Thursday, 13 June 2019

Questions (85)

Ruth Coppinger


85. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Minister for Education and Skills his views on a report (details supplied) and its findings. [24698/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

I wish to acknowledge the important role stakeholders, like AsIAm, play in promoting education and the inclusion of children in education.

My Department Officials are studying the Report to ensure its findings and recommendations are fully and appropriately considered.

Enabling children with Special Educational Needs including Autism to receive an education appropriate to their needs is a priority for Government.

This Government is spending nearly one euro in every five of the education budget on special education – about €1.9 billion in 2019.  This includes an allocation of over €300 million towards providing additional resources specifically to support students with Autism in schools.

The work of my Department in relation to special education is informed by evidence based advice from the National Council for Special Education (NCSE).  The NCSE consults extensively with stakeholders including parents, experts and organisations like AsIAm who can provide useful insights into difficulties experienced by children and families in getting an education.

The NCSE is currently developing advice for the Department on Education Provision in Special Classes and Special Schools. The Council is examining whether there are any students for whom both specialist and mainstream educational settings are currently not working and consider what might be contributing to this.

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 number of ASD special classes has more than doubled in the last 5 years from 511 in 2014 to 1,196 across the country now. Provision in special schools has increased from 6,848 placements in 2011 to 7,872 this year. The NCSE has informed my Department that they intend to establish approx. 156 new ASD special classes nationally for 2019/20 school year to meet currently identified need.

Where students are excluded from school, the Department provides home tuition as a short term measure until a more permanent solution is identified.

Circulars 0013 and 0014/2017, which introduced the model for allocating special education teachers to schools, noted the importance of educational planning. This is in the context of ensuring that the children with the greatest level of need receive the greatest level of support.

The NCSE Regional Support Service, which has incorporated the Special Education Support Service (SESS), the National Behavioural Support Service (NBSS) and the Visiting Teacher Service for the Visually Impaired and Hearing Impaired, provides advice and support to schools on the education and inclusion of students with special educational needs, providing in-school support for teachers and continuing professional development for teachers.

It is also enhancing the multi-disciplinary capacity of the education system through providing access to expert knowledge in areas such as autism, speech and language and challenging behaviour.

Schools are required to have policies in place for the promotion of student wellbeing, positive behaviour and an environment that is conducive to good teaching and learning.  Advice and support is available to help schools in this regard.

The National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) supports children with ASD, including those who may also present with Anxiety. This involves working with the teachers to build whole school capacity on working with children with special educational needs including autism and anxiety.  It also involves working with individual children who are experiencing difficulty.

There are legal provisions around the exclusion and expulsion of students and these are the responsibility of TUSLA. Fair procedures are a key requirement. Expulsion should be a last resort and reduced timetables should not be used as a behavioural management technique. 

Children who are eligible for school transport under the terms of the Special Educational Needs Scheme may be accommodated on existing services, be offered a Special Transport Grant towards the cost of making private transport arrangements or have a new service established to provide them with transport from their home to school. Children who are not eligible for school transport under the terms of this scheme may also apply for transport on a concessionary basis where suitable services are available.

The NCSE and my Department work closely together to address issues in specialised provision that arise from time in time at local levels and also to ensure that there is appropriate planning in place to ensure that all children who require special class placements can access such placements in schools within their communities. 

While the NCSE and my 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.

Responsibility for ensuring all children have access to a suitable education is a shared responsibility.  I am confident that through the work of NCSE and the cooperation of schools we can address current difficulties.

Question No. 86 answered with Question No. 79.