I wish to advise the Deputy that my Department's policy is to secure the maximum possible level of inclusion of students with special educational needs in mainstream primary and post-primary schools, in order to ensure that as many children as possible can be educated with their peers within their own community. This policy is in line with the provisions of the Education of Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004.Students with special educational needs have access to a range of support services. In mainstream schools, pupils may be supported with access to additional teaching and/or care supports. Some children may be supported in a special class attached to a mainstream school. These students have the option, where appropriate, of full/partial integration and interaction with other pupils. Other children may have such complex needs that they require specialist supports in a special school.
I wish to advise the Deputy that the National Council for Special Education (NCSE), through its network of local Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENOs), is responsible for processing applications from primary and post primary schools for special educational needs supports, including the establishment of special classes in various geographical areas as required. The NCSE operates within my Department's criteria in allocating such support.
SENOs engage with schools annually in order to plan for, and to open, new special classes each year, in order to ensure there are sufficient special class placements available at primary and post primary school level to meet demand in a given area.
Since 2010, the number of special classes in mainstream schools has increased from approximately 500 to over 740 Special Classes, including 118 new special classes opened for the 2013/14 school year.
SENOs have again been working with schools, in recent months, in order to plan for the establishment of special classes for the forthcoming 2014/2015 school year. Although this work is ongoing, at this point, the NCSE has advised that they expect to open up to 100 new special classes for the coming school year. SENOs are continuing to liaise with and work with schools in order to meet demand for special school placements.
The NCSE has advised that for the most part the response from schools to requests to establish new special classes has been positive. There are, however, difficulties in opening new special classes in a small number of areas. The NCSE will continue to engage with schools in relation to this matter and officials at my Department will also work closely with the NCSE to address any such difficulties in the coming weeks.