Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Questions (87)

Clare Daly


87. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Education and Skills his views on the fact that parents of children with autism spectrum disorder waiting to secure school places are being advised by his officials to obtain refusal letters from schools with which to then make and appeal against the school under section 29 of the Education Act 1998; if the issue will be addressed; and his plans to deal with the demand for places in a more appropriate way. [22391/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The selection and enrolment of pupils in schools is the responsibility of the authorities of the individual school. My Department's main responsibility is to ensure that schools in an area can, between them, cater for all pupils seeking school places in an area. However, this may result in some pupils' not obtaining a place in the school of their first choice. As schools may not have a place for every applicant, a selection process may be necessary. This selection process and the enrolment policy on which it is based must be non-discriminatory, and must be applied fairly in respect of all applicants. Under section 15 (2) (d) of the Education Act, 1998, each school is legally obliged to disclose its enrolment policy and to ensure that, as regards that policy, principles of equality and the right of parents to send their children to a school of the parents' choice are respected. Section 29 of the Education Act, 1998 provides for an appeal by a parent or guardian to the Secretary General of my Department or, - in the case of an Education and Training Board (ETB) school, to the ETB in the first instance, where a Board of Management of a school, or a person acting on behalf of the Board, refuses to enrol a student in a school, expels a student, or suspends a student for 20 or more days in any school year. This Department has no authority to compel a school to admit a pupil, except in the case of an appeal under section 29 of the Education Act, 1998 being upheld. Application forms for taking a section 29 appeal, which are available on my Department's website, should include a copy of the letter received from the Board of Management or a person acting on behalf of the Board of Management which outlines the decision to refuse enrolment. This is to ensure that refusal to enrol has taken place. All documents received are sent to the Appeals Committee prior to the hearing.

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE), an independent agency of my Department, is responsible for planning, coordinating and advising on education provision for children with special educational needs. The Council ensures that schools in an area can, between them, cater for all children who have been identified as needing special class placements.

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. In this regard, the Special Education Needs Organiser (SENO) may approach individual schools to discuss the matter with a view to finding the optimal location in terms of convenience and sustainability.

Individual school boards of management are responsible for the establishment of special classes. It is open to any school to make application to the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) to establish a special class.

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.

Special Education Needs Organisers (SENOs) who are locally based are available to assist and advise parents whose children have special needs. They also assist and advise schools in making decisions in this area.

From time to time, the NCSE identifies local areas where additional special class provision is required. In those circumstances, Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENOs) work with the schools and families concerned to resolve the issues involved.

This process is ongoing and the NCSE are actively engaging with schools in relation to establishing ASD classes where there is an identified need for the 2019/2020 school year.