Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Questions (274)

Seán Haughey

Question:

274. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans to ensure that children with autism in areas of Dublin city (details supplied) receive an appropriate education; if the necessary special classes and special schools will be provided for these children; if the National Council for Special Education wrote to him in April 2019 to advise him that sufficient schools will not respond voluntarily to meet the demand; if he will invoke the provisions of the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018 to ensure that the necessary places are provided; his further plans to ensure that all new schools to be built will have designated classrooms for special needs children; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21981/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The Government is spending nearly one euro in every five of the education budget on special education – about €1.9 billion in 2019.  We have significantly increased the availability of special placements for children with special educational needs as well as bringing more and more children into mainstream education.

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has a statutory function to plan and co-ordinate the provision of education and support services to children with special educational needs, in consultation with the relevant education partners and the Health Service Executive (HSE).

This includes the establishment of special class and special school placements in various geographical areas where there is an identified need.

In deciding where to establish a special class in an area, the NCSE take account of the current and projected demand and the available school accommodation both current and planned. 

The Council ensures that schools in an area can, between them, cater for all children who have been identified as needing special class placements.

Since 2011, the number of special classes in mainstream schools has increased from 548 to 1,459 this year.

Provision in special schools has increased from 6,848 placements in 2011 to 7,872 this year.

There are 37 special schools and 237 special classes attached to mainstream schools in Co. Dublin. Of these, there are 3 ASD early intervention classes, 26 primary ASD classes and 9 post primary ASD classes in the areas referred to by the Deputy. 

The number of ASD special classes in Co. Dublin have increased from 66 in 2011/2012 to 197 in 2018/2019. Details of all special classes for children with special educational needs are available on www.ncse.ie.

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. 

Similarly, where special schools wish to expand provision, the school can apply to my Department for capital funding to accommodate additional placements.

In the case of all new schools, it is general practice to include a Special Education Needs Base (SEN Base) in the accommodation brief for new school buildings, unless local circumstances indicate that it will not be required. Typically, a two classroom SEN Base is provided in new primary schools and a two or four classroom SEN Base is provided in new post primary schools.

Notwithstanding the extent of this investment issues remain.  There are some parts of the country where increases in population and other issues have led to shortages in capacity in the school system. 

The NCSE formally advised me that there is insufficient special school and special class capacity in Dublin 15 and in Kildare.

This letter is the formal activation of section 37A of the Education Act 1998 (as inserted by section 8 of the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018).  This contains a procedure through which the capacity of schools in an area can be tested and through which ultimately a Ministerial direction can be made requiring a school to make additional special education provision available.

The NCSE and my Department are actively engaging with education service providers in order to encourage them to address the shortage of places. 

I am encouraged that to date these efforts have resolved the issue in Kildare and resulted in progress in Dublin 15.

Engagement with schools, patrons bodies, parents and others is continuing in Dublin 15 to bring the required additional special class and special school placements on stream.

The NCSE will keep in regular contact with the Parents of the children concerned to advise them of progress and identify placements as they become available.

The NCSE and my Department officials hosted a briefing session for Oireachtas members in Leinster House on Tuesday last to advise members on the approach being taken.

The new power to compel schools to make additional special education provision available has yet to be invoked. 

While the NCSE and the Department continue to encourage stakeholders to open special classes, the process under the admissions legislation will continue and may lead to interaction with education providers entering a more formal process.

In short, ensuring that every child has a suitable placement available to them from September is a key priority for this Government.