My Department is aware that the establishment of special class provision in some schools and communities can be challenging. The National Council for Special Education, NCSE, is responsible, through its network of special needs organisers, SENOs, for the development, delivery and co-ordination of education services to children with special educational needs, including the establishment of special class and special school placements. For the 2018-19 school year, 160 new special classes have been opened. That means there are now 1,459 special classes in place, compared to 548 in 2011. There are 1,196 autism spectrum disorder, ASD, special classes.
The greater proportion of children with autism attend mainstream classes, but some require the environment of a special class or special school. Enrolment in a special class should only be considered where it has been demonstrated that a student requires the support of a special class because he or she is unable to learn effectively in a mainstream class for most or all of the school day, even with appropriate supports. The placement decision is based on a recommendation made by a relevant professional. While it is not always possible or practical that a special class placement would be available in a child’s local school, the NCSE has informed my Department that, in general, it is satisfied that there are sufficient ASD special class placements to meet existing demand nationally.
From time to time, the NCSE identifies local areas where additional provision is required. In those circumstances, SENOs work with the schools and families concerned to resolve the issues involved. The Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018, when commenced, will assist in addressing this issue in areas where the NCSE is of the opinion that there is insufficient education provision for children with special educational needs. Section 8 of the Act, which will commence from Monday, 3 December 2018, will provide the Minister with a power, after a process of consultation with the NCSE, the board of management and the patron of the school, to compel a school to make additional provision for the education of children with special educational needs.