The enrolment of a child in a school is a matter, in the first instance, for the parents of the child and the Board of Management of a school.
It is the policy of my Department that all children with special educational needs can have access to an education appropriate to their needs, preferably in school settings through the primary and post primary school network.
Such placements facilitate access to individualised education programmes which may draw from a range of appropriate educational interventions, delivered by fully qualified professional teachers, with the support of Special Needs Assistants and the appropriate school curriculum.
Decisions about placement should be based on individual needs and take into account a number of factors including parental wishes, availability of evidence-based treatments and well-trained staff and individual factors such as targets for intervention and management of behaviours.
Some students, although academically able to access the curriculum in mainstream, may find it too difficult to manage full-time placement there. This can be due to significant difficulties in areas such as behaviour or sensory needs which have not been ameliorated, even with appropriate intervention, in mainstream. Others may have such complex needs that they are best placed in a special school.
The National Council for Special Education (NCSE), through its network of Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENOs), co-ordinates special needs education provision at local level and arranges for the delivery of special educational supports to schools. It is also the role of the NCSE to make appropriate arrangements to establish special classes in schools in communities where the need for such classes has been identified.
As the Deputy will be aware the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2016 was published in July 2016. The Bill which passed Committee Stage on 28 June 2017 and will shortly proceed to Report Stage is an important piece of legislation which strives to create a new more parent-friendly, equitable and consistent approach to how school admissions policy operates for the almost 4,000 primary and post-primary schools in this country.
The Bill provides an over-arching framework for greater transparency and consistency in school enrolment generally and thereby gives greater confidence to parents that the admission criteria laid down by schools and the procedures used by them are legitimate, reasonable and fair.
The Bill provides that where a school has places available it must admit all applicants. The Bill also contains a provision for the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) to designate a school for a child who has no school place for reasons related to the child’s special educational needs.
At Committee Stage of the Bill last June I indicated that I intend, at Report Stage, to include in this Bill a provision that will provide, based on reports and advice from the NCSE, the Minister with the power to require a school to open a special class or to increase the number of special classes in schools.
My Department officials are currently engaging with the Office of the Attorney General on the development of legislative proposals on this matter which I hope to bring forward to Government for approval shortly.