The number of children with special educational needs receiving their education at their local school have increased greatly in recent years.
160 new special classes have been opened for the 2018/19 school year, which means there are now 1,459 special classes in place, compared to 548 in 2011. Of these, 321 are Post Primary ASD special classes, compared to 72 in 2011.
Because children with additional care needs are generally identified first at primary level, there is a natural lag in the numbers of children progressing and accessing supports at post primary. In addition, individual student need can change over time so the nature of supports required, for example placement in a special class, may also change. In overall terms, the number of students attending primary school is greater than post primary.
The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has formally advised me that there is insufficient special school and special class capacity in Dublin 15 and Kildare.
My Department and the NCSE are actively engaging with local schools and school patron bodies to address this urgent and important issue. As a result of these efforts, three special classes catering for 18 students are on track to open in September 2019.
If existing schools, including special schools, cannot provide the necessary number of places, then other arrangements will have to be made following any necessary consultation with parents and schools.
Options are currently being examined and scoped out, in relation to establishing new special places to cater for the needs of children in identified areas.
I have asked the NCSE to keep in regular contact with the Parents of the children concerned and advise them of progress.
Ensuring every child has access to a suitable school placement is a priority for me and my Department.