Special Schools funded by my Department are intended to cater for children and young persons with complex special educational needs from the age of 4 years until the end of the school year in which they reach their 18th year.
Some people with a disability, over the age of 18, and who have complex needs, may require specialised support throughout their lives. Ongoing care and support services within the community, in a post school setting, are provided by voluntary or statutory organisations; responsibility for such care and support rests with the HSE.
Special school staff typically have extensive engagement with parents, HSE multi-disciplinary teams and the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) which involves planning for the child’s future, including options for further education, training, employment or other placement options subject to the child’s abilities, including the young person’s transition to adult services when they reach the age of 18 years.
It is important to note that students with complex special educational needs who transfer to adult service settings can continue to participate in educational programmes through further adult educational programmes or in adult settings which are allocated resources towards educational provision.
A special school may, subject to application, retain students over the age of 18 years who are pursuing courses leading to accreditation at level 3 or above of the National Qualifications Framework (Junior Certificate/Leaving Certificate Applied/FETAC 3); for an additional year in order to complete these courses.
Subject to the fulfilment of the criteria outlined above, special schools are invited to make applications, in January each year. My Department may then exempt the school from the provisions of Rule 64(1) of the Rules for National Schools for a student.
Additional associated services for students over the age of 18, such as school transport, capitation and teaching resources, will only be considered in respect of those students for whom an exemption from Rule 64(1) of the Rules for National Schools has been granted by the Department of Education and Skills, allowing the school to retain such students for an additional school year.
Special schools are established as primary national schools and are therefore required to operate in accordance with the Rules for National Schools.
Rule 64(1) of the Rules for National Schools, states that a pupil may not be retained on the rolls, after the eighteenth anniversary of his (her) birth.
The approval of the Department is therefore required for special schools to seek an exemption from the provisions of Rule 64(1) of the Rules for National Schools, in order to retain the pupil for an additional year beyond age 18.
This rule also applies to any mainstream primary national school who would seek to retain a pupil over the age of 18.
In relation to classes in National Schools Receiving Instruction in the Post Primary Programme, Rule 52 (c) of the Rules and Programmes for Post Primary Schools also applies, which states that the attendance of any pupil after the date of attaining the age of 18 years cannot be included in the returns in respect of which payment is made from the grants administered by the Primary Branch of the Department.
Similarly, pupils attending post primary schools may be allowed to complete an accredited course which they have commenced prior to reaching age 18, the Rules and Programmes for Post Primary Schools does not provide for indefinite or ongoing attendance of such pupils who are aged over 18.
At my request, the NCSE is currently developing policy advice on the educational provision that should be in place for students educated in special schools and classes and make recommendations on the provision required to enable students in special schools and classes achieve better outcomes.
The NCSE have been asked to complete and submit its report to the Minister not later than June 2020. There will be no change to the enrolment of students over 18 years in special schools, pending the receipt of this policy advice.