That Dáil Éireann:
—each and every child has a right to education to enable them to live a full life and to realise his or her potential;
—annually, parents of children with special needs and autism face considerable difficulty securing school places for their children;
—there were 3,568 children awaiting a first assessment of need nationally at the end of March;
—there were over 850 children with special educational needs receiving home tuition while awaiting school placement in 2017/2018; and
—a recent survey of parents of children with special needs conducted by AsIAm found that:
—35 per cent of parents said that they had applied to between four and seven different schools to seek a place for their child;
—54 per cent of parents felt that a lack of school places was the biggest barrier for their child in accessing education, in addition to a further 18 per cent saying that their chief obstacle was a lack of nearby schools or classes in their local catchment areas;
—91 per cent of respondents whose child or children were experiencing exclusion or extended absence from school said they were presently receiving no support from Tusla; and
—recurring problems will increase in the 2018/2019 school year and in Dublin 15 alone there is a shortage of 40 special school places for students with complex needs, including autism spectrum disorder;
—the impact of disengagement from school is catastrophic for young people;
—that when a child does have a place, children with disabilities are more likely to be placed on reduced hours;
—that the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018 gives the Minister for Education and Skills the power to direct schools to open more school places for children with special needs where there are not sufficient places available; and
—that there has been no investment between 2016-2018 to recruit additional therapists in the Health Service Executive Service Plan under the national policy of ‘Progressing Disability Services for Children and Young Persons 0-18’, which causes extra gaps in education provision;
—each child deserves access to education, and where appropriate, the State must provide education which supports the special educational needs of children;
—no school takes the decision to reduce a student’s timetable unilaterally; and
—there is currently no formal system in place for monitoring or reporting on the use of reduced timetables; and
acknowledges that the National Council for Special Education has formally advised the Minister for Education and Skills, that there is insufficient special school and special class capacity in Dublin 15, but that further use of the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018 to address shortfalls in other areas has not yet taken place; and
calls on the Government to:
—immediately use the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018 in areas where there is a need to ensure that every child with a special educational need has that need met before September 2019;
—provide additional support mechanisms for parents to directly engage with Special Educational Needs Organisers, and to provide additional resources if required to ensure that parents concerns regarding school places are met;
—provide teachers with access to further undergraduate training in the area of special education needs;
—provide those who are working in the area of special education with further supports for continuous professional development;
—provide additional resources such as the National Educational Psychological Service and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services to at-risk children or children in need of assistance to remove the need for a reduced timetable as a response to emotional or behavioural issues;
—introduce legislation governing the use of reduced timetables;
—immediately introduce a mechanism that includes an appeals process to ensure that reduced timetables are monitored, including the reason that a reduced timetable is used, its duration, a plan to support the young person to return to the school timetable and the child’s age, gender and ethnicity;
—engage with schools and teachers representatives to address shortfalls in resources to ensure that schools have adequate provision to provide every child with an education; and
—create a plan to roll out in-school speech and language therapies nationwide.
I am sharing my time. Every child, including children with special needs, has the right to reach his or her full potential. I believe that education is key to realising that right. We must also remember that behind every child looking for a school place is a family, including parents and siblings. These people often have to fight for everything and not just for school places. A written response to a parliamentary question posed by Deputy Thomas Byrne last June advised that "enabling children with special educational needs including autism to receive an education ... is a priority for ... [this] Government". I really wonder if that is the case.
I know those are reassuring words because every child has a right to an education. In fact, this right is enshrined in the Constitution and that is the least that every child, including children with a disability, deserves. It is a given, or at least it should be. The reality with this Government, however, paints a somewhat different picture. A survey conducted by AsIAm found that one third of parents who completed the survey confirmed that they had been waiting more than one year for a school place. Nationally, more than 850 children with special needs received home tuition last year simply because there were no spaces for them in schools.
As the Minister is aware, school is not just about education. It is also about the development of social skills and those skills are developed within the walls of the school. In my county of Cork, 156 children were languishing on a list for placement last year. That has increased from 121 since 2015. It is further noted that in circumstances where spaces are provided it is often the case that reduced timetables are introduced as a means of dealing with challenging behaviour. That is not fair. Every child should be entitled to a full day in school, except in those rare circumstances where, in agreement with parents, that is not viewed as a good idea. In most cases, however, children need their full day in school, like other pupils in the class. The reality is that these numbers are likely to be much higher as the practice appears to go unregulated for the most part. We have no records and no data are collected. Imagine that in this day and age we have no way of ascertaining the gravity of this process as it is not monitored.
In fact, many schools make decisions concerning which children are placed on reduced timetables. Significantly, the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018, instigated by my party, Fianna Fáil, provides the Minister with powers to compel schools to provide a place within a school to children with special needs. This power, however, has only been used once so far, in Dublin 15. This Act needs to be implemented nationally with immediate effect. I would also like to see more contact between parents and the special education needs officers, SENOs, so that the SENO, the parents and the teachers can be on the same hymn sheet going forward. What chance does a child have to reach his or her full potential when the most basic of starts, that is, an education, is not being afforded to him or her? I hope sincerely that we will receive cross-party support for this motion. I hope that it will allow our forgotten children, often those children who have no voices of their own, to be recognised so that they get what they rightly deserve.