involves a detailed review of statistical data in relation to forecasting demand for special class places, an analysis of available school accommodation, consideration of improved data sharing arrangements and a particular focus on the provision of special classes at post-primary level.

As a result of this forward planning, two new special schools have been established for this current school year in Cork and Dublin, with further capacity being expanded in 11 other special schools.

In December 2023, I was also very happy to announce with my colleague Minister Foley, the establishment of a further four new special schools for the 2024/25 school year in Meath, Kildare, Wexford and Limerick. This will bring to 11 the number of new special schools established in recent years.

Along with the two new special schools opening this school year, 390 new special classes – 254 at primary and 136 at post-primary level – have been sanctioned by the NCSE for opening this current school year.

Of these 6 are in Waterford, 2 at primary level and 4 at post-primary level. This brings to 58 the number of special classes in County Waterford, 37 at primary level and 21 at post-primary level.

As demand for new special classes at post-primary level is expected to increase significantly over the next few years, due to increasing demographics and increasing prevalence rates, my department and the NCSE have engaged with post-primary stakeholders in relation to the provision of special classes.

My department has communicated to all post-primary schools of the need to begin planning to provide additional special classes. It is envisaged that all post-primary schools will be required to provide special classes over the next 2 to 4 years, with an approximate average of 4 special classes in each school.

In relation to the school referred to by the Deputy, the NCSE has advised my department that they recently received an expression of interest for the establishment of an autism class from the school. It is of course open to any school to do so and every school who express such an interest is to be commended.

However, it may not be possible for the NCSE to sanction a new special class in every school that expresses an interest.

The department and the NCSE are currently reviewing the overall demand for such provision in the area alongside the availability of space in local schools. The local special educational needs officer (SENO) remains in contact with the principal of the school and with the parents of children in the area. Parents will be duly notified as new special class placements become available and are sanctioned for the 2024/25 school year within the area.

When assessing the needs in the local area, the NCSE identify schools in the neighbouring vicinity with available special class vacancies and assess their capability with consideration to demographical and statistical data.

Planning for special classes and places in Co. Waterford and nationwide is currently underway ahead of the 2024/25 school year. Schools and parents will be notified as soon as possible if a special class can be established.

Parents seeking special class placements for their children are advised to contact the NCSE locally so that their needs can be taken into account for planning purposes. The local special educational needs organisers (SENOs) remain available to assist and advise parents of children with special educational needs. Parents may contact SENOs directly using the contact details available at: www.ncse.ie/regional-services-contact-list.

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/special-classes

My department and the NCSE are committed to ensuring that sufficient special education placements will be available for children for this school year and future years.


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