Enabling children with Special Educational Needs including Autism to receive an education appropriate to their needs is a priority for Government.
At present, the Department of Education and Skills is investing heavily in supporting our children with special educational needs, with €1.8 bn being spent annually, about €1 in every 5 of the education budget.
Investment in this area includes an allocation of over €300 million towards providing additional resources specifically to support students with Autism in schools. Since 2011, the number of ASD special classes has increased by over 260% from 330 in 2011 to 1,196 across the country now. In addition, 124 Special schools provide for children with Autism and very complex special needs.
The number of Special education teachers has increased by 37% from 9,740 in 2011, to over 13,400, Special Needs Assistants by 42%, from 10,575 in 2011 to 15,000, as well as 83 SENOs.
The policy of my Department is that all children with Special Educational Needs, including those with Autism, 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.
The greater proportion of children with ASD attend mainstream class, where they may access additional supports if required.
The National Council for Special Education (NCSE), an independent agency of my Department, is responsible for planning, coordinating education provision for children with special needs. My Department seeks resources for allocation to schools as part of the annual budgetary process.
The NCSE allocates a quantum of Special Needs Assistant (SNA) support for each school annually taking into account the assessed care needs of all children, including children with Autism, qualifying for SNA support enrolled in the school.
The NCSE allocates SNA support to schools in accordance with the criteria set out in Department Circular 0030/2014, which is available on my Department's website at www.education.ie, in order that students who have care needs can access SNA support as and when it is needed.
In considering applications for SNA support for individual pupils, the NCSE take account of the pupils' needs and consider the resources available to the school to identify whether additionality is needed or whether the school might reasonably be expected to meet the needs of the pupils from its current level of resources.
SNAs are not allocated to individual children but to schools as a school based resource.
SNA allocations to all schools can change from year to year as children with care needs leave a school, as new children with care needs enrol in a school and as children develop more independent living skills and their care needs diminish over time.
My Department’s policy is to ensure that every child who is assessed as needing SNA support will receive access to such support. In line with this policy, Budget 2019 provided for an additional 950 SNA posts to be made available this year, bringing the total number of SNA posts available for allocation by the end of this year to 15,950.
All mainstream schools are also provided with special education teachers, based on the school enrolment numbers and the profiled needs of their school.
There are currently over 13,400 special education teachers allocated to mainstream schools, which represents an increase of 37% since 2011.
The role of the special education teacher is to support the mainstream class teachers in school to provide additional teaching support for those pupils who have special educational needs or additional learning needs in school. Children who have special educational needs, including children with Autism, can therefore receive additional teaching support in school from special education teachers.
Special class placements are provided in mainstream schools for students with ASD and more complex needs, where it has been demonstrated that he/she is unable to learn effectively in a mainstream class for most or all of the school day even with appropriate supports.
Special classes for students with ASD are staffed with a lower pupil–teacher ratio of 6:1 at primary level and 6:1.5 at post primary level, and also have a minimum of two SNAs for every class of 6 children.
When the NCSE sanction a special class in a school, the school can apply to my Department for capital funding to re-configure existing spaces within the school building to accommodate the class and/or to construct additional accommodation. There are standard arrangements in place for the funding, design and delivery of these projects.
Other resources which are provided to schools to support children with Special Educational Needs including Autism include the following:
- Professional development for teachers
- The National Educational Psychological Service
- Assistive technology
- Access to the Special School transport scheme
- Access to special equipment and furniture where required
- Enhanced Capitation grants at primary level
- Adapted school buildings/Additional accommodation
- ICT Grant for new classes
- Start Up grant for new classes
- Access to the extended school year scheme (July Provision).
The NCSE has published guidelines for schools on setting up and organising Special Classes, which are available to download from www.ncse.ie. The guidelines include information on resources which may be provided to schools with special classes and links to information on the how funding is allocated.